Training Guide for Rock Climbing by Metolius Climbing Company

Following are some training routines that have been developed through our own experience as well as that of our friends and associates. We are not professional exercise people. We are serious about our climbing and have seen the benefits of making training an integral part of our activities for many years. Our beliefs concerning training for climbing are the result of years of asking questions and searching for answers.

From our perspective, the single most important thing to keep in mind is that each of us has a very unique and complex body. To be most effective, your training program starts with a critical and complete assessment of your strengths and weaknesses along with your goals for climbing. If you use this realistic list as a filter for all the information available, hopefully you will end up with an individual program that is ideally suited to you. There are now many sources of information out there that pertain to training for climbing. Try to keep in mind who you are and who the information is targeted to, a person who can afford to climb and train full time or the weekend athlete who wants to make some gains in strength and confidence.
The bottom line in training is that you must be responsible for your own body and your own training schedule. Research the available information, listen to the "experts", take the time to experiment, and then do what works best for you.

Contact Strength or Finger Training is a Crucial Part of Improving Your Climbing

With the popularity and increased access to indoor climbing walls, fingerboards are becoming a second line method of training. However, we feel that there are some great advantages to the convenience and specificity of training boards. Having a board mounted in a doorway to a spare room or your garage makes it easy to schedule a quick workout if a little time is all you have. The specific nature of fingerboard training enables you to gauge your progress much more effectively than bouldering at the rock gym or your home wall. It is easier to control if and when you fail doing a set exercise on a particular hold on a board, than if you are desperately thrutching for the last hold on your latest plastic bouldering test-piece. This factor will hopefully permit you to work to your limits while minimizing the chance of injury to your fingers.
Finger training programs can be difficult to figure out. Keep in mind that what you are strengthening is essentially connective tissue, tendons and ligaments. It takes a long time to notice gains in strength in this tissue and a very long time to heal once it has been injured. If you are using fingerboard training in addition to indoor climbing on plastic, be aware of how much stress you are putting on your fingers and arms, and be careful to not over-do your training. If you start having problems, allow yourself time to heal. If problems continue, specifically long-term pain and swelling in your fingers, consult a sports-oriented physician.

The Training

There are two general categories of exercises that you can do on your Metolius training board. In simple terms, they are exercises that build power or exercises that build stamina /endurance. Endurance-oriented exercises are a set of tasks that put your muscles in a more or less aerobic state; that is, training your muscles to function for extended periods. They generally are a longer duration and a lower load exercises and you are maintaining a lower level "burn" in the muscles than the pump you get at the limit of your strength. Power-oriented exercises focus on short duration, higher load tasks that your muscles can't maintain for very long. With these exercises, you are building strength (muscle fiber size ) and the capacity to recruit more muscle fibers for short, quick bursts of movement. Any of the training that follows assumes a good base strength level. Most of the work or exercises that follow are power-oriented for a couple of reasons:
  • We feel that you can develop some endurance from a power workout, but you cannot develop good power from an endurance-oriented workout and in fact, it is best if they are trained independently.
  • It is hard both physically and mentally, to hang on a board for the extended periods required to totally target endurance.

The amount of load you use for each exercise is up to you to determine. We feel the most gains happen if you use a safe maximum load for the cycle that you are in. Try to pick a load that allows you to barely hold on for the time indicated in the exercise. Load is determined relative to your body weight. If you need to add weight, use a weight belt. If you need to reduce weight, use a chair or step stool set back from and under the board that allows you push with one leg. Make sure your other leg stays below you, so that if you fall, you land on your feet. You can use a bathroom scale on a chair to give you a more accurate idea of how much weight you are taking off (see illustration). If you don't feel safe using this method, have a partner lift you instead.

Use Partners

Partners can check your time and remove or add weight as well as give you assistance and cheer you on when you're trying to get that last bit of effort out. Having a partner spot you when training to absolute failure is highly recommended.

Setup A Workout Schedule & Stick To It

Make a chart and use it to keep track of your training. If you keep a detailed record showing amounts of weight and/or assistance for each segment of an exercise, it will be much easier to slowly increase your workload. These records will help you get the most benefit from your training time.

