strength training for climbing

Strength Training for Climbing


Strength is one of the most determining qualities to climb. If you lack strength, you will not be able to perform certain movements. In early climbing, the best way to increase specific strength is by climbing. But inevitably a stalemate will come. Then it will be necessary to resort to specific training. This article will cover the basics of climbing-specific strength training.

Climbing performance depends on several factors. In the beginning, the most decisive will be the technical execution. But over time, other physical and mental limitations will appear. Specific force is one of them.


The amount of force generated by a motor unit during a contraction depends on the number of cross bridges, and the number and size of sarcomeres, which act in parallel. The larger the cross-sectional area of ​​sarcomeres in a motor unit, the greater the potential to generate force.

The maximum force is that which a person can apply voluntarily. As I have already discussed in two articles (on maximal muscle fiber recruitment and on fatigue), not all motor units respond effectively during a contraction. Normally they are enlisted from smaller to a larger sizes, according to need.

Taking into account the above, there will be two main ways to increase strength:

A hypertrophy job, increasing the cross-section of the muscle.
Looking for more neural adaptations that improve the activation of motor units.

Different studies indicate that hypertrophy requires at least eight weeks to occur. Neural adaptations can manifest in less time.

climbers maximum force applied voluntarily


If your goal is to improve your climbing, you will need to strength train as specifically as possible. It will be of little use to be very strong in certain gestures if they are not transferable to the climbing gesture later. Interested in a useful force.

Grip strength should take an important place in this training. Once you have a good base, it will be interesting to be able to apply it in the least amount of time.

The traction muscles of the upper body and those that make up the core should also be worked. Always looking for the maximum transfer.


Muscle hypertrophy can be divided into:

Sarcomeric or functional hypertrophy. Sarcomeres are the force generators in the muscles, containing contractile proteins.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The sarcoplasm is where the fuel used by the sarcomeres to generate force is stored.

Therefore, both are important for a climber. However, as climbing is so dependent on the strength/body weight ratio, there is some fear of developing excessive size that will weigh the climber down.

Fortunately, the forearms are relatively small muscles, and their contribution to climbing is key. You will never have overly developed forearms. As the Anderson brothers point out, “they are worth their weight in gold” and their hypertrophy should be pursued.


For years, muscle morphology has been given much prominence to increase strength. But less is known about the specific neural mechanisms.

All muscle contractions start in the brain. A motor neuron controls a motor unit, made up of a group of muscle fibers. The high frequency of these impulses produces greater muscle tension.

The feedback is constant, allowing uninterrupted regulation, adapting the intensity to the needs, and keeping the muscle safe.

These neural processes are inefficient in someone who has never strength trained. The absolute force is the potential of each one, and the voluntary force is that which can be applied. In novice climbers, this difference is very noticeable.

Hence, the initial progression is really fast and without apparent changes in muscle size. Hypertrophy will require a little more time (study).

There are different types of neural adaptations that improve strength (study):

Intramuscular coordination: increased number of muscle fibers recruited.
Generating a higher activation frequency.
Intermuscular coordination. Through motor learning, you will achieve a better interaction between the muscles involved.
Training can reduce inhibitory neural systems, allowing you to generate more force without needing to grow your muscles (reference).

Maximum grip strength training is based on these types of adaptations. The complex method uses them ergogenically, combining a strength exercise with a power exercise.

Verkhoshansky indicates that the duration of such adaptations will be greater if a base of muscular hypertrophy is obtained before. Hence, the importance of good prior physical conditioning.


The answer will depend on the adaptations sought. The stimulus created with training must be based on a balance between metabolic stress and mechanical tension. Therefore, maximal strength training is based on repeated efforts and brief maximal tension methods.

The greater the mechanical tension, the greater the strength gains at the neural level. Although it creates less peripheral fatigue, neuronal stress is greater, causing central fatigue. The appropriate thing is to work until the technical failure. That is until the motor execution of the exercises begins to be devalued.
Great metabolic stress will generate resistance adaptations.
Hypertrophy is situated at an intermediate point between both types of stimuli. It is interesting to work close to muscle failure, but without reaching it (at least not on a regular basis). His ideal time is during physical conditioning.
Climbing on the edge often requires a quick application of force. To achieve this, the maximum and brief stress methods work best. You should not exceed 12 seconds under tension or you will enter a lactic anaerobic energy production system, working on strength-endurance adaptations.
metabolic stress for climbing


Effective training should always adhere to the principle of progressive overload. The body gets used to the stimuli. For this reason, it is essential to increase the demand as progress is made.

Research shows that the stimulus needed to increase muscle strength is not the same for all ages and performance levels. It should be at least one-third of the maximum force. As the force increases, the absolute intensity must be increased to achieve higher stimuli, reaching a limit from which it can be negative.

