I have heard people claim that pull-ups and weighted pull-ups “don’t work” to train for rock climbing.
Of all of the weight training exercises I use, I credit pull-ups with having the greatest impact in improving my climbing over the past few years. This became especially apparent over my last winter training season, when I finally bit the bullet and decided to really push hard in this department, since pulling – the motion of going from an extended arm to locked off – has been my Achilles heel since day one of my climbing.
Last winter I embarked on a challenging lifting program that prioritized weight training above all else for a solid half-year. I’d had a frustrating season of soreness and feeling shut down by my inability to pull powerfully yet again. No matter what happened, I told myself, I would not miss or skip a weight training session. Moving the days around for recovery or to accommodate weather windows or trips was acceptable; skipping weight training sessions that were scheduled was absolutely not.
And weighted pull-ups led the program. Unweighted pull-ups were a part of it, too.
To make a long story short, I emerged way stronger in my pulling ability six months later. I could do sets of weighted pull-ups with 50% more weight than when I started the training season. As a result, I could immediately do powerful pulling moves on routes that I simply could not do at the end of the previous season. Of course, I had a long road to build up the fitness for climbing routes (to build power endurance and endurance into this newly developed strength), but with my strength threshold so much higher, this raised my potential to gain in both endurance and power endurance as well, since these both always reflect a percentage of a person’s absolute strength. The stronger you get, the less each move takes out of your tank, and the more you can potentially build up your endurance and power endurance. If you’re a more endurance-based person like me, then every small strength gain can ultimately lead to relatively big gains in endurance/power endurance, with proper training.
There are a few ways that weighted pull-ups and pull-ups won’t be as effective for training for climbing, though. If pulling is your strength in climbing rather than your weakness, meaning you have superhuman pulling strength, power, power endurance and endurance but fall consistently do to another area of weakness (like a raging forearm pump, for example), then yeah, probably weighted pull-ups/pull-ups aren’t the best use of the majority of your training time and shouldn’t be such a priority or focus area. Also, training JUST pull-ups in isolation is not recommended, meaning that doing a whole bunch of pull-ups or weighted pull-ups and nothing else to train for climbing, including no climbing, isn’t a great training plan. However doing just pull-ups would probably be better training for climbing than running 6 miles a day – remember, training’s all about specificity, and at least pulling your body weight up repeatedly is more like rock climbing than pounding the pavement!
As with all training, pull-ups and their variants (weighted pull-ups, weight-off pull-ups, negatives, different grips, lat pulldowns, etc.) should be worked into slowly if they’ve never been a part of your training plan. It’s best to consult with a knowledgeable trainer or coach to learn how to appropriately incorporate pull-ups and other weight training exercises (including opposition muscle training) into your training. Too many pull-ups, just like anything, can lead to overuse injury – and there’s absolutely no point to training if it makes you unable to participate in your sport due to injury. That being said, if you avoid pull-ups and the likes because you hate them and/or suck at them like I once did, it might indicate that this is a key area in which you could stand to make some significant strength-related gains that will positively impact your climbing.