By: Danielle Repetti

Print/Save as PDF


Fitness and Yoga

Climbing is a challenging sport. It requires a great deal of technique, strength, flexibility, endurance and power. Many climbers have honed their technique and skill – but there's one looming part of the puzzle holding them back from those bigger, more challenging climbs.

So, let's talk about strength. First off, I want to clear the air about one misconception RE: lifting weights and gaining weight  with the right choice of reps and weight, an athlete can get stronger, denser muscle without putting on weight (though, if that is your goal, putting on weight is also doable).

Most climbers do a lot of upper body pulling and usually have a good base of slow-twitch muscle fibers (the muscle fibers that are necessary for endurance sports like long-distance running or yoga). While climbers have exceptionally strong backs and biceps, there are a few exercises they can add for an extra edge. The movements I've found that translate to better power and strength for climbing are those that build fast-twitch muscle fibers, improve overhead mobility and increase stability through the core.

Which exercises are the best complements for climbers - and why should I add them into my training?

Overhead Kettlebell Carry_Climbing StrengthAs climbers - we need a strong grip, but we also need to make sure we are balancing out our pulling muscles by strengthening our pushing muscles. Too much pulling can cause tight shoulders and back muscles which can lead to injuries such as climber’s elbow. The overhead kettlebell carry is a great way to accomplish this. Putting weight overhead will help mobilize and strengthen our shoulders and engage our core and grip which will in turn lead to improved control and stability while climbing.

The best way to perform an overhead carry is to spend some time mobilizing the shoulder joints beforehand. Warm up with the wooden dowels found in the fitness area. Do about 15 pass-throughs to make sure the joints are warm and mobilized. Now that our shoulders are warm, let's stabilize and strengthen them!

With two kettlebells, one in each hand, bring them to the front rack position.

From this position, press the kettlebells overhead - remembering to keep nice straight wrists and arms PRESSING OUT. Imagine you are pressing the kettlebells to the ceiling the entire time.

Once you have both kettlebells pressed overhead, brace your core, squeeze your glutes and keep a neutral spine. Begin walking forward.

How to incorporate this into your workout.
Walk 50 feet, then rest for about one minute. Repeat three times. Remember: keep pressing the kettlebells out with your arms and shoulders. Imagine having straight arms with no bend in the elbow, as if you were pressing through to the ceiling.

Both of these moves are effective by themselves (squat and press), but I wanted to combine them because... why not?! I love moves that give me more bang for my buck!  I like to focus on total body, functional movements while I'm training - and the barbell squat to press (or thruster) is all that and a bag of chips.

The thruster is a great lift for climbers because it strengthens our legs and hip-drive, includes some pressing to balance out the pull-heavy demands of the sport, and increases our knee and hip flexibility... and we love flexible hips because they allow us to get in and out of precarious situations on climbs.  And we love flexible hips because it allows us to get in and out of precarious situations on climbs that push our limits of flexibility.

To perform the thruster, start with a set of dumbbells. Have the heads of the dumbbells point straight out. Keep your elbows in front of the body and rest the weights on your shoulders. Take a peek down and make sure your feet are about shoulder distance apart.

Begin to squat down by sending your hips back and keeping your weight in your heels. Continue down until the angle between your upper leg and your calves becomes slightly less than 90-degrees (which is the point in which the upper legs are below parallel to the floor). Keep your eyes looking forward. Once you hit the bottom of your squat, explode up - almost as if you were going to jump those dumbbells overhead, but without your feet actually leaving the ground. As you start to aggressively stand up, press the dumbbells out overhead with your arms and lock out your elbows. Return the dumbbells back to your shoulder before going onto the next rep. Once you master the dumbbell version of the thruster, give it a try with a barbell!

Truster_Climbing Strength

How to incorporate this into your workout.
The thruster requires a lot of strength as well as aerobic capacity. Start by doing 30 seconds at a time, as many as you can perform. Rest 30 seconds. Repeat for a total of three rounds. Try and stay consistent with your reps, or add more as you get stronger and faster!

What if I told you there was a lift that could develop your entire posterior chain (from your upper back all the way down through your hamstrings), develop explosive power and force, enhance your athletic ability and speed, burn fat and improve your grip?  Sound too good to be true?  Well, there is a lift that does all that... it's the clean.

I cannot express how important this lift is at developing fast-twitch muscle fibers. Cleans help develop explosiveness you sometimes need to get to that next hold on a climb. It helps us take risks. It develops mental strength. It is one of my favorite lifts to give athletes who want to be faster and more powerful in their sports.

A clean is fairly technical and takes practice. I recommend starting light and building up the weights slowly once you get the technique and form down.

Start the lift by gripping a pair of dumbbells. First, hold the dumbbells at your side, feet should be about hip width apart or slightly wider. Squat down while simultaneously positioning your shoulders slightly forward with back flat (spine neutral) and core engaged. Arms are straight and your chest and eyes are looking towards the wall in front of you.

Slowly begin to pull the dumbbells up towards your shoulders by extending your hips and knees. The arms do not bend. Once the dumbbells pass the knees, start moving faster and raise your shoulders while keeping the dumbbells as close to your thighs as possible. Jump straight up - extending your hips while also shrugging your shoulders. Only now will we think about pulling the dumbbells upward with the arms, allowing the elbows to flex out to the sides, keeping the dumbbells close to the body. Aggressively pull your body under the weight, rotate your elbows around and catch the dumbbells on your shoulders while moving into squat position. Hit the bottom of your squat, and stand up immediately.

The Clean_Climbing Strength

How to incorporate this into your workout.
Start with a running clock. Every 60 seconds, perform three reps. Rest. Repeat for six or seven rounds.

The clean can be intimidating at first, but with a good coach and enough practice it will be one of the greatest tools in your arsenal.

Find a Movement Gym near you.

Written by: Danielle Repetti, Trainer at Movement San Francisco.


Read this next: 6 Core Strengthening Ideas for Climbers