How To Use Climbing Exercise To Build Extreme Pulling Power

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
October 05, 2015

If you’ve been into calisthenics training for a while, then you probably know that among calisthenics athletes, climbers are the ones who possess the greatest and most impressive pulling strength.

Seeing what climbers can do, especially free solo climbers, just blows my mind away.

After seeing a lot of climbing videos, I started to ask myself:

How come climbers have such an impressive pulling strength?

The answer was quite obvious.

It’s their training.

As such, if you want to have the pulling strength of a climber you will have to train like a climber.

With this post, you are going to learn how to implement climbing exercise methods into your current training routine and develop extreme pulling power.

Climbing Disciplines

bouldering climbing exercise

There are numerous kinds of climbing disciplines developed throughout the years. All of them are fun and enjoyable on their own right.

A brief list of climbing disciplines includes:

Since the main goal of this post is the use of climbing for the development of pulling strength and power, we are going to focus only in some forms of climbing and not all of them. These are:

  • bouldering
  • rope climbing

Free solo climbing can also help you build tremendous pulling strength, but I’m not going to include it in this post since it’s very risky and only for high-level climbers.

Benefits Of Climbing

climbing exercise

Todd, I already train with different variations of pull ups and I am pretty good at them. Why should I consider adding climbing into my workouts?

That’s a great question.

As I have said numerous times in other posts, the most important thing is your goals. So if climbing doesn’t help you move closer towards your goals, then there is no reason to include it in your training.

However, to better see the value of climbing I made a list of the most important benefits.

Benefit #1: Train Organically & Chaotically

Unlike regular pull ups (no matter what variation), climbing is random.

This allows you to train in lot’s of different positions and in a way that is more challenging to your mind and body than regular pull ups since you don’t know what’s coming next.

In addition to that, sometimes you have to spend a lot of time under tension in awkward positions.

All of these things, make climbing one of the best (if not the best) ways to develop your pulling strength.

Benefit #2: Increase Your Grip Strength

One of the most challenging aspects of climbing is the awkward grip positions.

As you are going to climb, you are going to use a variety of different grips, most of which are as challenging as they can get.

To get a basic idea of the different gripping position, you can check out this great article:

This is one of the reasons climbers possess unreal finger and grip strength that allows them to perform feats like little finger one arm pull ups.

Benefit #3: It’s Enjoyable

In contrast to regular pull up training, that can become quite monotonous after a while, climbing is going to always feel like fun. That happens because of the randomness inherit in the training.

Even if you use the same climbing environment you can always find different ways to ascent to the top or train with different climbing problems.

Benefit #4: It’s the real Thing

Climbing is the most functional form of training in regards to pulling strength. Nothing else comes close.

That’s because you are training directly with the art itself.

Usually, nowadays people don’t have to climb in their everyday lives. But if the time comes, you are going to be ready.

Benefit #5: It’s Adventurous

Unlike regular pull up training, climbing involves the element of fear.

Even if you have taken the necessary precautions, your adrenaline is going to be off the roof. Especially, while you are a beginner.

This makes climbing even more fun and entertaining.

Benefit #6: Develop Your Focus

Climbing successfully requires intense mental focus.

In every “step” you will have to be completely focused at the task at hand and maintain the necessary strength at the right place. Other than that you have to stay focused so that you can find out the best next move.

If you lose your focus during your training, you are very likely going to fall down.

Using Common Sense

Despite the great benefits that come with climbing, you should be aware that climbing without taking the necessary precautions is very risky and dangerous.

First of all climbing is not for beginners. You should be able to do at least 8 pull ups with good form. If you are not there yet you can follow The Ultimate 30 Day Pull up Challenge to increase your numbers.

Secondly and most importantly you should always take safety measures. Falling off from a great height is no joke. I know that seeing free solo climbers perform great feats is very inspiring, but these guys are professionals and have been climbing for decades before attempting these feats.

Lastly, I would suggest you to always have a training partner with you in your outdoor climbing training. If something happens your partner will be there to help you out.

Climbing & Pulling Exercises

boulder climbing

In this section, you are going to find all the exercises that are going to be used in the climbing training sample programs.

The exercises are going to be divided into 3 categories:

  • Pulling exercises
  • Grip training
  • Climbing exercises

Pulling exercises

Since the main goal of this calisthenics program is to increase your maximal pulling strength, the exercises in this section are going to lead to the achievement of the one arm pull up. In addition to this, there are going to be some exercises that focus a little on endurance to help you improve your climbing skills.

