Help me climb!
September 11, 2011 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I am relatively new to climbing. Help me increase the endurance of my forearms.

I've been bouldering for about four or five months. Full disclosure, I climb in a gym (Hidden Peak in Chicago, holla). I can send most v0s and v1s and the occasional v2. v3s and above still feel outside of my reach.

I feel like the biggest thing holding up my progression is my forearm stamina.

When I say forearm stamina, there's really two things at play in my opinion.

1) I can't stay on the wall as long as I would like. This is my muscles giving out.

2) I can't climb as often and as long as I would like. I start to get a tingling verging on pain in what I believe are my tendons near my elbows. This limits me to climbing every four days max. I've tried waiting only 3 days and my tendons just can't handle it.

What should a new climber like myself do to continue my progress?
posted by prunes to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There are a few variations on this -

google forearm broom exercises
posted by fire&wings at 2:11 PM on September 11, 2011

The very short answer: climb long routes.

The short answer is: go look at the book The Self-Coached Climber and start following its training suggestions.

The longer answer: you need to increase both the aerobic and anaerobic endurance of your body in general and your forearms in particular. Two good workouts to do this are (1) climb continuously for 5 minutes (up and down, no weighting the rope, but you can pause and shake out as much as you want). Pick a grade that allows you to do this, but just barely. Try to do 4-5 repeats of 5 minutes on the wall with rest in between. (2) 4x4s: pick a route and climb it 4 times in a row, lowering in between (you don't have to climb down). Rest for 3-5 minutes, then repeat, for a total of 4 rounds (16 routes).

Also, if you're having elbow pain you should do stretching and exercises to balance your opposing muscles. You might want to talk to a physical therapist or do some more research on this, but one easy exercise that should help is reverse wrist curls: hold a dumbbell in your hand and then lift your hand up with the elbow straight (so you're only moving at the wrist).
posted by medusa at 2:11 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The most important thing as a new climber is not to climb too much. This is because your tendons are still growing and they get stronger at a much slower rate than your muscles. The things you want to be doing are focusing on your technique (fingers and footwork) before trying to gain more muscle strength. The reason for this is that if your muscles get much stronger than your tendons, then you can be seriously injured very quickly.

Regarding technique, I would try and watch some much better climbers and see how they utilize their whole body, instead of just their arms. Climbing is more of a whole body sport than just an arms sport. Something else really important to remember is the idea of using as little energy as possible. This is where your footwork comes in. If you have really good footwork, then you would theoretically be using your arms a little less. I would suggest looking for a bouldering class at your gym. Sometimes they have those and will give pointers on how to use better technique. After climbing for 4 months i really really enjoying just hanging out at my gym and watching the lead climbers as well as watching climbing videos. not crappy youtube videos, but actual videos of professional climbers. My favorite is Lynn Hill.

On preview, medusa has some great advice for practical exercises to gaining strength. will have to use those when i go to the gym in a couple hours!
posted by ruhroh at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Climbing can be a pretty rough load on the body. Disclaimers:




As to the question: Good advice here already. Here's one for the daily routine: If you aren't at the gym, then you can simply hang. Install a bar at your apartment and hang from it.
posted by krilli at 2:21 PM on September 11, 2011

4x4's are the best to increase power-endurance and contact strength. You can do this with boulder problems also. If you are climbing v2s at the highest, choose 4 V0s or v1s and climb them all in a row, rest a minute and do it again. Do this 4 times. The goal is to be at fail by the end.

If you want to up all of your endurance, go for easier routes and get 10 or 15 pitches in during a session.

If you are having elbow pain, you need to stop climbing for a while until it fully goes away. You can work on strengthening all of the little stabilizer muscles in the forearms and biceps/triceps because more than likely you are having issues with a ligament or tendon, which isn't good and takes a long time to heal.

The best advice I can give you, having climbed for 20+ years, is to TAKE IT SLOWLY! I know you want to jump on those V3s and push yourself, but new climbers are so prone to injury from pushing too hard too fast. Take it slow and build up a good base. Go a month without really going your hardest and your body will thank you.

Also, take the time to warm up and cool down. This means stretching and going slowly for a good 1/2 hour before getting into your training routine. Climbing in a gym is really tough because you can push yourself so much harder than climbing outdoors. I know the climbing around Chicago is limited to Devil's lake 3 hours away, or else I'd say to stick to climbing outdoors for a while because you will be much less prone to injury as you aren't pushing yourself as hard outdoors.

This is tough because of lack of climbing outdoors in your area though.

If you have any more questions or want to talk about climbing, please don't hesitate to memail me. I love climbing and can talk for hours about it.
posted by TheBones at 2:23 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah I definitely don't stretch. I've always felt that given that I'm fairly young that it wasn't necessary.
posted by prunes at 2:25 PM on September 11, 2011

I climb like a monkey, and don't' really feel like I have a ton of forearm strength, so I'd recommend looking into something like yoga, so you're more flexible and able to rely on your legs more to reach a little higher.

