Believe it or not, when we decided to move to Portland, we only looked at apartments that were walkable to the climbing gym we wanted to join (and we visited them all!). You may think we’re hardcore about climbing, but we enjoy going to the climbing gym as our mid-day work break.
When we’re not traveling or out on a local adventure, we spend most of our time working at home or our second home, Portland Rock Gym. In 2017, we made it a goal to start climbing V5-6s!
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Last Updated: June 30, 2020
Best Exercises & Games to Improve Your Rock Climbing
That’s me above starting my first V4 (I did not get very far), but now I can proudly say we’re working on 5s and 6s!
We started bouldering at the beginning of last year. At first, I thought V1s and V2s were impossible, but soon enough, we were climbing to V2s, then V3s. It was so exciting when we first made progress and was so frustrating when we started seeing ourselves plateau.
Especially when we were traveling, it felt like we took one step forward but two steps back. Recently, we asked our friends at PRG to help us come up with a list of training exercises, games, and new ways to do the same climbs to keep things fresh and help us push through our plateau phases. We love that some of these are also great for when you’re traveling.
To Improve Strength and Technique
1. Finger Hangs
Whether this is on Rock Rings (what we have), a fingerboard, or even just a solid door frame, hang for five seconds, then rest for five. Do this for a full minute.
2. Superman Pushups
Superman push-ups work on your entire core. Start in a push-up position but with your hands close together and extended about 10 inches from your head. Bend your elbows outwards as you do a push-up.
3. Chair Ups
This one focuses on your grip and forearm strength. Lie on your stomach and extend your arms straight in front of you. Grab the chair’s front legs and lift the chair upward (about 5 inches off the ground), keeping your elbows on the ground as the pivot point. Hold the chair in the air for 1 minute or do three sets of 15 seconds with a heavier chair.
4. Weighted Pull-Ups
Pulling strength is huge in climbing. If you can’t do pull-ups yet, work on this without weights. If you can do pull-ups, then start doing them with weights. Typically four sets of 10 is an excellent place to start.
The MoonBoard is a 40-degree board with a specific hold layout. You then can set problems based on the the app (marked with magnetic pins to show you what is on) and work on the same ones others are around the world. You can also set your own problems. Learn to build one here.
This one can be done in one long session or multiple sessions. First, set what your project is. That will be the top of your pyramid. Working backwards, have a base of 8 problems, then 4, then 2, then 1 being your project. For example, if I’m working on a V4, I would have 8 V1s, 4 V2s, 2 V3s, and 1 V4. As a long term strategy, work your way through the list being sure you can do them all. Then start a new pyramid with your new project.
For a single session, work up half the pyramid, then back down the other side. So in this case, I would do 4 V1s, 2 V2s, 1 V3, then work on my project. Once I’ve worked hard enough on my project, I’ll work my way back down again with 1 V3, 2 V2s, and 4 V1s.
Make the first move of the problem, then reverse to the start. Staying on the wall, do the first two moves, then climb back to the start. Continue doing this until you reach the top.
8. Circuit / Laps
Pick 5-10 climbs that you know you can do. Climb through all of them with no break in between. Take a 15-20 minute break and repeat. We do the circuit at PRG which has 10 problems rated between V0-V4. We’ve been able to do all but 2.
Pick four routes you know you can do (usually 2 levels down from what you can climb). Do each climb 4 times with a one minute break in between.
Most gyms have a traverse route built in. It’s a great way to work on technique and endurance. If the traverse wall is short, work on going back and forth.
This one needs to be done with a partner and is best if it’s with someone who knows your climbing capability. The idea is that you use a pointer (a laser pointer is a great way to do this) to point out the next move to the person on the wall. Think Twister without the spinner. You simply tell them where their next hand or foot should go.
12. Add on Game
Start with a sequence of 3-5 moves. The first player does that sequence then adds a move. Then the next person does the sequence with the additional move and adds another before. You continue taking turns until you’re completely exhausted.
13. One Arm Training
You’ll need to find the right route for this one. The idea is that you climb an easier problem but with only one arm (or one foot). This will make you focus on positioning and dead-point ability (a quick moment of weightlessness as you make a move towards the next hold).
14. Time's Up
This one is great for a big group. Pick a set amount of time (a good start is 10 seconds), and see how many holds you can reach in that time. As you continue through the group, try to beat the best record. Once everyone has gone, the person at the bottom is out and you move to the next problem. Continue until there is only one person left.
Pick a route or problem to work on (the more moves, the better). Each person takes turns repeating the problem, but after each turn, they select a hold to eliminate. The winner must stump everyone but still prove that it can be done.
Bonus: Need More Tips?
If you want to get a comprehensive book for training, check out The Rock Climber Training Manual. If you’re training hard, we’ve also been using this ClimbOn for our hands to recover faster.
If You're in Portland
If you’re ever in the Portland area, swing by our old gym, the Portland Rock Gym. They have a good bouldering and top rope section, which we just started getting into to train for climbs at Smith Rock! They also have yoga classes, which we definitely want to check out, especially the yoga for climbing class.
Have you tried bouldering / rock climbing? If you haven’t climbed, would you try it in the new year?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.
This Post Has 6 Comments
Hey guys, really nice article. I think my girlfriend and I are in the same position to you; we’re still relative newbies but we’ve fallen in love with climbing. We’ve planned all of our future plans and travels around climbing too. You’re right, it’s a great way to get away from the computer for a while and refresh yourself. Cool games, we’re off to play the Twister one now at our gym :)
Awesome! Where do you guys climb?
I’m a newbie in wall climbing and I really love it even though my fingers/hands hurts too much. Reading your blog gives me more ideas on how to gain strength and techniques in climbing…
Just give it a couple weeks if you go regularly they will stop hurting! haha though I will say if you take a break from climbing and go back, your fingers will hurt all over again So encouraged to hear you found this useful. Can’t wait to hear how much you improve!
This is one of the most helpful, concise guides to improving rock climbing that I have yet to encounter. Thank you for taking the time to really think through and give advice that one can apply in the gym and anywhere they are! This is great! Thank you again.
Thank you so much, Jessica! I’m glad to hear you found it helpful. Hopefully we can all get better together