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Training a Rock Climbers Grip

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By Mark Harris

The most obvious and best way to improve your climbing is to climb. If you can’t climb for whatever reason (location, weather, injury, etc.) and/or want to train grip specifically for climbing without climbing this post might help you design a workout.

Your training should be designed to meet your goals. Do you want improved contact strength or are you after better endurance? Some people periodize their training by working exclusively on endurance (long, boring routes and traverses), then hypertrophy (system training, weights, etc.), then recruitment (the cool stuff like hard bouldering and campusing), then power endurance (sport routes, and long boulder problems), and finally they peak (dispatch problems and routes at their limit) before starting the cycle over. I never utilize such a complicated plan. I prefer bouldering so I train accordingly by focusing on improving strength and power all the time. I do back off or push harder at different times depending on many variables (season, work, family, desire, upcoming road trips, injuries, etc.). If you are interested in designing a periodized program you might want to check out Performance Rock Climbing by Dale Goddard and Udo Neumann, (Stackpole Books, 1993). As a power junkie my recommendations will be jaded and primarily aimed at increasing contact strength.

Well anyway, enough of the gibberish, here a general outline of the typical workout plan I follow:

Climb two or more times per week

Campus once per week

Lift one, two or three times per week (it depends on how hard I am climbing and how I feel)

Other special grip exercises including hangboard training, grippers, plate pinches, etc., are done on lifting days, after climbing and sometimes on free days.

The above schedule is by no means written in stone. I alter my workouts to fit my life, recovery, and desire…

Campusing is the king finger power exercise for advanced trainers. You must be fully recovered before doing this workout. If you don’t feel recovered or your fingers feel sore then skip it. You will have to figure out what your limits are but remember campusing is about power not endurance so train accordingly. Work on big dynos (both one and two handed), plyometrics (drop, catch, throw, as fast as possible), and eliminating fingers from your grip. Typically use a half crimp but occasionally work open-hand grips. You are bound to fully crimp every once in a while when you are at your limit. Watch the movie The Real Thing for inspiration. Be creative; I come up with new challenges all the time. It is fun to break records so if you can’t break old records come up with a new one. I usually do rafters pull-ups while resting between campus sets. I take as much time as I need to complete my workout; usually one to two hours. You can find some more information about campusing on the web at www.metoliusclimbing.com/howto_campusboards.htm

As far as lifting goes now I primarily train bench and pull-ups. Lately I have been doing between 5 to 8 singles with about 85% to 95% of my Max for a couple workouts then in my third workout I single up to a new record. I don’t think benching helps much with climbing but it is fun and it helps keep my shoulders healthy and my pulling and pushing strength in line. I have also tried to occasionally do some overhead presses to work the opposite direction in the vertical plane. Sometimes I do bench and pull-ups in the same workout and sometimes I do them on different days; it just depends on how many assistance and auxiliary exercises I do and how much energy I have. For pull-ups lately I have mostly been doing low reps with weight with and without jumpstretch bands. The weight I use is not at my limit but still provides a decent challenge. For weight I hold a dumbbell between my legs. To setup the bands I hook one side on the bottom of my power rack and loop the other ends over my shoulders. They provide only a little resistance at the bottom and I am guessing but I think around 30 pounds at the top. I don’t do very much in my specific pull-up workout because all the climbing, campusing, hangboard, and Eagle Loop training adds up. I usually do a grip exercise while I am resting between singles. Typically in one workout I do COC strap holds then in the next workout I do plate pinches. I occasionally deadlift, I am thinking of increasing the frequency of this to once a week or at least every other week. I know among lifters this is blasphemy but I really don’t think squats have a place in a climber’s training regimen. The reason I say this is because I can’t think of one time when my climbing performance was limited by my leg strength or posterior chain. It is true that footwork plays a critical role in climbing but the strength needed to implement good footwork is not that high. Flexibility and average strength through a large range of motion is much more important. I do think some leg curls (more blasphemy) wouldn’t hurt a climber’s hooking strength.

I do a power hangboard workout about once a week when I can fit it in, which is usually a separate workout several hours after lifting. I work on hanging for 5 to 10 seconds. You need a timer at eye level. You can count to yourself but using a timer is much better. Work up to weighted one-arm deadhangs from small holds. It is also good to work pull-ups with offset grips. I like to do sets with one hand on a jug and one hand using only my pinkie on a small edge. This works the pinkie and increases the pulling power of the arm holding the jug. You can also work on power endurance by doing three sets of one-minute hangs from sloper holds. I recommend doing this as a final burn after a power workout or on a separate day. There are a lot of plans out there that dictate time on holds, rest periods, etc., one usually comes with a training board and they are a good place to start. My hangboard routines usually last about an hour but sometimes I will play around on the board for hours while watching TV or listening to music. You can find some more hangboard training information at www.metoliusclimbing.com/trainingguidesgeneral.htm

Some other exercises I use to improve my grip for climbing are plate pinches, plate curls, block work, Eagle Loops, GripMaster, putty, paper crinkling, heavy finger rolls, hammer curls, wrist curls, finger extensions and Titan’s Telegraph. You’ll have to figure out how to fit in these other exercises. I don’t think grippers have much carry over to climbing but they sure are fun.

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