Gym workouts for a rock climbing rookie
January 16, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm rock climbing twice a week. What should I do in the gym?

I'm a 23 year old girl. Been climbing for six months. Currently, I have a 1.5 hours class of bouldering, and another 2-3 hour session consisting of climbing and belaying with a partner. I also have a 1.5 hour tennis class once a week, for another four weeks.

I want to fit in one gym workout per week, and go up to two workouts once tennis classes are over. What should I focus on in the gym? Should I work on "climbing muscles" or should I work on opposing muscles? Specific exercises with free weights? I googled to the best of my ability but could not find good advise or workout routines.
posted by ye#ara to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Mr. Padraigin climbs a couple of times a week, and he does yoga on the off days.
posted by padraigin at 10:02 AM on January 16, 2009

I found that stuff that strengthened my back and stomach muscles improved my climbing.
posted by salvia at 10:04 AM on January 16, 2009

Yoga's incredibly helpful for my climbing. It makes my hips a lot looser and works on both core and opposition muscles.

There is a good training book by Eric Horst which I have done my best to follow. Bits of it are infomercial-ish, but even if you don't buy into his proprietary training methods, a lot of his principles seem sound to me.
posted by jet_silver at 10:45 AM on January 16, 2009

What are your goals?
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:46 AM on January 16, 2009

Overall body strength I think should always be the goal, no matter the sport. In rock climbing, you tend use many muscle groups at once, and you have to have a strong core. I would focus on more general exercises: Pull-ups, dips, push-ups, leg presses, lunges. Anything that moves your body from one place to the next if that makes sense. And don't underestimate leg strength in climbing.
posted by anthropoid at 10:56 AM on January 16, 2009

Response by poster: My goals is to climb better and for longer, injury free. I have really hard time on negative slopes and my endurance is not great. Right now I'm working on climbing 6A French = 5.10a US.
posted by ye#ara at 10:58 AM on January 16, 2009

"My goals is to climb better and for longer, injury free. I have really hard time on negative slopes and my endurance is not great"

Deadlifts, Back Squats, Overhead Barbell Presses, Power Cleans, Weighted Dips, Weighted PullUps, Weighted SitUps.

Buy Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe for a great strength program you can 2 days a week.
posted by tiburon at 11:05 AM on January 16, 2009

Not entirely gym-centric, but you would probably benefit from hand grip exercises.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:06 AM on January 16, 2009

I'll third, or fourth, or whatever, yoga. I've got no upper body strength to speak of, not overwhelming lower body strength, but I took to rock climbing like some sort of monkey, and I credit most of it to doing yoga. It'll certainly help in the "injury free" department, as well.

It's just nice to be able to stretch that much further to reach a spot.
posted by backwards guitar at 11:24 AM on January 16, 2009

Best answer: I climb several times a week, and have been for years. To improve your climbing, I say core core core core core. And stretch/yoga a LOT. It's great to be able to get your knee up to chin height out to the side on a little foot chip and still have enough strength to stand up off of it. And beyond that, for endurance, when you are at the rock gym, climb as many climbs in a row as you can. Stay on the same rope, and climb two 5.10a's, then three 5.9's. Or climb up and down a 5.9 as many times as you can stand it. Then let your partner go, and then do it again. Slopers...take practice, and lots of balance and careful static moves and that will be helped by excellent core strenth.

But really, what I would recommend in the gym is the NOT-climbing muscles. Believe me, twice a week of climbing will give you fantastic shoulders/back/biceps, even as a girl (I'm the only girl I know who can do pullups), but you will only be able to do 3 pushups. There are guys like that at my gym, and their chests appear to have caved in. Do legs, chest, for 'rock climbing muscle imbalances', and put together a list of the muscles you should be working at the gym. There are always a lot of super-fit people at my rock gym, many of them trainers. Maybe you can ask one of them to put together a training plan for you. (I would have a rock climber put this together for you, not a regular gym trainer...)

This website is trying to sell you a training plan, but has a good list of muscles to stretch/strengthen:
Although every individual is different, there are common muscle imbalances seen in regular rock climbers. Muscles that are commonly tight and need to be stretched include: latissimus dorsi, biceps, forearm and finger flexors. Muscles that are commonly weak and need to be strengthened include: wrist and finger extensors, anterior tibialis, pectorals and anterior shoulder girdle, triceps, rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers, mid and lower trapezius, trunk stabilizers such as spinal erectors and abdominals. Imbalances may need to be addressed not only to improve climbing performance, but to prevent injury.
posted by lemonade at 11:26 AM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Training for Climbing (by Eric Horst as mentioned above) is a very good book. I don't have it with me, but it discusses exactly what sorts of exercises to do on off days and does a great job explaining the science and evidence behind a lot of the training methods.
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2009

Best answer: Speaking as a former and sometimes still rock-climber with chronic tendon injuries, I would strongly advocate *against* doing any gym work that further targets climbing muscles. In your first couple of years of climbing, your flexor muscles are getting stronger at a prodigious rate - a rate that far outstrips the rate of increase of strength in the connective tissues that support them. Most people who start climbing in an indoor gym become amazingly strong very quickly. Some of them also get very broken when the rest of their body can't keep up.

