Friday, April 6, 2012

Specific Weight Exercises for Climbers

versión en español
When we choose the strength exercises that we will perform at the gym, we should select those that induce a positive stimulus over the muscles and joint angles that determine performance.

Actually, as Badillo and Ribas (2002) suggest, the goal should be to train movements, not muscles. According to this, exercises that involve a very limited number of muscles, like biceps curl or hammer curl, have little to no impact on climbing performance; they would only be useful when there is a clear lack of pulling force due to the flexor muscles of the elbow being weaker than the rest of the pulling muscles, which is often the case, especially for women.

As an example, when we pull from a hold, we first need our finger flexor muscles to be strong enough to grab the hold. But when the time comes to reach for the next hold the impulse force will come from the legs first, then the hips, trunk and shoulder all the way to the elbow.
Given that the lack of pull force usually is not attributable to the legs, we could focus on upper body strength exercises that reproduce the different pulling movements that we use while climbing.

This way we'll be working our muscles simultaneously and in the same coordinated sequence that we demand from them in a route. The more similar a training exercise is to the actual physical performance, the greater the possibilities of transfer (Stone and col, 2007).

So our question for today is:

What weight exercises have a greater transfer to our sport's movements?
In my opinion, the following do:
  • Dumbbell row (with arm at 90º abduction) and one-arm reverse flies *
  • One-arm lat pulldown (slightly laid back)*
  • One-arm standing cable pullover or dumbbell pullover *
  • Dumbbel row (with arm at 0º abduction), or sitting one-arm cable row *
  • Standing one-arm cable triceps pushdown or triceps kickbacks *

Nonetheless, keep in mind that these really specific exercises are suitable for adult advanced athletes, i.e., those who have completed a more general and basic stage of strength training.




ONE ARM LAT PULLDOWN (slightly laid back)


Alberto, Fontainableau. Picture: Jon Juarez. Source:

If you do a lot of bouldering it would be interesting to include dumbbell chest flies as well.

In future entries you can get info on methodology (number of sets, reps, rests, etc.) and planning to correctly apply your new workout routine.

* Cable or pulley exercises don't allow for big loads, so if you plan on doing maximum strength with maximum load methods (less than 6 reps), the best way is to use free weight exercises.


  1. Hi Miss Lopez. I would be highly interested in purchasing coaching advice from you. I'm highly interested on your views on how to combine bouldering with training for traction strength and finger strength.

    Please get in touch with me at



    1. Hi Steve,

      Thank you for your interest. In the future I will offer on-line consulting. But not for schedule is absolutely full.
      Anyway, if you need something very specific and shorth, you can contact me via private message at facebook

      Best regards

  2. Nice article. I'm sure you have more info coming to explain in further details, but I have some thoughts to share and look for a response to the ideas as whole.

    I'd say there are 3 mediums to perform exercises on. You have already mentioned free weights & cables, I'd add a 3rd of low & high rings. Timy Fairfield does a lot of his stregth training on the rings because the added instability of holding the positions strengthen the supporting shoulder muscles.

    You could also say that machines for flys may be better because it keeps the resistance consistent through the motion, whereas dumbbells get "lighter" towards the top of the range.

    There are also machines that isolate pullovers and rows where the pads of the machine are under your elbows, effectively taking the grip out of the process. This isolates the motion even more.

    See link below for an example

    Aruthur Jones founded Nautilus and had some great ideas. See the link below for a lot of his results with professional athletes and conclusions.

    One thing he recommends is the full body workout for maximum response from the body for growth hormone, etc. Clearly power squats won't increase a climbers ability, but there may be something to be said for some clean & jerks, or light squats, etc. that create maximum hormone response in the body. Clearly beneficial hormones flow in your blood to all your muscles for maximum benefit.

    Last but not lease are supplemental push exercises. Other than the triceps, are you going to recommend a push exercise like pushups, etc?

    1. Hi Rob,

      Thank you!

      Too many questions for a single comment ;-) I'll answer some.
      There are lots of methods for strength training. However, we are focusing here on 'useful' strengh, and the specificity principle that is linked to it. As I said in the entry, if we want to increase performance we need to choose exercises that have an effect over it. Arthur Jone's Nautilus and methodology seeks general muscle development (in contrast with working especific gestures), that can be useful for bodybuilders, but are of a low specificity for athletes who seek an improved performance on particular movements.

      As for ring exercises, I agree with you, they are really good for working the supporting muscles, as well as for core strength. However, these exercises are often very intense, so you need to think carefully which of them are suitable for each sport level and objectives.


  3. Hi Eva,

    I just started exploring your blog, it's great! I'm curious about your suggestion of dumbbell chest flys. According to Strength Training Anatomy, these shouldn't be done with heavy weights. Too risky. So I'm wondering how you see their use in the context of "low rep / maximum strength" training. I'm really looking forward to your general ideas about sets / reps etc., so apologies if this was something you were already going to discuss.

    Best wishes,

    1. Hi David,

      Thank you very much!

      It's true. The exercise you mention is a risky one, especially for your shoulders, if you use maximum strengh methods, those below 5 reps. Anyway, it also depends on the experience, the technique level and how well trained the pectoral muscles are. Athletes who need to use heavy loads often perform this exercise with the aid of a mate, who puts their hands below the elbows of the performer.
      Safer variants are a pec-dec, or using pulleys while standing; the latter can help you to work the stabilizing muscles of your upper body and legs as well, exercising body tension, something that is always welcome.

      Best wishes.