Lifting Weights for Better Climbing

Climbers often ask me if lifting weights will make them better at climbing. The answer is no. As Steve Bechtel reminds us, “Climbing is a skill sport,” and the only way to improve a skill is to practice the skill. Sure, you’ll eventually need to employ climbing-specific training methods, but even those will still look a lot like climbing (hangboards, systems boards, and the like).

So it’s simple: climbers should only climb to get better at climbing, and avoid the weight room at all costs, unless they want to get bulky and slow. Right?

Not quite.

Here’s the thing. If you do one thing (rock climbing) over and over, you will eventually earn muscle imbalances and injuries. You think you’re the exception to the rule. In that case, please email me in a decade so that I can know what it’s like to receive an email from one of the genetic elites. Simply put, training with weights is the quickest, safest way to incrementally increase your total-body strength and guard against imbalances.

That said, you are a rock climber, and rock climbing is a skill sport. So you don’t want to waste any time in the weight room. You need the minimum effective dose of weight training, and you should spend the rest of your time practicing climbing.

As it turns out, you are in luck. It doesn’t take hours upon hours in the gym to gain strength. You don’t need to think about Leg Day, Back & Biceps, or Chest & Triceps. These are leftovers from the bodybuilding era that your high school coaches most likely lived through. And I’m not hating on bodybuilding, here. I’m a Schwarzenegger and Stallone fan from way back. I’m just saying that the bodybuilding methodology is not the best fit for rock climbers (among other athletes).

It’s time that climbers learned that there is more to lifting weight than getting big. You can build strength without size. You can build a balanced physique that can endure the rigors of hard climbing. Here’s how.

3 Rules

  1. Use compound movements. This means that more than one joint moves when you’re doing the exercise.
  2. Keep the reps at 5 or less. Any more than this and you will likely build non-functional muscle mass. If you’ve ever been told that “low reps + heavy weight build mass,” then please know that whoever told you that was wrong.
  3. Never go to failure. Always leave a rep or two in the tank. For many of you, this will be the hardest rule to follow, but try to be mature in the weight room. Remember, Hemingway always stopped writing for the day when he knew what would happen next. Take the same approach. Leave some ink in the well.

Below is an example of how a climber might set up a strength training program. All of the fundamental movement patterns are covered. The sessions will take less than an hour each. It’s going to take a few months, but you will get strong. If you don’t believe me, try it out and let me know what happens. Come to one of my fitness classes and we can talk more.

Starting Weights
Goblet Squat / Halo Press Weighted Pull-up Deadlift
12-20kg Kettlebell 6 Rep Max 6 Rep Max 6 Rep Max


Goblet Squat x 5 x 3
Halo x 5 Left / 5 Right


The Program
Week Press Weighted Pull-up Deadlift
1 5 x 3 5 x 3 10 x 1
2 5 x 4 5 x 4 5 x 2
3 5 x 5 5 x 5 3 x 3
4 Add 5 pounds and start over Add 5 pounds and start over Add 10 pounds and start over
  • Do this two days per week, always with at least one rest day in between. Day 2 each week will be exactly the same as Day 1. Enjoy it.
  • If you climb outside on the weekends, then Tuesday/Thursday would be the ideal days for these sessions.
  • If you’re climbing in the gym on the same day as lifting, always climb first.
  • Once the weight starts to get feel like it’s near max, decrease the weight by 15% and start a new cycle.
  • If you stall at the same weight more than once, switch to a different program.

This program is dead simple. It’s absolutely effective. And it will leave you plenty of time for climbing. If you enjoyed this, you may also be interested in my article on progressive overload training.

If you’re unsure of how to execute any of these lifts or if anything above is unclear, please ask for Taylor at the front desk. I’ll probably be around.



Power To The People. Pavel Tsatsouline, 1999.

Logical Progression. Steve Bechtel, 2017.

Easy Strength. Dan John & Pavel Tsatsouline, 2011.

Intervention. Dan John, 2013.

Your First Pull-up: Simple, Not Easy

Your First Pull-up: Simple, Not Easy

I love pull-ups. All types of pull-ups. The pull-up is a wonderful drill to improve the strength of your vertical pulling pattern (back & biceps for those who still speak the lingo of Frankenstein training), but having the strength to do pull-ups is also indicative of a favorable strength-to-bodyweight
ratio in the athlete. But what if you can’t do a pull-up yet? Should you do crappy half-reps in the hopes that you’ll one day magically hit a full rep? Nope. You should use progressive overload. Here’s how:

Fundamental Concepts

  • Never train to failure. All of your reps should look as good as the reps I’m doing in the videos. This is both for safety and to make sure that you effectively training the neurological “groove” of the movement. You DO NOT need to train to failure to get stronger.
  • Train 2-3 times per week, with 1 rest day in between. You can add these drills into whatever day you’re working upper body pulling in your training plan. You do have a training plan, right?
  • Don’t forget to do pushing exercises as well (we’ll cover this in the future)—don’t just train one side of the body!