My arms seem to be able to go forever, and my legs fair pretty well, although they tend to be what's sore the next day.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:26 PM on September 11, 2011

When I was climbing a fair bit, I used to over hold grips. When I learned to hold only hard enough to maintain balance except when making a move, my endurance improved.
posted by dantodd at 2:32 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to stretch, or at least spend 10 to 15 minutes of very easy, climbing to warm up. Stretch on the wall. Grab 2 big jugs and spread your feet out on small jibs and twist your hips. Move a hold up and do the same. Boulder on big holds for another 10 minutes or so. Trust me, your body will thank you when you are 30 and still trying to climb hard.
posted by TheBones at 2:39 PM on September 11, 2011

These gyroscopic exercise balls are an easy way to build forearm and grip strength.
posted by colin_l at 2:39 PM on September 11, 2011

Also, technique will go a long way to your climbing endurance. Make sure you are resting on your skeleton and not your muscles when you climb. Don't over tense and learn good technique and use it. This will go A LONG WAY to you improving your climbing ability.
posted by TheBones at 2:40 PM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Warmups. If I start off on a hard problem or route, it's going to be a short day for me. If I start with easy problems or routes, I can climb all day, even if I get into harder stuff later.

Warmups, and just climb more. There's a lot of exercises that work on forearm and connective tissue, but honestly just climb more.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:41 PM on September 11, 2011

Also, after thinking about your question for a bit: one of the things you will learn when you read The Self Coached Climber is that you think the problem is your forearms, but really the problem is that your technique sucks. There are specific movement training exercises that your should be doing to improve technique-get the book and have fun.
posted by medusa at 5:06 PM on September 11, 2011

This may not apply to your situation, but I find my technique improves substantially if I get my bmi to about 22. Also go really slow and watch out for tendinitis as your strengthen up.
posted by humanfont at 5:08 PM on September 11, 2011

As mentioned above, in general you should work on technique and precision until you're using your arms only for balance. Try to move deliberately and gracefully enough that you can place your feet on the wall silently, and think carefully about the minimal motion required for any given step of a problem. Moreover, practice occasionally removing both hands from the wall while remaining balanced in a difficult position.

That said, given that overhangs are fun, one of the more useful tools I've encountered for building forearm and grip strength is a wrist roller. You can build one very easily from a broom handle or similar, some parachute cord, and a 2.5 lb or 5 lb plate. It will be incredibly difficult the first few times you use it, but it's easy to work into a regular routine. This, and other low-resistance high-volume strength exercises will build the aerobic endurance that you need in your upper body without building much bulk.
posted by pmugowsky at 5:34 PM on September 11, 2011

Response by poster: Moreover, practice occasionally removing both hands from the wall while remaining balanced in a difficult position.

I spend most of my time on slanted walls. I don't think this would be possible on those, would it? I don't think I'd myself out so much on a totally vertical wall.
posted by prunes at 6:09 PM on September 11, 2011

prunes: Naturally, this isn't possible on overhangs. I'd recommend climbing difficult vertical routes before spending too much time on overhanging routes; too much of the latter early on has led several of my friends to rely excessively on their upper body strength without refining their balance.
posted by pmugowsky at 6:59 PM on September 11, 2011

It seems that you are mostly bouldering, which is (in the US at least, though not everywhere) going to emphasize overhangs. This is a fine way to get strong, as long as you're really careful.

What would probably help is just a lot of volume at lower intensity. I find that when bouldering it's easy to get hooked on a problem that is hard for me. Then I get wasted right away and so I just don't end up climbing that much. Instead, if you just focus on spending the first half hour or so doing lots and lots of easy problems, you'll get nice and warmed up before you try to pull hard, and you'll build both endurance and technique. My experience is that beginners (well really most climbers) really under-emphasize being warmed up. One or two climbs is just not enough.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:11 PM on September 11, 2011

Sledgehammer levering is very effective and a lot of fun.

Increasing the absolute strength of your grip will give a tremendous boost to endurance, so you might want to look into buying some grippers (Captains of Crush grippers are the world standard), and perhaps some weights for plate pinches, weighted hangs from a chin bar, etc. Also a thick bar for deadlifting. And a bag of fresh apples to crush, phonebooks to tear in half and sixty-penny nails to bend into pretzels.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:04 PM on September 11, 2011

Using your legs more will help your forearms.

You don't need much upper body strength until doing v4+
posted by zephyr_words at 9:14 PM on September 11, 2011

It's hard to tell if this is your problem, but if it is: You'll probably find things easier if you make sure that your resting positions allow you to fully extend your arms. Instead of crunching up at the wall, hang from your straight arms and have your legs bent.

I think most everyone starts off having their "resting" position be something where their arms are bent at the elbows, pulling their chests into the wall that way. This isn't really very restful, and your forearms will tire out quickly.
posted by that girl at 2:12 AM on September 12, 2011

If you can only climb every four days or so because of pain, then you've probably been climbing too heavy and you're injuring yourself. You might want to think about reducing the intensity, ie, doing less strenuous bouldering for a while, until you recover. Also consider doing some top-roping at the gym in place of bouldering. This will be less intense than bouldering, but it'll help your stamina.

