Rock Climbing Off Season Training

What can I do in the off-season to get better at climbing, especially my forearms and fingers?


Is there anything I can do in my ‘off-time’ to improve my strength and resistance for the muscles needed for climbing? I notice my fingers and forearms give out first. Do they help much? Or do you have any exercises I can do?


Mike says:

Thank your for your email, Lukian. Your question has two parts:

1. What can a climber do in their “off-time” to improve their strength and resistance?

2. Why do my forearms and fingers give out before I think they should?

Question 2 has an easier answer, so let’s take that one first. If you notice your forearms burning out before you think they should, you are probably over-gripping the holds.

Think about the last time you climbed up a ladder. You put a hand on a rung at chest level, got a foot on the bottom rung and stood up on that foot using your hand to steady you. Then you brought the other foot to the same rung as the first foot and put your other hand on the same rung as the first hand. You would then look down at your feet, bring one foot up a rung or two and then match the other foot. 

At no time did you ever do a pull-up, and never did your arms, hands and fingers function more than to balance you. Climbing rock is the same way. Sure, if you tip the ladder more vertical you would need to hold on with your hands more, but on a ladder you only grip hard enough to keep from falling off. Your feet still do the climbing, putting one foot on a rung, using the leg muscles to push the body upward, match feet and up and up…the arms never doing pulling or pushing, just hanging on with enough grip to keep from falling off.

Question one is a bit tougher because everybody is on a different fitness plane. Some people are born with tough tendons and incredible flexibility and others aren’t. Weekend climbers often find that pushing a pencil at their desk does little to improve their strength and flexibility. As a result we need to do things in our “off-time” to keep up the muscles needed for climbing. 

Here are a few alternatives to finger and forearm exercisers that may or may not work for you. 

1. Pull-ups – Now understand that pull-ups are for training only! There aren’t many exercises that strengthen forearm muscles and tendons better. Start off easy. Try hanging on a pull-up bar palms facing away from you for a few minutes to start. Then do as many reps as possible as slow as you can. That is one set. Rest for two to three minutes and repeat. Your goal should be 5 sets of 10. Once you can do that, add weight around your waist and see how that goes. I would highly discourage finger pull ups. Weekend climbers just don’t have the tendons that professional climbers need and have.

2. Curl-ups – Grasp the bar palms facing you and hang for a few minutes. Again, the goal is to go slow so as not to hurt anything. Slowly pull up your body till you nose meets the bar. Slowly lower yourself to a hang and then repeat. The goal with these exercises is to build strength and resistance. Numbers are not important.

3. Push-ups – Do two to three sets till failure. Go slow and exhale going up.

4. Stretches: 

Frog stretch – Sit on the floor and bring your feet toward you pushing your knees out. Do 5 to 10.

Forward stretch – Sit on the floor with your legs out and reach out to touch your toes. Do 5 to 10.

High Step – Find a box or something about knee high. Put a foot on and stand up. Step back down and repeat with the other leg. Do 10 to 20.

All of these exercises have helped me a lot. The high step excercises did more for my climbing than anything else. 

Now it’s your turn – ask me a question eh?

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