The main ingredient in rock climbing tends to be muscular fitness, encompassing both muscular strength and muscular endurance. Without a high level of muscular fitness, a rock climber will not progress to a higher level of difficulty. This is true for recreational and novice rock climbers (as well as experienced, competitive, and elite climbers). One pitfall to avoid is dedicating too much time to nonspecific strength and cardiorespiratory training in the gym while failing to incorporate climbing-specific exercises into your workout routine. Another pitfall that can be even more detrimental is not using indoor or outdoor climbing venues on a regular basis, especially during your “off-season.”

Muscular Fitness, Good strength

In short, to become a better climber, you must develop specific muscular fitness. This can be done through frequent climbing and by using climbing-specific exercises designed for muscular improvement and proper skill development

Muscular Fitness in climbing trends

A majority of the studies conducted to measure muscular fitness in rock climbers have primarily assessed strength and endurance of the forearm, hand, and fingers via dynamometry (mechanized gauges). Handgrip strength is defined as a gripping motion, and finger strength is measured using climbing-specific finger positions.

Forearm endurance (sometimes coupled with handgrip) is assessed via sustained and repetitive dynamic actions as a percentage of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). When implementing a strength training program, you will most likely choose dynamic (shortening and lengthening of the muscle) exercises that involve a push and pull. You will also likely choose isometric (static) exercises (without shortening or lengthening of the muscle) that involve hanging on or maintaining a body position without movement, such as clinging to a small hold for a period of time or “resting” in a precarious position before climbing beyond a crux move.

To train yourself to maintain the aforementioned dynamic or static positions that at times involve insecure holds, purchase a donut or use a campus board at home or your local rock gym. Practice squeezing and holding the donut for a few seconds at a time and with daily practice up to 60 seconds; then work to 3 to 5 sets of 25 to 30 repetitions. Likewise, hang on the campus board for a few seconds and up to a few minutes per use with progression. These two simple exercises, if implemented on a regular basis, will provide a baseline of strength, progression, and preparation for the training and climbing ahead.

Good muscular strength and endurance in the fingers, hands, and forearms (i.e., the ability to sustain many contractions over time) are required when climbing. Also, excellent muscular endurance in the shoulders, chest, and back is a great goal. Many beginning rock climbers think that climbing involves only the upper body, but in reality the upper and lower body work in harmony while climbing. Therefore it is important to train the upper and lower body to be not only full of muscular endurance and strength, but to have a great amount of explosive power. Limb length, body height, and body weight are not necessarily barriers to achieving higher standards in rock.

Whatever the case, muscular fitness is important for rock climbing, and people may develop a suitable level of muscular fitness through regular participation in a fitness routine. The challenge is designing a sport-specific training program that targets the muscle groups commonly overloaded while rock climbing and that allows you to progress in difficulty as a climber.

Flexibility

For a rock climber, flexibility is important because of the various leg and arm positions required for reaching various handholds or footholds and for ascending routes that are progressively more difficult. For instance, a common practice in climbing is bridging (also known as stemming), which requires a moderate amount of hip flexibility and strength as a climber does a variation of the splits.

Being flexible implies that you have a range of motion (ROM) that is adequate for your desired level of climbing. Adequate ROM encompasses all the major joints of the body: the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle. Even neck flexibility is needed in order to maintain a high level of functioning.