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Circuit Training for Climbing

I’ve detailed specific exercises I employ while training for climbing (link).  This article is about putting it all together, an example of the circuit routines I use while training.

A weight lifting belt should be used to add weight as needed while training. A harness, sling, and dumbell combination is a good substitute for a weight lifting belt.

Circuit training is rotating between dissimilar exercises during a workout.  Because the exercises work different muscle groups, you can move from one exercise to the next without taking a break.  This allows you to maintain a higher heart rate during the workout, and lets you fit more exercise into the same amount of time.  So here’s the basic process to setting up a circuit routine:

  • Select muscle groups to work.  I usually select 3 main groups.  At this point you should decide whether the routine is to improve power or endurance.  For power training, the exercise should be harder with shorter time/ repetitions (I usually shoot for 6 repetitions).  For endurance training, the exercise should be easier with higher repetitions/ time intervals (10-15 repetitions or 30-45 sec. intervals).
  • Select specific exercises.  I typically select 2-3 exercises per muscle group for a 1 hour circuit routine and add in some “filler” type exercises (like jump rope, push ups, etc.) as needed for a total of 9-12 exercises.  Group these exercises into 2-3 groups (AKA circuits) keeping similar exercises in different groups (i.e. push ups and bench press would not be in the same group).
  • Set up workspace for the first group of exercises to allow you to move quickly between stations.  This should involve setting the weights out, clearing space, etc.
  • Warm up.  I usually do ~15 minutes of bouldering prior to working out.
  • Do circuit routine.  Rotate between the exercises in group 1 until each exercise has been done three times.  Take a short break, then set up group 2  and rotate through that circuit 3 times.  Repeat until all groups (and thus all exercises) have been completed.
  • Stretch or cool down climbing ~10 minutes

Example: Power Routine

Main Muscle groups: Forearms, Pulling, Core

Specific exercises:

Forearms: Finger rolls, dead hang on sloper (weighted, arms slightly bent)

Pulling: Weighted pull ups, rows, dumbbell pulls

Core: Plank, bridge, medicine ball twists, medicine ball slams

Other: Push ups on rings

Target repetitions: about 6, unless noted otherwise

Workout duration: 1 hour

Warm up: 15 minutes easy bouldering

Circuit 1 (rotate through 2 times)

  • Plank- both arms (hold 20 sec), left arm only (20 sec), right arm only (20 sec)
  • Bridge- both legs on ground (20 sec), left leg up (20 sec), right leg up (20 sec), repeat all three with heels on ground instead of flat feet
  • Medicine ball twists (30 total, each side counts as 1)
  • Medicine ball slams (30 secs)

The entire first circuit is core exercises.  This may seem contradictory to the instructions above, however each exercise works the muscles differently or addresses different muscles (back, abs, obliques, etc.)

Circuit 2 (rotate through 3 times)

  • Finger Rolls- 6 reps, weight as needed (try body weight and adjust from there)
  • Weighted pull ups- 6 reps, 45 lbs. (adjustable)
  • Dumbbell pulls- 6 reps, 70 lbs (adj.)

Circuit 3 (rotate through 3 times)

  • Finger Rolls- 6 reps, weight as needed (try body weight and adjust from there)
  • Push-ups on rings- 10 reps (elevate feet on 6″-12″ box if available, keep core tight like in plank)
  • Dead hang on slopers- 10 sec goal time, hang 3 times before moving to next exercise (45 lbs. adj.)
  • Rows- 6 reps (shoot for body weight)

I’ve included Finger Rolls in two separate circuits because I consider that exercise the cornerstone of the routine, and I want to do 6 sets of the exercise (not 3 sets like the other exercises).

Cool down: 15 minutes easy bouldering (possibly some stretching too)

Eat within 15 minutes of finishing workout.  Below is a workout spreadsheet you may find useful (excel version here).  I’ll try to detail an endurance circuit routine sometime soon.  Post up anything you have to add in the comments.

Adam - Good post, Eli. Including a form to help keep track of the workout is a great idea. I’m probably like most others when I go to the weight room and have limited knowledge of what to do.

However, you didn’t include a few routines that I love.

1. One arm pinkie pullups – I can do 20+ of these when using the deep mono pockets on the hangboard but am struggling to get to 10 when using the micro crimp feature.

2. Dead hang pinkie curls – this is when I hang from my pinkie on the sloper and while keeping my arm straight curl my pinkie. This is a fantastic exercise because as the finger is curled you’re forced to hang on with less and less surface area contact.

Both of these first two can be done with any digit. Beginners may want to start with the middle finger.

3.The nail – For a great core workout this can’t be beat. This can also be done at home. Novices will need a board with a nail through it. More advanced participants will only need the nail. Simply flex your abs and lay your center of gravity on the nail. Balance with all points off the ground until you get tired. I recommend bringing a magazine open to a lengthy article to put under your nose as this exercise can be time consuming.

Just my two cents.March 8, 2010 – 9:44 am

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