Physical Training for Rock Climbing
This section contains a series of articles on how to improve your physical fitness for rock climbing. This includes an overview of how and what to train, different types of training and exercises and activities that help you target climbing specific fitness. Whilst this is often the avenue climbers follow to improve their rock climbing, for me as a coach it is the end of the line, and something I only focus on during the winter months or in the build up to a trip.
Any results from physically training to improve your body as a engine that drives you up climbs take time. As such many people will loose motivation and not adhere to their training programme. The trick is to be strict and monitor you performance over an extended period, like a weekly or monthly check-in against a benchmarked route, boulder problem or exercise. The gains are often very marginal and often it is best to have a longer term view when it comes to training.
There are some underlying principles you need to apply to any physical training, and these include the application of overload to your training, identifying the energy systems you want to work and ordering them appropriately through periodisation and finally understanding that you need to rest and recover between trainman sessions.
Attributes for Physical Training for Rock Climbing
In order to physically improve we need to not only to train, but train by using some basic training principles that will aid your improvement.
This is our ability to climb a without getting pumped, as a result the aerobic energy system can keep going almost indefinitely. However it only generally works up to around 40% of the maximum effort an individual muscle can produce.
Our ability to hold the smallest holds is a key attribute to climbing harder, it is also a good tool to benchmark your training through max hangs. Developing stronger fingers can be done at home through hangboarding, although you need to be working near you max.
This is the strength of our upper arms and shoulders, which are about pulling up on holds rather than the ability to hang on a hold. As such for most people, unless you are climbing very steep rock then upper body strength will not be as important as finger strength.
This is how strong we are in our core, it also goes beyond pure strength as one of the keys to maintain tension through our core is our ability to breathe whilst holding body tension. As such this section is split into various exercises that target the deep muscles in our core.
The lower body strength of climbers helps for specific issues though. Strong quads and glutes helps us to rock-over, strong caves help stop us getting disco leg and a strong foot help use the smallest of footholds.
Power is our ability to utilise our strength as quickly as possible, as such you need to work on developing strength before developing power. For the majority of route climbers, power will not be of great consequence.
Strength and Power Endurance are generally what we require to climb at or close to our limit. Whilst strength endurance is for climbing up to around 70-80% of our top effort, Power Endurance is more 80% and above.
Being flexible in the right places can help both your technique and even where you can find rests. This is achieved through increase what might be referred to as our ‘effective range of motion’.
This is not the ability of climbing muscles to work aerobically, but the general fitness of your heart and lungs. As this is the engine that helps us drive the rest of the body through maintaining a well-oxygenated supply of blood throughout the body.
Whilst we have covered a more specific way to develop climbing muscles and energy systems. There are many muscles that are not climbing-specific and we need to exercise them to keep our bodies functional.
When we are training physically we will be tiring both the muscles and the central nervous system every time we train. Dependent on the intensity and duration of that training we will need time to recover.
Climbing is seen as a sport where getting the best power to weight ratio can help, up to a point. If you drop weight too much then you will lose muscle mass which in turn will not help you climb harder.