Round 17

What’s the best way for a beginning climber to train finger strength?

Q: I’ve heard that beginners shouldn’t focus on finger strength training because tendons take a long time to adapt to the rigors of climbing. Still, I want to develop more finger strength as quickly as possible. What would be the best way to go about doing this? –Dan (New York, NY)

A: Hey Dan, You are right on about not doing serious finger-specific training as a beginning climber. During the first full year or two, simply climbing 2 to 4 days per week is the best strategy to develop finger strength (while hopefully avoiding injury). Fingerboards, campus training, HIT, etc. are not appropriate at this stage of the game. If possible, join a climbing gym or build a small home wall so that you can climb once or twice during the workweek. Hopefully, you can climb outdoors on the weekends. Remember that developing technique, climbing strategy, and mental skills is paramount. My book, Training for Climbing, provides an in-depth look at all the important topics. Check it out.

How can I train bouldering skills when I’m unable to go climbing?

Q: Do you have any suggestions on training I can do to improve my bouldering skills when I can’t go climbing? I do not get out often enough and I do can’t have a wall or hangboard at my house. Are there any “at-home” workouts I can do? Thanks. –Mark (St. Louis, MO)

A: That’s a tough one, Mark. Climbing is a very specific activity, so it’s difficult to train effectively without access to a climbing gym, home wall, or something that involves climbing movements/positions. Otherwise, about the best you can do it try to optimize your body weight by running a few days per week. Also, considering finding somewhere that you can do pull-ups and swing around on your upper body, like on playground jungle gym nearby your house. Long-term, however, I suggest you try to join a climbing gym or build a small home wall. This way you’ll be able to train specifically and most effectively for bouldering.

What’s the relationship between strength and climbing ability?

Q: I would love to see some sort of study of climbing ability versus measurements of different climbing-specific strength tests. For one, I’d like to see the distribution of grades for climbers who possess the same pull-up strength as me. Do such results exist? –John (Raleigh, NC)

A: Hey John, There have been a few studies along these lines. In general, here’s what the data reveals: All elite climbers are strong, but not all strong individuals possess elite climbing ability. Therefore, high levels of climbing specific strength are necessary to break into the higher grades; however, just being strong isn’t enough to get one there.

It’s my experience that most climbers are already strong enough to climb the next higher level. Their constraints are mostly technical and mental, and there are no shortcuts to acquiring these skills. The best strategy is a long-term commitment to climb 2 to 4 days per week AND travel to different types of rock as often as possible.

What can I do to speed recovery of strength after an injury layoff?

Q: I broke my left arm a few weeks ago the cast has just come off. What can I do to help speed recovery of my muscular strength? I have a national comp in just 20 days! –Jake (Cornwall, UK)

A: Hello Jake, Sorry to hear about your arm; unfortunately there is not much you can do to speed things up. The good news is that you are young and strong…and your nervous system will “remember” your previous strength level and return quite quickly. I doubt you’ll be 100% in just 20 days, but you might be surprised how much comes back by then. Just be careful to warm-up well before climbing and “test” your arm progressively (work it a little harder each day). Good luck in the comp. Let me know how it goes!

How important is a full meal after a late-night workout?

Q: I climb at the gym three days per week, and two of those days are after-work sessions that end around 9:30 to 10:00pm. I drink a protein shake immediately following training/climbing, but do you think I should also eat a meal that late at night? I worry about consuming the extra calories right before bed. What do you think? Thanks for your input and for all of the great info in Training For Climbing, which I refer to constantly! –Justin (Bend, OR)

A: Hey Justin, I assume you eat a modest meal in the evening before going climbing. If not, then you probably should eat a decent meal after climbing. Otherwise, my suggestion would be to consume a large protein shake with a banana and a bowl of cereal (like Wheaties or Shredded Wheat) with skim milk. This way you get a decent dose of protein and some carbs for refueling while you sleep, yet not consume so much that it sits in your stomach as you are heading to bed.

Are specialized hand strengthening devices useful for climber?

Q: I have been reading about functional hand strength exercises (training for the guys that bend pennies and rip decks of cards in half); how well does this type of training (wrist strengthening, hand grippers, and rope climbing) translate into climbing hand strength? I am curious if you have tried this or do any of these exercises to increase your grip strength. I use the HIT strip system and Campus Rungs, but I am always on the lookout for other exercises that may help my overall performance. –Dan (Holland, MI)

A: Hey Dan, Grip strength is a very specific thing and you can’t assume that just any hand strength training device will transfer well to climbing strength. Even pure grip “squeezing” strength doesn’t translate directly to climbing, since climbing grip is static (isometric). Thus, your most effect training will be the HIT, campus, fingerboard, wall training, etc., as these are all extremely specific. Kudos to you for already using these important training tools.