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Building Arm Strength for Climbing

Having a well balanced overall strength is essential for climbing. Having strong arms is favorable to good technique. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you can’t perform the next move because you don’t have the arm strength to push or pull the rest of your body.

However, arm strength is generally considered to be less important than improving other areas of the climbers body such as finger strength or improving technique. This is especially true for beginners or relative newcomers to the sport who are looking to improve their climbing ability.

Once you start to move onto the more difficult, inverted climbs, then this is where you will need to improve on your body and arm strength as gripping the holds becomes secondary to the ability to pull on them.

Building arm strength for climbing is mostly based around two specific areas:

– Forearm or Lower Arm Strength

– Bicep, Triceps or Upper Arm Strength

We are going to look at exercises to strengthen these two areas of the arm to help you to improve your climbing ability.

Lower Arm Strength

Lower arm strength is important to climbing as this is where the strength of the grip is. Forearms are generally the first thing to fail in climbing due to the build up of lactic acid otherwise known as ‘the pump’ as mentioned in our technique article.

Increasing lower arm strength will also help to improve your endurance in this area as well and listed below are exercises that will help increase your endurance as well as your strength.

Static Hangs

Static hangs are one of the best exercises for forearm strength and will exercise the invidual muscles in your arm as you grip tighter and tighter the longer you stay on the bar.

The trick to static hangs is to hang until you fail. This is literally a case of peeling off the bar and falling off. Obviously you don’t want to land on your back so have someone spot you if necessary. Do these on a standard pull up bar with your arms positioned just wider than your shoulders so that you aren’t putting any pressure onto your fingers as you want the focus of the workout to be on your forearms.

Try this routine:

– Give your hardest effort to stay onto the bar as long as possible until you physically cannot hold on to the bar any longer.

– Then rest for 5 minutes. Shake out your forearms and do some stretching.

– Repeat this 3 more times. You should aim to do at least 4 sets of this.

Doing this exercise until failure will also work your endurance a huge amount and you will see results quickly if you do this exercise regularly.

Forearm Curls

Forearm curls are an isolated way to workout the forearms to build strength and endurance.

Resting your arm on your knee, hold the dumbbell in one hand and let it rest towards the tips of your fingers. Then curl it back up towards the top of your palm using your forearm muscles.

You should aim to do between 8-10 reps. If you cannot do more than 8 reps then you are using too much weight but if you can easily do more 10 reps then you need to increase the weight you are using.

Climbing Exercises

You can also do forearm exercises on the wall whenever you go climbing, just follow these steps:

– Find a traverse route or an easy route that you can comfortably climb repeatedly.

– Climb this route backwards and forwards or up and down until you cannot physically hold onto the wall any longer (This is why it is easier and safer if you can find a traversing route!)

You should try to work up to a goal of staying on the wall for around 10-20 minutes continuously. You can let go of the wall with one hand and shake out if you need a rest but don’t get off the wall.

Similar to the static hangs this will train your forearms for strength and endurance and you should start to see results fairly fast.

Upper arm exercises

Developing upper arm bicep and tricep strength is not as important as developing lower arm and finger strength but they are still a very integral part of the climbing body and play a very important part in the overall spectrum of the climbing body’s movement.

The biggest specific role that the upper arms play is with transferring power from the lower arm to the upper body and shoulders. This manifests in the pushing and pulling movements regularly performed on most climbing routes.

Below we have listed a few exercises below to help boost your upper arm strength when not in the gym:

Tricep Dips

Tricep dips are a very good exercise for the triceps and replicate the pushing motion when bridging or pushing up to a straight, locked arm whilst climbing.

Just place your palms flat on the bench facing outwards and place your legs straight out in front of you. (you can bend your legs more if you want to decrease the difficulty)

They can easily be done at home and can be done of the edge of anything flat at about seat height.

You should try and do between 8-10 reps of these. If you can’t do 8 reps then consider bringing your legs closer to you to decrease the difficulty and to get those reps. If you can do more than 10 then you should let your legs go straight to increase the difficulty.

Aim to do 3 sets of these.

Bicep / Dumbbell Curls

Bicep curls are a standard exercise for building upper arm strength but for climbers should always be done with dumbbells. This helps to balance strength differences between the two arms and will allow the weaker arm to build the same amount of strength equally without relying on the stronger arm.

Using a dumbell keeping elbows tucked in, hold the dumbbells at waist level then bring the dumbbells up to elbow level and then back down.

You should aim to do about 6-12 reps for these. If you cannot do 6 then drop your weight as you risk injury and if you can easily surpass 12 then you should increase the weight you are lifting.

Aim to do 3 sets of these.


That is all for this article. Building arm strength for climbing is fairly simple and as long as you stick to a regular exercise routine and climb as regularly as you can, you should start to see results. 

If you would like more information on building strength for climbing, then click here to see our article on everything you ever need to know

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