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Sport Specific > Climbing-Rock > Grip Training

Pre-Season Climbing Training Series
Part III

The third of a series of Body Results newsletter articles that will provide you with some varied, challenging, and effective off-season workouts. Part I features exercises that you can do anywhere, with minimal equipment other than your bodyweight and a backpack or hand weights. All exercises in Part II are ones you can do with access to cables or free weights that you'd find in most gyms. It's important to have a good base of strength (at least 2 months of training) before attempting the variations in Part III below, which introduces pre-season gym training to help you increase your finger and grip strength as well as upper body pullup strength for the upcoming summer of outdoor climbing.

Finger Strength Training

Below are four finger strengthening exercises we like to suggest to climbers. For a more in-depth look at developing finger and hand strength, we recommend John Brookfield's Mastery of Hand Strength. Climbers need a high amount of two different kinds of finger strength: pinch grip strength (to hold on to slopers and little nubbins) and supporting strength (to hang on to hold after hold, especially when placing pro.) Try adding one or two to any given upper body strength workout, and remember to place finger training toward the end of your workout (especially following your pullups!) so you can still complete work for chest, back, shoulders and arms without a tired grip limiting the rest of your work. Do the selected exercise (s) for 3-4 weeks, then replace one with another and keep cycling through. You may find that certain ones help more than others -- for example, if you know your pinch grip needs help, you might do specific training for it for 3 weeks, cycle off it for 3 weeks, then return to it using more weight.

Supporting Grip Strength

Open Palm Deadlift

Shown left is Doug Schurman demonstrating how to use a device called Rolling Thunder Revolving Deadlift Handle, available through IronMind for $32. Their trademark device is perfect for developing supporting strength for climbing, strength sport exercises like the deadlift, and pullups. You can also use this on cable weight stacks for seated rows or lat pulls, and it effectively strengthens your grip in the open palm position. To make something similar for use at a home gym, attach weight to a 2 1/2" diameter pipe roughly 10' long.

Farmer's Walk

Another good way to train supporting strength in the hands and fingers is the Farmer's Walk, so called (I can only imagine) because of the close resemblance to farmers carrying heavy buckets of slop or milk great distances (think old times!) Hold a substantial dumbbell (shown here, 70# each) in each hand and walk 100 feet before setting the weights down and allowing grip to rest. Repeat desired number of sets.

Pinch Grip Strength

Pinch Grip Device Training

Shown, right, Doug holds two varied thickness pinch grip trainers, one made from a 4x4" wood block, the other purchased through Iron Mind for $13. Especially good for developing pinch endurance. With both devices, load an appropriate weight that you can hold for anywhere from 15-60 seconds, depending on your goal. You can hold them statically, do upright rows, carry them on Farmer's walks, or perform 1-arm rows.

Medicine Ball Grip Training

Another fun (and inexpensive) way to train grip strength is to use partially inflated medicine balls of different weights. Shown here are homemade balls of 8 and 15#. To make your own, buy playground rubber balls and a pair of needlenose pliers (to remove and re-insert plug) and fill with water from the tap. The more fully inflated the ball, the wider (and stronger) the grip needed to hold on. Another option for homemade pinch training devices? heavy books or dictionaries. Start with an abridged version and work up to Webster's Complete.

For crimp grip training check out Body Results' Grip Trainer

Upper Body Strength: 6-1-6-1-6-1 Wave Loading

Like most climbers, if you'd like to increase upper body pulling strength without gaining a lot of extra muscle mass to hoist up the slope with you, then try a technique called mixed neural drive/hypertrophy training, originally introduced to this country by National Weightlifting Coach Dragomir Cioroslan and brought to our attention by Charles Poliquin on Testosterone's web site. We've modified it slightly to fit the needs and training experience of most of our readers, and we'll use pullups as our example. Remember, before trying this, make sure you already have several months of strength training under your belt.

Be sure to do a general warm up (some light cardio, stretching, etc. to increase blood flow and get the body prepared for more targeted muscular work) and then do a specific warm up on the lat pull down. We'll use the example of a 150# person who can do 6 pullups in a row. Such a person might do warm-up sets of 75# (50% targeted weight) for 5 reps, 110# (75% targeted weight) for 3 reps, and then rest a few minutes before starting the pullup portion of the workout.

The first bodyweight pullup set would be a set of 6 repetitions (whatever is near your maximal weight for 6 reps), with a few minutes of rest before the next set, which will be 1 rep at maximal or near maximal weight (in this case, perhaps an extra 25# attached by a hip belt or held between the legs.) By doing the 1 rep at near maximal weight and waiting for 3-4 minutes, you can lift more weight for the next set of 6 than you could if you hadn't done the single rep. Do these with palms parallel, as shown, or pronated (forward grip) to more closely replicate the position your hands would be in while climbing.

In the next wave of 6-1, try adding 2.5-5# to each of your first two starting sets. In our example above, the person might add 5# for 6 reps and 27.5# for 1 rep, again resting 3 minutes between each set. Finally, for the fhird wave, add another 2.5-5# to each. Our example lifter would attempt 7.5# added to bodyweight for 6 and 30# added for 1. The system supposedly works by potentiating the nervous system and thereby allowing your muscles to lift more weight. Regardless of the exact mechanism, it works quite well. You can also do this for bench press, squats, or any other lifts where you want to maximize strength. One caveat, however: because this is essentially nervous system training in addition to strength training (and the nervous system takes longer to recover than the musculoskeletal system) we suggest you only use this technique once a week, on one muscle group at a time (don't do it for every single body part or your body will retaliate by shutting down!!) For the other strength session, you might do lat pull downs or other back work, 3-4 sets of 6-10 repetitions, rather than maxing out. Always listen to your body and back off if the work loads are too intense for you.

One thing you can try that will build finger and grip strength as well as pullup strength is to do pullups holding onto rope cord or dowels (particularly if you are an ice climber.) Some climbing gyms will already have various thicknesses of dowels hanging over a squat rack, but if not, you can get some rope (3 feet of it, at least 1' diameter) from a hardware store and take it with you to the gym. Loop it over the top of a squat rack and voila, you're ready to do grip and pullup training!

These sample climbing strength exercises are examples of the individualized program development available to you through your Outdoor Conditioning Coaches at Body Results. Remember, however, that everyone has different needs depending on training age, body type, individual goals, exercise history, and time available. If you have questions or comments about the above article, contact us.


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