Climbing training is at a crossroads. Unprecedented access to thousands of square feet of indoor terrain means climbers are stronger than ever—weather, temps, and daylight are no longer factors. However, real science behind climbing training is in its infancy. The list of theories, coaches, and protocols is dizzying. Ask five different climbers for their approach to improving power, and you’ll get five separate routines. Unlike individual sports with more established training histories, like swimming, running, and cycling, climbing lacks decades of research to tell us specific ways to progress.
“There are a lot of coaches still employing outdated training strategies that are based on dogma more than science,” says Eric Hörst, the author of Training for Climbing, which is now in its third edition. But the research isn’t there in a lot of cases. For instance, it wasn’t until 2014 that a study established a correlation between finger strength and max redpoint ability in sport climbers. This has been well known in practice, but there was no concrete data to back it up.
“This era feels similar to how it was for me as a high school runner in the early 1990s,” says Mark Anderson, co-author of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. “Good information was out there if you knew where to find it, but many coaches weren’t particularly interested in looking. The little scientific study occurring at that time was typically done informally, or at least not very rigorously, and the ‘researchers’ were testing their own theories on a small group of their own athletes.”
This is certainly true of climbing. Most of the basic principles climbers follow have been adapted from sports like weightlifting, gymnastics, and running. While climbing coaches are refining their methods by testing their ideas on themselves and their athletes, time and interest limit the flow of scientific studies. In other words, the current training methodologies for climbing are effective, but maybe not as effective as they would be with more research-based data.
One of the core training principles that has been central to climbing has been sport specificity.
“Your training should be similar to your sport in duration, movement, and intensity,” says Steve Bechtel, founder of Climb Strong (climbstrong.com) and author of multiple training books. This concept has led to the development of the most-used training exercises for our sport, including the hangboard, campus board, and 4x4 workouts. Each exercise mimics an aspect of fitness that’s integral to climbing.
While climbers might not have decades of scientific research to call upon, there are sound principles that have been proven to work. No matter your training plan, the key to success is sticking to it. Almost any training will work as long as you are dedicated, and the longer you can maintain that commitment, the more you’ll improve.
The following sections will give you guidance on training, whether you’re totally new to it or have trained seriously for years. Use this information to train for a specific route or to improve overall.
Local endurance is the ability to stay on the wall for a longer period of time and to climb easy terrain without getting pumped. Read the full article.
Strength is how much force a muscle can generate. Here we will be looking at finger strength only: the smallest hold (or the most weight) you can handle for around five seconds. Read the full article.
Power is the speed at which you can generate force, so the ability to execute a hard move quickly. Think dynos, deadpoints, and big throws. Read the full article.
Power-Endurance is the ability to perform multiple hard moves over a longer period of time. It's a combination of—you guessed it—power and endurance. Read the full article.
Technique is how to move your body and limbs, legs, and arms as efficiently as possible, including footwork, body positioning, sequencing, and moves like kneebars, drop-knees, and flags. Even the strongest climbers out there could benefit by training and improving their technique. Read the full article.