Tech Tip - Sport - Developing über strength
Want to increase your maximum strength and power? Would you like to feel stronger on small handholds and increase your prowess on dynamic moves? Are you stuck in a performance plateau and need a boost to surmount it? If so, I have a one-word solution: “hypergravity.” Sure, improving your technique and mental game is always paramount, but sometimes a climbing breakthrough demands pure strength. Unfortunately, there’s a physiological limit to how strong you can become by simply training at a fixed resistance. In climbing, gravity provides a training resistance that’s limited to your weight. Developing a higher level of climbing strength and power requires that you increase gravity’s apparent pull. You can create this with hypergravity training by adding weight to your body as you engage in a climbing-specific exercise.
The long-term benefits of hypergravity training are analogous to the lightness you feel after taking off a heavy backpack. Imagine creating this effect on the rock. By conditioning your body to exercise — and climb — at a greater resistance level than your bodyweight, you can make this lightness a reality.
The following are three hypergravity exercises aimed at giving you über strength. It’s best to simulate hypergravity with a weight belt that sits near your center of mass (a weighted backpack is too cumbersome), which will be different for men and women. Buy one or two 10-pound weight belts at a sports store or use a large fanny pack and add two-pound diver weights as needed. One word of caution: hypergravity training is inappropriate for novice climbers or anyone in poor general conditioning (can you do 15 pull-ups and climb at least 5.10?) or suffering from a finger, arm, or shoulder injury.
Weighted pull-ups. This may be the single-most effective strength training exercise for intermediate and advanced climbers. Performing three sets of pull-ups with an additional five to 30 pounds will produce big gains in pulling strength and power. For initial workouts I suggest adding five to seven percent of your bodyweight. Experiment to determine your ideal training weight — I recommend an amount that still allows you to do three sets of pull-ups (between 10 and 20 reps each). Take a three-minute rest between sets, and increase the weight by five pounds if you can do more than 20 pull-ups.
If available, you can utilize a health-club-style “pulldown” machine as an alternative to weighted pull-ups. This, too, will require a little experimentation to determine the ideal training weight. Begin with a weight equal to your bodyweight (the weight marked on the plates may not be equal to doing pull-ups at bodyweight), and increase it as needed to produce muscular failure in eight to 12 repetitions. Crank out three sets with a three-minute rest between sets.
Plus 10 bouldering. Tired of your home-wall workouts or of sending the same boulder problems at the gym? Strap on a 10-pound weight belt and you’ll have a powerful grip-strength and power workout! After an extended warm-up, climb a circuit of five to 10 moderate boulder problems (a few V-grades below your limit). Concentrate on climbing each problem with crisp technique and smooth execution. Rest for five minutes between problems and ditch the weight belt at the first sign that your technique is suffering. Favor problems with medium to long reaches, and avoid painfully small holds and out-of-control dynos.
H.I.T. system. Hypergravity Isolation Training (H.I.T.) is the gold standard for building grip strength. Not to be confused with the “HIT” workouts performed by bodybuilders, this highly specific grip-training method involves weighted climbing up, and down, a 45-degree wall using identical finger holds, spaced approximately 18 inches apart, for an entire set. Targeted stimulus is the lynchpin of this isolation strategy, and it’s best achieved by using specialized system holds or by creating a “ladder” of identical holds. The goal is to execute one or two sets for each primary grip position: pinch, two-finger pocket, full crimp, half crimp, and open hand. Each set should be performed with enough added weight to produce grip failure in 10 to 20 hand movements. Climb with open feet (favoring positive — but not large — holds that won’t produce an unexpected foot pop) and allow your body to move and turn naturally during the up and down laps. Take a three-minute rest, and then kick into your next H.I.T. set.
It’s important to keep your training progressive, so add weight for future workouts if you’re able to climb more than 20 hand movements before failure. Keep a training notebook and record your progress. These records will be helpful for guiding future workouts, and, in a few weeks, they will reveal definitive gains in finger strength!
Eric J. Hörst is author of Training for Climbing and the upcoming Learning to Climb (available March 2006). Visit Training4Climbing.com to learn more about Eric’s training strategies.