TRX Row (Bent Knee)

This is where we start everyone for bodyweight pulling exercises. The angle is different than the pullup, but you’ll be able to work your pulling muscles with enough volume (reps) to make progress.

  • Start with 3 sets of 5-10 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before (spoiler: you probably will).
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets—until you can reliably do 5 x 10. Then repeat the same process with your legs.

Watch Video: TRX Row - Bent Knee

TRX Row (Feet Elevated)

Same story, just elevate your feet on a plyo box (not a bench — they’re expensive).

  • Start with 3 sets of 5-10 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets — until you can reliably do 5 x 10. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: TRX Row - Feet Elevated

Negative Chin-up

Time to hit up the bar! Do not skip to this step until you’ve completed the requirements for the previous level. At this point you should start alternating sessions of Negative Chin-ups with sessions of TRX Rows. Don’t stop doing the rows!

  • Make sure to use a chin-up grip (palms facing you)—it’s easier on the elbows.
  • Start with 3 sets of 1-5 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets —until you can reliably do 5 x 5. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: Negative Chinup

Negative Partial Chin-up

Same as negative chinup, but once you’ve lowered a little, pull yourself back up. The distance you’ll be able to lower before pulling back up will be different for everyone; find yours. Keep alternating sessions of Negative Chin-ups with sessions of TRX Rows.

  • DO NOT let your shoulders come out of the socket at the bottom of the rep.
  • Start with 3 sets of 1-5 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets—until you can reliably do 5 x 5. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: Negative Partial Chinup

Negative Partial Chin-up (Extended Range of Motion)

Same as the previous drill. Increase the range of motion a little at a time. Keep the reps clean.

  • Start with 3 sets of 1-5 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets—until you can reliably do 5 x 5. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: Negative Partial Chinup Extended ROM

Chin-up (palms facing you) or Pull-up (palms facing away from you)

  • Finally! Once you get your first pull-up, it’s time to start “greasing the groove.”
  • Do 1 pull-up in between every set of every exercise you do. Just 1!
  • If you have a pull-up bar at home, do 1 pull-up every time you walk by.
  • When 1 feels pretty easy, try doing 2.
  • Repeat until you can do 5 reps.

Watch Video: Pullup

Assistance Exercises

Do these at the end of the session to practice the proper body position and core strength necessary to do a proper pull-up.

Hollow Hold: this is the same body position held during the pull-up. Build up to 30 second holds. Keep your shoulder blades off the ground and drive your low.

Watch Video: Hollow Hold


Hollow Hang: same as hollow rock, but hanging from a bar. Build up to 30 second holds. Keep your shoulders DOWN.

Watch Video: Hollow Hang


The above progression might take awhile to get through. It might be boring—that’s fine. Training is not here for your entertainment. It’s here to make you stronger. If you want entertainment, check out The Mandalorian (after your training session). Update me on your progress in the comments! Email [email protected] with any questions (really, I like to talk about this stuff).

The Janda Sit-up

Behold the "Janda Sit-Up"

You'll be shocked at how difficult this is. The idea is to flex your hamstrings against the pull of the cable, which minimizes the degree which your hip flexors can assist the Sit-Up (vis reciprocal inhibition). The heavier the weight on the cable the harder it is. If you can do 5 sets, increase the weight. This drill is to increase your core strength. Good Luck!

Check out our fitness offerings and classes here.


Training is practice. Enjoy the process.

Do as much high quality work as possible, as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible.” ~ Vladimir Zatsiorsky

Sometimes I’ll flip through the health magazines to “see what’s going on” in the fitness mainstream. Amazing revelations on every page! “This 5-minute Ab Blaster will obliterate your obliques & terrorize your transverse abdominis!” “Do high-intensity interval training on Monday to burn off Sunday Funday!” “This brutal complex will destroy your deltoids, cauterize your quads and blitz your biceps”! I’m only slightly exaggerating. You’re probably familiar with this rhetorical strategy— metaphors of destruction, debt and punishment abound in the glossy world of Popular Fitness. In case it’s not obvious: I’m not a huge fan.

Other than the false promises, my issue with metaphors of this sort is that they erode the underlying goal of all training: improvement! When we talk about training as destruction, training as punishment or training as debt, we tend to forget that our time at the gym is about making ourselves better. It’s about setting goals and working to achieve them. We’re here to build something, not to burn something down. Consider the term “work out.” What are we working out—the demons? It’s exercise, not an exorcism.

