Bouldering Training

bouldering training

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Written by: Ashley Vitiello
Fact Checked by: Derek Vitiello

Updated Apr 22, 2023

Bouldering is one of our favorite activities and we love spending time outdoors finding our next favorite problem. But once you’re past the initial beginner phase, progress can be slow and plateaus can make you feel like you aren’t improving. This is where a training program comes in – you can work on specific movements and exercises that will help take your climbing to the next level.

Bouldering training isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a serious endeavor that takes commitment, perseverance, and mental strength. If you’re happy climbing at your current level and training would take that joy away from you, then we don’t recommend starting a training program. On the other hand, if seeing more progress and diving into a more committed regimen would bring you joy, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s explore a variety of different techniques for training including on the wall exercises, off the wall exercises, injury prevention, grip training, and more!

Training Tips & Advice

So you’re ready to start training, but where to begin? Start by reading these tips that will help you be successful and stick with it long term.

  • A lot of recommended exercises on the internet may be great for overall health, but they may not directly benefit your climbing. Look at your goals and work towards that, as unnecessary movements cost time and energy that could be spent on more beneficial movements. With each exercise think “is this helping me accomplish my goals?”
  • Before you start any kind of program, take some initial measurements and log your progress along the way. When you can see where you’ve come from, you’re more likely to stay motivated. Plus, it helps optimize future training so you can continue to get better.
  • As you continue in your journey, make sure you don’t compare yourself against other people. Even though bouldering can be quite social, don’t let other climbers’ skill get you down. Look at your own goals and work towards that.
  • Explore new techniques but remember that just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you.
  • Don’t wear yourself out completely with each session as this limits quality in future sessions. Instead, have a strong session but stop while you’re still ahead, and this will help you train just as hard the next day.
  • For bouldering specifically, focus on powerful movements that mimic your climbing style.
  • Look at breaking up your plan into seasonal blocks. Examples of seasons include off-season, pre-season, and peak-season; this training cycle will allow you to train for optimal healing and tendon compliance or strength and tendon stiffness at the proper times.

The best advice we can give you is to make it fun. If you’re miserable training and you have to drag yourself out of the house every day, you won’t stick with it long term. Find what works for you and make it enjoyable so you can continue to reap the rewards for months to come.

On-the-Wall Training Exercises

The number one thing you can do to improve your climbing is…CLIMB. A LOT.

At the end of the day, the best way to improve your bouldering skills is to spend time at the climbing gym (or crag) getting real experience. This should be your main focus when it comes to bouldering training, with all other methods working as supplements.

Climb each problem several times, even if you flashed it, refining your movement and technique with each send. Try different holds, throw in some new moves, and challenge yourself to change the sequence each time.

During each climbing session, prioritize resting several minutes between climbs. Use this time to watch other climbers attempt the same route and absorb their technique so you can try it next time. You may even ask them why they did a certain something and get their perspective on the problem. You could also play some climbing games or practice 4×4’s.

Go to the end of this article for an example training plan that emphasizes on the wall exercise.

Off-the-Wall-Training Exercises

There are several things you can do to supplement your work on the climbing wall, such as hang boarding, campusing, and weight lifting.

Many professionals suggest that beginners should be climbing for at least 1-2 years before engaging in off the wall training, but there are ways you can practice these skills without overdoing it. We think their point may be that there are few replacements for on the wall experience when you’re first starting out, so don’t let yourself get too focused on these other methods. If you’re going to see the most benefit from better technique or experience, then stick with on the wall training for now.

Hangboarding

A hangboard is piece of equipment that helps train finger strength. It’s made of plastic or wood and has several different kinds of holds and depths that you hang on. The point is to increase your finger strength by strengthening the tendons and ligaments in your hands. Wood is usually better than plastic because the lack of friction makes you rely on strength more.

When hangboarding, practice proper form. Keep your shoulders away from your ears, avoid locking your elbows, and keep your shoulder blades engaged. You should use a half crimp grip but avoid full crimp.

This Metolius Simulator 3D Training board is a great example of a hang board. Photo from the manufacturer.

