Strength Training for Climbing: Do Rock Climbers Need to Do Weight Tra – Garage Strength

Strength Training for Climbing: Do Rock Climbers Need to Do Weight Training?

You’re a climber, not a bodybuilder! But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train in the gym to improve your strength as a climber. 

Strength training with weights will make climbing easier and actually improve your overall muscular endurance. Rock climbing is a game of strength, endurance, balance, and precision - each of these attributes playing a vital role as you ascend.

The sheer physical demands of climbing mean that even the most dedicated climbers can hit a plateau. That's where strength training comes in. It helps you push past these barriers and reach new heights - literally!

Resistance training will boost overall strength, particularly in key muscle groups like the back, arms, and core, enhance grip strength, and even improve your range of motion and ankle flexion. This means you will need to go to a gym with weights and not just a climbing gym. 

In essence, strength training fortifies you for the diverse, demanding movements of climbing. In this article, we'll go into the hows and whys of strength training for climbers, providing you with actionable exercise to start doing immediately.


Should You Hit the Weights for Rock Climbing?

Rock climbing is an intense, full-body workout that demands skill, strength, and endurance. As climbers, you might often question whether incorporating weight training into your regimen would be beneficial for pushing muscles. The short answer is - yes, absolutely!

And if you need a weight training program for climbing, try Peak Strength, to get 5 free workouts made specifically for climbers! 

Weight training is typically associated with strength athletes or performance athletes. However, its value extends far beyond sports that require immense power production. Strength and weight training for rock climbers can have significant effects on climbing performance, enhancing not only overall strength but also endurance and mobility.

Benefits of Strength Training

Strength training is all about developing muscles and improving physical adaptations. For rock climbers, this does not necessarily mean turning into a bulky bodybuilder. Instead, it's about refining the right type of strength in specific muscles, ensuring better climbing efficiency and reducing the risk of injury.

Strength Endurance

Rock climbing involves prolonged physical activity, which requires an exceptional level of muscular endurance, particularly in your back, arms, and core. The stronger these muscles are, the longer they can withstand fatigue.

A well-crafted weight training program can help improve muscular endurance by conditioning your body to efficiently use energy. This can translate into a significant advantage on the climbing wall, where repeated hand, arm, and body movements can quickly lead to muscle fatigue.

Your Grip

In rock climbing, your hands are your lifelines. An effective weight training routine can dramatically improve your grip strength, giving you the ability to hold onto climbing holds better and for longer periods.

Incorporating exercises like wrist curls, dead hangs, and farmer's walks into your training routine can bolster grip strength. In turn, a stronger grip can improve your climbing technique, boosting your overall performance. But we will touch on some additional exercises toward the end of this article.

Mobility and Range of Motion

Strength training is not just about lifting heavy weights. When properly implemented, it can significantly enhance your flexibility and range of motion. Exercises that focus on full-body movements, such as snatches, cleans, or squats, can help improve mobility in your lower body.

This improved mobility can be particularly advantageous in climbing scenarios where precise foot placement is needed.

Improved ankle flexion, achieved through weight training, can assist in providing a more solid base when standing on tiny holds. This, in turn, allows for more dynamic movements while climbing.

Incorporating strength training into your routine not only increases your power and endurance but also improves your mobility and flexibility. So yes, rock climbers should definitely consider lifting weights as part of their training regimen.

So let’s actually take a look at what aspects of your body you need to prioritize when you spend time in the gym.

How to Strength Train for Climbing

Grip Training

Rock climbing is a sport where a strong grip can make the difference between success and a potential fall. However, it’s not so much about absolute grip strength as it is about grip endurance.

While a powerful grip can certainly assist with harder holds, grip endurance ensures you can maintain a steady grasp over extended periods, a critical requirement in rock climbing.

So, how do you train for grip endurance?

Time holds are an excellent place to start. By maintaining a grip on a pull up bar, dumbbell with thick grips, or a specially designed grip tool for extended periods, you are effectively training your hands to endure the stresses of prolonged climbing.

Try exercises like dead hangs from a bar or grip squeezes with a stress ball. Start with short intervals and gradually increase the duration as your endurance improves. Remember, the goal is to prolong your grip, not maximize your lifting power.

Upper Body

Climbing is a significant upper body workout, placing considerable demands on your biceps, lats, upper back, and forearms. Like grip training, the focus should not just be on absolute strength but rather on muscular endurance.

And no, climbers don’t really need to max out their bench press.

Incorporate exercises like pull-ups, dumbbell rows, and resistance band curls to target these muscles. These will engage pulling muscles and help with the main action of climbing.

However, instead of lifting heavy weights for fewer reps, aim for lighter weights and higher reps. This will help build endurance in these muscles, allowing them to withstand the long-term demands of climbing. A well-rounded routine should aim to build both strength and stamina, thus enhancing your overall climbing performance.

This might sound similar to hypertrophy, which it basically is. You are trying to progressively improve your body’s relative strength so that it gradually lasts longer even as you may gain muscle from strength training.

Lower Body

While rock climbing may seem heavily upper-body oriented, the importance of a strong lower body cannot be overstated.

Exercises like the snatch and clean are excellent for climbers as they simulate the explosive and functional movements used in climbing.These strength training exercises not only help develop strength but also enhance stability and balance in the lower body.

While performing these movements, make sure to keep the volume low. The goal is to promote functional strength and stability rather than bulk up. Such training will also help improve ankle flexion and overall leg development, both of which are crucial for successful rock climbing.

By moving weight and creating force at different joint angles with feet shoulder width apart, your body will adapt to improving the coordination and functionality of the limbs and joints. This will ultimately make you stronger and a better climber.