I assume that you are already at an intermediate level and that you can do 5 pull ups fairly easily.

If you are still a rookie at pulling, you can check these articles to get started with increasing your pulling strength:

Pulling Exercise #1: Close Grip Pull Ups

Pulling Exercise #2: Archer Pull Ups

Pulling Exercise #3: Uneven Pull Ups

Pulling Exercise #4: One Arm Iso Hold

Pulling Exercise #5: One Arm Pull Up Negatives

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcG3Zl3Vx5M

Pulling Exercise #6: Frenchies

Even though frenchies are more of an endurance exercise, they are going to help you in developing the pulling strength and endurance required to solve climbing problems.

Pulling Exercise #7: Pull up Typewriters

Similarly to Frenchies, typewriters are going to be used as an endurance exercise.

How To Progress With Pulling Exercises

The pulling exercises from 1-5 are sorted based on their difficulty. So, you should start training with the close grip pull ups.

Start off with 3 sets of 3 and build your reps up to 3 sets of 5. Then move to the next progression and repeat the process.

Once you reach the iso hold and the negatives you should training according to the prilepin tables.

Grip training exercises

climbing grip

The grip is one of the most essential parts of climbing and pulling in general. Without a good grip the achievement of all the advanced pulling feats is impossible.

Your grip strength is going to increase a lot by training with climbing exercises (next subsection). However, for faster and better results you should train your grip at the non-climbing days as well.

There are two ways with which you can train your grip strength:

  • Using grip tools during with the pull up exercises (like towels, fat grips, rolling thunder, etc).
  • By training your grip separately.

I would recommend you to train your grip at the end of your main workout so that your exhausted grip doesn’t interfere with your regular training.

Grip exercise #1: Deadhang (Passive Hang)

Grip Exercise #2: One arm deadhang

Grip exercise #3: Rope Hang

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsl-4jBD4Ds

The weight isn’t necessary.

Grip exercise #4: One Arm Rope Hang

Like grip exercise #2 but with a rope.

Grip exercise #5: Fat bar hang

Like grip exercise #1 but on a thick bar.

Grip Exercise #6: Fat bar One arm hang

Like grip exercise #2 but on a thick bar.

Grip Exercise #7: Less-fingers deadhang

With this variation, you are going to passively hand using progressively fewer fingers.

This variation should be used in a regular or a fat bar and not with the rope.

How To Progress With The Grip Exercises

climbing grip

All of the gripping exercises presented previously are isometric exercises. So, you‘ll be working with time and not reps.

You should start with the regular deadhang. The goal is to be able to hold the hang for 60 seconds.

After that, you will be ready to advance to the more advanced grips.

As you can see in the exercises, most of them are not directly related and becoming stronger in one grip won’t necessarily make your stronger in the other ones. For this reason, after completing the first goal, you should train alternatively with all the three variations (rope, fat bar, less-fingers).

With each grip the goal is to hold it for 60 seconds, except the one with the less fingers, in which as you use less fingers the time goal is going to be reduced by 10 seconds for each finger and 5 seconds as you move towards weaker fingers. So, if you are working on the deadhang (two arms) with the middle finger the time goal is going to be 20 seconds, while if you are working with the pinky finger the time goal is going to be 5 seconds.

A good way to measure the time holds with which you should be training with, are the prilepin tables.

Climbing

indoor climbing exercise

Here you are going to find some of the basics in regards to climbing.

Rope Climbing

When discussing climbing with people most of them think about rock climbing. However, rope climbing is also a climbing discipline and one that can be more easily practiced.

To practice rope climbing you are, of course, going to need a rope and a place to hang that rope from (that can be a pull up bar, a tree branch, etc).

The thickness of the rope is going to affect the difficulty of the exercise. The thickest the rope is the harder the climbing gets.

Other than the thickness of the rope, there are different progressions that can help you increase the difficulty. Here are some of them sorted from easiest to more difficult:

Rope Exercise #1: Assisted Rope Climbing
Rope Exercise #2: Regular Rope Climbing
Rope Exercise #3: Two-rope Climbing
Rope Exercise #4: Inverted Rope Climbing
How To Progress With Rope Climbing

The goal of rope climbing is to climb fast and over a long “distance”. If you can’t put a rope in a high place you will have to cover the same distance for more than one times.

Start with the easier progression and try to increase the distance and decrease the time required to cover it.

When you feel that the progression you are working on isn’t challenging enough, move on to the next progression and follow the same approach.

