3 Essential Workouts for Rock Climbers

Before your next ascent, prepare your body with these workouts from climbing instructor Eli Strauss.

Sung Han, Peter Koch

When Hemingway wrote the words, “Auto racing, bullfighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports… all others are games,” there’s little doubt he had rock climbing in mind as well. And for such a physically demanding sport as rock climbing, having enough strength, endurance and flexibility is paramount to performance, regardless of the route you’re ascending. With the right preparation, not only will you climb more safely, but you’ll be crushing 5.11s and conquering the trickiest bouldering problems as well.

To get your body in shape for your next ascent, climb, we asked Eli Strauss, the Director of Instruction at The Cliffs climbing gym in Long Island City for a few workout tips. Below are a few stretches and exercises Stauss recommends to improve your climbing game, away from the wall.

For Strength

Deadlift to Stay Alive

“The deadlift is a complex lift that most people are afraid of. They fear hurting their back by improper execution. The reality is you can throw out your back just picking up a pencil — it’s a matter of improper and proper movement. As far as climbing goes, the closer you can get to deadlifting your body weight, the stronger you will feel on the wall.” — ES

Deadlift. With deadlifts you’ll see your overallstrength increase dramatically. Two days a week, perform five sets with five repetitions each. Keep the weight low enough to ensure good form, but high enough to cause you to fail by your last set.

For Mobility

Do the Twist


“Thoracic mobility is extremely important to everyone, not just climbers. If you sit at a desk most of the day, your thoracic spine likely loses its ability to rotate properly. Climbing with a stiff spine will lead to shoulder issues and potential lower back pain. To solve this, perform a seated thoracic rotation.” – ES

Sit in a chair. With your feet spread hips-width apart, squeeze a yoga block in between your knees and place your hands on opposite shoulders.

Look around. Look to your right and rotate as far as you can go, then rotate to the left as far as you can.

Repeat 10 times on each side. With every repetition you should slowly be able to rotate a little bit more. Squeezing the yoga block engages your core and protects your lumbar spine (which does not rotate) and allows you to restore rotation to your thoracic spine. Your shoulders, neck and upper back will thank you.


Stretch your

When climbing, your chest muscles (especially your pec minors) are working overtime to keep your body clung to the wall. Your pec minors are the muscles that pull your arm closer to your body. The more you stretch a muscle the faster it returns to resting length, so make sure to perform this three to five times a day. And remember to stretch before you climb, not after.” — ES

Begin by standing in a doorway. Place your hand, forearm and elbow flat on the door jam, with your elbow at shoulder height.

Step through the doorway. With your forearm still flat on the door jam, take one step forward with the opposite leg to prevent yourself from leaning in and engaging the muscle.

Simply turn. Only turn your head and hips away from the arm on the door jam. Do this stretch for 30-40 seconds, 3-4 times a day.

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