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Upper Body Conditioning for Climbing

There was once a time in my life when conditioning for climbing wasn’t even a consideration and all I really needed to do was climb. In fact, I didn’t even climb that often and still managed to have a decent ‘off the couch’ grade point average.

Unfortunately, a desk job and maturing a few years soon put an end to that and I became discouraged. For a while there, I figured it was time to hang up the climbing shoes and ramp up my intake of beer – I definitely got close!

Luckily I’ve got some very motivated friends that quickly showed me that age wasn’t a factor, the truth was I was just lazy…

Working hard, or hardly working?

While I’m a huge advocate for resting, most of us get plenty of it every day at work. For me sitting was a killer, I was losing any gains in mobility and strength I had made through poor posture and bad habits 5 days a week.

Since adding some conditioning for climbing through supplementary strength and mobility exercises to my weekly training I’ve been able to increase my climbing performance, both in terms of grades and ability to perform at a higher level for longer.

This has definitely still been a struggle for me, not because of the actual work involved, but just because I get bored easily. Climbing is easy, it’s fun and challenging with plenty of variety. ‘Real exercise’ (that’s how I think of it) is harder, it can be difficult to find the creative aspect, so I like to keep these sessions short and sharp.

Time for some conditioning

There are plenty of options here, but I’ve found the easiest way to get things done is to limit as many variables as possible, which is why I like body weight exercises. I’ve got some more climbing conditioning programs coming soon, but for sheer ease and effectiveness, this is one of my favourites.

Ideally you are going to want a fixed bar, or some rings and a plyo box, bench or chair. Most parks have equipment like this these days, so get outside if you can. At the very worst, you can improvise at home, or even in a hotel (pack a TRX), so there is really no excuse to ever not do this conditioning for climbing set. Best of all this one only takes 10 minutes to complete, but if you do it right, it is extremely effective!

Conditioning for climbing

Push ups

push ups for climbing


Pull ups

pull up training for climbing



climbing conditioning



core training for climbing


Super simple right? The protocol is easy too;

10 reps each for the first three, back to back without rest, then a one minute plank.

Rest for one minute, then repeat the set for a total of 3 sets. Once that becomes easy, aim for 5 sets and when that gets easy, reduce the rest period to 30 seconds.

Don’t rush through each exercise, try and do them with good form. The timer I’ve made for this session allows for a 2 second count for each rep, so keep this in mind. It’s also very easy to make the exercises harder or easier as required.


Harder: try doing these wide, offset, or as diamond pushups

Easier: Do these on your knees


Harder: Do hanging dips, or add weight

Easier: Bend your knees up into a squat to reduce the weight on your arms


Harder: Do these wide, or mix it up with inverted rows

Easier: Try rows on a low bar, or using olympics rings


Harder: Focus on really engaging and holding your core (this is brutal and only you will know if you are really doing it properly)

Easier: Try this on your knees, or pulse between knees and toes

The nice thing about this set is that it includes exercises that work our antagonistic muscles (pushing), which helps to offset all that pulling we do when climbing. As a rule, I try to do this type of workout at least once a week, but twice is better. For example once on an active rest day (i.e. non-climbing day) and once at the end of a climbing training session.

Throw a bit of conditioning into your week and see what it does for your climbing. I guarantee you will notice a difference in just a few weeks.

Train hard, climb smart!

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