Are you reaching a plateau in your rock climbing training? Many times we improve quickly when we start climbing, but then progress slows after the initial improvement in ability and strength. This can be frustrating and overcoming it means changing your training to provide new challenges for your muscles. Adding weighted chin-ups to your climbing training is one of the best ways to do this, and it can do wonders for your strength. Let’s take a look at why this is so.
The science behind heavyweight
There are a few different results of muscle training: increased endurance, increased muscle size (muscle hypertrophy), and increased strength. Endurance and strength are very important to climbers, but we want to limit hypertrophy so that the extra body mass doesn’t slow us down. A high strength-to-weight ratio is very important here.
To increase muscle strength you must lift very heavy loads. Lifting heavier weights trains your neuromuscular pathways to be more efficient by forcing them to recruit additional muscle fibers to lift the load. Conditioning your muscles to be more efficient allows you to gain strength without gaining muscle mass. This is exactly what we want as climbers!
For optimal strength gains, you should use enough weight so that you can only do 3 to 5 reps of an exercise. The goal of this is to load the muscles more than they are used to so that they learn to work more efficiently. It is important to rest completely between sets, about 3 to 5 minutes. You don’t want to tire your muscles, which would instead build strength or muscle size. Aim for 3 or 4 of these sets.
Avoid taking the bodybuilder approach to lifting weights. Bodybuilders typically perform 8-12 reps with lighter loads and a shorter rest to focus on tiring the muscles and increasing their size. This results in giant muscles that are not very functional for rock climbing.
Adding weight to chin-ups
Pull-ups are one of the best climbing exercises to perform with extra weight. They will allow you to increase the strength of your arms and back quite quickly. This will allow you to perform more intense climbing movements like locks and one-arm chin-ups. Of course, you should only train heavy pull-ups if you have a good base strength to start with. If you can’t do at least ten bodyweight pull-ups, you need to focus on them first.
You can add weight in a number of ways. Putting rocks in a backpack, hanging weights from a climbing harness, or wearing a weight vest are all effective methods of adding weight. It is even possible to hold weights with your feet if you have no alternative. However, this method is not optimal, as it does not allow you to fully focus on your pull-ups. As mentioned earlier, when working on weighted chin-ups, you should use a weight that only allows you to do 3-5 pull-ups before failing. Adjust your weight accordingly.
Try to work on your heavy pull-ups 2 to 3 times a week. You can do them after climbing, but don’t do them on days when you are very tired. You want to have relatively high strength levels when working on them.
Make sure you warm up properly before adding weight. These sets are very strenuous and you don’t want to hurt yourself. Between each set, be sure to rest until you feel fully recovered. Don’t be afraid to allow up to five minutes between sets. You don’t want to tire your muscles; we want them at full capacity. Perform 3-4 sets of these weighted pull-ups.
After a few weeks of weighted chin-up training, you should see significant gains in your climbing strength. You’ll feel lighter and faster on the wall, and normal pull-ups should be a breeze. After a few months, your progress may slow down again, at which point you may want to take a break and focus on endurance. A cyclical training pattern that alternates focus between strength and endurance prevents your training from stabilizing.