Weighted Pull-Ups for Building Rock Climbing Strength

Are you hitting a plateau in your rock climbing training? Often times we improve quickly when we start climbing, but then progress slows after the initial improvement in ability and strength. This can be frustrating, and getting past it means changing your training to provide new challenges to your muscles. Adding weighted pull-ups to your climbing training is one of the best ways to do this, and can do wonders for your strength. Let’s take a look at why that is.

The Science behind Heavy Weight

There are a few different outcomes from training your muscles: increased endurance, increased muscle size (muscular hypertrophy), and increased strength. Endurance and strength are very important to climbers, but we want to limit hypertrophy so that the added body mass doesn’t slow us down. A high strength to weight ratio is very important here.

To increase muscular strength you must lift very heavy loads. Lifting heavier weights trains your neuromuscular pathways to be more efficient by forcing them to recruit additional muscle fibers to lift the load. Conditioning your muscles to be more efficient lets you gain strength without gaining muscle mass. This is exactly what we want as climbers!

For optimal strength gains you should use enough weight so that you can only do 3 to 5 reps of an exercise. The goal of this is to load the muscles more than they are use to so that they learn to work more efficiently. It is important to rest completely between sets, about 3 to 5 minutes. You don’t want to tire out your muscles, which would instead build endurance or muscle size. Aim for 3 to 4 of these sets.

Avoid taking the bodybuilder approach to weight lifting. Bodybuilders will often perform 8-12 reps with lighter loads and shorter rest to focus on tiring out the muscles and increasing their size. This results in giant muscles that aren’t very functional for rock climbing.

Adding Weight to Pull-Ups

Pull-Ups are one of the best climbing exercises to perform with added weight. They will allow you to increase arm and back strength rather quickly. This will allow you to do more intensive climbing moves like lock offs and one arm pull-ups. Of course, you should only train weighted pull ups if you have a good base strength to begin with. If you can’t do at least ten body weight pull-ups then you should first focus on those.

You can add weight in a number of ways. Putting rocks in a backpack, hanging weights from a climbing harness, or using a weight vest are all effective methods of adding weight. It’s even possible to hold weights with your feet if you have no alternative. This method isn’t optimal however, as it doesn’t allow you to focus completely on your pull up. As stated before, when working weighted pull-ups you want to use a weight that only allows you to do 3 to 5 pull-ups before failure. Adjust your weight accordingly.

Try to work on your weighted pull-ups 2 to 3 times a week. You can do them after climbing, but don’t do them on days when you are very tired. You want to be at relatively high strength levels when you work on them.

Make sure to warm up properly before adding weight. These sets are very strenuous and you don’t want to injure yourself. Between each set make sure you rest until you feel fully recovered. Don’t be afraid to allow up to five minutes between sets. You don’t want to tire out your muscles; we want them at full capacity. Perform 3 to 4 sets of these weighted pull ups.

After a few weeks of training weighted pull-ups you should see significant gains in your climbing strength. You will feel lighter and quicker on the wall, and normal pull ups should be a breeze. After a few months your progress may slow again, at which time you might want to take a break and focus on endurance. A cyclical training pattern alternating focus between strength and endurance keeps your training from hitting a plateau.

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