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.