If you’re anyone besides an expert or extremely advanced climber, you don’t want to consistently overload the tissue, which would cause excess breakdown and can lead to overuse injuries. Keeping it light helps the program progress and will help you see results without raising the risk of injury. This means keeping a foot or two on the ground instead of letting your whole body weight rest on your fingers.

Should beginners practice hangboarding?

While a lot of professionals don’t recommend beginners hangboard, there are ways you can still incorporate it into your training plan while avoiding injury. Only weight it sub-maximally (without your whole body weight) by keeping one or two feet on the ground. Do it no more than once per day, and skip it if you’re fatigued or if you have any kind of tweak that’s making you anything below 100%.

Tips From well-known climbers

A video by Emil Abrahamsson went viral where he trained on a hang board twice a day for 30 days straight. He did two 10-minute sessions each day, and this idea was based on a study¹ that talked about the most efficient way to strengthen your tendons. You can watch a 2 year later update on his training and see a breakdown of his program. You can also find his exact program in the free app Crimpd – just search ‘Emil’ to find it.

Magnus Midtbø hangs for 6 seconds with a one handed half crimp (or two if you can’t do one hand) then rests for 4 minutes. He does 4 sets and adds weight as necessary if 6 seconds on one hand is too easy. He does this right after a warm up, not at the end of a session.

Campus Board

Campusing means to climb only using your hands and upper body strength, and you can help train this by using a campus board. It’s a great tool for increasing finger and hand strength as well as working on plyometric and dynamic performance. EpicTV has a great campus boarding video on YouTube, but keep in mind that this is only recommended for intermediate and advanced climbers.

Can beginners use a campus board?

While beginners can get away with some minor hangboarding training, only intermediate and advanced climbers should use a campus board regularly. Wait until you can consistently climb at least V5-V6 bouldering grades before incorporating campus boards into your bouldering training plan.

Campus board for climbing
A campus board at a climbing gym.

Weight Lifting

Here’s a comprehensive list of weight and strength training exercises you can do to further your routine and get a full-body workout. There’s lots of different exercises out there, but we think these are the most applicable towards climbing mechanics.

Try to use explosive movements that mimic your climbing style. If you have the time, it’s worth watching this How To Train for Climbing Video by Hooper’s Beta. By far, it’s the most in-depth and educated compilation we’ve seen so far.

Core Strength

  • Landmine Oblique Twist
  • Leg Raises while hanging from a pull up bar

Arm Strength

  • Tricep Dips
  • Bicep Curls

Hand & Wrist Strength

  • Finger Curls
  • Plate Pinch
  • Wrist Roller

Upper Body

  • Chin ups and pull ups are some of the best things you can do.
  • Bilateral external rotation with scapular retraction
  • Face pulls or Cuban rotations and Standing W’s
  • Inverted rows or unilateral dumbbell row
  • Arnold Press or overhead shoulder press.
  • Push ups and/or bench press is great for antagonistic training of your back.

Lower Body

  • Deadlifts are a great exercise for working your posterior chain, but aren’t necessarily directly applicable for climbing. Use deadlifts wisely, and we recommend doing lighter weights rather than exhausting yourself with heavy lifts.
  • Squats with various modifications like jump squats and various feet positions.
  • Toe hook pulls using resistance bands in various angles from your body.
  • Hamstring curls or Nordic curls for hamstrings.
  • Leg adductor movements like a machine or an assisted split with a raise up.

Advanced Weights

  • Reaching pull ups and different kinds of explosive pull up modifications
  • Bench pull – Follow this link to see Magnus Midtbø do the bench pull.
  • Front Levers – can use resistance band for aid.
  • One leg pistol squats

Grip Strength

Between climbing, hang boarding, campusing, and weights, there are plenty of ways you can increase your grip and finger strength.

A lot of these exercises will train certain movements that don’t allow for training the opposite movement, or antagonistic movement. For example, a stronger grip works your flexor muscles, but ignores your extensor muscles. Working the opposite movement helps prevent overuse injuries and decreases risk of hand problems like carpal tunnel. See our article on finger strength training and the Way of the Iron Fist.

