Do You Have to be Strong to Rock Climb? Training Exercises for Beginners

Rock climbing looks cool, but let’s get straight to the question, do you have the strength to pull your body – and gear – up the side of a cliff? A lot of people are getting into rock climbing, and rock-climbing walls seem to be everywhere. Can anyone start climbing, or do you have to be really fit?

Do You Have to be Strong to Rock Climb? While you do not have to be muscle-bound, rock climbing does require stamina and strength. To ensure you are able to make it through any climb, you should strengthen:

  • Shoulders
  • Legs
  • Upper body
  • Core
  • Fingers and forearms

Rock climbing requires resilience and endurance. The best way to enhance your performance is by combining these strengthening basics with climbing techniques. Provide your body with strong muscles that can aid your mind during your climb and use the technique to go further with your resources. Let’s get into training then!


Strength Training for Rock Climbing

All exercises are important for rock climbing. There are varieties of exercises to practice, so all your muscles get good a good workout and prepared for your climb. Some of the routines we’ll talk about include:

  • Shoulder rotational exercises
  • Variety of leg work: jump squats, single-leg squats, lunges, etc.
  • Upper body variations:  push-ups, pull-ups, weights
  • Core building
  • Finger and forearm strengthening


Before you begin any of these exercises, check with your doctor. If you are healthy enough to get started, make sure you warm-up, stretch and ensure your muscles are geared up for exercise.  


Even if it’s a finger exercise, warm-up properly for at least 15 minutes. Practice dynamic stretches and prepare your joints for different motions and activities. Improve circulation and flexibility.

And remember to focus on your breathing. Don’t forget to breathe even in the simplest of workouts.

Strengthening Shoulders for Rock-Climbing

Let’s start with your shoulder exercises. As you may have guessed, shoulder strength is one of the more important muscles to help in your mission up the wall. They have to be strong, flexible, and stable to prevent injury during your climb.

Top 4 Shoulder Exercises

Shoulder Press Equipment: Set of DumbbellsStart sitting on a bench or standing up.With a dumbbell in each hand, raise one dumbbell to shoulder height. The palms are oriented, so the wrists face forward. Repeat with the other hand.  As you exhale, bring both of the dumbbells upward until they touch at the top. Contract your muscles. Inhale and lower the dumbbells back to the shoulder height, Slowly with control.
Triceps Dips Equipment: Box, bench, or chair.  Benefits: Strengthen your tricepsSit in a seated position in front of a bench or chair, extend your legs in front of you (bend to modify). Hands are should-width apart and rest on the bench or chair behind you. Fingertips face forward. Exhale as you straighten your arms, using your triceps to bring your body up. Heels stay on the floor. Check to keep a slight bend in the elbows.  Inhale and lower body back to the floor, keep a 90-degree angle. Keep the back close to the bench.  Keep your shoulders down.
Shoulder External Rotation  Equipment: Resistance band Benefits: Rotator cuffsHold the resistance band between your hands. Extend your arms forward with palms facing up. There should be a slight tension in the band in this starting position.   Holding the resistance band, move your wrists away from each other as you widen the band in your grip.  Ensure your shoulders are down.
Shoulder Internal Rotation Equipment: Resistance band Benefit: Rotator cuffs  Secure the resistance band on a wall. It should be slightly above your shoulder height.  Face your back toward the wall the resistance band is on.  Grab the opposite (loose) end of the band with one of your hands.  This arm should be in a cactus arm pose. The elbow is bent 90 degrees, and hand is above the elbow with the forearms facing forward.  Pull from this forearm forward. Keep your elbows steady.  Slowly return to starting position in cactus arm pose.

Some work-outs are so easy and familiar that you don’t need directions. These old standbys have incredible benefits for the shoulders and upper body:

Pull-upsEquipment: Pull-up barsBenefits: Strengthen forearms, finger strength, shoulders (pull-ups are awesome!)
Push-upsVariations: Elevated push-ups, Spider-man push-ups, Single-arm row exercise, and traditional push-ups.Benefits: Strengthen pecs, triceps, core, and laterals and biceps in variations

Strengthening Your Core for Rock Climbing and More

Core strength is crucial in every sport and in daily health maintenance. Having a strong core helps you stabilize your back and overall posture.