I’m guilty here, too. For example, I have a workout called “Death Ladders.” I’ll refer to sessions as “savage” without really thinking about it. And who knows, maybe it doesn’t matter, then again maybe it does. If we start thinking of training as practice, maybe we’ll be more inclined to stop while we’re ahead so we can train again soon, rather than getting so “worked” that we have to take the rest of the week off. If we start thinking of strength as a skill, maybe we can bring mindfulness into the weight room and become much stronger while avoiding the overuse injuries that are far too common in the fitness world.

For clarity on this issue, I really like Vladimir Zatsiorsky’s summation of the core principle of training: “do as much high quality work as possible, as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible.” Don’t miss that last part: while staying as fresh as possible. That’s the easy part to overlook. The equation that answers Zatsiorsky’s riddle is the holy grail of strength & conditioning, and I won’t claim to have it all figured out, but how about some bullet points to sum things up?

  • Only do perfect reps. Grinding out sloppy reps just to hit an arbitrary number won’t do much for you unless you’re a bodybuilder.
  • Do what you can, and be obsessed with making it look perfect. This applies to lifting weights and climbing rocks (and pretty much everything else).
  • Train frequently. Pick a handful of lifts and practice them often until they improve. Simple.
  • Stay fresh. Take a light day when you need to. Use whatever recovery tools you need to use—foam roller, massage, hot tub, etc. Don’t be afraid to cut a session short if you don’t feel right. Also: remember to warm up!

Give it a shot. Instead of waging war against yourself in the weight room, just show up, punch the clock & get some work done. Pay no mind to the hyperbole of the fitness mainstream. Training is a practice. Strength is a skill. Enjoy the process, because that’s all there is.

Taylor Rimmer
Head Trainer / Membership Director LCC

Training – Progressive Overload

People ask trainers lots of funny questions.

“If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
“Can I build muscle and burn fat at the same time?”
“Will squats hurt my knees?”

As inclined as I am to answer “Turkish Getup,” “No,” and “Not if you do them right,” the answer that you should expect from any competent trainer to any of the above questions is “It depends.”

It depends on your goals, your physical history, mental history, work schedule, play schedule, attitude…I could go on. Figuring all this out is what trainers do—we sort through the details that we gather about you during intake/assessment and design a custom program that addresses the things on which the future of your fitness depends.

But there are some core truths in the world of fitness that don’t depend on anything. There are core concepts that don’t really change, for anyone. As much as I believe that the perfect training plan for any one person is totally unique, let’s zoom out for a moment and look for ideas that don’t “depend.”


Progressive Overload is the idea that we must consistently find ways to make our training plan “harder” over time, so that the body continues to adapt to the training stress. I’ve spent a lot of time in gyms, and all too often I’ve noticed that person who comes into the weight room and lifts the same weights, for the same sets and reps, week after week. They’re going nowhere. Progressive overload is the difference between “training” and just “working out.”

You might be familiar with the Greek myth of Milo and the calf. Essentially, a guy named Milo starts carrying a young calf around when it is small. As the calf grows larger, Milo continues to carry it around, until one day he is carrying around a full-grown bull. Predictably, Milo gets really strong. This is what progressive overload is all about.

Different fitness qualities respond to progressive overload in different ways. Below is a general outline of how to overload 3 broad fitness qualities: strength, power-endurance and endurance. Of course, there is much more nuance that we can apply to improving different qualities of fitness, but if you observe these principles in your training, you’ll be on the right track.


The term “strength” refers to the body’s employment of the Phosphagen system to produce energy. The phosphagen system is used for high-intensity efforts that last between about 1-20 seconds. When we talk about strength, we are talking about the ability to exert a maximal force against resistance. Short, difficult boulder problems, hangboarding, and lifting weights for sets of 2-5 are all distinctly in the realm of strength.

Strength responds best to an increase in intensity. In sports science, intensity means increased resistance—heavier weight. Strength is a fairly simple fitness quality to improve. Over time, lift heavier weights than you used to lift. Add weight to yourself via a belt for your pull-ups and your hangboard sets. Switch from regular pushups to one-arm pushups. Simple.


“Power Endurance” refers to Glycolysis. The glycolytic pathway revs up around the 20 second mark (right as the phosphagen system runs out of gas) and runs for 2-3 minutes. Power endurance provides us with the ability to perform several repeats of a fairly difficult movement. It is the “feel the burn” fitness quality. Long boulder problems, sport routes, and lifting weights for 8+ reps are all examples of power endurance in action.

