Getting Fit for Climbing

Strength and Balance
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Strength Train

Once you've established a healthy fitness routine, pick up the pace and work the muscles you need to climb. Remember, you're not seeking to gain mass and build muscle, as much as gain strength and endurance through specific climbing-related exercises. Forget about shaping your body into some supermodel form that doesn't suit you; work with what you've got and hone it into an efficient and comfortable machine.

Climbing is a wholesome activity that relies on sufficient strength in almost every muscle in your body. Starting out, you'll experience soreness in muscles you never knew you had, and you should think about everything from your calves to your neck when you think about getting fit for climbing. That said, you would eventually want to concentrate on your arm, hand, and general torso strength. The first muscles you'll feel tire are those in your forearms, where much of the strength for hanging on is harnessed. Your hands, biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, and abdominal groups follow.

You can work all of these muscles on standard strength-training equipment in your local gym, or at home on your living room floor, but by far the best way to strengthen them is through motions that imitate climbing, or actual climbing itself. In fact, far and away the best way to improve your climbing strength is to climb regularly and frequently, either in a gym or outdoors, about three times a week. Then you can supplement this climbing workout with specific isolated exercises like abdominal crunches and pull-ups. If you do choose to strength train using free weights or fitness machines, it's well worth seeking the professional advice of a trainer to ensure you avoid injury and train effectively using proper form.

If it's the home-gym privacy you're after, try buying a fingerboard made specifically for climbers to practice pull-ups on a variety of different types of handholds. Use it for leg raises, too. A hand spring or tennis ball to squeeze while in the car will do wonders for your forearm strength, and crunches will help with the rest.

Don't Overtrain

You're dedicated and psyched to get in shape, but don't tire yourself too much or you'll achieve the exact opposite of what you intended, landing yourself on the couch with a variety of overuse injuries for months. Listen to your body; it knows best. If you're tired, really tired, take the day off. Don't push yourself at the end of a hard workout, or you'll wind up with ligament injuries like tendinitis—common for climbers in the fingers, wrists, and elbows—or muscle pulls.

Perhaps the best way to avoid injury, as well as work on endurance and train your body to perform best toward the middle or end of your session, is to warm up carefully. Stretch habitually, but not when your body is ice-cold or first thing in the morning. And when you start climbing, or start your workout, begin on something easy. Let your muscles loosen up and heat up. Then they'll become stronger and less likely to flare at points that strain the ligaments and lead to injury.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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