Training programmes: Strength & Power for Rock Climbing

Olly Allen – Foron France
Every climber finds themselves standing at the bottom of a crag guidebook in hand, craning their neck looking at routes. On spotting an amazing line, it soon dawns on them that it’s too hard. As many climbers realise, getting stronger to do the next route you are psyched for is a love, hate relationship. I love climbing but I find training hard work.
Despite this I know Training Power and Strength is essential for achieving that hard move on a route. Numerous times I have been on a difficult route and completely shut down, no amount of trying will solve the problem. Unlike Stamina (of which I have lots) and is more easily gained by ‘just climbing’ gaining power and strength is very specific.
Finger strength is the ability to hold ever smaller holds. Arm strength is the ability to hold a locked off static position. Strength training is the ability to hold both finger and arm static positions and maximum intensity. Power is the ability to move off a hold to the next using a combination of arm and finger strength but also a factor of movement.
Using Power - Gandia Spain
Using Power – Gandia Spain
Many trad climbers bury there head in the sand and just assume they need buckets full of stamina and no fear as there are few perceived ‘hard moves’. But if you are strong and pulling moves way below your technical limit those arms won’t get tired and thus you’ll need less stamina and probably won’t be as scared! Bouldering is basically all Strength and Power with technique. Sport climbing is a combination of both the trad and bouldering disciplines.
Improving strength and power can be done in isolation or combined using campus boards, fingerboards, systems training, bouldering walls and weight training.
Some of these methods are beyond the scope of this article and if you’re climbing in the higher grades there are many excellent on line articles and books that cover these topics. I will try and cover the popular tools that I use to improve my strength and power.
Before you decide on the type of training it is worth bearing in mind quality over quantity. You should be aiming at short sessions (1.5 hours) with a high intensity and low volume. Rest is also very important to allow your muscles to recover and get stronger. However you can combine strength training one day with a stamina session the next.
I find the most enjoyable way of training strength is bouldering in or outdoors.
Try a boulder problem (say 9 moves) that you can do in 2 or 3 sections but not all in one. Multiple tries will improve strength and technique as you plug away at completing the problem. You can then move onto hanging a boulder problem hold for 2 to 3 seconds whilst hovering with your other hand over the next hold. This takes some discipline and you need to know the problem and experiment with grades. It’s harder than you think and really works your core and technique with that 3 second engagement of the hold position. Static bouldering is a good compromise if you are not yet strong enough to do the 3 second technique above. All you do is climb very statically without using any momentum on each problem. Mix it up a bit and try repeating a problem 4 times in a row with a minute break in between each attempt.

Using a finger or hang board is essential to improve strength gains. Many years ago when I started climbing we used to use a piece of ply above a door frame with 10 and 15mm wooden edges screwed on. Now days there are so many companies building finger boards with online training programmes and smartphone apps to boot. The type of finger board you get is relative to how strong you are. I used to use a resin fingerboard but have now moved onto wood as they don’t shred your fingers as much allowing you to train and climb more often. I like the Beastmaker but Crusher and Metolius also do good ranges. My Beastmaker 2000 has loads of online training ideas and a great smartphone app which motivates me to do the exercises. On a cautionary note build up slowly on any fingerboard to prevent injury and don’t buy a fingerboard that is too advanced for you.
My Beastmaker 2000 with overhanging campus rungs
My Beastmaker 2000 with overhanging campus rungs
Exercises possibilities on finger boards are endless but most popular forms of torture include Repeaters and Deadhangs. Deadhangs are static grips on a given hold for a given time period usually 30,45 or 60 seconds. Repeaters are the bread and butter of finger boarding and can become addictive when trying to fight that burn. Repeaters consist of hanging a hold for 7 seconds then 3 seconds rest you then repeat this process 7 times. So each exercise on a hold should take roughly 70 seconds. You repeat this process on a variety of different holds both mirrored with either hand or off set with odd left and right holds. After 10 – 20 different hold combinations with rests you should be pumped, bored but very strong. French repeaters are a variation on the above but using different pull up type lock offs on each hold for the required 7 second. I usually do full lock half lock and nearly straight. If all this is too easy then add some weights to really beast yourself. It’s very important you warm up and down and never fully lock off on your arms always have a slight bend.
My old resin fingerboard
My old resin fingerboard
Power is always the second area to work on after strength due to the fact that it’s easier to covert those strengths gains to power. Steep burly climbing and dynamic moves are the things to focus on. Choose steep hard boulder problems and use as much momentum in the moves as possible. Practice Dynos as they are the most powerful form of climbing but be careful as they put a lot of strain on your elbows and shoulders. When bouldering it’s good to repeat a steep problem a few times but work on climbing it with good technique, momentum and increasing speed each time. This really hones those technical skills, accuracy and power all in one. If you want to isolate power the campus boarding is an artificial way to train power. This form of power recruitment is quite aggressive and can easily lead to injury if done incorrectly.
Alternatively you can get strong actually climbing hard routes. When sport climbing and working a route you’re effectively working it like a hard boulder problem. This works well for experienced climbers as they have a high technique level and have learnt to overcome fear which can hinder your power and strength.
Rich Kirby - Fosada Spain
Rich Kirby – Fosada Spain
If you follow the training programmes outlined above you’ll see huge gains in your climbing. Just remember to go climbing on real rock otherwise you’ll become a Gollum like cellar dweller who can only climb plastic or wood!

By Olly Allen IFMGA Mountain Guide at Mountain Tracks