Caution: Do not try the inverted progression if you haven’t mastered the regular ones first.

Bouldering Problems

Bouldering is a form of rock climbing in which you try to climb small cliffs and boulders.

Unlike regular rock climbing, in bouldering you aren’t using a safety rope but only safety mattresses in case you fall.

To become better at bouldering, you will have to train with bouldering problems starting off with the easy ones and gradually increasing the difficulty.

To understand better the different grading systems you can read some of the following articles:

How To Progress With Bouldering

Progressing with bouldering is very simple.

You just move to a more difficult problem once you have mastered the previous one.

Be mindful and don’t try problems that are beyond your current level.

Where Should You Climb At?

wall climbing

Where should I climb at Todd? I don’t have access to a climbing wall and I live far from cliffs.

I can totally relate. This is one of the reasons lots of people tend to avoid climbing.

Most of the times, you need access to a climbing wall or a natural cliff that’s appropriate for climbing.

However, these are not the only options you have available.

You can always create your own climbing wall or you can find different places to climb on inside the city like parkouristas do.

Other than that you can join a climbing club that’s close to your neighborhood. There you can find all the equipment you need and partner up with more experienced athletes (this may not be a realistic option if you plan to climb only once per week).

How To Warm Up For Climbing Workouts

urban climbing

Climbing might seem to be a completely upper body workout. However, this is not accurate.

During climbing your whole body is involved.

For this reason, prior to climbing training you should warm up your whole body and not just the upper body.

Of course, the upper body is more involved in the process and, for this reason, your warm up is going to be more focused on that.

For the main warm up you should target mostly your fingers, forearms and shoulders to get them prepared for pulling.

You can do that with finger mobility drills and some easy pulling exercises, like pull ups and brachiation variations.

After that, you should warm up your leg muscles. Some of the exercises you can use are the squat clinic 1 or 2, or agile 8.

By putting everything together your warm up might look like this:

A1: 5min jump rope

B1: 1 min finger mobility

C1: 5 min brachiation or 3×5-10 easy pulling variation

D1: squat clinic

Notes

Don’t rest between exercises.

If you are going to perform pull ups during C1, rest 30-60 seconds between sets.

After completing your warm-up, you should practice climbing 1-3 relatively easy climbing problems. Then you are good to go.

How To Recover Faster From Climbing

climbing stretching

Climbing is a very strenuous activity for your upper body.

For this reason, I recommend you to follow some of the drills presented in this section even if recovering faster isn’t one of your main concerns.

Most of us lead busy lifestyles and it’s kind of difficult to find the time to add recovery drills into our daily routines. However, this is one of the best things you can do for your health and fitness. Adding recovery sessions, is also going to help you deal better with the everyday stress you have in your life.

You can implement faster recovery methods with two different ways:

  • During your cool down.
  • Having separate full recovery sessions.

Cool Down

The cool down is a process similar to the warm up and us such it doesn’t take too much time to complete (usually 10-15 minutes are enough).

The purpose of the cool down is to help your muscles relax and to release the built up tension from the workout.

Since the cool down is done immediately after your workout, your attention should be focused on the muscles involved in your main workout.

Your cool down can consist of foam rolling exercises, stretching and mobility drills.

In regards to climbing, you should use exercises that target your forearm muscles and the muscles of your back and give more attention to the muscles that feel the sorest.

Sample Cool Down #1

This cool down sample consists of stretching exercises.

A1: Forearm stretch routine

B1: Lat stretch
B2: trap stretch
B3: backward roll stretch

Notes

  • Go from B1 to B3 with little rest in between.
  • Focus on each area for 10-30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3-5 times

Sample Cool Down #2

This cool down sample consists of foam rolling exercises.

A1: forearm foam rolling

B1: lats foam rolling

C1: back foam rolling

Notes

  • Spend 1-2 minutes in each area.

Sample Cool Down #3

This cool down sample is a combination of the first two samples.

This is the best option if you have the necessary time required to perform it. Start with the first one and then follow on with the second one.

Full Recovery Sessions

Contrary to the cool down, the full recovery sessions usually require big chunks of time for their implementation (usually 30-60 minutes).

In your full recovery sessions, you can target your whole body with recovery exercises, and you don’t have to focus on the upper or lower body ones.

Furthermore, your full recovery sessions don’t have to be performed directly after your workout and can be performed on rest days as well (which is one of the best things you can do to recover faster).

How To Implement Climbing Exercise Into Your Training Routine

cliff climbing

The following samples are not complete training programs but show you how you can implement the previous information into your current training plan.