I would recommend against doing anything involving your arms at this stage. Core strength, stretching, yoga - all far better alternatives. Also, if you're prone to tendon injuries such as medial or lateral epicondylitis (aka golfer's elbow or tennis elbow) then perhaps combining climbing and tennis isn't a great idea.

I know it's tempting to see performance gains in climbing in terms of strength or endurance increases, but your effort is better spent on improving skill. Improvements in technique will allow you to do the same moves with less effort. Skill, unlike power, doesn't diminish as you get more tired. And it gives your tendons the easiest ride.

Books like Horst's training manual are fantastic, but I think are more relevant for the person that's trying to crack into 5.12's or harder. For now, you're better off climbing regularly, with a variety of people - men women, tall and short, strong and weak - and seeing what you can learn from them. Stretching and yoga on the off days too.
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:00 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks you very much. I never thought about yoga - I was leaning towards bench presses and the likes. I'll look into it. Would doing yoga exercises at home a couple of time a week be enough? Do I have to go to a studio?

lemonade: do you have good exercises for the list of imbalances you'd mentioned?

tim_in_oz: to get an idea, do push ups count as involving my arms?
posted by ye#ara at 2:28 PM on January 16, 2009

Pushups are one of the few arm/shoulder exercises that are a good idea. By their nature, it's impossible to use any of the flexor muscle groups. Back when I was climbing and training hard I would finish each training session with two sets of pushups and two sets of situps. Followed by forearm stretches.

Be kind to your body in the first few years of climbing and it'll be your sport for life.
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:36 PM on January 16, 2009

Best answer: Work on your triceps. Lots of climbers get elbow tendinitis because of all the imbalance in the arm muscles, so working your triceps and the back of your forearms will help balance things out. If you get one of those rubber-tube elastic band things and warm up your triceps before you climb, you will stave off a lot of injury. In fact, as other people have pointed out, a lot of injuries result from overuse, poor warmups, and lack of balance in muscles development, especially the incipient injuries that crop up over time and refuse to go away (like tendinitis).

If your goal is to get better at climbing, the climbing gym is the best gym to train at - do lots of pullups, do easy routines on big campus rungs, try hard routes and boulder problems that you wouldn't normally try, do some deadhangs to strengthen your fingers, and do any and everything you can do to make your core strong as hell.

Climb outside whenever you can, because although the variety of holds in the gym seems big, climbing on the same types of holds over and over, like you do in the gym, easily wrecks your fingers if you do it too much. Also, think like a boulderer and rest, rest, rest, rest. Spend more time resting than climbing, especially if you're trying hard routes.

For endurance, downclimb. Long routes are hard to come by in a gym, and you can link easy routes together, or repeat them nonstop, by downclimbing after you get to the top. Obviously you have to do this on easier routes, and don't do it if the gym's busy because it pisses people off if they're waiting. Add-on on the bouldering walls is a good way of improving your endurance as well, especially if you add two or three moves each turn.

Climb with people who are better than you, and especially try to find people who live and die for climbing, because they're going to get you stoked and keep you challenged. Some climbers get kind of pretentious as they get better and hang out with a posse of good climbers, but every gym has at least a couple of people who will be super encouraging and super stoked to see you climb a 5.9 or a V3 after you've sessioned it for hours or days. Plus, the more climbers you meet and talk to, the more ideas you can get about training and the more experience you'll have to draw on with regard to avoiding injury, warming up, stretching, learning technique, learning about gear and anchors, learning about secret areas, and so on.
posted by Dr. Send at 4:31 PM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Muscles that are commonly weak and need to be strengthened include: wrist and finger extensors, anterior tibialis, pectorals and anterior shoulder girdle, triceps, rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers, mid and lower trapezius, trunk stabilizers such as spinal erectors and abdominals.

Overhead press, bench press, and deadlifts will hit all of those. You could throw in some dips too.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:53 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

In answer to your followup question - I'd recommend going to a yoga class for at least a few lessons, to make sure you're doing things mostly right. Then you can start doing stuff at home.

Your gym may have yoga classes already.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:44 PM on January 16, 2009

Another vote in favor of core exercises and pushups -- I didn't balance my workouts when I started climbing, and I developed medial epicondylitis early on that was really hard to shake. I've done a little yoga, and I would say it helps a lot, but you need to stick with it; it's possible to do at home, but you'll get more benefit in a structured environment with someone who can correct your posture and prevent bad habits from forming.
posted by Chris4d at 8:29 PM on January 17, 2009

Ok, sorry it took so long, I had to go dig out my notes...It looks like what I did for my original training plan was to take the above quoted list of muscles that need to be stretched and strengthened and just searched for each muscle and then drew a little sketch of each stretch or exercise. Sorry not electronic, so can't share...but you can find it all on the internet.

So for example, if you search for 'stretch latissimus dorsi', the first hit shows a diagram of where it is, and at the bottom of the page how to stretch it.
posted by lemonade at 1:58 PM on January 18, 2009

« Older "Comp time" isn't much of an incentive.   |   What song is the chorus of this song from? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.