Injury Prevention

Focus on antagonistic movements to help prevent injury long term. This will help balance out the muscle groups so you can avoid body imbalances. For example, climbers use the ‘pull’ motion a lot, so we must also train the ‘push’ motion in order to help prevent injury. Magnus Midtbø does a great job of explaining this in his video on antagonistic training for climbers. This includes working on your hands and fingers – see above for the link to the Way of the Iron Fist and a complete guide to balancing your hands and forearm muscles.

Another way to help prevent injury, especially in beginners, is to not overload yourself too often. Instead of working through a session until you’re completely burnt, stop while you’re ahead. This will prevent you from sacrificing form for repetition and will help your body heal quicker for optimal future training sessions.

Climbing Nutrition

As a climber, your strength to weight ratio is more important than a lot of other sports. It’s greatly impacted by your diet, and is a ratio of how strong you are compared to how much you weigh. Basically, you want to balance overall strength while not gaining too much muscle or fat that makes it harder for you to lift yourself.

Everyone’s nutritional needs are extremely personal and depend on a ton of factors. The most general advice we can give is to eat meals that are healthy and nutritious. Balance protein intake with carbs and fats, and fuel your body in a way that works for you. Check out this YouTube video on Nutrition for Climbers.

Beginner Bouldering Training Plan

While there’s a limitless amount of plans and suggestions available online, here’s a basic idea of a three or four day a week training program. Modify it to fit your goals and level of experience. To increase difficulty, increase climb time and consider adding exercises to your more casual days – for example, Thursday could also include a core workout and a 4×4.

If you find yourself getting fatigued, move down in grade so you still get the volume without overdoing it.

MondayWarm up for at least 10 minutes, then climb for 1 hour focusing on climbing as many lower difficulty problems as possible (endurance day). Cool down with stretching
TuesdayWeight lifting day (optional).
WednesdayRest
ThursdayWarm up for at least 10 minutes, then climb for 1 hour focusing on skill, technique, and route reading. This means spending more time on less problems compared to Monday. Cool down with stretching.
FridayActive rest like some light yoga, rice bucket work, and/or submaximal hang boarding.
SaturdayWarm up for at least 10 minutes, climb for 1 hour focusing on hard boulder problems that are just within your upper range. Prioritize rest in between difficult sends. Cool down with stretching.
SundayRest
A table showing an ideal boulder training program for a beginner or intermediate climber.

FAQ’s

How do you train yourself for bouldering?

The best training you can do for bouldering is climb. A lot. You can supplement with other exercises like weight lifting, hang boarding, and campusing, but few things replace the experience and strength you gain from good ol’ climbing.

Is 30 too late to start bouldering?

It’s never to late to start bouldering. As long as you’re physically able and don’t have significant injuries in your shoulders and hands, you can start bouldering at any age.

Is bouldering 3 times a week too much?

Bouldering and rock climbing 3 times a week is an ideal amount if you’re looking to progress in your skills. Just make sure you’re taking proper rest days and using a day to train antagonistic muscles.

Can you get fit just from bouldering?

You can get very fit from bouldering, as it’s a whole body workout that is quite hard on your body. Climbing is the best method of training you can do to get better and stronger, but you can also add in other exercises to help keep you fit.

TLDR

In order to train for bouldering, follow these steps:

  1. Climb a lot, especially if you’re a beginner. Practice good technique and climb several times a week. Climb each problem several times and refine your movement. Training through climbing should be your focus with other methods as a supplement.
  2. Try different styles of climbing, use various grip types, and climb with others to learn from them.
  3. Rest during climbs and in between exercises.
  4. Incorporate easy hang board routines.
  5. Supplement with weight lifting – see exercise suggestions above.
  6. Make sure you train antagonistic muscles along the way.

Resources

Baar K. Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments. Sports Med. 2017 Mar;47(Suppl 1):5-11. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0719-x. PMID: 28332110; PMCID: PMC5371618.

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to’s based on all the stuff she’s learned on her journey. If she isn’t writing an article, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers. Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me. When I’m not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

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