Tag Archives: climbing

Strength Training to Improve Your Climbing: Lifts I Love (5) – Cable One-Arm Triceps Extension

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo Photography.

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo Photography.

Are you shorter than the average climber?

Struggle with mantling?

Have difficulty taking holds down past your shoulders?

If you answered yes to one or all of the above, consider adding this exercise or something similar to your (complete!) sport-specific strength-training program.

I love this lift because it has helped me tremendously in situations where I can’t quite make the reach in my pull-up range of motion, meaning I can bring the hold in question down to shoulder level, but I am still short of reaching the next hold. Having an increased ability to turn the pull into a press can be all the difference in the world in making or not making a move.

And while it’s indisputably true that it’s nice to have more reach much of the time in climbing, being stronger in this “turnover area” from pulling to pressing can help mitigate shorter climbers’ reach issues in many circumstances. In other words, the shorter you are (and the harder you climb), the more likely it is that you will see results from this lift in your climbing.

Case in point – a few years ago, I was walking some other climbers through a bunch of strength exercises, this one included. My 6’4” friend was horrified to discover how relatively “weak” he was in this motion, but it made complete sense to me – he hadn’t really needed to develop this ability for where he was in his climbing at the time. In other words, being able to press holds out wasn’t really holding him back yet.

As anyone improves their climbing ability up to a higher level, this strength development will become more and more helpful, no matter how tall the climber. There will be times when pressing a hold down farther will be key, even if you’re tall. Since one of the big ways in which climbs get harder is that the holds get farther apart, it’s a useful sport-specific strength to develop, even if you are 6’4”.

But if you’re 5’0” (or even 5’6”, like me), you’ll probably find it much more useful much earlier in your climbing development, enabling you to surmount more and more “reachy” moves with greater ease than those climbers of a similar stature who chose not to work on putting some strength work into their triceps.

Learn how to do it here: Cable One Arm Tricep Extension. For climbers, I recommend doing this with your palm facing down (pronated). This replicates the movement used in climbing more accurately.

Move of the Month 14: Dynamic Movement and Momentum

Using dynamic movement to swing out to hit a hold on this steep boulder problem.

Using dynamic movement to swing out to hit a hold on this steep boulder problem.

I used to hate dynos.

I liked the feeling of static control in my climbing – letting go of the rock was not something that was fun for me, and I just didn’t get the delight some other climbers took in leaping for the next hold, feet flying.

Now, I’d say that I like dynos, though I’m certainly not very good at them and probably never will be. That is okay – the fact that I actually enjoy them suffices.

Learning to utilize dynamic movement and momentum to your advantage in climbing can help you make moves easier, even if dynoing or moving dynamically seems harder to you right now. Taking the time to try to train yourself in this area might make a huge difference in your climbing ability. Rather than try to pick your way through an energy-sapping, strength-draining sequence using a whole bunch of moves and holds that other climbers bypass, what if you could just do the bigger move and be done with it?

That realization exactly is what pushed me into working to improve my ability to move dynamically (hint: getting stronger throughout my whole body via strength training helped me here, too; a few years back I also actually just worked on jumping straight up in the air off one foot and both feet for a few months to get myself used to jumping again, since it wasn’t something I did much of anymore). The result is that now, I always try to make the “standard dynamic beta” work for me (in other words, what I see most climbers do for a certain move or sequence), rather than try desperately to find a way through without using dynamic movement/momentum.

One of the best ways to visualize how to use momentum in climbing is to picture how kids swing across monkey bars – each time they want to move a hand forward, they’ll swing the body backward to generate momentum, and then use this momentum to propel the leading hand forward to the next bar. In climbing, though the movements tend to be more complex, the general concept is the same. If you’re moving dynamically toward a hold, it’s often smartest and most efficient to swing your body weight down and away from the hold you’re wishing to get to, generating propulsion toward the hold as your body swings in the exact opposite direction from the hold you’re headed toward.

Even more complex for many of us to learn, but just as effective, is linking a series of movements together with momentum, instead of stopping each climbing move before starting the next. Think about how uncoordinated and jerky a gymnast’s floor routine or a prima ballerina’s solo performance would appear if she did not link the movements and use the momentum from each previous movement to help propel the next movement. Similarly in climbing, it’s often more efficient and less sapping to harness the momentum generated from the previous move to drive you into the next move, and the next move, and the next move – until you hit a resting point, or a place where you do need to stop and set up for a specific move that doesn’t benefit from being driven by momentum from previous moves.

For specific dynos, one of the biggest things that helped me and still helps me to this day is to remember to push with my feet (and obviously my legs) – to remind myself that my legs are the coiled springs of energy that are driving me to the next holds, leaping off of the take-off holds with enough force to get my hand or hands to the target hold. Taking the attention away from my upper body and learning to really use my legs to drive this movement may seem obvious, but consciously reminding myself to do this over and over again definitely assisted me in learning to dyno more effectively.

