While any climber will tell you there’s no substitute for getting out in the country, or at least hitting the local wall, to build strength, speed and technique, realistically that’s not always possible. Like any athletes, climbers need to implement a regular schedule of training in order to maintain peak fitness and train the specific muscle groups needed to succeed in the sport.
One of the most flexible ways to do so is to incorporate resistance band training into your weekly workout routine. Resistance workout bands are ideal for isolating and training specific muscle groups, and simulating the muscle loads encountered during various moves. In this article we’ve looked at some of the top exercises to train for specific techniques or aspects of rock climbing.
1. Strengthen Your Hamstrings For Solid Heel Hooks
Heel hooks are a vital part of any climb, allowing you to take the weight off your arms while staying close to the wall and making upward progress. The key muscles you need for an effective and stable heel hook are your hamstrings – you need to build both strength and flexibility in these muscles.
The best way to train your hamstrings is with banded hamstring curls. Lie face down on the floor (or a gym mat) with your arms folded in front of your head and legs straight out, toes touching the floor. Loop your resistance band around the arches of both feet, ensuring the band won’t slip or move during the exercise.
Now, bring your right leg up, bending at the knee, so that you’re stretching the resistance band between your planted left foot and raised right foot. You should feel the tension in your hamstring. Return your leg to the starting position and repeat, leading with your left foot. That’s one rep.
2. Build Calf Muscle For Stable Knee Bars
Knee bars are a crucial technique, allowing you to create a stable hold between two points on a wall. To increase the stability and lengthen the time of your knee bars, you’re essentially relying on your calf muscles.
A perfect exercise for isolating and training your calves is the banded ankle raise. To get started, stand with the balls of your feet about shoulder-width apart over the middle of your resistance band. Pull the band taut with your hands and hold it at about waist level – it should be tense but not overstretched. This is your starting position.
Now, raise yourself up onto your toes, bringing you heels up as high as you can while maintaining balance. You should be able to feel your calf muscles working against the tension of the resistance band. If you find the exercise too easy, you can reduce the amount of slack in the band, or switch to one with a higher level of resistance.
3. Master Compression Climbing With Greater Upper-Body Strength
For some challenging routes, it is impossible to succeed without using some elements of compression. Unlike oppositional holds, with compression holds your muscles are constantly working – you can’t lock your limbs or use leverage to assist you. Therefore overall upper body strength is extremely important.
A great way to isolate and train your pectoral muscles is with banded chest flys. To do this exercise, you’ll need a resistance band as well as a secure anchor point about chest height from the grounds. You can use a gym rack or wall bracket, or if you’re working out at home, a door anchor (but ensure your door frame is sturdy enough to take the weight).
To set up, secure the middle of your resistance band to the anchor point, ensuring that there is no way in which it could slip or snap out of place and potentially lead to an injury. Once you have your band securely in place, stand facing away from the anchor point and take one end of the resistance band in each hand. Move forwards until the band is taut, holding it at shoulder height, with your arms straight out to the sides.
Now, with your feet planted one ahead of the other, as if mid stride, and your core muscles tensed, pull the ends of the band forwards and inward, with your palms facing in, until your arms are pointing straight out in front of you. You should feel your pectoral muscles working against the resistance of the band. Gradually return to the starting position, taking care not to let the tension of the band snap or jerk your arms back. That completes one rep.
As you repeat these exercises as part of your regular workout routine, remember to periodically increase the difficulty. If you’re mainly into bouldering, you may wish to concentrate on gradually stepping up the resistance of the bands you are using, while maintaining the same amount of reps, in order to focus on building strength.
If you’re a trad climber, you will probably be better focusing on keeping the resistance at the same level, but increasing the amount of reps per set, or the overall number of sets, which will help you to build and maintain greater stamina.
Whatever style of climbing you prefer, we’re confident that introducing these key exercises into your workout regime will give you greater flexibility on the wall, and help you to tackle greater challenges than you were previously able to.