Having the hand and forearm strength to hold on to a rock wall is critical to surviving your great day of climbing.
If your arms are getting tired long before they should be, you need to start exercising them to be more able to increase endurance and help support you. There are a lot of exercises that you can use to strengthen the grip that are beneficial to climbers.
- Hang: Being able to get access to a pull-up bar or something similar, you can use it to hang by just the tips of your fingers. Allow your full weight to hang on the bar and try to hold on as long as you can, it would be best to hold on until you are unable to hang anymore and your fingers slide off the bar.
- Elevate: Pull-ups should also be a part of your training. This is the best upper body exercise you can perform that closely mimics climbing.
- Add Weight: If you have been doing pull-ups and you feel you have adequate upper body strength, you can start doing weighted pull-ups and hangs to increase the intensity of hanging. While holding a weight in one hand hang by the other for added difficulty, then switch to the other arm.
- Squeeze: You need to make sure to exercise your thumb also. If you have some hand grippers, squeeze them with the tip of your thumb on one handle and the finger tips on the other. This will make it more difficult to squeeze them and will condition your thumb better than using them the common way.
You should do grip exercises at least two times a week and you will see your grip strength come pretty quick.
Fitness Training has been Tim Archbold’s life long interest. To discover more info on improving your grip strength go to Grip Strength.
You may not be interested in a rock climbing history lesson; you may simply think, “I just want to get better!” But the great thing about history is this: every mistake has been made before, not just once, but again and again. So it makes sense to learn from what didn’t work – and what has worked for other climbers.
Rock climbers have always wanted to get better. In the late 1950s/early 1960s, John Gill was light years better than his contemporaries. However Gill was a lonely visionary. This is not to imply any disrespect; far from it. But his methods didn’t reach a wider audience. He felt that gymnastic prowess could translate into dramatically improved rock climbing performance. Back in 1967, in Ireland, a 14 year old boy (me!) pondered the same argument. Of course, I’d never heard of Gill. People thought he was mad; people thought I was mad. (Perhaps we both were!) He trained on specific problems and traverses. I trained on specific problems and traverses on, of all places, the walls of a disused country cottage. It was out of bounds but within sight of my boarding school. If I’d been seen, I’d have been expelled. It added spice!
By the late 1960s/early 1970s, the rock climbing standard had gone up to 5.11 in the US and the then HXS (about E3) in the UK. Although climbers did a bit of bouldering, they didn’t really train in the modern sense. But then came a breakthrough. In the UK, the charismatic John Syrett went from beginner status to frighteningly good in about a year – climbing almost exclusively at a 4 metre high wall at Leeds University – primeval by modern standards. Brick edges, polished holds, no mats, and an unforgiving landing. At the Leeds wall, there was always the disturbing feeling that you could split your head open. It was rumored that people had.
But it worked. John did the second ascent of the infamous ‘Wall of Horrors’ at Almscliffe. E3/5.11 sounds pretty tame, doesn’t it? Well John did it with protection that we would now find laughable and, believe you me, that wall was shrouded in reputation. It had waited 10 years for a repeat – and not for want of suitors.
John was a climbing genius – sporadic but, at his best, a genius. His amazing breakthrough was noted by a guy called Pete Livesey, who wasn’t a climbing genius but probably was a genius at nabbing anything that worked. Pete had been a national level athlete, running a mile in 4 minutes 1 second – tantalizingly just outside the magical barrier. He’d been an elite white water canoeist and a top caver. But he’d always been stopped from being the best by lack of natural ability. With rock climbing, he realized that the athletic curve wasn’t that high; training (even without natural ability) could push it much higher.
Pete pushed hard – from E3 to E5, i.e. 5.11 to 5.12. Doesn’t sound impressive? Well consider this: Pete could climb British 6b with or without protection. To him, 5.12, 5.12 R and 5.12X were all pretty much the same. Gulp!
After Pete came his protegee, Ron Fawcett, and, after him, Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon. Jerry got into training big time and got seriously injured by over training/ inappropriate training (a lesson to us all.) So did his mate, Andy Pollitt, who did the then hardest climb in Australia, ‘Punks in the Gym’, 5.14a, after many (20?) days.
Probably the next big advance was made by the underrated Mark Leach, with his 46 day siege of ‘Cry Freedom’, one of the first routes of F8b+/5.14a in the UK. (It’s now thought to be F8c/5.14b.) Leach trained for his projects on them, much as Chris Sharma seems to do today. Interestingly, towards the end of his career, Leach came to the conclusion that it might be better (and more time-effective) to train for projects well away from the projects – typically on climbing walls/cellars/boards. People began to create simulations of specific routes/cruxes and found that it was motivating to go on routes knowing that you’d cranked much harder (but similar) moves in training. This ‘climb hard, train even harder’ approach was taken to its logical extension by the late Wulfgang Gullich on the campus board moves he developed specifically for the first ascent of ‘Action Direte’, the world’s first F9a, 5.14d.
That’s a brief (as brief as it gets!) history of climbing improvement. You may not want to climb 5.14 – or 5.13 – or even 5.12. But the lessons are clear to all of us. Climbing training has pushed the limits from 5.10 to 5.15. Climbing training can be on projects or off them, or – probably best – a combination. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s essential not to get injured by inappropriate training or overtraining. As Gullich said, ” Anybody can get strong. The trick is to get strong and not become injured!”
Michael (Mick) Ward has been climbing since 1967. Aged 56, he still climbs at around 5.12 or F7b+. He has made many First Ascents and written for many climbing magazines. He’s still aiming to improve. If you want to improve your rock climbing, feel free to visit him at http://www.howtoclimbthreegradesharder.com