Even though our fingers and toes are the main parts of our body in contact to the wall, our larger muscle groups of our arms, chest and back help up make the most of climbing. Usually, poor leg strength is NOT a limiting factor for climbing well, as its the larger muscles in your upper body that are most likely to hinder your success.
Climbing a few days per week will get you stronger and increase overall strength and endurance, working on specific muscle groups can give you the edge in your climbing. Here are some of my favorite basic pulling exercises– only a pull up bar or hangboard needed. All three varieties should be done with palms facing outward.
1. Basic Pull Up -The universal exercise for building upper body strength. As a general rule– doing a hundred pull-ups per day will NOT make you climb 5.14. I would place an emphasis on climbing and technique first, and finish your workout with proper pull ups (no kipping, swinging or dynamic motion). Ideally, perform three to five sets with about a three-minute rest between sets being the ideal rest break for strength training.
2. Uneven Grip Pull Up – This requires a little setup– one hand must be 12″-18″ (as much as 24″) lower than the other. You can loop a sling over the pull up bar, or hand one over the jugs on a hangboard. As you begin to pull up, start with pulling harder on the higher hand, and begin pushing down on the lower hand. Ideally, perform three to five sets with about a three-minute rest between sets being the ideal rest break for strength training. These pull ups will replace normal push ups– do not do them in additionally.
3. The Frenchy – I remember reading about this back when I started climbing in the early 90’s, with an pull-up exercise the French were doing– at the time, the French were killing it with competitions and sport climbing. this exercise uses isometric contractions in the range of motion of a pull up. Making this one of the best pull- muscle endurance exercises, however they do come with a price as more lactic acid is released by your arms and back.
Using a pull-up bar, pull up to the top position and lock off with your hands against your chest for a five-second count. Lower yourself to the bottom, straight-armed position, and they again pull up to the top position, but this time lower yourself halfway and lock-off with your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Hold this position statically for a slow, five-second count, then lower yourself to the bottom. Pull up a third time, but this time lower yourself about two-thirds of the way (with an elbow angle of 120 degrees) to perform another static, five-second lock-off. Lower to the bottom position and you will have completed one full cycle.
Without stopping, immediately begin a second cycle of Frenchies. Pull up three more times while doing the three- five second lock-offs positions. Be sure to hold all the lock-offs for a full five-second count, despite the burning that begins to develop. Continue performing a third, fourth, and fifth cycle, if you’re able. Stop when you can no longer perform a full pull-up or hold the lock-off. Rest for five minutes before doing a second and third set.As you will see, this exercise becomes really hard, really fast and is incredibly difficult. You can do this 2-3x per week.