A Guide to Building Strength for Climbing

To climb harder, you need to be strong. That’s obvious. But how do you go about getting stronger? It can be tough to know where to start, especially if you’re new to climbing and strength training. In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of building strength for climbing. We’ll cover everything from what types of exercises are best for climbers to how often you should train. By the end of this article, you’ll have a good understanding of what it takes to get strong for climbing!

Hypertrophy V Strength

When we talk about strength, we would be stupid to not discuss what the difference is between hypertrophy and strength. If you aren’t bothered by the science behind it all, then feel free to skip this bit!

Building Strength for Climbing


When someone talks about hypertrophy, they are referring to the enlargement of cells. This can be due to an increase in either the size or the number of cells. Hypertrophy generally refers to an increase in muscle cell size, although it can also refer to an increase in organ size or other tissue growth.

When muscles undergo hypertrophy, the individual muscle fibres increase in diameter. This is due to an increase in the number and size of the myofibrils, which are the contractile proteins within muscle cells. The myofibrils are what give muscles their strength and power. Hypertrophy can be either functional or non-functional. Functional hypertrophy is when there is an increase in muscle size due to an increase in the number of myofibrils.

Non-functional hypertrophy is when there is an increase in muscle size but no change in the number of myofibrils. Hypertrophy occurs as a result of two main mechanisms: sarcomere hypertrophy and satellite cell activation. Sarcomere hypertrophy occurs when there is an increase in the number of sarcomeres, which are the basic units of muscle contraction. This leads to an increase in muscle cell size and contractile strength.

Satellite cell activation occurs when there is an expansion of the satellite cell population. Satellite cells are located between the muscle fibres and provide them with new nuclei, which are required for muscle growth. When satellite cells divide, they create new muscle fibres that fuse with existing muscle fibres, leading to an increase in muscle cell size.

Two main types of training lead to hypertrophy: resistance training and muscular endurance training. Resistance training leads to sarcomere hypertrophy, while muscular endurance training leads to satellite cell activation.

The type of training that is most effective for inducing hypertrophy depends on the individual’s goals and preferences. For example, if someone wants to increase their strength, they would generally focus on resistance training, while someone who wants to improve their endurance would focus on muscular endurance training.

Building Strength for Climbing


Representative of one of the seven physical qualities, strength is the amount of force that a muscle or group of muscles can produce. In other words, the muscles can exert power. This quality is important because all human movement — from pushing a grocery cart to sprinting — requires some level of force production.

Additionally, while there are different types of strength (e.g., absolute, explosive, and functional), they all can be measured by observing the amount of work done in a specific time frame. For example, how much weight can be lifted in a certain amount of time? 

There are three primary ways to increase strength: neurological adaptations, hypertrophic adaptations, and increases in cross-sectional area. Neurological adaptations involve changes in motor unit recruitment (i.e., the number of motor units used during an activity) and muscle fibre firing rates (i.e., the number of times a muscle fibre contracts per second).


In other words, the nervous system becomes more efficient at activating muscles. Hypertrophic adaptations refer to an increase in muscle size (i.e., hypertrophy) via protein synthesis; as muscle fibres grow larger, they’re able to produce more force. Finally, an increase in the cross-sectional area occurs when there’s an increase in the number of muscle fibres (i.e., myonuclei) and/or satellite cells. So, when it comes to strength training, varied exercises that focus on different mechanisms should be included to target all three types of adaptations for optimal results.

So for climbing, we do not need to focus on the size of our muscles, as this can actually hinder our ability to climb efficiently. We want to focus on the ability to build strength, in areas that will help us to climb for longer, and allow us to climb harder routes.

Building Strength for Climbing

What muscles should be focused on to improve climbing?

For climbers, having strong muscles is important not just for the physicality of the sport, but also for safety. While all muscles are used during a climb, there are four main muscle groups that climbers should focus on strengthening to improve their performance and reduce the risk of injury. 