Training Sample Plan #1: 3-Days Per Week

You can implement this training sample if you only train 3 times per week.

The first two days are going to be full body training days. A full body workout might look like this:

Workout #1

A1: 3x(3-5) pull ups variation

B1: 3x(3-5) pistol progression

C1: 3x(3-5) push up variation

D1: 3x(3-5) dragon flap progression

F1: 3x(10-30) seconds grip exercise variation

Notes

  • Rest between sets and exercises 3-5 minutes.
  • Since pulling is the main goal, you should start your workout with pulling exercises.

On the third day, you have two option. You are either going to solve some climbing problems or practice rope climbing. If you are going to perform a bouldering workout, then your workout would consist of that only.

Workout #2

A1: Solve 3-5 bouldering problems

On the contrary, if you are going to practice rope climbing your workout is going to be the same as workout on with the difference being that A1 would be a rope exercise and there would be no grip training at the end of the workout.

So the workout is going to look like this:

Workout #3

A1: 3x(distance) rope exercise variation

B1: 3x(3-5) pistol progression

C1: 3x(3-5) push up variation

D1: 3x(3-5) dragon flap progression

Notes

  • Rest between sets and exercises 3-5 minutes.

The actual program is going to look like this:

Week #1: W-1, rest, W-1, rest, W-2/W-3, rest, rest
Week #2: W-1, rest, W-1, rest, W-2/W-3, rest, rest
Week #3: W-1, rest, W-1, rest, W-2/W-3, rest, rest
Week #4: Deload week

Notes

  • During the rest days, you can perform the full recovery sessions.

Training Sample Plan #2: 4-Day Split

You can implement the following the sample plan if you are training upper body and lower body in different days.

In the upper body training days, you should start with climbing (bouldering or rope climbing) and then perform a pushing and pulling exercise. The workout might look like this:

Workout #4

A1: Bouldering (3-5 problems) or 3x(distance) rope climbing

B1: 3x(3-5) pushing exercise

C1: 3x(3-5) pulling exercise

D1: 3x(10-30) seconds grip exercise

Notes

  • Rest 3-5 minutes between the exercises.

The actual program is going to look like this:

Week #1: W-4, Leg-day, rest, W-4, Leg-day, rest, rest
Week #2: W-4, Leg-day, rest, W-4, Leg-day, rest, rest
Week #3: W-4, Leg-day, rest, W-4, Leg-day, rest, rest
Week #4: Deload week

Notes

  • During the rest days, you can perform the full recovery sessions.

Climbing Gear

safety mattress

To get the most out of climbing, there is some equipment that you will eventually have to get.

This equipment is:

  • Chalk
  • Climbing shoes
  • Safety mattresses

While the chalk and the shoes are good in assisting you to climb better, the safety mattress is a necessity if you want to avoid injuries.

Conclusion

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I hope with this article you got a very good idea on how to implement climbing exercise into your training routine and how climbing can help you develop tremendous pulling strength and endurance.

Some of you might feel disappointed because you don’t have many climbing options in close proximity. If you are one of these people, I would suggest you to keep looking and to look harder.

Creativity is key in becoming a better climber and a better calisthenics athlete in general.

So keep searching for climbing spots and try to create your own climbing problems.

How are you going to implement climbing into your current training?

Do you have any questions in regards to this post? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comment section below.

– bodyweight Todd

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Show/Hide Comments (4 comments)
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4 Comments
  1. Anon

    Great article, however, climbing can DEFINITELY be for beginners. We all had to start somewhere. There is absolutely no need to be strong enough to perform 8 perfect pull ups before stating climbing. If this were the case it would eliminate most of the climbers starting out today. As someone who has been bouldering for years I can tell you that before I started climbing I couldn’t do a single pull up, after about a year (probably less) of climbing regularly I could do 10 pull ups easily as a pre warm up. Climbing is great fun for those who take the time to get involved.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi there,

      Great point. Everyone starts somewhere.

      – Todd

      Reply
  2. Andrea

    Hi Todd

    I’m an experienced ex-climbers (age doesn’t permit it anymore) who climbed various specialties all around the world and I enjoyed reading your article as it brought back all the strenuous training done to be ready to face a very difficult mountain wall or a challenging peak. I couldn’t agree more, in constant climbing training is all.

    Thanks!
    Andrea

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Andrea,

      I’m happy you enjoyed the article. I hope the memories are good.

      – Todd

      Reply
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