How to train for rock climbing

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That I train for the limestone routes As Necessarily wrong (5.14c) or for parkour style bouldering competitions I found a need for multi-dimensionality. In addition to climbing-based workouts like 4x4s and circuits, I do additional workouts to improve overall fitness, develop my climbing abilities, and optimize performance. Here I have detailed three key areas where you should do extra training, to become a stronger, fitter and more balanced climber; I’ve also described an example climbing and cross-training week.

Michaela Kiersch cross-training with a trail in the foothills of Salt Lake City.Nikki Smith

heart training

At 165 feet long, Oliana, Spain, test piece Thought control (5.14b) requires a high level of cardiovascular fitness. Climbing quickly reduced the time spent on the road and the lactic acid in my forearms; improving my cardio fitness has helped me gain that speed, as well as recovering better off the wall. It also allowed me to better control my breathing and heart rate.

Regulating your breathing during a long crux sequence comes partly from a certain level of fitness but also from experience. During cardiovascular exercise, it’s easier to learn to breathe in a controlled manner and be aware of your heart rate than when you’re freaking out on the rock. You can then transfer these breathing skills – quiet, slow breathing during rest and hard, heavy breathing during exertion – to your climbing.

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Start by adding two to three cardio-focused workouts per week on top of your climbing sessions – these can be on climbing days, weather permitting, or on active rest days. In an effective cardio session, keep your heart rate elevated at 70% of your maximum for 30 to 60 minutes through moderate but continuous exercise like running or hiking. (The Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that your maximum heart rate is 208 minus 0.7 x your age. A heart rate monitor can help you until your consciousness increases.)

You can also do one of your cardio interval training days, alternating between two activities, usually requiring different heart rates and effort. This mimics the heart rate variation you experience when resting on a route and then climbing the crux(s) – for climbers, walk/jog intervals are ideal. Raise your heart rate to 60% of your maximum while walking and then to 80% while running; keep any interval exercise to around 30 minutes.

Turbo Charged: The remarkable energy and dynamism of Michaela Kiersch

Strength and Conditioning

Strength and conditioning training has clear benefits, including improved muscular endurance, better balance through increased muscle control, and the ability to target your weaknesses. In the past, I have struggled to maintain upper body strength for larger movements. Last winter, during the Hueco Rock Rodeo, I put on the strips of Tequila Sunrise (V11), grabbed a left side pull and made a cross huck to a big hueco. Locking in the grip required strong shoulders, biceps, and core, which I trained for by doing bench presses, bicep curls, and sit-ups three to four times a week.

Ideally, you will follow a similar schedule. Variation is key: create a circuit of four to six different exercises that target different areas, moving from exercise to exercise, performing each exercise in succession, then looping back. Also, aim for lower weight and higher reps (8-10) to tone down the intensity and best simulate the continuous motion of rock climbing. Incorporating antagonistic exercises — movements opposite to those you find in rock climbing, such as reverse wrist curls or dips — can help prevent injury and correct muscle imbalances. Additionally, targeting the core with leg raises, crunches, and planks will help keep your body closer to the wall while climbing. You can easily add them to your circuit.

Weekly training program

You can modify this sample week to suit your training needs.

Day 1: Climbing + Cardio

Heart training: Before climbing as a warm-up or after as a cool-down, run or hike, maintaining a heart rate at 70% of your maximum heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes.

Day 2: Injury Prevention + Climbing + Strength

Injury prevention: Before climbing, do three sets of Finger Glides (see “Caring for fingers” below).

Strength and Conditioning: After climbing, perform a circuit of push-ups, dips, leg raises, planks, and I, Y, and T, doing 3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise. Between each circuit, rest twice the time needed to complete a set.

Day 3: Active rest day

Heart training: After a warm-up, do 30 minutes of interval training as described in the Cardio Training section.

Day 4: Injury Prevention + Climbing + Strength

Injury prevention: Before climbing, throughout the day, massage your fingers at three 5-minute intervals and do the Rolling Pen for a similar amount of time. Also, note any areas where your body feels weak or twisted; foam roll these problem areas, or if signs worsen, note condition to see if it deteriorates.

Strength and Conditioning: After climbing, work through a circuit of bicep curls, bench press, tricep extensions, and leg raises, doing 3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise. Between each circuit, rest twice the time needed to complete a set.

Day 5: Active rest day

Heart training: During the day, run or hike keeping your heart rate at 70% of your maximum heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes continuously.

Day 6: Climbing + Strength + Injury Prevention

Strength and Conditioning: After climbing, go through a circuit of push-ups, dips, leg raises, planks, and I, Y, and T, doing 3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise. Between each circuit, rest twice the time needed to complete a set.

Injury prevention: If a problem persists from the previous session, solve it with foam rolling exercises or antagonistic exercises.

Day 7: Total rest day

Injury Prevention

One of the most crucial components to longevity and improvement is an injury prevention routine, one of the main factors that has allowed me to climb consistently over the years. You can implement your injury prevention routine with every workout as it makes for a great warm-up, although you can also incorporate certain exercises like stretching or Theraband work even on rest days.

Important areas to target include the shoulders, fingers and knees, which experience the brunt of the force when climbing. Use exercises like Is, Ys, and Ts with a Theraband, light weights, or gymnastic rings for greater shoulder stability. Try finger extensions with a rubber band to help strengthen finger tendons, and use a foam roller to treat trouble spots on your knees. Antagonistic exercises like pushups, dips, and reverse hammer curls will strengthen your triceps, help you push harder on holds, and help relieve and prevent biceps tendonitis. Rice bucket workouts involving rice swirling, flipping, and doing finger extensions also provide antagonistic work for the tops of your forearms and wrists.

Antagonistic Workouts for Climbers: Improving Performance and Preventing Injuries

finger care

Rehabilitation from a typical A2 pulley injury can take months. It is best to avoid a crooked finger by preventing injury in advance. I like the following three exercises, all of which appear in the sample week to the left:

Slip of fingers

Start with your fingers extended; bend them into a crimp position, then lengthen them. Now bend your fingers so they touch the bottom of your palm, then straighten them. Finally, close your hand into a fist and release – that’s one repetition. It will help you warm up your fingers for a project, rehabilitate or assess an injured finger, and increase finger strength.


There are a number of different finger massagers as well as inexpensive acupressure rings. Essentially, they all run over your fingers and allow you to massage your fingers, stimulate blood circulation, and fix trouble spots.

Rolling Pen

Take a large pen like a Bic Sharpie and place it at the top of your palm, along your callus; Now try rolling the stylus towards you using all four fingers. This strengthens the tendons and improves manual dexterity.

Michaela Kiersch, PhD, sent many V14 block issues and 5.14+ sports routes. She currently lives in Salt Lake City.