Top 4 Core Exercises

PlankIn a push-up position, your elbows should be below your shoulders. Make sure your upper back is pushing up and away from the ground. Engage in this starting position Bend your elbows 90-degrees. Rest your body weight onto the forearms Hold your posture with the strength of your core. Don’t let your body drop.  Hold for as long as desired.
Side Plank Lie on one side of your body. Extend and stack the two legs so that your body is in a straight line.  Prop your body with your forearm. Your elbow should be below your shoulder Maintain this straight line from shoulder to the ankles for as long as desired.  Engage your abs. Switch sides and repeat 
Side Plank with a lateral pull-down  Equipment: Resistance bandSecure a resistance band roughly 3 feet above the ground.  Lie down, so your head is closest to the resistance band.  Come to a regular side plank position, then use the upper arm to pull the resistance band. This should make a perpendicular motion relative to the floor.  Engage your abs and tighten your gluts. Ensure your torso maintains lifted.  Bring your hand overhead slowly while maintaining the tension in the band.  Switch sides and repeat.
Side Plank with Overhead Press  Equipment: Resistance bandAs above, secure a resistance band roughly 3 ft off of the ground.  Place your feet closest to the resistance band.  Get in the side plank position with feet stacked on each other.  Take the resistance band in the upper (available) hand.  With arms folded at the elbow, fight the tension of the band to pull it overhead, and strengthen the arm with a slight bend.  Hold for a contraction and come back to the bent elbow position.

Finger and Forearm Exercises for Grip and Endurance

From personal experience, I’ve learned my finger strengths (weakness, really) very quickly when I started to rock climb. My shoulders and arm muscles felt fine, but my fingers kept giving out.

Finger strength is something our daily routine doesn’t exercise a lot. Unless you’re a bread baker or massage therapist, it’s likely your fingers need some attention to strength training.

Fingers and forearms will be muscles you need to pay extra attention to. In addition to workouts, check out products like these to strengthen your fingers and grip and forearms overall.

Some hang boards can help you train at home and keep your fingers and forearms strengthening at home.

Top 4 Finger and Forearm Exercises

Hang-boarding RoutinesTry variations of open hand grip and half crimp.  Try to stand hanging for 10 seconds. Then as you progress, increase the hang time.  Read further to watch some videos on hang boards!
Pulley Sprain PreventorWrap a rubber band around the tips of your fingers on a single hand. Use your finger strengths and start to spread your fingers out against the tension of the rubber band.
Wrist Curls Equipment: Dumbbells. Start in a seated position (preferably in a chair).  With a dumbbell in each hand, rest both forearms on the thighs.  Let the wrists hang as you let your palms face up.  Exhale as you curl your wrists, so your hands are gently lifting the dumbbells towards your body   Slowly inhale and lower down.
Reverse Wrist CurlsStart in a seated position (preferably in a chair).  With a dumbbell in each hand, rest both forearms on the thighs.  Let the wrists hang as you let your palms face down.  Exhale as you curl your wrists, so your hands are gently lifting the dumbbells towards your body.   Slowly inhale and lower down.
Finger CurlersBonus and highly recommended!  Equipment: One dumbbellHold a dumbbell in a single hand.  After holding the dumbbell in a curled finger form, slowly roll the dumbbells to the tip of your finger. Use the strength of your fingers and forearms to curl the dumbbells back up.

Strengthening the Big Leg Muscles for Climbing

Leg muscles are going to be your best friend. You want to make use of these strong and big muscles to find rest during your climb. If used with some moves, they also provide leverage to help you find the next climbing position.

Top 4 Leg Exercises

Jump Squat Your feet start at should width apart.  Go down to a normal squat position – thighs are parallel to the ground, feet are flat, and the knees are over your toes. Make sure your chest is up and straight.  When you come up from the squat, push up from the heels and come to a jump.  Land softly with control to the start of the squat position. The goal is to land softly with control.
Single-Leg SquatThe balance on one of your legs. Extend the opposite leg as you lift it in front of you. Maintain the center of balance over your standing leg.Your hands can come out in front of you for maintaining balance. Make sure your shoulders are down. As in all squats, your chest is up and strong.  Lower your squat with the strength of your balancing leg. Maintain the floating leg to float as you lower your body.  Use the squatting leg to come back up. Repeat and switch sides to repeat on the other side.
LungesStand with legs hip-distance apart. Take one leg and step in front of you as your upper body follows. The front leg that is ahead should come to a 90-degree angle.  The back leg is extended back, staying where it started. This should create close-to a parallel line between your back leg and the floor.  Inhale and return to the starting position.  Repeat on the other leg.
Calf RaisesStand comfortably with legs hip-width distance apart. Place a raised surface in front of you (such as a thick book or stair)  Place only the ball of the foot on top of the raised surface. Raise just the heel as you exhale.  Inhale to lower back down.  

