Strength Training with Pull Ups and Lat Pull Downs

Lately, it seems like every climber is training, thinking about training, or sharing enthusiasm towards the idea of training despite no real motivation to actually do so. Some people say training is the only way to get better at climbing, and some people say “Training for what? I don’t understand what you’re training for?” Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of training, there is one thing for sure: there just isn’t a whole lot out there on how to train, what to train, or if anything works. Even the professional athletes of rock climbing are following the example of trainers who have a good idea of how the body works but might not necessarily have hard science on what specifically rock climbers need. There are a couple known factors. Finger strength is key because climbing consistently uses it. Being of a lower weight seems to help, mostly because there is less weight to pull and less weight to put on small holds. Shoulder strength is important because a lot of climbs are shoulder intensive. There are some debated areas like how important core strength is. Ultimately that may depend on the type of climbing you do, however, I try my best to work in some core strength workouts. It can help for keeping in tight to the wall and for those overhanging cave climbs.

Truthfully, I don’t have all the answers or maybe any of the answers about the best way to train. I am trying a lot of methods though and seeing what works. Right now the current method is a mix of shoulder and finger work outs.

A lot of people relate having good pull up strength to good climbing strength. Scientifically, I have no idea if this is true or not, but it makes some sense when we think about climbing as an act of pulling our bodies in an upward direction. That being said, it doesn’t seem common to do an actual pull up while climbing. You can certainly try pull up training, but some things that may be more helpful are doing off sets or utilizing the campus/hangboard for your work out rather than a bar. Not everyone starts with the strength for that, and the great thing about pull ups is that you can do them progressively with variations. There’s no real need to get up to 500, instead make your reps of 1-5 more intense.

For someone who cannot do a pull up, build up your strength with negatives or taking some weight off through a pulley system. I do 3 sets and you do as many as you can without failing, but if you can get 6+ without failing, it may be time to consider making it harder. Harder in this case would be less weight on the pulley system, or weighted negatives.

If you can do 2-4 pull ups before failing, then you may just use regular pull ups. You may want to consider a hangboard if possible to make it more like climbing, since the likelihood of finding a perfect shape bar in climbing is low.

If you can do pulls up fine, you may want to consider weighted pulls up. In this case, adding weight to make it harder. Or doing off set pull ups on a campus board or hangboard. Or you could use a campus or hangboard to use smaller, more difficult holds. There are a lot of ways you can change up your pull ups to make them harder or easier to fit your level of need. It’s good to try different variations because mixing up your work out keeps your muscles confused and this is a good thing. If you do the same thing all the time you might be getting better from muscle memory rather than an actual increase in strength or ability. It is possible for your body to get really good at doing one thing and not be able to apply that one thing in a more widespread manner, so muscle confusion is a friend in climbing since all of climbing is different movements.

I like to do this training predominantly at the climbing gym so I climb for my warm up/cool down. This is good because it keeps it fun and motivating. We’re motivated to climb, not necessarily to do weights. It also helps keep your mind mentally in the climbing game. Getting strong is great, but you still need to know technique and climbing movement to be good at climbing. It’s important to have chances to practice footwork and technique too.

If you have access to a lat pull down machine, this can really come in handy for training one arm at a time. Often in climbing we aren’t pulling up with both hands but rather one, so it is good to work on the movement of pulling up by one arm. Some lat pull down machines offer you a chance to use a handle over a large bar. This can be very effective. You also might be surprised to find one arm is stronger than the other and is able to take more weight than the other. You can gear your weight amount to increasing strength for each arm.

There will be updates on if this workout proves to be beneficial. For now the goal is just to try it out and see if any improvements are made. Sometimes it can be difficult to test out workouts because aspects of life get in the way like sickness, busy schedules, significant weight loss or gain, etc. But I’ll do my best to track what I can of progress made with this training attempt.


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