Training for climbing : Developing General Grip Strength

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In the old days, training “specifically” for climbing was almost unheard of. You either just climbed. Or you were one of the few climbers who trained in the weight room and did some door jamb pull-ups. Over the years, things changed. As climbs got hard and more physically challenging we sought out ways to beat the pump, many of which derived from the tricks of old time strongmen and gymnasts.

Exercises such as dumbbell work, rope climbing, and even nail bending found their way into climbers’ routines. In the 1980s, climbing-specific training devices began to hit the market. The Metolius Simulator, various grip devices, and even rudimentary climbing walls appeared all over Europe and North America. By the end of the 1990s, we were all training on steep walls covered in plastic holds. Converting our training into almost a perfect mimic of the sport.

Knowing the value of specificity in training, defined as patterning training after the movement and metabolic demand, many of us plunged full-on into “climbing to climb” as our sole form of training. Although this is a general rule that represents a good step forward in the sport, maybe we may have stepped too far.

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Grip strentgh : few reasons that non-specific movements should still be used by climbers

1. Too much strength and conditioning that mimics the sport increases risk for overuse injuries. If we only train the forearms by gripping small edges in a static position, we lose all the benefits of flexing, extending, and rotating the wrist. These benefits include decreased elbow strain, increased blood flow. And a general increase in strength.
2. Too much work strengthening one group of muscles can cause an imbalance if the antagonists are not trained. We see frequent shoulder and elbow injuries in climbers who get really good at pulling. But neglect the pushing/extending antagonists. This problem can affect any joint in the body. But climbers primarily see these problems in the joints of the arm – shoulders, elbows, and wrists.

Grip strentgh : hard plateau

On the same token, we frequently see climbers’ finger strength and pulling strength level-out in what’s called a “hard plateau,” where no amount of focused strength training can increase force production. This is more often than not due to an under-strong antagonist. If there is a large imbalance in muscle strength around a given joint, the nervous system will effectively hold back the strong muscle to prevent injury or bad movement. For example, simply strengthening the extensors of the forearm can be enough to jump start your grip strength again.

La Fabrique verticale will not going to tell you to stop your specific training. But we suggest adding some of the following exercises to your climbing strength plan. For instance, by doing flexion and extension at the wrist, finger extensions, and doing some “crushing” movements. Then you’ll increase your general hand strength. And might see some nagging problems adrop away.

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  1. 3 May 2018

    […] we think of our ability to bear down on small holds, we usually think of tendon strength. But the study “Measuring Lifting Forces in Rock Climbing: […]

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