Everything You Need to Know About Training for Climbing

The season of sending is upon us, and as a rock climbing instructor and fitness trainer, I help a lot of climbers reach new heights. When it comes to rock climbing training, you may be surprised to find that workouts don’t really rely on a six pack of abs and strong arms. Here’s a look at the muscle groups you need to train to send that big project.

Skip the Situps in Your Rock Climbing Training Routine

What what? You mean I don’t need to have a six pack to send a 13a? It turns out a six-pack doesn’t do much other than give you showy, superficial ab muscles and allow you to do countless crunches. What you really want to do is focus your efforts on your pelvic girdle and deep core.

Your pelvic girdle is the entire pelvic area, plus your deep core which includes the QL, Iliopsoas, and transversus abdominus among other muscles. A strong pelvic girdle and core enable you to keep your core engaged throughout a climb. The application here is obvious for kicked-back routes and roofs, but it also applies to flat wall as well. When you don’t engage your core on a climb, you lose mobility in your hips and shoulders, which will cause you to bend your arms in compensation, tire and pump out quickly.

Focus on exercises that emphasize isometric tone (think angled body exercises that force you to hold your core in tone, like a plank).


Glutes and Hammies over Quads

Here in Colorado, most people are quad dominant. If you bike, run, or hike up hills, chances are your quad muscles are far more developed than your glutes and hamstrings. This is bad news for rock climbing training. Strong quads often equate to tight, weak hamstrings. Yes, it is possible to have over tight muscles that are weaker than their longer antagonists.

Weak glutes and hamstrings don’t allow you to get that explosive motion you need to reach the next hold. Every climber knows that you shouldn’t be doing pull-ups on the wall. You want to activate your glutes and hamstrings to use your pelvic powerhouse to propel you upwards, letting your straight arms hang on your bone structure (with engaged shoulders of course!). Also, weak glutes limit your range of motion in your hips, meaning you can’t spread out for long reaches or get your knees high for pivoting in tight spaces.

In order to climb with power, you want to target glutes and hammies (your hips benefit too). Hone in on exercises like single leg squats (or pistol squats if you can do them properly), side planks combined with side leg lifts, and side steps with a resistance band. So go ahead and get that booty toned so you can level up your grade.


Work Those Shoulders and Mid-Back

No need for bicep curls or pull ups to send multi-pitch routes, instead of focusing your efforts on your arms, shoulder girdle and mid-back. These muscle groups are essential for hanging your arms on your skeletal system (remember, you aren’t doing pull-ups - bending your arms is a no-no 8 out of 10 times). Targeting your shoulders and mid back tie your powerhouse system together from your neck to your knees, resulting in a complete rock climbing training regemine.

When you’re working out your shoulders and back, it’s essential that you keep your shoulders retracted (squeezed) and depressed - think about sliding your shoulder blades into your butt pockets. Keep this contraction throughout your shoulder workout. Doing so automatically strengthens your rhomboids, mid-trapezius, multifidus and spinal erector muscles (essentially, your mid back).

By targeting these muscle groups, you will be able to up your climbing grade and climb longer without fear of fatigue. Combine these targeted regions for a full-body climbing workout a few times a week.