Basic Power Training (Without a Campus Board)

When climbers talk about “power”, they are typically referring to the need to a make quick, strenuous reach or a lunge on steep terrain–this type of movement is the stuff of steep sport climbs and V-hard boulder problems. The Campus Board is traditionally considered the best power-training tool for climbers–but how can you begin power training if you don’t have a campus board (or if you’re physically not strong enough to do a simple campus “ladder” exercise)?

First, please allow me to impart just a dash of sports physiology to help you understand the benefits of the exercises described below. Think of “power” as strength expressed with speed. Therefore, you can best train to improve power by coupling a high-resistance strength exercise (which by necessity is performed slowly) and a similar lower-resistance exercise that can be performed with speed. The strength exercise will recruit a large number of muscular motor units (both fast and slow twitch) to work in unison while the high-speed exercise will then train these motor units to turn on quickly (thus building reactive strength and improving the stretch-shortening cycle energy return of the tendons).

The author doing weighted pull-ups (75lb of added weight).

The author doing weighted pull-ups (75lb of added weight).

Detailed below are two complex-training couplets to train pull-muscle power, as well as one to develop push-muscle power (a wise thing to train for balance of power).

  • Power Pull-ups -  Here you will couple weighted pull-ups with unweighted “power pull-ups”. First, you will do a 3 to 5 repetition set of weighted pull-ups, using a near maximum amount of weight added to your body (weight vest, or hanging free weights from a dips belt or harness). Upon completely this strength set you will remove the weights and do 5 to 8 bodyweight pull-ups as fast as possible–this is your speed exercise. Execute these two exercises back-to-back with no rest in between. Take a 5 minute rest before doing another coupled set.
  • Rope Climb – You’ll need a thick gym rope to do these. (Every climbing gym should have a thick rope hanging  from the ceiling–ask your gym to get one!). For the average climber, ascending a gym rope hand over hand (no feet) is a slow, arduous strength exercise–that’s fine, since doing 8 to 10 hand moves up the rope is a perfect strength and lock-off exercise (descend the rope slowly to work to complete the strength portion of this exercise couplet). Upon reaching the ground, immediately do 5 to 8 bodyweight pull-ups as fast as possible. As with the previous exercise rest 5 minute before doing another coupled set.
  • Clap Push-ups - You’re going to need access to a free weight set or some dumbbells to do this exercise. First you will do a bench press set, using a weight that is about your 7-rep max (the weight you could lift just 7 reps to failure). Do 5 reps of bench press with this weight, then immediately drop to the floor and bang out 5 to 8 clap push-ups–to do this you need to explosively push off the floor, clap your hands at the deadpoint, and catch yourself back in the push-up position before you face-plant into the floor! Again, the goal is to coupled the heavy bench press set with the clap push-up set with no rest in between.


Execute these power training exercises only after you’ve engaged in some warm-up training and/or a period of gym climbing. Be sure to rest a full five minutes between sets, and limit yourself to just five total sets (combine) of the two pulling exercises described above and two or three sets of the clap push-ups.  Adequate rest between power workouts is important, too.  As a rule, you should not engage in more than two power workouts per week.

Training Tips to Climb Harder in 2015!

Amy_StrikeAScowlWhile most people set some kind of New Year’s Resolution, not everyone successfully follows through. Research shows that 25% of people abandon their resolution in the first week of the year and nearly 50% have quite their resolution by the end of January. Of course, climbers are generally better goal setters and goal achievers, and if you’re reading this article odds are good that you are the kind of person who follows through on commitments.

So what’s your New Year’s Resolution? For many of you, I bet that “climb harder” is one of your top 2015 goals. If so, here are five training tips to help you achieve your resolution!

1. Establish a regular schedule of climbing, both indoors and outside. With a mind clouded by the lust to get stronger, many climbers forget that climbing is first and foremost a skill sport. Increased climbing economy, through better footwork, movement, and acquisition of new skills, is the fastest way to the higher grades. So unless you already possess 5.13/V10+ skill, time spent climbing is the most important part of your training-for-climbing program. Find a way to schedule at least two climbing sessions per week (3 or 4 is ideal)–any bouldering or roped climbing session, indoors or outdoors, counts towards this total.

