To the untrained eye, rock climbing seems like a sport where you need incredible upper body strength and fingers of steel. I’ve had friends who have never climbed before ask me how many pull ups I’m doing in my training regimine. They’re always surprised to hear my answer: not many.
In my opinion, rock climbing is mainly a sport of technique. Of course that when you’re in better shape you’re going to climb better, but you don’t need to go crazy on pull ups and hangboarding to be a climber.
One of the biggest hurdles to new climbers, is getting the correct gear for the type of climbing they want to do. That’s why we built out a list of the best climbing gear that’s on the market today so you don’t end up wasting money on bad equipment.
But overtraining can quickly lead to injuries. The best rock climbing training we can do is to focus on staying injury free so we can get more time on the wall.
We’ve laid out some rock climbing training areas, technique, stamina, and strength. Each area lists a few rock climbing exercises for beginners.
There are a ton of great reasons to train. One of my personal favorite reasons is that I can prove to myself that I can accomplish something that seems hard and impossible. I first started out at the climbing wall at Sportrock in the Washington DC area. I thought that climbing up to a summit like Seneca Rocks would be impossible. I thought that I’d never be brave enough to get to the summit nor did I think I’d have the technical skills. But with a lot of practice and training, I’m able to achieve that on my own! It’s incredibly satisfying to apply yourself and work towards a goal.
Climb Harder Grades
We also can train so we can climb harder routes. Some areas, like the New River Gorge, are notorious for having a lot more climbs available once you hit the 5.10 grade. Chasing grades can sometimes take the fun out of climbing. Plateauing at a grade can be incredibly frustrating. After a while, we stop seeing our linear gains and can get stuck on the same grade. All we can do is keep trying and not get too upset about it. The more grades we can climb means the more terrain we unlock for climbing – It also means less crowds!
Get in Shape
Climbing is so fun and addicting that you won’t even notice you’re getting in better shape. Time spent at the gym feels more like hanging out with your friends rather than slogging it out at the gym to meet your weekly quotas. Outdoor climbing also have hikes to approach a crag for climbing, giving you additional cardio training.
Let’s jump into our first training area, technique.
Climbing Technique Exercises
We’re starting off with with climbing technique because I think it’s one of the most important areas to train. Ingraining good technique into your climbing muscle memory is going to help you all throughout your climbing career. Better to learn it the right way initially than to unlearn it in the future.
Our climbing technique helps us move efficiently up the wall. When we are climbing a ladder, we aren’t campusing the ladder with only crimps. We are keeping our weight on our feet and maintaining three points of contact.
Why do we want precise feet? Think about where we want to keep our body weight while we’re climbing. We want our weight on our feet and legs. That means we need to be standing on solid footholds while we’re climbing. As holds get smaller, you want to be standing directly in the center of the hold. Your shoe rubber will have the most surface area contact with the hold. More surface contact means more friction, and more friction will make it easier to stand.
So how do you perform this drill? Start off on a warm-up climb and as you send, look down at the next foothold you’re about to step on. At this point, one foot will. be on the wall and the other foot will be secure on a hold. Keep looking at the center of the hold as you raise your foot up to step on it. Deliberately and confidently place your foot in the center and don’t look away until your foot is secure.
Repeat this process up the entire climb.
Quiet feet is an exercise that gets thrown around a lot and I have mixed feelings about it. It’s worth knowing about this exercise, but it isn’t a hard rule that you always need to be following the “quiet feet” rules.
Having quiet feet means that you aren’t producing a loud stomping noise as you go from one foothold to the next. What the goal here isn’t to have quite feet, but to be in control of our body as we move on the wall. If we have quiet feet, then we are using core strength and using good beta to move from hold to hold. This isn’t always possible just because some moves may require us to make a desperate move.
For this drill, step onto each foothold as quietly as possible. For every loud step you make, retry the moves with new beta focusing on quieter feet.
Finding rests on a route is an underrated skill that is crucial for sending harder routes. Your hands, forearms, and even legs will need breaks eventually. Taking the time to rest and shake out can be the difference between falling and sending.
Keep an eye out for resting positions while climbing a route. On sport climbing routes, there will often be good holds to rest on near the bolts. Keep your arms straight while you shake out your arms or legs. Take deep breaths and chalk up as you prepare for the rest of the route. Extra points for kneebars and no hands rest!
