Mention training and you’ll know doubt see climbers murmur something about running or busting out sit ups, push ups and bicep curls; occasionally the more open minded sometimes mention deadlifts and a bit of yoga. Though this approach may help somewhat it’s unlikely to have any real impact and you’ll have to deal with the fall out that comes with ‘good intention’ but ropey training. There’s training like the above (random and unfounded) and then there’s aps training!!! We use sound exercise science combined with tonnes of real world experience to design well-balanced highly effective, practical training programmes.
Welcome to the latter.
Let’s make it clear, there’s no substitute for improving like rock time; but the gym is a great supplement for enhancing performance and bringing back some balance, if it’s done well. There’s a true art to great training which is the key to:
- Building raw strength to pull hard
- Tapping your explosive potential
- Evolving your core to handle those torqueing barn door latches
- Enhancing your movement skill in a safe environment
- Unwinding the imbalances and physical demands of climbing
It’s also a shed load of fun and great for sports where practice is limited due to weather & location.
How do we enhance climbing in the gym?
Like any sport, climbing is essentially just combining movement with bio-motor abilities (from a physical perspective that is). Once you break it down and understand which ones are key we enhance climbing by mimicking the movements and abilities of the sport in a training environment to create carryover:
Carryover is the ability to apply a skill learned in one situation to a different but similar situation. Minus practicing the sport no conditioning activity has 100% carryover, yet if we analyse each climbing discipline and identify:
- Key Movement Patterns – combinations, muscles used, complexity level, chain, reflex profile, range & planes of motion;
- Key Bio Motor Abilities – strength, power, endurance, balance etc;
- Key Biochemistry – energy systems, fibre types, body systems;
- The individual’s past & current situation – time/resources available, injuries, schedule, commitments, lifestyle habits, experience, ability & skill;
we can use gym training to have a high percentage performance carryover. This analysis helps to choose exercises and variables indicative of each climbing discipline. Couple this with a well-balanced progressive training programme that undulates intensities and we have a recipe for peak performance.
So let’s get started by introducing the key movements in climbing and how to enhance them in the gym. Remember if you’re new to training then being injury free and building a requisite level of mobility, stability and movement skill always comes before real strength, power or sport specific training otherwise there’s a higher risk of injury. Same with jumping ahead to advanced ‘cooler’ versions of exercises, master each phase and take your time.
Key movement patterns
On the rock the squat pattern shows up in many forms, e.g. driving up off a single leg, pistol position, jumps and landing.
In the gym we use exercises like single and double leg versions, mixing slow and fast tempos, developing to jumping and depth jumps (plyometrics).
- Watch someone climb and you’ll see lunge patterns everywhere – twisting into and driving out of drop knees, rock overs and various direction step ups are all demos of the lunge pattern in action on the rock.
In the gym there’s tonnes of great lunge based exercises we can train from simple, like static or single direction, to very complex like multi planar, twist combos, jumping and power snatch lunges, not to mention changing tempos, deceleration and anti-twisting.
- The pull pattern is probably the most obvious, static (isometric) hanging and locking off or dynamic (concentric/eccentric) big pulls, powerful slaps, and campusing. You’d be pretty stuffed without it as its present in pretty much every move, unless you’re Johnny Daws.
In the gym pull ups (vertical pulling) and body rows (Horizontal pulling) are a great starting point and using their various movement re/progressions, range of tempos and focusing on different muscle contractions all help.
- Ultimately climbing is a movement centred sport that has a huge static & dynamic physical component. There’s much to be gained from natural athletic training in the gym if you’re keen to push your grade and minimise injury setbacks. Keep your eyes peeled for more gym training for climbing ideas.
Live the Rock Life,