Rock climbing is a great hobby that is very demanding on the body. To get the most out of a day of rock climbing you really need to prepare well and keep yourself in top shape. There are really four key elements to rock climbing fitness:
- Keeping your weight down so that you have less to carry
- Building lean and functional muscle
- Increasing muscular endurance
- Flexibility and agility
Being fit helps in two ways. The first is obvious, you need the strength to climb. But also you need to be able to stay mentally alert so that you can climb intelligently. When our bodies tire, our problem solving skills start to suffer, and this can result in not being able to find the next foothold to work your way up the rock face.
Full Body Circuit Training
The best way to prepare for rock climbing is to do full body circuit training workouts combined with some weight training. The circuit training will provide the muscular endurance and ensure that all muscles are worked. To build upper body strength various forms of press up is recommended, plus dips and pull ups. To be able to lift your bodyweight and hold it, such as with a pull up, is highly advantageous. There may be times when you cannot find a good foothold and need to pull yourself into a better position.
Plyometric training is also very useful for climbers. Climbers often require short burst of power to propel themselves upwards, and this is where box jumps and other plyometric workouts can really help.
Strength Training Exercises for Rock Climbing
The most important strength training exercises for rock climbing are:
- Lateral pull downs. While seated use a cable machine to pull a weight down from above your head to your chest. Use a wide grip with palms facing forward.
- Pull ups. Use either a pull up bar or a cable machine to pull a weight down from above your head to the top of your chest. These are done with a close grip and your palms facing you.
- Dips. Bodyweight dips work the triceps and shoulders and are essential for those tricky situations when you need to push yourself out of a crevice. Work on endurance as well as strength. For endurance perform 3 or 4 sets of 10 reps. For strength add weight to your waist.
- Lateral Raises and Pull Downs. These exercises require you to keep your body and arms straight while either pulling a weight up and across your body or pulling one down in front of you. They work the shoulders.
- Bench Press. These work the triceps and chest. They help to maintain some balance when exercising also.
Strong Legs Will Lift You
Do not forgot to train your legs though, as strong legs will lift a climber with far greater efficiency than strong arms. Bodyweight squats and lunges are the key with plenty of repetitions to build up muscular endurance.
Some climbers like to do isometric resistance training exercises, as these can mimic the work you have to do at times just to maintain and hold your position. With isometric workouts you apply constant pressure to an immovable bar rather than lift weights. Bruce Lee was a great fan of isometric training, claiming that it increased strength without adding additional muscular bulk, which climbers can do without (big muscles are heavy).
Training Forearms and Fingers
Training the forearms and fingers is also a popular past time of rock climbers. Increasing grip strength is important, but remember that the strength of the fingers comes from the forearms. Fingers have no muscles! Barbell deadlifts can benefit climbers here as the deadlift strengthens the core, lower back, legs and also the forearms. One of the best ways to improve forearm strength is to just hang on a bar. If you are serious about rock climbing then you should have regular access to a bar that you can use for pull ups, chin ups and static hangs.
Fingerboards are very useful tools for climbers. They are small boards designed to mimic a variety of rock surfaces that you can attach to a wall. You then simply hang on the boards, often one hand at a time, to mimic the strain of climbing. Regular training on a fingerboard can increase finger and arm strength. Usually the biggest problem is that the exercise can get a bit boring after a while.
Monkey Around for Greater Strength
Just “monkey around” on the bar and you will benefit. If you have access to monkey bars then these can really help, as you increase strength in the fingers, forearms, shoulder and back. Although the fingers may be the first to fail when climbing, the shoulders and biceps also need to be very strong to help take some of the pressure of the forearms and hands. You may find monkey bars in your local park in the kids play area. Just go along early in the morning or in the evening when the children are not there.
Yoga Exercises for the Climber
There are various yoga postures that are excellent to help climbers. This is because yoga helps to increase flexibility, balance and strength, all of which are essential. Practising the sun salutation 5 times a day will help to improve flexibility.