best climbing workouts

The 19 Best Rock Climbing Workouts for home and gym

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“It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”

– Barry Blanchard

I needed help with my rock climbing progress

For the past several years I’ve been making slow progress in my rock climbing. I don’t climb outdoors nearly as often as I’d like, but I have a climbing wall in my basement, so I don’t have excuses for not climbing more. To get serious, I decided to put together a legit rock climbing exercise plan. Before jumping right in, I did my homework and came up with a list of the best rock climbing workouts focused on improving my abilities on the climbing wall.

I wanted a full-body workout plan to improve my climbing and all-around fitness

rock climbing workout
Alicia showing off on our indoor climbing wall

I wanted a full-body workout that wouldn’t give me any imbalance in muscle and would also help me improve mobility, flexibility, and endurance so I could climb better but also so I can live a life of adventure.

To make the workout plan simple, I wanted exercises that don’t require tons of extra gear. I don’t want to buy kettlebells, free weights, or any of that stuff – climbing gear costs me enough. I also wanted to be able to do the workouts when I’m traveling without packing a bunch of gear. Yes, I do have a climbing wall in my basement, but all the exercises except the climbing drills can be done without a climbing wall.

Rock climbing is the best full-body workout

Rock climbing is one of the best full-body workouts of anything you can do, so not only will these exercises help me improve my climbing, but they’ll help me stay fit for all my adventures for years to come. Climbing requires such a huge and varied range of motion that this workout plan challenges all aspects of fitness, range of motion, and strength.

Learn essential rock climbing skills in the ultimate guide to top rope rock climbing

So let’s get to the workouts

I don’t expect anyone to do all these exercises in one session. Instead, I’m listing them out and providing the how-to for each one. I’ve also listed the details of what each workout focuses on and any tips or modifications for completing it.

You can use these workouts to create your own customized rock climbing training plan or…

Before beginning any training plan, check in with your doctor or certified training professional.

Yep, I put together an awesome 6-week training plan that has worked wonders for me. I’m sharing it with you because – sharing is caring – right?

The exercises

Warming up

rock climbing workout
Avoid injuries by warming up

All good exercise programs start with a warmup and rock climbing is no exception, so I picked a few movements to get us loosened up and get the blood flowing.

I know most climbers don’t “warm up”, but trust me on this one. Warming up before exercise will give you more bang for your buck as your muscles will move better, be more receptive to strain, and grow stronger faster. Not to mention, you’ll prevent injuring yourself as easily.

8 Warm-up exercises

Warming up isn’t rocket science, basically, you just need to get your heart rate up and limber up your muscles and joints. I chose mostly dynamic stretches for my workout plan.

Jumping Jacks

Jumping jacks are simple and easy but great for climbing workouts because they warm up your whole body including your shoulders and arms. This one is a great starter because you can start out cold and be sweating in no time.

How-to: Doesn’t everyone know how to do a jumping jack? Go read the Wikipedia entry for Jumping Jack if you want to learn more than you ever need to.

High Knees

This one is similar to jumping jacks. It’s great for getting warmed up as well as loosening up your hips, hamstrings, glutes, and quads at the same time.

How-to: Just jump in place lifting each leg as high into your chest as you can, alternating legs on each step.

Knee Pull-Ups

After getting your heart rate going, it’s time to loosen up. Knee pull-ups open up your hips, glutes, and leg muscles.

How-to: From a standing position, pull one knee at a time into your chest and hold it there for a bit.

Hip Rotations

Hip rotations help open up the hip girdle and will give you better movement while bouldering or rock climbing. This also improves your balance.

How-to: From a standing position, pull one knee out to the side with your hand to rotate your hip out away from center.

Deep Squats

Squats are great for all kinds of things. This version isn’t to get shredded, it’s just to warm up and stretch out.

How-to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat as deep as you can and hold the stretch at the bottom for a few seconds. Focus on any tight muscles in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, or back.

Flags

Flags use similar movements to those you’ll use on the wall.

How-to: From standing, reach opposing arms and legs (right arm, left leg) out away from the body. Balance on one foot and alternate sides. Get as much extension from both arm and leg as possible.

Forearm Stretch

Loose forearms are key to not getting pumped on the wall. This movement also stretches out connections to your elbow to keep it from getting injured.

