Most people underestimate the importance of being able to overcome obstacles — and we’re not talking about the Tony Robbins kind. We mean real-life barriers that could separate life from death. Could you pull yourself up onto a plateau to avoid falling into a canyon? Can you even do a single pull-up?

No matter what’s thrown your way, we’ll help make sure you can get out alive.

Climbing Prerequisites

While it’s not necessary to be as good as a pro, climbing proficiency is extremely important. It’s not just hopping a fence before a rabid dog gets a taste of prepper meat — broken-down buildings or even smaller rock formations may stand between you and safety. Your confidence in not only getting yourself (plus gear) up and over, but also your ability to get the rest of your group to safety is crucial.

We’ll delve into the training it takes to become a well-rounded climber, but let’s first discuss what type of physical attributes you’ll need.

General Strength: Making your entire body stronger will make a tremendous difference in growing your Spider-Man-like abilities. Climbing certainly requires a good amount of technical prowess, but technique isn’t a substitute for endurance. And the road to endurance is fitness; the foundation upon which your training efforts should be built.

Conditioning: It may not seem obvious, but climbing requires a great amount of endurance. If you’ve ever gone wall- or rock-climbing, you’ve certainly felt what this is like. Now, we’re not training you to be a professional climber by any means, but building a solid aerobic base will also allow you to recover better from training, reduce stress, and give you some cross-training options.
We’ll tackle endurance training a little differently than most. When people think of cardio, they think about running. This can be an option, but there are other effective ways of training the aerobic system for climbing, which we’ll cover in more detail later.

Grip & Finger Strength: This is possibly the most critical factor in climbing performance, especially when climbing for extended periods of time. There have been a few articles on the topic of grip strength in our sister publication, RECOIL, but we’ll include a refresher to make sure you’re doing the right things to get stronger.

Core Stability & Strength: The core, which, for our purposes, will include the musculature from your shoulders to your butt and everything in between, not only stabilizes your spine, but also allows force to transfer between your upper and lower body. This is an absolute necessity in any sport or physical endeavor.

Bouldering & Climbing: To be better at climbing, you need to do more climbing. In exercise science, there’s the SAID principle, which stands for “specific adaptations to imposed demands.” This means whenever you place any type of stress on your body, such as climbing, you’ll adapt to that demand. We need climbing to be in your program somewhere so you’re better able to climb, for longer periods of time without prematurely fatiguing. Bouldering is a form of highly technical, low-risk free climbing that’s an excellent skill, strength builder, and an excellent adaptation of the SAID principle.

Climbing Requisites

Next, we put together a program of seven key strength exercises that really push you to that next level of climbing.

Dumbbell Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat

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  1. Begin with a dumbbell in each hand, with one leg supported behind you on a bench or similar-height object.
  2. Slowly descend to the bottom position with about 70 percent of your weight on your front foot. You should feel your whole foot in contact with the ground.
  3. Drive your front foot through the floor to return to the starting position.
  4. Complete for the listed amount of sets and reps on each leg. (More on this later in the article.)

Tactical Pull-Up


  1. Begin in a dead-hang under a bar, tree branch, or anything else you can get your hands on. This exercise differs from a traditional pull-up by placing your thumb right next to your hand. (Fat Gripz is optional.)
  2. Firmly grip the bar, slightly round your torso, and feel your abs brace you in the front.
  3. Drive your elbows down to your sides, and bring your chest to the bar.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position.
  5. Complete for the listed amount of sets and reps.

One-Arm Low Cable Row


1. Start by sliding the pulley of a cable machine down to the lowest setting.
2. Firmly grip the handle (thick handle or Fat Gripz) in one hand.
3. Bring your opposite foot forward and your other leg back behind you with a slight bend. Your chest should face the pulley.
4. Holding this split-stance position, drive your elbow back and down until your elbow is about in-line with your torso.
5. Slowly return to the starting position.
6. Complete the prescribed sets and reps on each side.

Push-Up to Downward Dog

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  1. Begin in a push-up position.
  2. Slowly lower your body, keeping your elbows at about 45 degrees to your body, chin back, and hips in-line with your shoulders and ankles.
  3. Once you reach the bottom, drive your hips to the ceiling into a downward dog position and reach as far as you can. Take one breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Complete for the prescribed sets and reps.

Plank With Plate Stack

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  1. Begin in a plank position with your feet wider than hip width, with a stack of four 5-pound weight plates to your left.
  2. Reach your right hand across, grab a plate, and place it to the right side. Repeat this until you have a pile on the right side.
  3. Repeat this again with your other arm until you have a stack back on the left side.
  4. Do this one more time on each side.
  5. Repeat for the prescribed amount of sets.

Standing Anti-Rotation Cable Chop


  1. Begin in a standing position with your feet just outside shoulder width and a double overhand grip on a rope attachment.
  2. eeping the rope at shoulder-height and your elbows straight, bring the attachment across your body. Only your arms, shoulders, and upper back should move.
  3. Slowly return back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the prescribed sets and reps.

Kettlebell Cross Carry


  1. Stand with a heavy kettlebell in one hand at your side. Place a lighter kettlebell in the opposite hand then hold overhead.
  2. Firmly grip both kettlebells, and walk for the sets and duration prescribed.

Climbing Conditioning

Our conditioning training centers on only two exercises: the hill sprint and the medicine ball circuit. Hill sprints are concentrically dominant, meaning you’re only under load during the pushing part of the motion and not the lowering, or eccentric. This has good carryover into climbing, which is also primarily concentric, as you’re usually pushing yourself upward. The medicine ball circuit is a great way to build endurance in the muscles of your upper body, which will definitely be required to climb for any length of time.

Hill Sprint


  1. Find a hill that will allow roughly 10 seconds of sprint time.
  2. Sprint up as fast as you can.
  3. Rest for 30 to 45 seconds. This may just be the time it takes to walk back down slowly.
  4. Repeat for the prescribed amount of repetitions.

Medicine Ball Circuit


  1. Hold a medicine ball at your chest, bring it over your head, and slam it down to the ground.
  2. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Next, bring it to your chest, squat down, and explosively push it overhead.
  4. Repeat 10 times.
  5. Standing next to a wall, hold the ball by the hip opposite the wall, put your weight into your back foot, pivot, and throw the ball into the wall.
  6. Repeat 10 times on each side.
  7. Rest for 45 to 60 seconds and repeat for the recommended amount of sets.

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There’s tremendous peace of mind in knowing you can handle anything that you might encounter. Proficiency in climbing is yet another physical skill that you need to master for the road ahead. Follow the prescribed plan, and you’ll be well on your way to scaling anything that gets thrown in your way.

About the Author

Ryne Gioviano is the owner of Achieve Personal Training & Lifestyle Design located in Aurora, Illinois. He earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You can find more information at or reach him on Twitter at @RGioviano.

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