Use Any of the Holds For Any Exercise

You will probably find that certain holds are better suited to certain exercises than others. For example, you would probably do pull-ups on different holds than short duration hangs. It is also important to look at your weakest points and train those first. For example, if you have a hard time holding onto sloping holds, focus your training there early in your workouts. It is also a good idea to change the holds you use for a given exercise every few weeks, to maximize the effectiveness of your training.

Dos & Don'ts

Avoid doing an excessive number of pull-ups on your board. A lot of pull-ups on a static bar can lead to elbow joint injuries. If you wish to do more pull-ups than our exercises indicate, we recommend that you use Metolius Rock Rings.
crimp and open-hand
crimp and open-hand

Avoid range of motion exercises for your fingers on any training board. Once you place weight on a hold do not attempt to move your fingers (don't do mini pull-ups with your fingers) as this can lead to injury.
Avoid using crimp or cling grips. A very important aspect concerning any hold is how you hold on to it. It is extremely important that you do not use any kind of cling technique regularly. Because of the increased angle of your fingers while clinging, the load on your finger joint is far too high to be safe for training purposes. We have found that if you keep your hand more open, you will be safer and still can strengthen your fingers for both open-handed and cling holds. The illustration pictured shows both types of holds. Use chalk when training and occasionally clean your board with a nylon brush to maintain a consistent surface.

The Tasks

Following are the basic elements of exercises that can be done on your training board:
  • Hangs - either straight arm or bent arm, one arm or both. When hanging straight, there should still be a slight bend to the elbows.
  • Pull-ups - can be done with the hands parallel or offset ( one of your hands on a higher or smaller hold than the other). Offset pulls put more training stress on the higher or smaller hold arm and can more effectively simulate certain climbing situations.
  • Knee Lifts - Hang on good holds and bring your knees to your chest, bending at the waist and knees. This task works the often overlooked abdominals for that solid mid-body connection.
  • Shoulder Shrugs - Hang as above and raise and lower your body without bending your elbows. This exercise works several different muscle groups in the shoulder girdle. As with pull-ups, we would recommend keeping repetitions low.

Cyclic Periodization

As an overall strategy, cyclic periodization allows you to be at your peak when you want to be. Whether this corresponds to a big road trip or pushing your limits when the weather is the best is up to you. If properly done chances of injury and mental burnout are minimized and gains in strength and power are optimized.
The concept is simple; build a base of endurance then work toward maximum power. By pushing your body in these cycles you strike a balance between letting yourself be fresh and strong within the cycles and not letting yourself totally adapt to the stresses of the workouts. This keeps you from stalling at different plateaus and makes the gains possible much greater than doing the same sets of workouts month after month. Immediately following the peak cycle you should be ready to climb strongly. The Cycle Shown Below Would Start Again In June.

Peak Cycle

Intensity = 80-100%

Volume = Low

Loads = High

Repetitions = Low

Frequency = 2-3 days a week
Maximum strength and power. Most exercises done to failure. Taper training and focus on climbing midway through the cycle. After cycle ends, no gym time. You should be in peak condition for the crags for 4 to 6 weeks.

Load Cycle

Intensity = 75%

Volume = Moderate/High

Loads = Medium

Repetitions = Moderate

Frequency = 3-4 days a week
The foundation, endurance, connective tissue strength, some muscle power building.

Conditioning Cycle

Intensity = 60%

Volume = Moderate

Loads = Low

Repetitions = High

Frequency = 2-3 days a week
Warm-up and active rest cycle. Preparation for more strenuous cycles

Recovery Cycle

Intensity = 50%

Volume = Low

Loads = Light

Repetitions = Low

Frequency = 2 days a week
Rest and recovery, prep for peak cycle.

