What are the best workouts to build/maintain a climber’s body?

What are the best workouts to build/maintain a climber’s body?

As the age-old wisdom goes, climbing is the best full-body workout for rock climbing. But you do need to strengthen basic muscles before climbing your first route. So, how does an average Joe get a climber’s body?

A lot of muscles are used while rock climbing and bouldering. You’ll need to work out and build all of them proportionately. Getting a rock climber’s body requires strength training focused on your core, upper body, lower body, back, fingers, and forearms.

A well-built upper body helps pull you up. Whereas, strengthening your lower body and core enhances balance and mid-air stabilization. Then, after developing your fundamental strength, start climbing the wall to build endurance.


What should you know about rock climbing workouts?

Rock climbing can be exhausting. Even beginner-friendly routes engage most muscles throughout your body. That said, you don’t want to train each muscle on the same day.

Similar to exercising in the gym, it’s best to target different areas on specific days to build muscles and strength properly. Rock climbing is a sport of raw strength and control, with techniques being the next most important factor.

Don’t overexert yourself with too much cardio though. First, ask yourself:

  • What are my short-term and long-term workout goals?
  • How physically fit am I now?
  • How long (or short) is my recovery period?

Best Rock Climbing Workouts to Build Strength

Strength training is slightly ambiguous. You’re already building strength with your weekly workout regimen for the core, forearms, and other crucial body parts.

However, there are weightlifting and other exercises to build fundamental body strength. These are great for beginners and climbers during workouts.

1. Deadlift (or Romanian Deadlift)

Deadlift Form

The deadlift is a popular full-body workout for building strength, back, and other muscles.

How to deadlift correctly:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your midfoot under the barbell.
  • Bend over and grab the barbell with a shoulder-width grip.
  • Look forward with a straight head.
  • Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar, keeping your back straight.
  • Lift your chest up and straighten your lower back.
  • Take a big breath, hold it, and stand up with the weight, driving the hip forward.

Proper form on the deadlift is difficult to get right. Improper form is dangerous for the spine, and lifting too much can cause a slipped disc? Supervision and training are important.

2. Barbell Front Squat

how to do barbell front squat
Barbell Front Squat

Barbell Front Squat is great for leg day. Much like the deadlift, caution and training are important to protect your back.

How to do it properly:

  • Go to a squat rack with your feet shoulder-width apart. Ensure that the barbell and appropriate weights are neck-height.
  • Stand as close as possible to the squat rack without letting the barbell touch your chest.
  • Grip the barbell as firm as you can with your palms facing. Your knuckles should face your shoulders and elbows pointing forward. Ensure your elbows are parallel to your biceps.
  • Try to put all four fingers under the barbell and lift the barbell by puffing your chest. Once done, unrack the barbell and step back.
  • Keep the spine and tailbone in line and squat down. Move your hips backward when squatting so your knees don’t move forward.
  • To get back up to the starting position, slowly bring your hips forward and extend the knees.
  • Repeat the process until your set is complete.

It’ll be difficult at first, but you’ll get used to it. Do 3-4 reps minimum each time to build your abs and full-body strength.

3. Inverted Row

how to do inverted row
Source: Barbend.com

Balancing your dangling body on the inverted row does give you a rock climbing-esque feel. Inverted rows can be done using a weight rack or cable machine.

How to do it properly with a cable machine:

  • Stand straight with legs shoulder-wide apart. Put your desired weight on the cable machine and grab the handles.
  • Lean back while keeping your body and backbone aligned.
  • Push your legs towards the machine to help you lean and hover on your heels.
  • Stretch your arms by leaning as much as possible.
  • Pull the handle to bring your chest up.
  • Go back to your original leaning position and keep repeating.

How to do it properly with a weight rack:

  • Put the rod on the weight rack at your arm’s length. Doing so will allow you to comfortably grab the rod and not fall on the ground when you lift a little.
  • Grab the rod from just outside the shoulder width. Stretch your legs and put them shoulder-wide apart. This will engage your upper body.
  • Pull your body towards the rod to hover a little, and then bring your chest to the rod.
  • Keep repeating until you finish a set. Perform three reps.


  • Repeat the exercise without stretching your legs to engage your core.
  • Beginners should do it with a cable machine as it’s comparatively easier and then move to the weight rack.

4. Overhead Press / Military Press

how to do an overhead press or military press
Overhead Press

If you have been to a gym before, you already know how overhead is done. It’s something we do to build muscles in our biceps and shoulders.

