Many climbers struggle with picking a weight training routine that works for them, and in the popular world of bodybuilding, many misleading sources can lead climbers astray. Further, climbers have many sport-specific outlets for training their muscular strength, including campus boards and tread walls, so why does a climber need to add lifting into their routine?
A handful of simple lifting movements can make a big difference for your strength on the climbing wall, as well as your muscular health in day-to-day life. Climbing is a pulling movement, with very little pressing motion involved. As a result, some avid rock climbers develop muscular imbalances that round their shoulders and eventually lead to chronic back or shoulder pain. A basic lifting program can counter these imbalances by targeting muscles that are not generally activated in climbing. Lifting two or three times a week, even if it’s just 10-12 weeks out of the year, will have a noticeable effect on your muscular strength.
Enhance Your Weight Training
If you’re considering adding a lifting routine into workouts to improve your climbing, here are a few things you should know:
Balance out your lifting days
Lift two or three times a week so that you can split up exercises in a way that benefits you and doesn’t over-train your body. For the sake of simplicity, we recommend having a “lower-body” and “upper-body” day; on lower body days perform leg exercises such as squats, and on upper body days perform arm/shoulder activities such as military pressing.
In the weight room, there’s no room for you to get cocky. Don’t try to hit a super-heavy bench press just because your friends are. Similarly, take it easy when you’re trying out new exercises. Always warm-up and remember that your health and longevity are the most crucial aspect of any training routine.
Don’t worry about lifting heavy
First off, what’s heavy is relative to you. If you’re a V8 climber, a V5 probably feels comfortable. Similarly, if you can squat 400lbs, a 200lbs squat might be your warm-up. But most people have no reason to pick up weight anywhere near that heavy. If air squats with no weight feel burdensome to you, that’s perfectly okay – physical training is supposed to be about personal development, not keeping up with powerlifters.
Regardless of what “heavy” means to you, it’s unnecessary to “max out” (testing your max strength) when you’re first getting into a lifting routine. Even professional power-lifters aren’t checking their max power more than once per month. Picks reps and weights that aren’t going to cause you to strain or over-train.
No bulking necessary
Gaining size and muscle mass is often a priority for people training in a traditional gym. If you’re lifting to improve your climbing, you shouldn’t worry about putting on too much muscle. More muscle means more weight that you have to drag up climbing routes, and bulky muscle is going to hinder your ability to climb difficult routes.
As a general rule, performing sets of more than five reps are for bulking up. Therefore, if you’re training for climbing and avoiding bulking up too much, we advise that you perform sets of 5 or fewer reps when you’re lifting. When training for climbing, sets of low reps (5 or less) can improve your muscle strength/density without creating much extra weight to bear on an extended climbing route.
If it hurts, stop lifting
Fatigue from training can cause you to “hurt,” and that’s not what we’re talking about. If you’re experiencing muscular or joint pain indicative of an impending injury, it’s time to call it a day. Muscular or joint pain quickly leads to lasting injuries. If you’re experiencing pain during your lifting routine, it’s a sign that you’re over-training, performing exercises incorrectly, or both. Immediately stop performing the activities causing you any pain and assess why your pain is occurring. Always better to be on the safe side, rather than suffer a needless injury.
Seek out the advice of experts
Seeking out a coach or personal trainer can be an essential decision for your health and fitness. Do some self-reflection and decide if you know enough about weight lifting to train without advice from a coach. A few sessions with a good personal trainer can have a significant impact on your knowledge of proper lifting techniques and can provide you with some insight on different ways to train.
Pick exercises that are important for functional fitness
If you’re training for climbing, workouts need to focus on being a well-rounded and functionally fit athlete. Don’t worry about performing some muscle-specific exercises that you might see giant bodybuilders doing in the gym (bicep curls, etc.). Instead, focus on whole-body exercises that will make you strong for long days in the mountain, and prevent the muscle imbalances that might be caused by climbing.
Here are a few we recommend:
Running (we know this one is not a lift, but still, do it)
Feeling like you're not sure where to start? We offer tips on How To Start Training For Rock Climbing.