For linked momentum-type movements, I have found that learning to be more relaxed through my body and letting the swings carry me just as I did as a little girl on the monkey bars – channeling that same sense of fluid movement – helped me get more comfortable with being less static. Note that being less static doesn’t necessary mean less in control – you can be very controlled with dynos and momentum, both. They’re not necessarily sloppy climbing techniques at all, though they certainly can be if you don’t use them with precision.

The sooner you can embrace dynamic movement and momentum as options in your sport climbing and bouldering repertoire, the better. Developing a higher level of comfort with this type of movement opens up a world of awesome climbing and bouldering moves that will otherwise remain partially or even totally unavailable.

Seasonal Transitioning for Sport Climbers – Building Fitness, Planning Peaks and Preventing Plateaus

Did you boulder all winter to train your power? Don't expect to come out with awesome route-climbing fitness!

Did you boulder all winter to train your power? Don’t expect to come out with awesome route-climbing fitness!

You trained your weaknesses with dedication during your off-season, focusing on strength development in the areas you struggle with the most. And yet, during your first forays onto the rock this season, you feel worse than you did before.

What did you do wrong?

The answer, in all likelihood, is nothing.

Nothing, except for setting an unrealistic expectation that you would reap immediate and profoundly overwhelming results from your training in your rock climbing performance.

Those types of results are the exception rather than the rule.

For most of us most of the time, the results from training come much more gradually than we’d like them to, and it takes time to mold and adapt raw, gym-begotten strength and power gains into noticeable, usable gains in route-climbing performance. This tends to be true, too, for bouldering power gains, if you spent your winter season bouldering as your main training modality for working toward route-climbing power gains.

It will take time to build fitness into your strength gains, and it will also take time for your mind to fully understand how to utilize those gains to your advantage while you climb – in other words, old habits die hard, and you will probably have to work to make your body understand that it is stronger and indeed capable of doing moves that it may not have been able to do previously.

This need to build fitness into strength gains is also why I don’t recommend dropping all route-climbing training out of a program entirely during the off season, if climbing hard sport climbs is your top interest. Use it or lose it is always in play in athletics, so multiple months of not doing any type of power endurance or endurance training for climbing will leave you with a much bigger hole to climb out of than keeping those skills in play to a certain extent, even while you are primarily focused on strength training.

Having done this in the past – only trained strength – I can certainly affirm from my personal experience that it took more months to work my way back into route-climbing fitness after doing this. Keeping a little bit of fitness work in there while I focus on strength training helps make the transition easier and smoother.

For the same reason, once you start route climbing again as your main focus, you should try to avoid giving up on all strength training throughout your main climbing season. A shorter, more targeted maintenance program done less frequently can help you maintain the gains you have made in your off-season, rather than gradually detraining from your peak strength levels over the course of months and months of route climbing.

The maintenance strength-training program may also help prevent injuries, because of course, you will include opposition muscle work in the program to keep your body balanced. Keeping strength-training in play every two to three weeks can actually boost your performance over the season, as you may find yourself STILL gaining strength, even while it’s not the primary focus of your training.

This approach can also help you prevent plateaus by providing variety to your training – especially if you’re working on the same project or projects for much of the season. Remember, in training we want consistency, but not too much consistency. The body adapts to the demands placed on it, and if everything becomes too routine, that can be a perfect recipe for plateaus.

Also, keep in mind that the body can only hold a true performance peak for about a week, tops – something I will mention again and have mentioned before. It would be a wonderful thing if we could peak all of the time, or at least force the body into peaking exactly when we wanted it to whenever we wanted it to, but the reality is that it’s not an exact science. You’ll have to experiment to find the right balance between training, resting and peaking for yourself.

In general, if you are training hard and climbing hard but you start to feel your performance slip a little bit OR you are getting close to sending your project but just can’t seem to get there, you might be on the brink of having a performance breakthrough – if you can handle resting to stimulate a peak at this point.

This is counterintuitive for many of us, who want to push even harder to eke out the send. While this can happen, you might find that a few days off will lead you to emerge at a higher level of performance, allowing you to peak (send), and then moving into a new training cycle after that effort is complete.

Remember that it’s our minds that want and cling to weekly routines – but our bodies actually will respond better in most cases to a little less routine and a little more randomness. Undulating periodization, in which you stagger what you work on, how hard you work, how many days you climb and train, etc., can be perhaps even more effective in stimulating climbing-performance gains than a predictable exercise routine from week to week.

Summing it up:

  • It takes time for the body to adapt raw strength/power gains into route-climbing/fitness gains. Be patient. Enjoy the process of learning how to utilize new strength and power effectively.
  • Don’t drop your strength-training program during your route-climbing season. Lift at least every 2-3 weeks to maintain your strength gains and to stay balanced in your body.
  • Avoid plateaus by avoiding a completely regimented and predictable climbing/training schedule and routine.
  • Rest enough to stimulate peaks at appropriate times.
  • Understand that climbing at 100 percent of your potential 100 percent of the time is not possible.