Slab climbing is a totally different beast than vertical or overhung walls. Many climbing gyms don’t have slab walls with hard climbs. Practicing slab can be hard, but here are a few training tips.
On slab, keep your palms facing forward the wall. Slab climbing requires as much surface area contact between our shoes and the rock wall.
Always keep your heels down on slab walls, you’ll get more shoe to wall contact. Heels down climb up!
Climbing Technique Homework Assignment
Did you expect to get a homework assignment from a website? First time for everything..
Watch the entire Neil Gresham Climbing Masterclass series on YouTube. Neil has been climbing for over 20 years and has a wealth of knowledge to share. Watch the entire playlist (free on YouTube, linked below). Then rewatch the videos again in three months. These videos will help you with both your rope and bouldering skills. Practice what you learn in these videos at the climbing gym and you will see huge dividends in the future.
Rock Climbing Stamina Exercises
We won’t be able to free climb El Capitan in a day without excellent stamina. And we can train our stamina with Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity, also known as ARC. ARC training is climbing continuously for 20 to 45 minutes. This could be climbing up and down the same route or traversing the bouldering wall.
ARC training can be boring, but the goal is to climb long enough at a level that isn’t too easy, but so hard that we can barely finish. We want a challenging but comfortable difficulty for 20-45 minutes. Spice up your ARC training by incorporating the technique exercises shown above.
Avoid doing ARC at peak hours at your gym to keep the wall free for other climbers. You can also traverse the wall back and forth to get your ARC fix in. ARC is a good full body workout because it is going to get your heart rate up while you’re still working your lower and upper body.
When to start Hangboarding?
Hangboards are an excellent tool to strengthen your fingers. But some climbers think that a hangboard is the secret rocketship that will take them to climbing harder grades.
When to start hangboarding is a controversial topic within the climbing training community. I think it’s better to focus on your technique and stamina first by climbing a lot of different routes at your gym and at your outdoor crags. You will see short-term and long-term gains from climbing a wide variety of routes and working through a wide variety of cruxes.
Take two hypothetical climbers. Climber A prioritizes hangboarding. While Climber B follows the ORB technique, stamina, and strength exercises.
Climber A will have the advantage in finger strength and will excel at crimpy climbs. But any climb that requires delicate stemming, flagging, or even a gaston will give them trouble. Climber B will have climbed a wide range of boulders and sport climbs. Climber B has worked on fitting and manipulating their body to efficiently ascend the wall. Climber B has built an excellent base fitness that will positively compound whenever they decide to begin training their fingers. Climber A will have to relearn their climbing technique since they have spent so long using their finger strength as a crutch.
When you do start hangboarding, mount it on a pull up bar so you don’t scuff up the walls and so it’s easily transportable.
Rock Climbing Strength Training
Rock climbing strength training complements our other two training areas (technique and stamina). Harder cruxes will require more of our strength to send. We’ll follow a limit bouldering routine to build our rock climbing strength.
When limit bouldering, look for short boulder problems that have dynamic crux moves. The moves should be right at your limit. Our limit bouldering will look like this:
Warm-Up – Low Intensity 15 mins
- Climb routes well below your limit. Focus on technique and movement.
- I also perform wrist curls during this time.
Warm-Up Boulder Ladder 30 mins
- Start with V0
- Climb two to four problems of each grade up to your flash level (a flash in bouldering is sending a route first try while having some information about the route)
- Only try each problem three times. If you don’t send it in three goes, move on to the next problem.
- Rest as much as needed
- Four problems above your flash level.
- Focus on problems that you want to improve on. If you’re weak on overhangs, stay away from the slab wall and work on the 45-degree overhang wall.
- Three attempts per problem. Rest as much as necessary
Training is just one component of how to learn rock climbing. There are still many technical skills needed to become a competent all-around climber. Don’t get bogged down with training. If you find yourself in a funk, head out for a day of climbing to have a good time! A fun day of climbing keeps the training blues away.
Frequently asked questions
Beginner climbers can train for rock climbing by climbing with more experienced climbers. The climbing community is friendly and it’s common to ask other climbers for their beta on routes. I guarantee you’ll learn more than you think by watching and getting help from better climbers.
Push ups and pull ups are excellent exercises for a beginner climber, but one of the most underrated exercises is cardio. Cardio, running, biking, or hiking, is a great exercise and is neglected by tons of climbers and having a higher level of fitness will mean better climbing in the future.