Stretching after Working Out

As important as it is to warm up, it is important to cool down your muscles and get in some good stretches to prevent injury and soreness.

The fingers have more of a difficult time to push out lactic acid and, therefore, need help after an intense workout and finger training.

Lactic acid isn’t necessarily harmful, but if it doesn’t get pushed out properly, you will feel discomfort from it the next time you exercise. Some recommend doing a quick cardio workout to pump the blood throughout the body. Massages of the forearms and finger sessions are also great to help circulation (in all body parts).

Dynamic stretches are best to “oil” up the joints before an exercise, but a static stretch will help maintain the flexibility in your muscles. As much as stability, a good amount of flexibility is crucial, whether you’re a bodybuilder, a football player, or a rock climber.

Static stretches are stretches that are held for a few seconds. Melt into these stretches and let your body pump the blood through the muscles that worked so hard!

Tips and Tricks of Rock Climbing

The key to rock climbing is your mind’s endurance. To support it, help yourself by learning some tricks to stay on the wall for longer and further. Watch this video for some basic yet very helpful tips!

It’s always smart to well-distribute your strength throughout your climb, whether you’re very strong or mediocre. There are moves and tricks that can make the most out of your muscles. Pay attention to which body parts are being used.

Experts recommend the following for maintaining proper technique:

  • Use your feet
  • Learn tricks and moves
  • Be efficient and balance


Using Your Feet to Climb

As any rock-climber would say, don’t climb with just your arms and shoulders – use your feet! There are several tricks to use your feet. There are techniques of edging and smearing that go a far way.

Always find chances to make use of foot placement and keep friction high to increase support.

Learning Tricks and Moves

Learning different kinds of moves are the basic tricks. Knowing to keep your body close to the wall and to make the most out of your bigger muscles.

Engaging your bigger muscles instead of your solely your arms gives you rest and strength.

As mentioned in the previous video, back-step, and even the extreme drop-knee makes your climb efficient and brings your hips closer to the wall. These provide you rest and a chance to make a good reach for the next climb.

There are also other moves such as stemming and lay-backing that engage the bigger thigh muscles.

Balance and Efficient Climbing

When you’re deciding on your path upward, your sense of balance is important to stay on that wall! Use counter pressure and counter forces with your arms and body to create a balance.

Some balance moves include flagging, lay-backing, side-pull, Gaston, and palming (often with stemming).

If you can use static movements that use your muscles, you will gain control and be able to shift your body weight against the momentum. Overall, be efficient!

A good grip is key. Don’t over grip and exhaust your fingers. Your grips are going to be the weakest and the first ones to give out. Treat the hand-grips as “lightbulbs” and don’t try to break them when you climb.

Make use of the hang-boards and practice an efficient and comfortable grip.

Try out moves such as under-cling and mantle to provide opportunities to make a straight arm. Again, use your bigger muscles of the legs to rest and don’t hang with your hands.  

Prepping to be Efficient

If you’re at a new route, study the route and review the sequences prior to climbing. Some climbers recommend studying the climb backward.

Just keeping in mind where your hands and feet will and can be placed before the climb can be helpful. It will help you analyze the weight, balance, and moves that are needed.


Always climb with your eyes first. Look forward and see the best places to provide your body with the next position.

Combine Techniques with Muscle Strength

If you’ve been to a rock-climbing gym, you’ll see small kids and smaller-framed individuals climbing up the walls way higher than you. How do they do it? Technique.

As important as it is to keep your body muscles aware and well-prepped, it’s not about being buff (unless you want to be). It’s about training the right muscles, staying healthy, and learning how to climb efficiently.

Engage the right muscles, keep your balance, and use moves and tricks to endure longer and help you move further!

Rock Climbing Work Out Videos and Resources

There are various videos on exercises that were listed above, but here are some videos specifically for rock-climbers. They include exercises and recommended drills to get you going on those walls! The first one is great as it helps you exercise without going to a climbing gym!

Rock Climbing has a community. Join other passionate people in this fun and engaging sport and find adventures with your new friends. Here are some communities you might want to check out!

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