Effective 3 Ways To Build Grip Strength For Rock Climbing At Home

Ways To Build Grip Strength For Rock Climbing At Home

Rock climbing is one of the fastest-growing sports over the last decade and it isn’t surprising why. It is fun, challenging, has a great community, and forces you to confront fear and grow as a person. This is a sport where there is always room to improve so it keeps many of us captivated for decades. 

If you want to get better at rock climbing technique is important but even more so is your grip strength. If you can hold on you can often find a way to get up the wall. For most people, your fingers and forearms giving out is the limiter. 

Grip Strength Vs Endurance

Grip Strength Vs Endurance

Depending on what type of climbing you are a fan of you will need varying amounts of strength and endurance in your grip. For bouldering, you are mainly limited by absolute strength as most boulder problems have only a few hard moves while route climbing demands more endurance due to the length. 

An easy way to tell the difference is if you could grip the wall when you are fresh but not at the end of a route then your limiter is endurance. If you can’t stay on the wall no matter how much rest you have between attempts then you are in need of more strength. When you are trying to climb progressively harder routes you will reach a point where you get into a problem that you can’t even get off the ground. 

To maximize your climbing you will need to build both qualities but much of the balance between the two will come down to your current fitness and the type of climbing you want to excel in.

Strength is always the base quality you want to build as the stronger you are the longer you can go. For example, if you can lift 100 Kg for 1 rep then 80 Kg will only be good for 5-6 reps but if you can lift 160 Kg then 80 Kg will be good for upwards of 20 reps. And that is without working on any endurance-specific qualities. 

Don’t I get enough grip training by just climbing?

This will depend on how new you are to climbing and how many sessions a week you do. For a new climber, the answer would be yes as you don’t need much stimulus to improve but like all training the more time you spend in a sport the volume and intensity you will need to improve. 

Most people don’t have the discipline to work a climb over and over to build the specific attribute they want to improve. When climbing it is much harder to control how hard and how much grip work you are getting. 

Specific training will allow you to gain grip strength and endurance while leaving your climbing sessions to focus on technique and fun.

What about hang boards?

A hangboard is a device you mount to the wall or over a doorway to hang on to build finger strength. They can be made from wood or a textured synthetic similar to the holds on the wall in the rock climbing gym. They are best suited for experienced climbers.

For experienced climbers (those with two or more years of consistent climbing), there are countless finger board programs to build finger strength but I recommend against them for new climbers as the tendons aren’t strong enough to support prolonged hanging off of your fingertips. Getting into hangboarding too early is a recipe for an injury that we want to avoid so you can keep climbing regularly.

How should a beginner build Grip strength?

As a beginner, you need to build strength and endurance and condition the connective tissue to tolerate higher loads in the future. This is best accomplished with a progressive plan that has low to medium loads and steadily increasing volume.

This way, the body can adapt while at the same time minimizing the risk of tendon injuries to the fingers and elbows.

3 Simple Ways You Can Train Your Grip At Home

During the Pandemic, I was forced to get creative with my coaching clients as they had no access to the climbing or regular gym for long periods. As such many of my clients and I have put together home gyms. 

Now that gyms are back open I go to the climbing gym but all of my training is done in my basement or outside with equipment I have at home.

Bar Hangs

Bar Hangs

One of the simplest ways to train your grip in a safe way is to hang from a pullup bar. You can get a doorway pullup bar online relatively inexpensively, which is all you need to work on grip strength and pullup. For climbing, both of these will help you progress your climbing.

If you own your home, a wall mount pullup bar is a better option due to its sturdiness but will take a bit of skill and tools to mount to the wall. I have a thick-handled pullup bar with no texture in my home gym which makes it harder to grip. This makes pull-ups harder but is great for grip and is easy on the skin compared to a sharply knurled bar. 

If you don’t have a pullup bar and can mount one in your home, you always have the option of the monkey bars at the park. Often when we go for walks, we will do calisthenics including hanging off the play equipment. This is only good when the weather is on your side but depending on where you live this can be the majority of the year.

Aside from being good for building grip strength, hanging from a bar is also therapeutic for your shoulders and back. Even though as a more advanced climber I will do most of my finger training on a hang board, I make a point of getting at least 2 minutes a day of hanging from a bar for the other benefits.

Technique

  • Grip the bar overhand slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Squeeze the bar. 
  • Don’t let your fingers uncurl. If they do, this should end the set.
  • Engage your shoulders. Pull your shoulders down, away from your ears.
pull ups bar hangs

The Workout

3X Per Week on Non-Consecutive Days

The first session is to time yourself on how long you can hand before your fingers start to open.

Take this time and divide it by 6. If you were able to stay up for 60 seconds, then your sets will start at 10 seconds each. If your hang time is less than 60 seconds, then you want to start at 5-second hangs.

Get an interval timer app on your phone. Set the timer for intervals to be 1 minute long and ten intervals. The workouts will start with hanging for 10 seconds, and the rest of the minute is your rest period.

Stop each set at the time indicated or when your fingers start to uncurl from the bar. Focus on squeezing the bar the whole time.

Week 110 rounds of 10 seconds
Week 2 10 rounds of 15 seconds
Week 3 10 Rounds of 20 seconds
Week 410 Rounds of 25 seconds
Week 510 Rounds of 30 seconds
towel pull-ups

Towel Pulls

Once you can do the week 5 program of bar hangs, you can move on to a more advanced type of hanging by adding a couple of towels to the mix.

Hang two matching towels over the pullup bar or tree branch. Space them slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 

Grab both ends of one towel in your right hand and do the same with your left hand. Squeeze hard, gradually transfer your weight to your hands, and then hang. If you can’t hold on the towel will slip off the bar. The thicker the towel, the harder the exercise will be.

The program works exactly as the bar hangs only now you have moved up to a more challenging implement.

The Workout

3X Per Week on Non-Consecutive Days

The first session is to time yourself on how long you can hand before you feel the towel about to slip from your fingers.

Take this time and divide it by 6. If you were able to stay up for 60 seconds, then your sets will start at 10 seconds each. If your hang time is less than 60 seconds, then you want to start at 5-second hangs.

Get an interval timer app on your phone. Set the timer for intervals to be 1 minute long and ten intervals. The workouts will start with hanging for 10 seconds, and the rest of the minute is your rest period.

Stop each set at the time indicated or when your fingers start to uncurl from the bar. Focus on squeezing the bar the whole time.

Week 110 rounds of 10 seconds
Week 210 rounds of 15 seconds
Week 310 Rounds of 20 seconds
Week 410 Rounds of  25 seconds
Week 510 Rounds of 30 seconds

Weighted Carries

I consider this exercise cardio for climbers as it builds grip endurance, strengthens the core and gets your heart rate up. 

Pick up a weight in one hand and go for a walk. Start with your weak side. When your grip gets tired switch hands. Continue to do this until your walk is over.

My favorite item to carry is a kettlebell as the fat handle really challenges the grip but is easy on the skin.

The Workout

2-3 X Per Week on Non-Consecutive Days

Plot out a 1-mile route in your neighborhood. Grab your weight and start walking. I use a 16Kg (35 lbs) kettlebell, and my forearms are pumped by the end. It usually takes about 20 minutes. We will usually drop off the kettlebell and continue to walk for another 30-40 minutes to get the health and fat-burning effects of walking.

Conclusion

To improve your grip for rock climbing, you need to train in progressively more challenging ways while doing your best to avoid injuries. The techniques I’ve laid out in this article have been developed to progress your strength and grip endurance to minimize the risk of injury to the connective tissue.

Give these programs a shot and let us know your results.

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