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Rock Climbing and Bouldering: Training Tips and Exercises

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Rock climbing and bouldering are great avenues for self-challenge. Learning the skills to climb takes skilled instruction and a considerable investment of both time and energy.

While you’ll want to seek out instruction to understand the full scope of climbing technique and know-how, there are exercises you can do to start developing the strength and fitness required for climbing success at the local crag or in the gym.

Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new training routine.

Climbing Technique and Strength

Being able to move up near-vertical, vertical or overhanging rock depends on two major factors: technique and strength. Balance and efficiency shouldn’t be overlooked either. If you’re out of balance, you’ll likely be falling off the wall.

One key to efficiency is having a great strength-to-weight ratio. If you’re carrying an extra 10 pounds (or more) it will make climbing less efficient. That’s why increasing total-body strength while also achieving or maintaining a healthy body weight is the number-one focus of this training plan.

When climbing, it is important to focus on pushing yourself up the wall with your legs rather than pulling yourself up with your arms. Having a strong core and torso is necessary as well.

Set a Training Schedule for Rock Climbing

Perform strength exercises to improve your climbing ability. Your goal should be four to five workouts per week—three days of strength training work, plus at least a day or two of cardiovascular exercise.

You’ll want to balance these workouts with time in the climbing gym. A simple way to do this is to focus on strength and fitness one week and then focus on climbing technique the next week.

While you will get stronger through climbing workouts alone, having focused strength phases in your training will translate to improvements when you are taking on the next problem at the crag or in the gym.

Sample Training Program for Climbers 

Cardio Workout

Do your cardio workouts on two days of the week and end each session with static and/or dynamic stretches. One cardio workout should be a 30- to 60-minute steady-state effort at an intensity level of 7 (on a scale of 1 to 10).

Your second cardio day should start with a moderate, five-minute warm-up followed by intervals consisting of 30 to 60 seconds of high-intensity effort (9 to 10 level) followed by light-to-moderate intensity work for one to two minutes.

Repeat the intervals for 20 to 40 minutes and then conclude your workout with a 5-minute cool-down and static and/or dynamic stretches.

Strength Workout for Rock Climbing

Frequency and reps: Three days a week, perform three to four sets of each of the following strength exercises in a circuit.

Lateral Pillar Bridge With Lat Pull

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Do four to six reps of this exercise.

  • Attach the middle of a resistance band to a solid anchor point 2 to 3 feet off the ground. With your head aimed toward the anchor point, lie on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and stack your feet one on top of the other.
  • Hold one handle in your top hand and keep your hips, torso and shoulders perpendicular to the floor as you engage your abs. Tighten your glutes and lift your torso off the floor.
  • Maintain this position while pulling the band from overhead down toward your shoulder, stopping when your elbow is near the side of your ribs. Be sure to keep tension in the band from the extended position to the tucked position.

Modification: If this is too challenging, you can modify the exercise by bringing your top leg in front of your lower leg, thus assisting your core by adding a center support.

Lateral Pillar Bridge With Overhead Press With Band  

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Lat_Press_A

Do four to six reps of this exercise.

  • Attach a resistance band to a solid anchor point about 2 to 3 feet off the floor. Grasp the free handle in one hand. With your head aimed away from the anchor point, lie on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and stack your feet one on top of the other.
  • Hold one handle in your top hand and keep your hips, torso and shoulders perpendicular to the floor as you engage your abs. Tighten your glutes and lift your torso off the floor.
  • Maintain this position while pressing the band from shoulder height up overhead, locking out the elbow.
  • The band should have tension throughout the movement.

Modifications: If this is too challenging, you can modify the exercise by bringing your top leg in front of your lower leg, thus assisting your core by adding a center support.

Pull-Ups

Rock_Pullup_A
Rock_Pullup_B

Do 10 to 15 pull-ups or “power-ups.”

  • Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Pull your body up so the top of your chest reaches the bar.
  • Focus on pulling your elbows down and back by engaging your upper back.

Modification: Pull-ups are very challenging for most people—try placing a step or bench under your feet from which you can “power up” your chest to the bar.

Push-Up with Single Arm Row

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Single_Arm_B
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Repeat each rep six to 12 times.

  • Use dumbbells
  • Begin in a push-up position with hands on dumbbells and feet set wide. Lower the body down in one line and as you push back up, row one elbow back, bringing the dumbbell up toward the rib cage.
  • Maintain a plank position throughout the exercise by keeping the body straight from head to toe.
  • Perform a push-up and repeat the rowing motion on both sides (this is one rep).

Modification: If you are unable to maintain a stable trunk while on your feet, drop to the knees to complete the exercise.

Dyno Step-Up Jump-to-Squat Landing

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Dyno_Step_B
Dyno_Step_C

The purpose of this exercise is to condition your legs for power while climbing AND falling—jumping off a wall and landing is something you’ll do a lot while working on challenging bouldering problems.

Do 10 to 20 repetitions per leg. Make sure the landing area around you is clear and consider having a spotter, if necessary.

  • Stand facing a bench, step or plyobox and place the ball of one foot up on the bench.
  • Push up into full extension and then jump back to the floor, landing as softly as possible, returning to a squat position.

The nonprofit American Council on Exercise (ACE) educates, certifies, and represents more than 53,000 fitness professionals, health coaches, and other allied health professionals.

This publication is not intended to provide medical advice on personal health issues, which should be obtained directly from a physician.

Learn more about Getting Started Rock Climbing

Getting Started Rock Climbing

Indoor (Gym) Climbing Basics

Bouldering Basics

Gym to Crag: Learning to Climb Outdoors

Sport Climbing Basics

Rock Climbing Glossary

Climbing and Bouldering Rating Systems

Climbing Ethics: Leave No Trace


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