How-to: Use the palm of your left hand to pull back on the fingers of your extended right arm. Hold for a while to feel the stretch in your forearm.

Easy Climbing

Nothing prepares you for climbing, like … climbing. The goal here isn’t to onsight your project. It’s to warm up.

How-to: Pick a route that’s several grades below your level and climb with the intention of warming up. Reach for easy holds but ones that maximize your range of motion in all directions. Listen to your body and repeat stretches for any parts you feel are still tight or limit your climbing movements.

14 Climbing Exercises to do at home

Now that you’re warmed up, let’s get to the meat of the workout. Of course, the best way to train for rock climbing is to spend more time actually rock climbing, but we’ll get to on-the-wall drills and workouts in a bit. To start, I want to walk through my favorite exercises I can do in the basement that train climbing-specific movements and muscles without needing to go to the climbing gym. You only need a few basic items for all of these workouts.

Gear

The only thing you need for these climbing workouts is a place to do pull-ups and resistance bands. A set of dumbells is useful too, but not required.

I installed this awesome pull-up bar next to my climbing wall so I have multiple grip options. You can get it on Amazon.

rock climbing exercise
pullup bar
rock climbing workout
resistance bands

The full set of climbing workouts will blast your whole body including your shoulders, arms, fingers, chest, core, quads, glutes, hams, calves, and toes – and probably your face muscles too. So buckle up and have your water bottle handy.

Banded Face Pull-apart Exercise

This exercise focuses on your shoulder girdle and will help offset the effects of sitting in front of a screen all day. It opens the chest and strengthens the back and shoulder muscles. It’s an excellent rock climbing-specific exercise because it focuses on muscles we all use as we climb.

Equipment needed: Resistance Band

rock climbing workout
Banded Face Pull-apart

How-to:

  1. Attach a resistance band to a stable surface at about chin height
  2. Grab the band using a double overhand grip with about 2-4 inches between your hands
  3. Stand with feet hip-width apart and hinge your hips back slightly to engage the core
  4. Extend your arms fully forward
  5. Pull the band back toward your chin
  6. Keep your elbows high – at least as high as your shoulders
  7. When the band gets to your chin, pull the band apart with both hands
  8. Hold the squeeze for a short moment and control the release of the hold back to the center
  9. Slowly control the band’s return to the starting position

Tips and modifications: Avoid shrugging your shoulders.

Single-leg Burpee Exercise

This is a killer drill that will build power for explosive dyno moves as well as endurance for long routes. Stick to the regular burpee if you’re not ready for the single-leg yet. The key to getting more out of this (and all) exercise is to control the movements. Make them fluid, smooth, and slow. We improve our climbing by getting more controlled, balanced, and efficient in our movements so think about that as a goal for each of these climbing exercises.

rock climbing workouts
Single-leg Burpee

Equipment needed: None

  1. Balance on one leg
  2. Pivot down to place your palms on the ground in a pushup position
  3. Hop up and kick your legs out behind you to end up in a plank position keeping one foot off the ground
  4. Do a pushup
  5. Hop back forward with the one leg
  6. Explode off that leg jumping off the ground and extending your arms in the air
  7. Repeat

Do 15-20 reps

Tips and modifications:  If you find this too challenging, do regular burpees or mountain climbers 

Jump Squat Exercise

This strength exercise conditions your legs for power while climbing and falling, as well as dynamic moves. Jumping off a wall and landing is something you’ll do frequently when working on challenging bouldering problems.

rock climbing workout
Jump Squat

Equipment needed: None

  1. With feet shoulder-width apart, squat down as deep as you can and at least until your thighs reach parallel to the ground.
  2. Keep your knees over your toes, your weight on your heels, and your chest upright
  3. Raise out of the squat and explode off your heels a few inches into the air
  4. Land softly and quietly to mimic a fall while rock climbing
  5. As you land, lower directly into the next squat

Do 15-20 reps

Single-leg Squat Exercise

Any time you go onto one leg, you’re working your balance and this drill is no exception. You’ll work your glutes and quads while improving your balance for when you’re on the wall.

rock climbing exercise
Single-leg Squat

Equipment needed: None

  1. Stand on one leg and lift the other leg out in front of you
  2. Tighten your core but relax your shoulders and neck. Try to be smooth and controlled
  3. Extend your arms straight out and keep your chest upright
  4. Drop down into a squat
  5. Raise out of the squat and stand onto your toes
  6. Hold a single leg tip-toe for a moment and then drop down for the next squat

Do 15- 20 reps per leg

Tips and modifications:  If you find this too challenging, set up a chair behind you so you’re sitting into it. Keep your knee behind your toes.

