Forearm Conditioning Tips for the Climbing Off-Season

The temperature is dropping, precipitation is imminent, and the weather is growing gloomier by the day. In other words, the off-season for rock climbers is here. Every experienced climber knows that conditioning one’s forearms is critical for successful scaling, so it’s important to emphasize these muscles during your off-season workout regimen. Here are a few tips and techniques for effective upper limb conditioning.

According to IndoorClimbing.com, an effective forearm routine should include exercises that focus on overall arm strength, endurance, and individual finger strength ― and you can accomplish all three with just a simple pull-up bar, forearm exerciser, some hand weights, and a few established wall holds.

forearm-exercisesStatic hangs can be effective for building forearm strength; dangle as long as your limbs will allow, then rest for a few minutes and do it again (at least four sets are recommended). For additional strength training, incorporate a few chin-ups into the routine. You can also perform a few sets of forearm curls with the hand weights during each workout; simply grip the weight in your hand and roll it back and forth between your fingertips and your palms for a few minutes.

To build endurance, drop one of your arms during the static hangs and let it hang for five seconds, and then reposition it onto the bar. Then drop the other arm, and alternate accordingly; this closely mimics the stress and fatigue you’ll feel in your forearms during an actual climb. For additional endurance, traverse the wall holds about halfway and grip the holds for at least 20 minutes; as your conditioning progresses during the off-season, try positioning the wall holds higher and higher above your head.

The wall holds will also assist individual finger training. Spend some time gripping the holds with each finger, particularly the thumbs. You can supplement this by using a forearm exerciser to work out your digits. This can be as simple as a durable latex or rubber ring that you can squeeze in the palm of your hand, which strengthens each finger simultaneously. But there are also more advanced mechanisms that allow you to strengthen your fingers individually.

There are other strategies for building strength and endurance in your forearms. For instance, BodyBuilding.com recommends wrist curls over a bench using dumbbells or barbells; you can alternate between palms-up and palms-down grips for added strength ― but however you hold the weights, make sure to keep your arms stationary as you curl. At best, the workout will be ineffective; at worst, you can seriously injure yourself.  

In addition to the techniques mentioned above, there are a few other exercises for building forearm extensor strength. Wrist extensions involve gripping a barbell, dumbbell, or pulley handle with both hands (palms down). Let both hands hang loosely in front of your knees, and extend both wrists (alternating or simultaneously) without moving your forearms; the goal should be to align your knuckles and chin as closely as possible. Reverse curls are another effective way to condition your extensors; simply hold a barbell or pulley handle in both hands with your palms facing inward, and then lift the weight as high as you can. For casual, supplemental forearm training, purchasing a resistance band.  

And of course you should join an indoor climbing gym to effectively simulate natural conditions. But the exercises mentioned above are still recommended. Lap-swimming is also a great and relatively inexpensive alternative for building your forearms, as well as your shoulders, triceps, pectorals, and other joints and muscles that play an important role during climbs. And boy, does that heated pool feel nice during the cold season.

The bottom line: your forearms should ache after each workout, but you should refrain from climbing or exercising again until the pain subsides. The longer you condition, the less sore you’ll feel after every workout. What are you waiting for? Summer is just seven months away.