How to do it properly:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend down and grab the bar.
  • Put the bar near your thighs and stand straight with your forearms stretched out usually.
  • Next, curl your biceps, so the bar is just above your shoulders (like we did in Barbell Front Squat).
  • Push the bar above your head and stretch your hands and shoulders as far to the top as possible. 
  • Come back down and stop at just above your shoulders.
  • Keep repeating the steps mentioned above. Add weights when you’re comfortable.

You can do it using dumbbells as well, with only one hand performing military press at a time.

Tip: Make sure your wrist is straight above your elbow. It should neither lean away from your body nor towards it.

5. Frog Stretch

Frog Stretch | Source: TheYogaCollective

The Frog Stretch looks pretty easy at first, but it’s tiring. It’s actually a part of “yoga” and not your average gym workout. Stretching helps with the flexibility of your limbs (forearms and legs) and enhances your sense of balance.

How to do it properly:

  • Lay a yoga mat horizontally in front of you. You have to be on your hands and knees for the starting position.
  • Don’t settle for shoulder-wide distance. Put your knees as far away from each other as possible. Stretching them like this is crucial.
  • Rotate your feet such that your toes are pointed outwards and pull them away from each other. Now, open your feet and legs wider than your knees even.
  • Push your hips backward to bend down further and put your forearms on the ground instead of your hands. 
  • Ensure your forearms are placed so that they’re touching and not spread apart like in a plank.
  • Look straight forward and sit in this position for 30 to 45 seconds.

My Advice: Don’t lift too much weight initially, so your body gets used to it. But once that’s done, push your body to its limits with heavyweights. Going light wouldn’t help build strength. We aren’t shredding body fat here. And finally, don’t do the weight lifting exercises unsupervised.

Best Rock Climbing Workouts for Core Training

Every climbing newbie must know that even a tiny difference in your core strength can make or break your climbing attempt. A climber’s core is crucial for maintaining mid-air balance and navigating the body’s center of gravity.

1. Planks

how to do a plank properly

Planks are huge for building core strength. A plank is the most straightforward and effective way to strengthen your core.

How to do it properly:

  • Sit on your knees and bend forward. Use your forearms and elbows to support your torso.
  • Put one leg back, followed by the other, in the push-up position.
  • Keep your posture straight by keeping the hips in line with your neck and feet.
  • Look forward and maintain the position for as long as possible.

Once you get used to planks, you can start practicing side planks.

2. Six Inches

Six Inches

Six inches, an isometric abdominal exercise, is one of the holy trinity of core workouts alongside Plank and Crunches..

How to do it properly:

  • Lie flat on your back and extend your legs. You should also rest your arms on the side of your hip.
  • Lift your legs about six inches off the ground and hold the position for as long as possible.

Note: This might initially put a lot of strain on your back, so it’s good to put the hands under your butt.

3. Crunches

how to do crunches

Crunches are another holy trinity for building your abs.

How to do it properly:

  • Lie flat on your back with your feet flat on the ground.
  • Put your hands behind your head and use your stomach (abdomen) to lift your upper body.
  • Go back down and repeat once your shoulders are about 4-5 inches above the ground.

4. Hanging Leg Lifts

Hanging Leg Lifts

You might be good at pull-ups and hanging from a rod, but hanging leg lifts is next level.

How to do it properly:

  • Hold the rod with your arms stretched out.
  • Shift the support of your weight to your arms by slowly lifting both legs together.
  • Keep lifting until they make a 90-degree angle with your torso and then back down.

Best Rock Climbing Workouts for Fingers & Forearms Training

1. Fingers: Stretches & Exercises

A good finger grip (for grabbing holds) and strength (for hanging mid-air) are essential for climbing. Stronger fingers improve your stamina and ability to grab smaller holds. 

Here are some stretches and exercises to get your fingers show-ready:

  1. Regularly use the fingerboard at your home / gym. Alternate between grip styles (half crimp and open crimp).
  2. Put your hand forward with fingers pointing up. Use your thumb and press it hard against your index finger for five seconds. Then switch to the next finger. You can do the same thing with both hands by joining palms (the prayer position).
  3. Pick a rubber band around your fingers and stretch it as much as possible.
  4. Build strength by squeezing stress balls for maximum durations at regular intervals.
  5. Build flexibility by stretching your fingers one by one. Make sure your fingrtips are facing down, and the palm is away from you.

2. Forearms: Wrist Curls

Wrist curls aren’t just for beginners. They’re tiresome when done right, making your forearm muscles super tight

To do a wrist curl, sit on a bench with the back of your lower palms on your thighs.  Then slowly curl your arm up while holding some weight. Once fully curled, slowly curl them back down and repeat the process. 

If you get bored, try your hand on reverse wrist curls.

Best Rock Climbing Workouts for Back Training

You need an iron-clad back to “support” your rock climbing adventures.