Pull-down Side Plank Exercise

This exercise engages your core, glutes, shoulders, and lats and develops more control and balance for those awkward moments on the wall.

rock climbing workout
Pull-down Side Plank

Equipment needed: Resistance band

  1. Secure a resistance band about 2-3 feet above the ground (I attach mine to a bolt on my climbing wall)
  2. Get in a side plank with the top of your head facing the band
  3. Hold the band in your top hand with your shoulders square to the floor
  4. Tighten your core and glutes as you hold a plank position balancing on your elbow and the side of your bottom foot
  5. Hold a plank while you pull the band down toward your waist keeping the band tight the whole time

Do 15- 20 reps per side

Tips and modifications: If this is too challenging, you can modify the exercise by crossing your top leg in front of your lower leg, or going down onto your knees.

Overhead Press Side Plank Exercise

This exercise targets your delts, traps, and triceps for improved pull-up strength and control

rock climbing exercise
Overhead Press Side Plank

Equipment Needed: Resistance Band

  1. Use the same resistance band as the pull-down side plank exercise
  2. From the side plank position – feet pointed toward the band – hold the resistance band in your top hand
  3. Press3 the band from shoulder height to up above your head and lock out the elbow for a brief hold
  4. Keep the band tight through the whole movement

15-20 reps per side

Tips and modifications: If this is too challenging, you can modify the exercise by crossing your top leg in front of your lower leg, or going down onto knees.

Hanging Knee Raise Exercise

This exercise builds core stabilization

Equipment Needed: Pull-up bar

Hanging Knee Raise
  1. Grip the pull-up bar and raise your knees smoothly up to a 90 degree angle in front of you and hold
  2. Keep your core tight to stabilize any motion.
  3. Lower your knees back down slowly when done

5-10 reps per side

Tips and modifications: Make this more challenging by raising your legs straight out in front of you or pointing them up toward the bar.

Push-up with Single Arm Row Exercise

This exercise works your arms and shoulders and balances out the pulling motion used most often in rock climbing. Having a strong pushup movement is useful in topping out, mantles, stemming, and chimney moves. The pushup movement strengthens your pecs and triceps while the arm row targets your lats and biceps.

Equipment Needed: Dumbell 5-20 lbs

rock climbing workout
Push-up with row
  1. Start in a plank with each hand on a dumbbell and feet shoulder-width
  2. Complete a pushup keeping your back straight and getting your chest as close to the ground as you can
  3. After the pushup, pull one elbow up to lift the dumbbell to the ribs
  4. Smoothly bring the dumbbell down and repeat on the other side
  5. Proceed into the next pushup and set of rows keeping your core tight and your back straight throughout the movement

Do 10-15 reps

Tips and modifications:  If you are unable to maintain a stable core while on your feet, drop to your knees. To make this more challenging, do it with one foot raised off the ground.

Thumbless Pull-up Exercise

Pullups are the classic rock climbing exercise. Doing pull-ups without a full wrapped grip on the bar will help strengthen your forearms and fingers.-

rock climbing workout
Thumbless Pull-up

Equipment Needed: Pullup bar

  1. Grab the bar with palms out and hands at shoulder-width. Don’t wrap your thumb or palm around the bar. Hang off the tips of the fingers.
  2. Extend your arms and lift your feet off the ground in a smooth motion maintaining core control
  3. Pull yourself up to the bar, hold at the top, and lower back down to full extension maintaining smooth and controlled movements throughout – no bouncy or sloppy pullups!

