Depending on what your climbing goals are and what level climber you are, your fitness goals will vary greatly. Therefore, these fitness tips will attempt to address general climbing goals and not that of the beginning climber. If you are a beginning climber the good news is that your climbing will improve just by climbing and improving your general fitness. Once you are climbing 5.11, the quickest gains will be achieved by focused training and the principles I have outlined below.
1. Sport Specific Training
In order to climb harder, you must climb more and continually push yourself climbing. You can do yoga, run miles, and/or ride your bike, but it’s not going to increase your climbing grade and may even be detrimental to it. Too much cardio will decrease your strength. Too much stretching can be bad for your shoulders, especially if you flexible to begin with. If you want to send your project, I would suggest adopting program specific to your climbing goals. When you train, go to the gym with a program focusing on endurance or power and stick with it. Try to limit social time at the gym and focus on your climbing.
2. Basic Training Principles
Adhere to the basics. Train power before endurance if you are going to work on both in a training session. Work on your weaknesses. Do routes/boulder problems in a regimented way aiming for a ratio of a certain amount of time climbing to resting (for example an endurance program would have you climb 3 routes with 1 min rest in between routes then rest 6-8 min and repeat 2-3 times). Progressive loading is a key principle that means you must continually challenge your body to see results. If you do laps on 5.10, then you’re only going to climb 5.10. If you want to push your grade, you must try routes of that grade and push yourself at every workout.
3. Avoid Injury
This seems obvious, but sometimes when you start a training program or start climbing harder, you start to feel nagging pains. Don’t ignore the pain! Maybe you need to rest more or back off the intensity a bit. If you’re injured, you’re probably not going to send your project. It’s important for all climbers to do rotator cuff exercises that I have outlined in this video:
A good core workout is also beneficial, but remember to think sport-specific when choosing exercises. Instead of lying on your back doing crunches, a more climbing specific exercise would be hanging leg lifts.
4. Examine your Technique
When you fall off a route or boulder problem, don’t assume you just need to get stronger (although you may). Analyze your technique and determine if you can find a better body position to make the move. On steep terrain sometimes you need to focus on pulling in with your feet to keep your body from swinging off. On vertical or barely less than vertical terrain, often focusing on pushing with your legs helps you to get to that next hold. When in doubt, ask a friend to watch you attempt the move and ask for suggestions. Often my husband has been the one to find the best beta for me on a route just by watching me climb.
If you have a climbing trip planned and want to be in prime sending condition for your trip, try a round of periodization. This principle involves training phases that result in your body achieving it’s greatest strength at a specific time. An example schedule for weight lifting that can be adopted for climbing can be found here.