The gym is closed? Don’t want to budget for a gym membership? No problem.
During quarantine, climbers had to get creative with at-home workouts.
People were doing Russian twists with water jugs, hand crimping door frames, and making their homes work for them.
Maintaining muscle and grip strength was vital, and climbers would do whatever it takes to keep form.
Thankfully, these troubled times have passed us.
We can head back to the rock wall, shred our hands on outdoor routes, and chalk up just like the good old days.
Still, a little workout on the side never hurt anybody.
These seven exercises are for a complete upper-body routine, to enhance climbing muscle, and boost climbing strength. Dynos, here you come.
Don’t forget to save this list for later — it’s best to run through these exercises post-climb, or on an off day.
Here are seven of the best off-the-wall upper body workouts without weights and the muscle groups they target:
Planking is the ultimate core exercise.
Core strength is responsible for balance, stability, motion control, and precision.
A strong core makes lifting and leaning easier movements, without strain on the back.
Without a solid core, other exercises with weights could be dangerous for our bodies.
Deadlifts and overhead presses could put extra pressure on our lower spine as we struggle to maintain good form.
The muscle memory of a strong core tells our brains to maintain healthy body posture in both the climbing gym and in daily life.
Planking targets the following muscles:
- Rectus Abdominis: the top layer of stomach muscles
- Transverse Abdominis: deep muscle layer that stabilizes the spine
How to Plank
Lie on the floor/mat with your elbows on the floor and your arms extended in front of you at a 90-degree angle.
Raise your body off the group and maintain a straight “plank” to the floor, only arms and feet touching the ground.
Hold this position as long as possible or in intervals.
#2. Tricep Dips
This exercise is intended to increase range of motion and strengthen the shoulders, arms, and triceps. If you climb a lot of corner routes or need to push up on routes- this is the exercise for you.
How to Do Tricep Dips
Find a solid, raised surface, or make your own with two chairs of the same height.
Space them evenly apart. Place your feet on one chair, and your hands (wrists facing inwards) on the other.
Keep your upper body aligned and slowly lower and raise yourself in this position.
As a climber, push-ups are one exercise I tend to overlook.
I usually feel pumped from a gym session, so my form when trying a push-up circuit is lackadaisical at best.
Yet, experienced climbers swear by push-ups as their climbing strength hack, so it must be done!
Push-ups help balance your body and activate the antagonist muscles.
These muscles are the ones that relax as we perform other workouts.
The pushing muscles need to be engaged just as much as the pulling muscles for toned arms.
How to Do a Push-Up
There are many variations of push-ups, but we’ll stick with the basic run-of-the-mill upper-body crusher.
Get into a plank position, engaging the core and maintaining a straight back posture.
No arching your lower back. No putting your knees on the ground.
Keep your arms shoulder-width apart and bend your elbows to lower yourself slowly to the ground without touching.
If your body touches the floor, start over.
Do this slowly, and rise back up into the original position for one solid rep.
#4. Rubber Band Finger Extensions
It’s a bit tricky to train grip strength without weights, but this exercise allows you to strengthen the finger muscles and improve your range of motion.
Some climbing companies make different levels of resistance hand training bands. If you’d like something more climbing-centered and challenging.
How to Do Finger Extensions
Take a rubber band or multiple that you have laying around the house and put them around your fingers above your knuckles.
Open your hand slowly as far as you can and hold for a few seconds.
You should try to resist the pressure to close for as long as possible but stop immediately if you feel pain.
Repeat this throughout the day and increase the number after some time.
#5. Wrist Curls
Wrist curls are essential in improving grip strength and training wrist muscles.
It’s an isolated exercise that’s hyper-focused on the wrist flexor muscles.
Strong wrists help stabilize climbers on trickier handholds, like slopers.
In addition, if you start incorporating wrist curls in your workout routine, you’ll feel less tendon pump after a long climbing session.
How to Do Wrist Curls
No need for weights. Any soup can will do!
Rest your forearms on top of a flat surface and let your hands dangle.
Holding the soup can in your hand, lower your hand downwards until you feel a stretch in your forearms.
Bring the can up by flexing your wrists and contracting your forearm muscles.
Supermans are a one-stop-shop, similar to planking, targeting a whole bunch of muscle groups.
It strengthens the lower back, glutes, shoulders, and abs. The quadfecta!
Keep slow movements throughout and monitor even breathing.
It might look like a yoga exercise, but it’s building muscle so no need to overextend and push boundaries.
How to Do a Superman
For climbers with boney hips, place a thick yoga mat or buffer between you and the ground.
Lie face down with your arms extended above your head evenly.
Spread your feet about shoulder length apart. In the same motion, raise your arms and legs off the ground, hold for up to 5 seconds and release back to the floor.
Keep your neck and head pointed to the ground and do not elevate them during the process.
#7. Diamond Press-Ups
We saved the hardest exercise for last — hopefully you’re not exhausted already!
This exercise looks similar to push-ups but you’ll keep your hands closer together, thus activating a different muscle set.
It activates your triceps more strictly and prepares you to be able to master one-arm push-ups more effectively.
How to Do a Diamond Press-Up
In this push-up variation, your thumb and index fingers will be touching to form a diamond shape.
Tuck your elbows and lower yourself normally until your chest touches the top of your hands.
Keep your core activated and raise your body back to the starting position. This is one rep.
There you have it, climbers — all you need for a 30-minute upper body circuit without weights.
We’re sure these exercises aren’t brand new to you, but they are the best in the business for a reason.
Try out the new routine and let us know how you feel post-workout.
Run through 2 sets to start, and upgrade to 3 sets and 4 sets when you’re ready to completely smash it.
McKenzi Taylor founded Rock Climbing Women in 2013 after moving to a new city as a new climber seeking more climbing partners (and new friends!). Since her first taste of climbing in Spearfish Canyon, SD, McKenzi has been at the rock face seeking and sharing the thrill of climbing. She credits the support of a consistent climbing partner and community as the motivation to continue developing her skill, whether it’s trad, sport climbing or bouldering. A full-time business owner and mother, McKenzi’s on a mission to get her kids outside and learning to adventure alongside her.