Do 5-10 reps

Tips and modifications: change up your grip position from wide to narrow to work different muscles 

Spider Push-up Exercise

Just a pushup with a slight twist that further engages your obliques and works your balance.

rock climbing workouts
Spider Push-ups

Equipment Needed: None

  1. Complete a normal pushup, but as you lower yourself, lift your right knee to your right elbow and squeeze your obliques tight
  2. Repeat with the left leg next and alternate legs each time you go down
  3. Keep your back straight, core engaged, and maintain control of the entire movement

Do 10-15 reps

Tips and modifications: pull your opposite arm down toward your knee to make this harder

Single-leg Lever Exercise

This one is a variation of a pullup. As you do a pull-up you’ll lie back to nearly horizontal to engage your core. This is great for working the movements needed for climbing overhung routes.

rock climbing workout
Single-leg Lever

Equipment Needed: Pullup Bar

  1. Grip the pullup bar with palms away from you
  2. Extend the arms and lean back to raise your body into a horizontal position
  3. Extend one leg in front of you and bend the other pulling the knee toward the chest
  4. Pull yourself up keeping your core tight and your back straight as you lift your foot into the air
  5. Slowly lower yourself back down
  6. Alternate legs each rep

Do 4-8 reps

Tips and modifications:  if you can’t do this on a pullup bar, try doing it while lying on your back by lifting one leg up in the air

Wall Sit Exercise

This exercise can be tough, but it will quickly build core stability and endurance.

Wall sit

Equipment Needed: A solid, flat wall

  1. Place your back flat against a wall
  2. Slide down to a sitting position until your knees are at a 90-degree angle
  3. Raise your hands up above your head
  4. Hold the position as long as you can

Do 4-6 reps

Tips and modifications:  If you can’t hold this for longer than a minute, you can lower your hands down to your knees for support

Dead Hang Exercise

This climbing workout is almost as simple as it sounds. A dead hang is just hanging by your hands or fingers for an extended time. This will build your forearm and grip strength as well as strengthen your fingers and joints against injury.

rock climbing workout
Dead Hangs

Equipment Needed: Pullup Bar or Hangboard

  1. Grip the bar or hangboard with your fingertips in an open grip position
  2. Lower your body to put your weight on your hands as you raise your legs off the ground
  3. Keep your elbows slightly bent to avoid hanging only on your skeleton. This will also improve the results of the hang
  4. Hang for 30 seconds or so and then rest
  5. Repeat with various grip positions – 3 finger holds, angled holds, etc.

Do 4-8 reps

Tips and modifications:  A doorframe can be used in place of a hangboard for this exercise. As you get stronger, a weight belt can be added to increase the resistance.

Hangboards are great tools to have for various climbing workouts and they’re not hard to mount if you have a spot for one. Put it somewhere accessible so you can get a quick hang session in each time you pass by the board.

Back Extension Exercise

This climbing workout is almost as simple as it sounds. A dead hang is just hanging by your hands or fingers for an extended time. This will build your forearm and grip strength as well as strengthen your fingers and joints against injury.

Equipment Needed: None but an exercise ball can be used

Back Extensions
  1. Laying on the floor face down, engage the glutes, back, and core to raise your shoulders and chest off the ground
  2. Activate your back muscles by squeezing your shoulders together
  3. Hold in a raised position for a moment
  4. Avoid raising your chin up out of line with your spine

Do 15-20 reps

Tips and modifications:  An exercise ball can be used to increase the range of motion and dumbells can be added to increase resistance.

5 On-the-wall Exercises

Bouldering Strength Intervals

This is a basic climbing workout for the bouldering gym that will help with both strength and endurance.

rock climbing exercise
Bouldering Strength Intervals

Equipment Needed: A bouldering wall

  1. Pick a series of up to 6 boulder problems 1-2 grades below your max
  2. Climb each problem with a 3-minute rest between each problem
  3. Repeat the six problems 3 times each

Do 3 sets of 6 problems

Tips and modifications:  climb the same boulder problems if you don’t have six problems to climb.