Hanging from a tall rock with your fingertips requires more than just flexibility, after all. You need a strong back and core.

To train your back, do those “strength training” exercises we discussed (deadlift and barbell front squat), as well as:

1. Pull-Ups

how to do pull ups properly

Pull-ups are the “deadlift” of the freestyle category. Pull-ups are another full-body workout that develops biceps and back muscles.

But with pull-ups, you don’t need a rod or external weight. And the risk of significant injury is negligible compared to deadlift.

How to do it properly:

  • Stand near a bar about your height with hands stretched above.
  • Grab the bar and contract your biceps to be in the hanging position.
  • Cross your legs and start pulling yourself up.
  • Go slow when pulling up or coming back down. This prevents muscle injury and enhances the impact of the exercise.

2. Bridge

how to do a bridge yogic exercise
Bridge Exercise

The bridge is a yoga-style exercise that strengthens your glutes and lower back muscles. Plus, it’s much easier than pull-ups and farmer’s walks.

How to do it properly:

  • Lie down on your back on top of a yoga mat.
  • Put your hands on the side with palms facing down.
  • Crouch your legs, so your heel touches the ground making a triangle with your legs.
  • Lift your abdomen with the lower back’s support without moving your limbs.

3. Farmer’s Walk

how to do farmer's walk properly

Loaded carries (aka the farmer’s walk) is a deadlift-esque workout that strengthens your upper back muscles via weight support.

Don’t lift too much too quickly. Depending on the weight you’re comfortable with, do loaded carries with weighted rods or dumbbells.

How to do it properly:

  • Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Crouch down by moving your hips forward and keeping your knees straight to pick up the rods.
  • Grab the weight, tighten your core, and lift from your back without moving your knees.
  • Keep your chest high and shoulders back.
  • Start moving forward by tightening your triceps and glutes.

Best Rock Climbing Workouts for Upper Body Training

Push-ups and tricep dips are great exercises to include in your workout. Both can be intense without weights.

Here’s how to do upper-body workouts for your shoulder, biceps, and torso:

1. Push-Ups

how to do push ups properly
Push Ups

Put your feet close and stretch your legs while your hands are shoulder-width apart and palms facing downwards. Contract your biceps to go down and then push yourself back up.

2.  Tricep Dips

Tricep Dips

You’ll need a proper bench for tricep dips. Put your hands on the desk with palms down and fingers facing the direction of your face. Move forward until you’re hanging from your arms and legs. Finally, support the weight through your arms by going up and down in that position.

3. Bicep Curls

how to do bicep curls properly
Bicep Curls

Sit on the edge of a weightlifting bench. Pick up a dumbbell and put your elbow on your thighs. Next, curl your bicep by pulling your fist (with the dumbbell) towards you.

4. Shoulder Press

Shoulder Press

Stand straight with a dumbbell in each hand placed on your shoulders. Make sure your fingers are curled facing forward and lift the weight to the maximum possible height. Finally, bring it back to shoulder level without disrupting the palm orientation.

Ps… pull-ups also bulk up your shoulders.

Best Rock Climbing Workouts for Lower Body Training

1. Squats

how to do squats right

Squats, especially bodyweight squats, are the most popular leg workout routine that engages a ton of muscles.

Bodyweight squats are done weight-free. To spice things up, add weight or do sumo squats.

How to do it properly:

  • Stand straight with your legs slightly more than shoulder-wide apart.
  • Stretch your hands and keep them extended mid-air.
  • Crouch down while pushing your back behind and keeping your knee straight. 
  • Come back up, then repeat the process.

You can also add dumbbells by resting your hand on your shoulders with fingers facing your side.

2. Calf Raises

Calves are a vital part of your leg’s anatomy, but they take longer to strengthen than the front of your leg. Calf raises should be done at regular intervals.

How to do it properly:

  • Stand straight in front of a mirror or a wall with your heels together.
  • Put your palm on the object in front of you for support.
  • Raise your body and the heels, supporting your body weight with your toes/balls of feet.
  • Slowly come down and repeat the process. 

Once this starts getting easy, do them on one leg at a time or on a machine with weights.

3. Lunges

how to do lunges properly

Like squats, lunges can either be weightless or with some weighted bag on your shoulder.

How to do it properly:

  • Put one foot forward and bend down while keeping your back straight.
  • Don’t bend your front knee too much. It should stay behind the toes (like in squats). 
  • Get up and put the next foot forward to repeat the process.
Jonathan Spaeth

I got into extreme sports about 20 years ago and am a die-hard adrenaline junkie. Just like in business, I choose my outdoor adventures based on how much they scare me. My goal is to share the lessons I've learned over the past couple of decades braving the unknown to encourage you to do the same.