According to Malcolm Creasey in “The Complete Rock Climber,” hand strength is by far the most vital type of strength for climbing because the hands are the last connective link in the chain through which all other bodily strength is channeled. As such, it is crucial that you undertake hand strengthening exercises if you wish to improve your climbing performance.
While regular pushups mainly strengthen the arms, shoulders and chest, fingertip pushups present the added benefit of exercising the hand muscles, particularly the fingers. Instead of placing your hands flat on the ground, support your weight with your fingertips only. Perform three sets of 20 to 30 repetitions each, increasing these numbers as your strength improves. For additional resistance, raise your feet by placing them on a step or chair to transfer more weight-bearing resistance to your fingers.
According to ABC-of-Rock Climbing, a standard 45-lb. Olympic bar is easier to grip than a thick bar because it allows you to wrap your thumb around the bar and lock it over your index finger. A thick bar, by contrast, prohibits you from using this lock and demands more hand strength to maintain your grip. Set up a barbell on a squat rack at waist height and add between 50 and 150 percent of your body weight to it. Stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart. With your palms facing downward, lift the barbell slightly and hold for as long as possible, then lower it back onto the rack. Repeat until failure. If a thick bar is unavailable, wrap a towel around a standard Olympic bar to make it thicker.
Pull-up Bar Hang
Instead of performing pullups with your palms facing toward you, face your palms away from you. In addition to improving your hand strength, this exercise also builds the muscles of your chest, shoulders, back and biceps. Aim at holding a static position with your arms half bent. Complete three repetitions of one minute each. Once you can do this, hang from your fingertips.
Finger Board Training
According to climbing gear manufacturer Metolius, finger boards are highly effective for building contact strength required for climbing. To perform finger board exercises, choose holds that are appropriate for your strength level and execute a dead hang -- arms straight and slightly bent -- and hold for as long as possible. When you’ve mastered the dead hang, hang with bent arms and focus on maintaining a static contraction until failure. Use smaller holds as your hand strength increases; however, be cautious as smaller holds increase the risk of injuring delicate finger tendons.
The only way to become a good rock climber is by climbing, says John Long et al. in “Advanced Rock Climbing.” Although beneficial, strength exercises alone are not going to improve your climbing technique. Therefore, do not substitute a climbing session at the indoor wall or crag for a session in the weight room or gym. Instead, employ hand strengthening exercises as an additional component to your training program.
- The Complete Rock Climber; Malcolm Creasey
- ABC-of-Rock Climbing: Hand Exercises & Grip Strength Training for Climbing
- Metolius Climbing: Training Boards
- Metolius Climbing: Training Guide
- Advanced Rock Climbing; John Long, Craig Luebben