Hypertrophy for Climbing Part 2: Forearms, Fingers, and The Amended Program.

Yesterday I posted Part 1 on "Hypertrophy for Climbing", and these were the two comments made within hours of the post:

Anonymous said...

hey man - i dig your blog and you have some great advice, but this one threw me. i was with ya all the way up to the part where you said what exercises you planned to incorporate as part of a hypertrophy phase...e.g. military press? how the hell does that translate to climbing harder? what are you doing in terms of forearms, the weakest link for probably 99% of climbers? I've never fallen off a route or problem because my triceps/chest/shoulders were too pumped.... 


Mark said... 

Cool. I was assuming all along you were talking about fingers, and it turns out they're not on the list. Any reason for that? Thanks, Mark

My fault. I never really told you I was talking about something other than fingers and forearms, which is what most people associate with climbing hypertrophy.  I'll get on that today.

First, let me respond to the first comment, as I'm sure many climbers feel the same way, that they've:  "never fallen off a route or problem because my triceps/chest/shoulders were too pumped....".  

You're right, probably not because they were too pumped, but that would be an endurance issue.  When talking about hypertrophy, I know I've personally fallen off of many, many routes or problems because my shoulder/bicep/lat wasn't quite strong enough to do the next move easily.  In my experience, I see climbers fall far more often because a move is hard instead of because they're forearms failed (unless I'm climbing in the Red).  That isn't to say that forearm hypertrophy isn't important... it's very important... but if I had to guess, (which it is just that, a guess), I'd say that the weakest link for the majority of climbers is technical skill and efficiency rather than weak forearms.  However, while it may not be the biggest weakness most climbers have, it is the one more often blamed, and it's not gonna hurt anybody to get stronger, right?


You've got your big climbing muscles working now, and are ready to pull.  That last link between you and the rock is your forearm and your fingers.  As training these are mostly limited to climbers, there is little science about isolating fingers and forearms for that purpose (mostly guessing and regurgitated articles).  All we can do is modify what we learn from the world of lifting, add it to the apparatus we know works, and see if we progress.    

One thing we know works to make us stronger is bouldering.  No doubts.  The length of the boulder problem is the key.  For this phase, because of the number of reps we learned lean toward a mostly neural response, rather than muscle growth, I'm focusing on 3-6 move boulder problems.  If those are hard to come by, then a 3-6 move section of a much harder problem.  Your body doesn't know that you aren't hitting the finishing jug... it just knows how hard you need to try.  Assuming that you fail somewhere between 3-6 moves, or just barely eke it out... that's what makes your muscle respond with new strength.  Keep trying to push it harder and harder within that number of moves. 

For me, the number two exercise, coming in close behind bouldering, is the hangboard.  Again, the length of a hang and the number of reps will, to some degree, dictate how the muscle responds with strength and size.  Again, I'm aiming for 3-6 reps.  For my hypertrophic hangboard sessions, I choose 5 or so different grips based on my current climbing goals.  On these, I do 3 sets of 6 hangs on each grip for 3-6 seconds, resting 5 seconds between each hang, and 2 minutes between each set.  I do all the reps on one grip before moving to the next.  

Nothing new.  I just use these two tried and true methods.  My amended end of summer program looks like this:

Back to work.  We'll see how it goes.

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