Round 19

What’s the best way for a beginner to improve finger strength?

Q: I’m new to climbing and I’m wondering how to improve in my finger strength. What exercises should I do? -Alex (Perth Scotland)

A: Hello Alex, If you’ve been climbing less than a year or two, then the best thing you can do to develop hand strength is simply to climb 3 or 4 days per week. Split your time between strenuous bouldering (to train maximum strength and power) and more moderate climbing on a rope (to train endurance). Of course, place high importance on improving your technique and climbing strategy no matter what type of route you are working. Improving climbing economy is the fastest way to improve apparent strength!

Eventually you’ll want to add some supplement strengthening exercises. My book, Training for Climbing, will be very help on this and many other fronts.

How can I train to improve technique?

Q: I have been climbing for 2 years and have seen consistent increases in my strength. However, my climbing is suffering because my technique is lacking. Since I have limited access to outdoor area, how can I train to improve my technique in a climbing gym? — Tyler (North Scituate, RI)

A: Hello Tyler, Climbing gyms are a good proving ground for developing technique. However, it does require a deliberate effort and use of certain technique training drills and strategies. Follow are links to a few articles on the NICROS Training Center that provide specific drills and strategies. Use these drills regularly and you improve your technique!

What can I do to improve endurance on routes?

Q: I boulder V5 and I want to break into the 5.11 as a lead climber. However, I get quickly pumped on roped climbs. What type of exercises can I do to improve forearm endurance. –Daniel (New Zealand)

A: Hey Daniel, That’s a very common question with a two part answer…and it doesn’t involve strength training! If you can boulder V5, then you are likely strong enough to climb 5.11. Therefore, you must make a focused effort on improving your technique and mental game. Improving in these two areas will open up a whole new level of ability! Here are two powerful strategies to alternate using.

  1. Occasionally stretch the boundaries of what you are able to do on a rope. This is more practical on a TR and safe lead routes where you can hangdog and work on sequences that are a little too hard for your current ability. In doing this, don’t thrash, but instead “work” the sequence striving to find technical solutions. The goal is to grow your technical skills, regardless of the climbing outcome.
  2. Re-climb routes and boulder problems you’ve already ticked, striving to climb them with greater precision and economy. Ignore the MO of other climbers who just “move on to the next project” after ticking a route (in doing so they climb most routes with less-than-perfect technique and, thus, miss a learning opportunity). Being satisfied at just “getting by” guarantees mediocrity. Your MO should be like that of a gymnast practicing a routine to near perfection-this way you refine your moves and thoughts for optimal execution.

Of course, some targeted strength training might help you break into the next grade, but without knowing your weaknesses (and seeing you climb) it’s tough for me to make suggestions for you. Again, strength training can’t hurt, but training technique and your mind is the master key to 5.11 (and beyond!).

How can I reduce leg muscle mass?

Q: Before I climbed I was a soccer player for 10 year and so I have big muscular legs. I have recently gotten into climbing and was wondering if their was a way to lose the muscles in my legs without losing finger and arm strength? – Will (Chevy Chase, MD)

A: This is a common question, Will. First, consider that muscular legs are the result of both previous sports/training AND genetics. So, while you can modify your current training to reduce leg mass a little, you will likely never possess “skinny” legs. Anyway, the best way to drop the leg mass is to start running. I suggest you try to fit in three 20- to 30-minute runs per week. Avoid hills and sprints…instead just go for a moderate jog. In a few months, you’ll likely have stripped off some muscle mass and with little effect to your upper body. BTW, I discourage climbers from running more that a few days per week since it will cause systemic fatigue that can negatively impact climbing performance.

How can I rest more effectively on a route?

Q: For some reason, it seems that I can not take advantage from good resting holds on hard routes. I feel like the longer I stay on the rest hold, the more pumped I get! What I´m I doing wrong? — Luis (Brazil)

A: Hello Luis, First consider that recovery ability is a functional of physiological conditions–the better trained climber will recover faster. Consequently, given a specific rest hold or position, every climber will recover at a different rate. It comes down to an experience call as to how long you can hangout and benefit at a given rest. Of course, you should always try to adjust your body position to improve the quality of the rest stance (i.e. turning a hip, getting a heel hook, or getting a hand jam will make the rest better). However, in marginal rest positions your best bet is to get just a brief shake and the get climbing!

By the way, my G-Tox recovery technique WILL speed recovery. Visit this link to learn more:

What’s the best way to train endurance in a gym?

Q: I just recently moved to the CA and the nearest gym to my place is a bouldering gym. Can you please suggest a workout to train endurance in a bouldering gym? — Paul (Tujunga, CA)

A: Hey Paul, Training endurance at a gym takes a special state of mind. About the best you can do is traversing back and forth through the bouldering area, striving to climb 10 to 20 minutes at moderate intensity (but never getting a deep pump). This will train local endurance in the forearms. Of course, if you shorten the time on the wall to just 2 to 5 minutes and increase intensity you’ll be training anaerobic endurance (AE). The strategy here is interval training with equal periods of rest between AE burns (which WILL pump you up). AE is most important for redpointing short, severe sport routes and it’s, thus, the most common strategy uses by gym/sport climbers.