The core plays a vital role in rock climbing, providing the necessary balance and stability. Given the constant tension and usage that climbing places on the core, it's essential to prioritize core strength training.

The focus, again, should be on endurance sets and pose holds. Exercises such as planks, Russian twists, and mountain climbers are excellent options. These easy examples can be done even at your climbing gym with no equipment.

Try performing these exercises in higher rep sets or holding poses for extended periods to increase endurance. As your core strength improves, you'll likely notice an improvement in your climbing ability, as a strong core allows for more control and stability during climbs.

You can do weighted core exercises here and there, but the endurance of your core will outweigh the need for building the absolute strength of your core.

4 Exercises for Rock Climbers

Towel Pull Ups

This exercise adds a unique twist to the traditional pull-up and is a phenomenal tool for developing the kind of grip strength and endurance that can dramatically enhance your climbing performance.

Towel grip pull-ups not only engage the usual muscle systems – your biceps and latissimus dorsi (lats) – but also provide an additional, and significant, challenge to your grip.

This exercise requires you to grasp a towel (or two), hung over a pull-up bar, instead of the bar itself. This change puts a considerable emphasis on your grip strength, closely simulating the gripping action in rock climbing.

The towel grip pull-up is a comprehensive exercise that also targets your biceps and lats. The pulling motion helps build endurance in these muscles, preparing them for the repeated exertions of a long climb. By increasing the muscular endurance of these key muscle groups, you'll find that you can climb for longer periods before fatigue sets in.

To incorporate towel grip pull-ups into your training, here's an example set you can start with: Perform 4-5 sets of 10 towel grip pull-ups. After the tenth pull-up in each set, try to maintain a hold until failure. This additional hold will help further improve your grip endurance and simulate the starting position if you’re required to be in a narrow grip.

Rope Climb

This classic upper body exercise is not just a test of strength and endurance but also an excellent simulator of the actual climbing movement. Adding a timed component to the ascent and a slow descent brings it even closer to the climbing experience.

Timed rope climbs introduce a level of intensity that prompts activation of high threshold motor units and boosts neural drive, leading to greater strength gains.

Just like with climbing specific training, the quick ascent requires a rapid and powerful contraction of muscles, particularly the lats, which are primarily involved in pulling your body upwards.

The real game-changer, however, is the slow descent. It introduces an eccentric component to the exercise - a type of contraction where your muscles lengthen under tension. This slow, controlled descent mirrors the strain your muscles face while navigating down a rock face.

Eccentric contractions are known to cause more muscle damage, leading to stronger and bigger muscles as they repair and grow.

Try doing 6-8 timed rope climbs with a slow descent in each of your workout sessions. Each climb could look something like this: Push for a quick ascent, then slowly lower yourself down, taking about double the time you took to climb up. This tempo ensures a balance between the strength-building, fast ascent and the endurance-focused, slow descent.

Hanging Leg Raises

A true two-for-one exercise, hanging leg raises provide an intense workout for both your grip and your core, essential areas for improving climbing performance.

In a hanging leg raise, you're suspended from a bar (like in a pull-up), but instead of pulling your body upwards, you raise your legs until they're parallel to the ground or higher.

This movement significantly engages your core muscles, improving their strength and endurance. Additionally, the 'hanging' aspect of the exercise gives your grip additional work.

At this point in your workout, you may treat this exercise like an accessory or supplemental work, so your hands may be tired or sweaty. If you have already used gym chalk and you still have a hard time gripping the bar, you can use lifting straps to assist you even when your grip is starting to give out.

Performing this exercise with just body weight allows the focus to remain on muscular endurance, crucial for rock climbing. While hanging leg raises can be done with weights for added resistance, rock climbers will benefit more from unweighted sets, aiming for higher reps.

So, how should you integrate hanging leg raises into your workout? A suitable scheme would be 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Importantly, after the final rep of each set, hold your legs in the raised position until failure. This static hold provides an extra challenge to your core muscles and pushes your grip endurance even further, a fitting simulation of a challenging climb.

PVC Pipe Roller

The premise of PVC roller walks is simple: You walk on a PVC roller, similar to those cartoons of characters running on a log in the water. The rolling motion underfoot demands considerable balance and proprioception, helping to enhance your footing and stability - vital elements for clinging onto narrow, uneven rock surfaces.

Besides working on balance, PVC roller walks also provide strength benefits. Walking on the roller engages the small muscles in your feet that you may not normally target, reinforcing them over time. This strength development can lead to more secure and efficient foot placements when climbing.

Another significant benefit lies in the enhancement of ankle mobility. As you roll your feet over the PVC pipe, it helps loosen up the plantar fascia (the connective tissue that spans the bottom of your feet), facilitating better ankle movement.

Improved ankle mobility can translate into a wider range of climbing movements, including more effective heel and toe hooks.

To integrate PVC roller walks into your training schedule, aim for 4-5 lengths of about 10-15 meters each. As your balance and foot strength improve, you can challenge yourself further by holding a light weight above your head while walking.

If you don’t know where to get the right PVC roller, you can get one from our site here.

Bottom Line

If you just skipped to the bottom for an easy answer, the answer is YES! Rock climbers should definitely weight lift to improve their muscular endurance, strength, and mobility. You will become a better climber and even reduce injury risk.

There are a number of ways to improve your performance as a climber or just making it easier to actually climb. Improving your grip strength, core strength, and relative strength are all key benefits of strength training in the gym.

So what does an actual gym workout for a climber look like? You can get 5 free workouts for rock climbing with our app, Peak Strength, which is in the IOS or Google Play store. With over 700 unique exercises, you shouldn’t have any problem finding a workout that helps you become a better rock climber. PEACE!

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Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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