2 weeks


10 weeks

December - January

2 weeks


8 weeks

March - April


  • Intensity = A percentage of your maximum effort, as applied to a single set or an overall workout. As an example; when you are fully rested and it is all you can do to hang on a particular hold for one minute, then 65% intensity would be hanging for 40 seconds on the same hold. Picking an easy to measure test such as this and getting to know the level of "pump" that corresponds to that intensity, then allows you to tailor other exercises to your particular goal. This is the crucial element of any workout program, one that determines the other elements and one that needs the most attention and adjustment. Think of intensity as a set point that you need to adjust upward as you get stronger or adjust downward if you are not recovering between workouts.
  • Volume = The length of your workout or how many sets or exercises. This is one of the easiest elements to adjust according to where you are in your training regime ( up as you get stronger, down if you are not recovering). Remember volume is not the same as intensity.
  • Load = How much weight relative to body weight. This assumes that for many of the exercises with certain holds you will need to add weight ( by using a weighted belt) or subtract weight (by having a spotter lift you or by placing a footstool under the board to lightly put one foot on) to hang for a particular time for a set intensity.
  • Repetitions = How many pull-ups or separate movements in an exercise.
  • Frequency = How many days per week to train.

Other Elements to Consider

  • Warm-up: Take plenty of time to stretch and lightly work all the muscles you are going to use in your workout session. Drink plenty of water during and following workouts.
  • Train smart: Know the difference between a healthy muscle ache and pain associated with connective tissue damage. There is no quicker way to sabotage your climbing goals than to try to train through injuries.
  • Rest: figure out what you need for the different cycles and take it! You should go into each workout without muscle pain.
  • Micro-cycles: These are incorporated into the longer, harder main cycles (load and peak ) to keep you from plateauing within the cycle. Usually done in a hard day! easy day! moderate day. This is intended to break up your routines enough that you stay rested, but still are not letting your body settle into one medium mode.

The Exercises

These exercises can be added to or used instead of the ones shown in the following example workouts. The 10-minute sequences especially lend themselves to experimentation. They are good combinations of endurance and power work and can be adapted to training for a specific climb. Keep in mind some general guidelines when thinking about adapting exercises to yourself. Power exercises keep durations of tasks short, with heavier or harder loads. Endurance exercises are longer, less intense; you should feel like you are maintaining a low-level pump. The easiest element of the exercises to change is generally load; be familiar with the various ways to do this. In the exercise sequences that follow, if a 2-minute rest is not indicated, proceed immediately to the next task.

Warming Up

One of the most important steps in muscular development and injury prevention is a thorough warm up. Generally, the best way to do this is to warm up the large muscles that will be used first, and then move to the smaller. There are various ways to accomplish this; start with low level aerobics, then general calisthenics or weight lifting. You can follow this with a series of one or two pull-ups or a 10 to 20 second hang on each hold on your board, with a 30s rest between each task. Take time to stretch after you are warmed up, once again starting with the large muscles and working your way to your fingers. After you are completely warmed up give yourself a rest of 5 to 10 minutes before starting the workout.

Extra Training Tips

  • Always give yourself enough time for a thorough warm-up. This is undoubtedly the best thing you can do to keep yourself injury free.
  • Take some time before you start each hang to work your fingers into the hold. This "milking the hold" enables you to get a more powerful grip and mentally prepares you for the task ahead.
  • When you are ready to hang for a time and after you have set yourself on the hold, let your body down directly below the hold, so that when you raise your feet your body does not swing. Swinging makes it a lot harder to hang on.
  • To be most effective, once you have milked the holds and started your hang, don't move your fingers on the hold. This is especially true when hanging on slopers.
  • Brush the holds on your board frequently, even between exercises. Knowing the holds are clean and grease free is a big boost psychologically.
  • Chalk your hands and fingers well before each task. For superior performance, on plastic or rock, use Metolius Super Chalk.
  • Personalize your training regime and then stick to it. If you have a balanced program, with enough variety to keep you motivated you will get stronger. It takes time to see improvements, patience will make the gains come sooner.
  • If you feel stuck on a major plateau, go back over your original expectations and make sure they are realistic. Often, stalling may indicate you need more rest or a break from some part of your routine. Or it may mean take a look at what you can do to improve your motivation. Find a good partner to train with, dream about your next trip, or think about how good you will feel once you're done with your workout. Anything you can do to maintain your positive attitude will pay off big!