The first muscle group is the stabilizers. These are the muscles that help maintain balance and control while climbing. Strengthening the stabilizers will help you stay more focused and be less likely to fall.

Unfortunately, stabilizer muscles are often neglected in favour of more “showy” muscle groups. As a result, they can become weak and uncoordinated. There are several ways to strengthen stabilizer muscles, and incorporating some simple exercises into your daily routine can make a big difference.

For example, walking on uneven surfaces or doing single-leg balance exercises is a great way to work stabilizer muscles. In addition, lifting weights can also help to build these important muscles. By making an effort to strengthen your stabilizer muscles, you can improve your balance, coordination, and overall strength.

The second muscle group is the prime movers. These are the muscles that do the majority of the work during a climb. Prime movers include the biceps, triceps, and back muscles. Strengthening these muscles will help you generate more power and endurance while climbing.

Putting it simply; the biceps are responsible for flexing the elbow and bringing the hand closer to the body. The triceps extend the elbow and straighten out the arm. The back muscles work to stabilize the shoulder blades and support the spine. To train these muscles for climbing, focus on exercises that target each group specifically.

For the biceps, this might include curls and chin-ups. For the triceps, try tricep kickbacks and dips. And for the back muscles, consider rowing movements and Superman holds. Incorporating these exercises into your routine will help you develop the strength and power you need to reach new heights on the wall.

The third muscle group is the antagonist pulls. These are the muscles that work opposite of the prime movers to provide stability and control. Antagonist pulls include the abdominal and leg muscles. Strengthening these muscles will help you maintain good form while climbing and reduce the risk of injury.

When it comes to climbing, every motion starts with an antagonist pull. To train these muscles, climbers often use a variety of exercises, such as sit-ups, leg raises, and pull-ups. By regularly incorporating these exercises into their routine, climbers can develop the strength and power needed to reach the top of even the most challenging routes. In addition to increasing muscle strength, antagonist pulls also help to improve climbers’ balance and coordination. As a result, training these essential muscles is key to becoming a successful climber.

The fourth muscle group is the grip support. These are the muscles that help you maintain a strong grip on the rock or wall. Grip support includes the forearm, finger, and hand muscles. Strengthening these muscles will help you stay on the wall longer and have a stronger grip when climbing. 

By improving your grip strength, you’ll be able to hold on to smaller holds, execute more difficult moves, and feel more secure on the wall. While grip strength is largely determined by genetics, there are still a few things you can do to improve your grip. One way to train your grip is by using a fingerboard or hang board. This device allows you to hang from small holds and work on specific muscles.

Another way to train your grip is through weightlifting exercises such as deadlifts, farmer’s walks, and pull-ups. These exercises target the muscles in your back, arms, and shoulders that are responsible for maintaining a strong grip. Finally, you can also increase your grip strength by simply climbing more often. The more time you spend on the wall, the better your body will become at gripping small holds. With a little dedication and effort, you can improve your grip strength and become a better climber.

All of these muscle groups are important for climbers to focus on strengthening to improve their performance and reduce their risk of injury. By working on all four muscle groups, climbers will be able to achieve their goals and enjoy their time on the wall safely.


Does strength help climb?

Yes, strength is an important part of climbing. By increasing your muscle strength, you’ll be able to generate more power and endurance while climbing. This will help you reach new heights on the wall.

How much strength do you need for rock climbing?

The amount of strength you need for rock climbing will vary depending on your goals. If you’re just starting out, focus on building a moderate level of strength. As you become more experienced, you can start working on developing greater strength and power.

Do you need core strength for rock climbing?

Yes, core strength is important for rock climbing. The core muscles provide stability and support for the body. By strengthening your core, you’ll be able to maintain good form while climbing and reduce your risk of injury.

Do push-ups help climbing?

Yes, push-ups can help climbing. Push-ups target the shoulder and chest muscles, which are important for maintaining a strong grip on the rock or wall. By regularly incorporating push-ups into your routine, you can develop the strength and power needed to reach the top of even the most challenging routes.