Bouldering Power Intervals

This is a good climbing workout to help improve climbing power and speed

rock climbing exercise
Bouldering Power Intervals

Equipment Needed: A bouldering wall

  1. Pick a boulder problem many grades below your max that you can climb quickly with several power moves
  2. Complete the problem 3 times in a row with a rest between each climb

Do 3 reps and up to 4 sets

Tips and modifications:  finding a route with good jugs make this one easier to get good power moves in

Lockoff Interval Exercises

This is a static climbing move where one arm contracts to pull you up the wall while the other extends to reach a hold. As you gain lockoff strength, you’ll be able to lock off at smaller angles (interior elbow angle) leading to a higher reach up the wall. Lockoff strength also helps shorter climbers reach further up the wall.

rock climbing drills
Lockoff Intervals

Equipment Needed: A climbing wall and a timer

  1. On a route a few grades below your climbing level, begin climbing as normal
  2. On each move where you reach for a new hold avoid straight-arm positions and hover over the hold for a few seconds before grabbing on to work the locked off arm below
  3. Keep your core tight and your entire body smooth and steady
  4. Traverse or descend back down with the same pauses between holds until you hit 5 minutes
  5. Rest for five minutes and repeat

Do 3-6 five minute intervals

Tips and modifications:  if you don’t have a climbing wall, you can practice lockoffs on a pullup bar.

Peter Pan Exercises

Peter pans are targeted to improve your dynamic core strength – an essential to good climbing. Peter pans are done by kicking your legs out behind you on routine climbing routes to stress your core tension and control.

rock climbing drills
Peter Pans

Equipment Needed: An overhung climbing wall

  1. Begin climbing an overhanging route with solid holds
  2. Between each move swing your feet off the wall and then back on
  3. Keep your core tight and your entire body smooth and steady throughout the move
  4. Avoid straight arms, keep your elbows slightly engaged
  5. Do this drill all the way up the wall swinging your legs off after each move

Do 5-10 reps

Tips and modifications:  if you don’t have a climbing wall you can modify this exercise for a pullup bar.

Ladder Exercises

Ladders are great for building endurance while at the gym. Ladders will keep you engaged while keeping you on the wall for a longer time period.

rock climbing drills
Ladders

Equipment Needed: A climbing wall

  1. Find a section of wall several grades below your max
  2. Begin climbing to the first bolt or to the top of the route if it’s short
  3. Descend back down and proceed back up
  4. You can move in a zig-zag pattern to keep things interesting
  5. Keep moving smoothly and steadily, avoid resting positions
  6. Stay on the wall as long as you can without falling off
  7. Time yourself to see how long you can keep going and work to improve your time

Tips and modifications: none

For even more great exercises have a look at mtntactical.com

Also, after a great workout, it’s always a good idea to do some deep stretching while the muscles are warmed up. This will improve recovery and mobility so you can keep climbing longer. You’ll also improve flexibility so you can nail those crazy stretch holds better.

10 Cool-down stretches

Ab Stretch

How-to: Lie down on your stomach. Bring your arms into a pushup position and extend them to raise your shoulders up. Keep your hips pressed into the ground. Lean back to feel a stretch in your abdomen.

Spine Stretch

How-to: Kneel on all fours in a neutral position. Drop your head and tail bone and round your back and neck. Hold this position and slowly curve your spine down and raise your head and tail bone

Hip Flexor Stretch

How-to: Kneel on your left leg and bend your right leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Push your weight forward into your hips. Repeat on the other side.

Lower Back Stretch

How-to: Lie down on your back and curl your knees into your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back.

Standing Forward Bend

How-to: Stand on your feet and slowly rotate down. Try touching your ankles and your feet or the ground. Keep your knees straight

Quad Stretch

How-to: Pull one foot up behind your back with your hand until you feel a stretch in your quad. Repeat on each side.

Calf Stretch

How-to: Extend one leg back keeping both feet flat on the floor. Lean into the wall and keep your back knee straight and front knee bent. Repeat on both sides.

Shoulder Stretch

How-to: Grab your right elbow with your left hand in front of your chest. Pull your elbow into your chest with your right hand extended to the left. Repeat on the other side.

Bicep Stretch

How-to: With straight arms, clasp your hands behind your back. Raise your hands out away from you.

Child’s Pose

How-to: Sit on your heels and reach your arms out in front of you flat on the ground. Exhale and relax.

Now that you’ve got a whole range of specific rock climbing workouts and exercises to choose from for rock climbing gains, you need to get off your butt and go exercise. If you have no idea how to get started, you’re in luck, because I already organized all these exercises into a 6-week rock climbing workout plan for you.

Find all our rock climbing resources on our rock climbing page.

The 19 best rock climbing workouts

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