Post by Danielle, a personal trainer and fitness instructor in SF
Climbing is a challenging sport. It requires a great deal of technique, strength, flexibility, endurance and power. I see a ton of climbers at our gym who have so much technique and skill – but sometimes, there’s one part of the puzzle that is holding them back from those bigger more challenging climbs.
First off, I want to clear the air about one misconception – just lifting weights will not cause you to get bulky or gain weight (though, if that is your goal, it is possible with the right diet and routine!). With the right choice of reps and weight, an athlete can get stronger, denser muscle but not put get bulky. In turn, having more dense muscle in the body will cause the metabolism to increase – allowing us to burn more calories throughout the day without any additional exercise – which translates to less body fat. So by adding denser muscle – we will get stronger AND we will lose weight! That’s a win-win for our sport!
Most climbers do a lot of upper body PULLING and usually have a good base of slow twitch muscle fibers; the muscle fibers that are necessary for endurance sports like long distance running or yoga. While climbers have exceptionally strong backs and biceps, there are a few exercises we can add to give them an extra edge on their abilities. The movements I’ve found that translate to better power and strength for climbing are those that build fast twitch muscle fibers, improve overhead mobility and increase stability through the core. So let’s get into it. Which exercises are the best compliments for climbers – and WHY should I add them into my training?
Overhead Kettlebell Carry
As climbers – we need a strong grip, but we also need to make sure we are balancing out our pulling muscles by strengthening our pushing muscles. Too much pulling can cause tight shoulders and back muscles which can lead to injuries suchas climber’s elbow. The overhead kettlebell carry is a great way to accomplish this. Putting weight overhead will help mobilize and strengthen our shoulders, engage our core and grip which will in turn lead to improved control and stability while climbing.
The best way to perform an overhead carry is to spend some time mobilizing the shoulder joints beforehand. Warm up with the wooden dowels found in the fitness area. Do about 15 passthroughs to make sure the joints are nice and warm and mobilized. Now that we have that our shoulders are warm let’s stabilize and strengthen them!
With two kettlebells, one in each hand, bring them to the front rack position.
From this position, press the kettlebells overhead – remembering to keep nice straight wrists and arms PRESSING OUT. Imagine you are pressing the kettlebells to the ceiling the entire time.
Once you have both kettlebell pressed overhead – brace your core – squeeze your glutes and keep a neutral spine. Begin walking forward.
How to incorporate into your workout: Walk 50 feet. Rest for about 1 minute. And repeat three times. Remember: keep pressing out the kettlebells with your arms and shoulders. Imagine having straight arms with no bend in the elbow, as if you were pressing through to the ceiling.
Barbell Squat to Press (A.K.A Thruster)
Both of these moves are effective by themselves – the squat as well as the press – but I wanted to combine them because – why not? I love moves that give me more bang for my buck. The less time I can spend at the gym, the better. I like to focus on total body, functional movements while I’m training – and the barbell squat to press (or thruster) is all of that and more.
I think the thruster is a great lift for climbers because it strengthens our legs, hip drive, and also includes some pressing to balance out the pull-heavy demands of the sport. It increases our knee and hip flexibility as well. By having stronger, more flexible hips, we can get in and out precarious situations on climbs that push our limits of flexibility.
To perform the thruster, start with a barbell on a rack. Grip the bar about shoulder distance. Keep your elbows high and rest the barbell on the shoulders. Step out of the rack and make sure your feet are about shoulder distance apart.
Begin to squat down by sending the hips back and keeping weight in the heels. Continue down until the angle between the upper leg and the calves becomes slightly less than 90-degrees (which is the point in which the upper legs are below parallel to the floor). Keep your eyes looking forward. Once you hit the bottom of your squat, explode up – almost as if you were going to jump that barbell overhead, but without the feet actually leaving the ground. As you start to aggressively stand up – press the barbell out overhead with the arms and lock out the elbows. Return the barbell back to the shoulder before going into the next rep.
How to incorporate into your workout: The thruster requires a lot of strength as well as aerobic capacity. Start by doing 30 seconds at a time, as many as you can perform. Rest 30 seconds. Repeat for a total of 3 rounds. Try and stay consistent with your reps or add more as you get stronger and faster!
What if I told you there was a lift that could develop your entire posterior chain – from your upper back all the way down through your hamstrings, develop explosive power and force, enhance your athletic ability and speed, burn fat and improve your grip? Well – there is a lift that does all that – and it’s the barbell clean.
I cannot express how important this lift is at developing fast twitch muscle fibers. Cleans help develop explosiveness that you sometimes need to get to that next hold on a climb. It helps us take risks. It develops mental strength. It is one of my favorite lifts to give athletes who want to be faster and more powerful in their sports.
A barbell clean is fairly technical and takes practice – so I recommend starting light and building up the weights slowly once you get the technique and form down.
Start the lift by standing over barbell with feet about hip width apart or slightly wider. Squat down and grip bar with overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width. Position shoulders over bar with back flat and core engaged. Arms are straight. Chest and eyes are looking towards wall in front of you.
Slowly begin to pull the bar up off floor by extending hips and knees. Once the bar reaches knees, start moving faster and raise shoulders while keeping the barbell as close to your thighs as possible. Jump straight up – extending the hips while also shrugging shoulders. Only now will we think about pulling on the barbell upward with arms, allowing elbows to flex out to sides, keeping the bar close to your body. Aggressively pull your body under the bar, rotate elbows around bar. Catch the bar on your shoulders while moving into squat position. Hit the bottom of your squat, stand up immediately.
How to incorporate into your workout: Start with a running clock. Every 60 seconds, perform 3 reps. Rest. Repeat for 6 or 7 rounds.
The clean can be intimidating at first – but with a good coach and enough practice – it will be one of the greatest tools in your arsenal.
Interested in learning more about how to perform and progress the above lifts? How many reps to do and how often? Consider signing up for an F10 class at Planet Granite (we practice all of these lifts in class!) or consider hiring a personal trainer (like me!) who can help you reach your true athletic potential!