2. Assuming you’re getting in your 2 to 4 climbing sessions per week, then “get stronger” must be goal #2. [If you are an elite climber (solid 5.13/V10+ skill), then getting stronger is goal #1!] Dedicate to performing two focused strength training sessions per week. These one-hour workouts can be done on bouldering days or, if only climbing twice per week, on separate days to make for a total of four climbing/training days per week. Detailing these strength workouts is beyond the scope of this article, and there’s really no one-workout-fits-all that I could prescribe anyway. But the key focus for everyone must be to increase maximum strength of the finger flexor and pulling muscles by way of high-intensity, high-load exercises that produce failure in just 5 to 15 seconds (consider any exercise lasting longer than 15 seconds as training endurance). After a good warm up, you’ll want to select exercises such as weighted pull-ups, weighted fingerboard hangs, one-arm pull-ups (or uneven-grip pull-ups), one-arm fingertip hangs, no-feet rope climbing, campus training, etc. Take a three-minute rest between each set and exercise, so assuming a 10- to 15-minute warm up you will be able to do close to 15 total strength/power exercise sets in the 45 or so minutes remaining. What about core training? Sure, that’s important, too. Concluding your strength (and endurance workouts, per below) with 15 to 30 minutes of various core-training exercises is a very smart thing to do.

3. If you prefer roped climbing (rather than bouldering), then training anaerobic endurance is also an important part of your program. Ultimately, you’ll want to employ a periodized training program which alternates back and forth every few weeks between a training focus on “strength/power” and “endurance”. During off-season training, you’re best to spend more weeks training strength/power than endurance (for example, alternate 4 weeks of strength/power training with 2 weeks of endurance training). As roped climbing season nears, you’ll want to transition to doing at least an equal (or greater) number of endurance workouts–one way to do this is to alternate 2 weeks of strength/power training with 2 weeks of endurance training. (During the roped climbing season, you might even do one session of each every week, by training strength/power on Tuesday, endurance training Wednesday, “rest” (or antagonist training) Monday and Thursday, total rest on Friday, then climbing outdoors on the weekend). Anyway, no matter how you schedule these endurance sessions, the best approach is to do “climbing intervals” which alternate pumpy climbing with rest periods. One popular method is to climb near-maximal intensity for 30 to 60 seconds, then rest 60 seconds, and repeat for a total of four intervals (one interval “set”). Do two to four total sets. Another approach is to do a series of pumpy, but submaximal roped climbs lasting 1 to 4 minutes. Rest for 5 to 15 minutes between these roped ascents.

4. Dial in your diet and rest/recovery habits. Eating right and getting enough sleep (and rest days from climbing) is a real difference-maker in the long run. You may not realize it, but recovering completely (if you train hard and frequently you may not even know what it feels like to be 100% recovered!) and realizing the full benefits of your workouts demands good nutrition and rest habits. Once again, these topics are too complex to delve deeply into here (my Training For Climbing book has complete chapters on nutrition and recovery–check it out!), but getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep and 3 to 5 quality feedings per day is the goal. By “quality feeding” I mean a healthy meal or snack that contains some protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fats. Supplemental whey protein is a bonus; lots of water is essential! Occasional “cheater days” (one or two per week) are okay–so limit consumption of fast food, alcohol, and other super fatty/rich to these (infrequent) days.

5. Commit to twice weekly antagonist muscle training. While you certainly don’t want to execute some crazy body building or powerlifting program, doing a moderate amount of supplement strength training of the opposing muscles is important to main muscle balance, prevent injury, and increase your sense of fitness and well-being. I suggest you do 4 to 8 sets of pushing exercises, each set with a weight that allows between 10 to 20 repetitions. Exercises to select from include, but are not limited to, shoulder press, bench press, incline bench press, pec flys, and dips. Also, I strongly encourage you to do a couple of exercises that target the often overlooked posterior chain muscles (legs, hips, lower back), which importantly contribute to core stiffness. A few of my favorite exercises are: deadlift, squat, reverse hyper, glute bridge or hip thrust. (Be sure to enlist a strength coach if you aren’t sure how to properly execute any of these lifts.)


Copyright 2015 Eric J. Hörst