You've only been climbing for a few months, so don't worry at all about strength. Concentrate on technique, and strength will build naturally. As a beginning climber, you should be working on volume and technique rather than quality anyhow.

I'll third/fourth the recommendation for the Self-Coached Climber. Dave Macleod's "9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes" is also very good.
posted by daveje at 2:45 AM on September 12, 2011

Does your gym offer climbing lessons? I'm at about the same level as you are, and just finished my first set of bouldering lessons. In your case it could help you move up a level by refining your technique and stamping out any bad habits that may have wormed into your climbing style. Perhaps an instructor would be well placed to tell you if you are doing anything which is putting undue pressure on your elbows or forearms.

In the meantime I'll reiterate what others are saying about giving your elbows a break - perhaps focus for now on routes which are more about footwork, balance and technique than those which require a lot of arm strength. One good balance practice is to try climbing VBs, V0- or beginner walls using only one hand, which forces you to concentrate on balance rather than hauling yourself up the wall via your arm muscles.
posted by vodkaboots at 5:37 AM on September 12, 2011

For new, spend more time on vertical routes to give your arms a rest. Use your legs primarily. On overhangs, keep your feet on the route and as much weight on your feet as possible. Climbing is a legs sport. Watch how the men and the women in your gym climb. Women usually figure out sooner to stay on their legs and keep their hips close the wall because they don't usually have or expect to have the upper body strength to haul with. That's what you're striving for. As guys, we're often disadvantage learning to climb b/c we tend to let our expectations of upper body strength distract us from learning to climb with our legs. One of the world's best climbers, Lyn Hill, is a slightly-built woman: watch any videos of her climbing, e.g., this one of her bouldering Midnight Lightning. Notice as she goes over the overlaps, even though it's slightly overhung, she stays on her feet and tight to the rock.
Climb like that!
posted by TruncatedTiller at 8:17 AM on September 12, 2011

this sounds very similar to problems I've been having recently with advancing in parkour, which I've taken on for cross-training. One of the things my parkour coach has been hammering on me about is weakness in my posterior chain. Mainly this has to do with my overall lack of panache at basic parkour moves like pullups (what it sounds like) and catleaps (where you must jump up onto a wall then pull yourself over the edge). So posterior chain has... what? to do with these things? Sounds like they mainly rely on arm and shoulder strength, no? Well, basically weak posterior chain means I have a weak ass and lower back, meaning I can't engage them for leverage to help pull my bodyweight off the ground. Even a straight pullup needs transverse abs and lower back engaged to be correctly done, and if you're doing kip pullups (a parkour necessity), p-chain strength has everything to do with leverage in the kip. So essentially since I have jack-all for p-chain strength, I'm trying to pull all my bodyweight up with my traps/biceps and lats, which have very little power/strength in comparison (add to which I'm a getting-on-for-vintage female and you have a recipe for failure). Not to mention weak p-chain also means I have shit for vertical leap (you need p-chain power to have good explosiveness in vertical leap, which translates to climbing as well). This p-chain weakness is related to several things, mainly being that I'm a cyclist and cubicle monkey, with a generous helping of lazy on the side. So not only is all my strength in the anterior muscles (quads, front hip flexors) but a contributing problem is that I have to actively work not to slouch forwards all the time owing to "computer guy" syndrome (cycling doesn't help, might I add). This leads to length, stress, and weakness in the posterior chain, which culminated about 18 months ago in a minor lower back injury that torpedoed my bike racing season, and continued sporadically, until I figured out just recently that doing yet more anterior core work (situps, crunches, bench presses, forward bends, etc...) was not helping in the least.

dunno if this helps (you probably know this already) but the times I've gone bouldering, the way the basics of climbing were explained to me was that you should use your legs way, way more than your arms, because they're by far the strongest and most stable muscles you have. This brings you back to leg/core strength and probably your p-chain because in order to be able to balance and engage these muscles, you need a strong back, ass, and hamstrings. on preview, what Truncated Tiller said.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:14 PM on September 12, 2011

Get a set of these bad boys:

Trust me, you'll need to start with the trainer and work your way up to the 1 and beyond.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:37 PM on September 12, 2011

Odd, my link disappeared.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:38 PM on September 12, 2011

ruhroh: "The most important thing as a new climber is not to climb too much. This is because your tendons are still growing and they get stronger at a much slower rate than your muscles. The things you want to be doing are focusing on your technique (fingers and footwork) before trying to gain more muscle strength. The reason for this is that if your muscles get much stronger than your tendons, then you can be seriously injured very quickly. "

Muscles take a few weeks to adapt and grow stronger, tendons takes month and ligaments more than a year. If you train too hard/fast the first year, your finger ligaments will *pop*. Practice your technique, watch some climbing videos and loose weight (go running, never hurts).
posted by Akeem at 6:11 AM on September 13, 2011

One thing you might want to focus on is using an open handed grip instead of crimping whenever possible. Might not address the problem your having now, but a few years down the road your fingers will thank you.
posted by doctord at 3:12 PM on September 20, 2011

« Older Can you still buy a simple cable television setup?   |   Netbook for in-car entertainment Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.