Verkhoshansky points out that at times it can be interesting to go beyond the level of competition stimulation. In the case of climbing, it would be equivalent to using ballast. González Badillo does not recommend the training to the maximum or 1RM with few exceptions. However, that control precision is lost at the time of climbing.

Controlling the progression and quantity of the load will be important. For it:

Use exercises and training protocols that are measurable and in a controllable environment.
During the sessions, he takes note of both the objective results and the subjective sensations.

Both will be essential to be able to apply a logical and sustainable progression.

progressive overoad is essential strentgh training for climbers


The term force encompasses various types of forces that respond to different qualities, depending on their application. Each of them must be trained in a specific way. You have an article on the types of strength in climbing that goes deeper into the subject.

Regarding muscle contractions, there are basically three:

Concentric, in which the muscles shrink.
During an eccentric contraction, the muscle stretches.
Isometric contractions are those in which the angle of the involved joints does not vary. While in the previous two there is movement, this one is practically static.

Isotonic contractions (with movement) generate strength gains throughout the range of motion. However, isometric contractions provide an increase in strength at little more than the angle worked. Hence the need to specify each exercise through logic, objectives, and previous study.

In climbing, all three types of contractions usually occur. While climbing, isometrics are most common on toes and lockouts. The anisometric or isotonic ones are given in dynamic steps, throws, or any change of position.

When training for a particular project you will be able to focus the isometric work on the specific positions of the track.


Some data for effective isometric training:

The contractions for each repetition should last between three and ten seconds. It is time for the stimulus to be effective and to remain within the force work. Longer contractions will create resistance adaptations.
Within those ranges, the muscles recover quickly between contractions.
Strength gains will be 15 degrees around the trained joints. Take some time to consider which exercises and grip types will work for your goals.
Do not go overboard with the total number of repetitions in order to maintain the proper intensity of the exercises.
isometric, eccentric, concentric force production in nclimbing


The most specific way to build strength for climbing is bouldering or block climbing. The problem is the difficulty in isolating specific movements and positions. Hence, other exercises are included, such as suspensions on multi-grip boards, the campus board, and exercises with free weights and kettlebells, on the bar, on rings, with TRX or calisthenics.

At an intermediate point would be the MoonBoard. A tool that reduces technique to a minimum, in order to isolate explosive force work with full bodywork.

The choice of exercises should be based on:

The maximum transfer for climbing in general. It is interesting to create a useful and functional force, which you can use by climbing. The principle of dynamic correspondence determines its degree of correspondence with the nature of the work of the climbing neuromuscular system. That does not mean that you do not train the antagonist muscles to avoid injuries. But as discussed in the article on the organization of the sessions, adapt the time of each part of the training to your needs. And since time is limited, spending more time on one part will take it away from another.
The maximum specificity for your specific objectives or projects. You will not train in the same way if you intend to go on a climbing trip to Siurana, Margalef, or Leonidio. Training for a particular project will allow you to further specialize your training.
Work on your weaknesses. Climbers like to feel strong. This leads them to further enhance their strengths. However, you should do the opposite. Working on your weaknesses will give you a greater spectrum of progression than continuing to upgrade something you have to a high level. In addition to that, you will become a more complete climber.
the choice of excercise depends on climbers nuromuscular system


Neural-type adaptations happen quickly (in a matter of days). And they will quickly reach a plateau. That will happen in a few weeks.

The problem is that hypertrophy adaptations take longer (about eight weeks). Hence, the following question arises: How long should the strength mesocycle last?

If you are looking for more neural adaptations, a duration of three or four weeks (a mesocycle) will be adequate to avoid stalling.
For hypertrophy, as is often done with intermittent suspensions, hold the job for at least eight weeks.
By maintaining, a high intensity for too long the results will decrease, even leading to overtraining.

So, depending on your starting point and the time you have available, the duration should be between one and two mesocycles. You have a complete article on planning climbing training.


The supposed lack of strength may actually be hiding other weaknesses. The great force will be of little use to you if you do not have an appropriate technique to apply it. What’s more, starting to climb with great force can hurt your technical progression as a climber. Good balance management will make you adopt more efficient positions in each movement. Using momentum will be a nice boost to the strength you already have. Many attributes distinguish a good climber.

With age, strength is one of the attributes that are mostly lost. For this reason, his work in the training of older climbers is fundamental. But it can also be part of the training of the youngest, following appropriate parameters.

The best thing about training strength is that it will also improve your resistance as indicated by the Force Drag Theory. By increasing your critical strength, you will be able to scale to a higher intensity below the threshold of fatigue.

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