Power Endurance responds very well to an increase in density. When you increase the density of a training session, you are doing more work in the same amount of time. There are several ways to go about this, but the simplest is to decrease the rest times between sets. Yes, that means you’ll need to use a timer (if you use the timer on your phone, make sure the phone is in airplane mode—no Instagram during training sessions!) A difference of a few seconds might not seem like much, but it matters. Gradually decrease the rest time between sets while keeping the workload about the same, and your power endurance will improve.


After about 3 minutes, energy supply comes mostly from the aerobic system, which is the system that fuels endurance events. Endurance is the ability to do sub-maximal activity for a long time—think big-wall climbing, triathlons and soccer. It is often difficult for athletes in training to go easy enough to keep themselves in the aerobic pathway. Nose breathing is an old-school way to make sure that your endurance training stays aerobic. If you can’t breathe through your nose while you’re doing it, then you run the risk of slipping into the glycolytic pathway and completely missing the mark.
Improving endurance is straightforward, and boring. Endurance responds best to increased duration. So yes, just do the same exercise at the same intensity, but do it longer than you did last time.


The above is a very crude outline of the body’s energy systems and how to improve them. The main theme here is that you’ve got to continue to find ways to best your previous performance.  In order to improve upon past sessions, you’re going to have to start writing down what you do when you’re at the gym. A training log is the only way to hold yourself accountable for continuous improvement. Next time you’re at LCC, take note of what the strongest people are doing during their rest periods. Most of them are writing in notebooks.  Of course, you can’t always beat your last training session. If that was possible, I’d have hit a 1,000 pound deadlift a long time ago. Be prepared to take 2 steps forward, 1 step back, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And remember…

He not busy being born is busy dying.
–Bob Dylan

Climbing Smarter = Climbing Harder

Reverse flag, gaston, arête—oh my! If you’ve visited the Longmont Climbing Collective, you’ve surely heard this technobabble flung around a time or two. As with any sport, having a strong understanding of and being able to correctly utilize a plethora of techniques is a game-changer. Let’s discuss why technique skill-building is the #1 way to improve climbing performance for beginning to intermediate level climbers.

How many times have we all been told that climbers have to possess great upper-body strength in order to be successful? To be clear, getting stronger through systematic strength training is a great idea and is a crucial component for advancing through grades, so be sure to check out Taylor’s training classes. But strength isn’t everything. The idea that climbing is only for the super strong has led to many being too fearful to even give the sport a try, and it’s time this adage be debunked. I can truly say that the climbers I have enjoyed working with the most are the ones who threw this silly idea into the dust bin and tried it all the same. My greatest joy comes from their beaming smiles and lightbulb moments when they overcome struggles to find success.

So, how did these climbers without bulky upper-body muscles manage to not only have fun, but also be successful? They learned to utilize proper climbing technique. If you get the chance, watch multiple climbers navigate the same route. Some will seem to pull hard and power through the moves, while others will look as if they’re gracefully floating up the wall with minimal effort. Also take note of the “veteran” climbers. They know that muscle is harder to maintain with age and those powerful moves don’t jive so well with aging joints, so they must compensate with technique in order to maintain their skill level. Also consider slab routes with tiny or sloping holds, where the only option is using technique.

We’ve all been told at one point in our lives to take the path of least resistance. In climbing, this means utilizing a wide variety of techniques in order to use the minimum amount of muscle, energy and power to reach the top. Think about it—muscle is heavy and weighs us down. In a sport where we are literally fighting gravity, being lighter is highly beneficial, which is why almost all professional climbers are very lean and have exquisite technique. Using more energy and power than is necessary is simply inefficient. The next time you’re climbing, pay attention to your hand tension. Are you using the minimum amount of gripping force in order to not slip off the hold? I can assure you that using more than the minimum is directly related to fear, lack of confidence, or shoddy technique.

Now let me address my fellow ladies. Please, let’s collectively decide to stop allowing each other to use “I’m too short” or “I’m too weak” as excuses. These, and many other so-called challenges can be overcome or lessened by climbing with proper technique. In fact, technique can transform these challenges into advantages. Case in point- try sticking someone over six feet tall in a compact sequence of moves that can’t be skipped. Being tall can certainly turn one into a pretzel in this scenario! Small climbers and those with pinpoint technique accuracy can also expertly navigate seemingly too-small holds and keep their feet from popping off of dime-sized edges and slabby pancake nubs.

Hopefully by now you’re thoroughly convinced of why it is imperative to master that technobabble and start climbing more efficiently. So now the question remains, how do you learn this mythical unicorn technique? You could watch skilled climbers float up the wall and puzzlingly attempt to parse out what exactly they did. Or, you could fast-track the process by attending a class at the Longmont Climbing Collective! We offer a co-ed Bouldering Level I class on Mondays designed to teach you the essentials of climbing as well as a place for women of all levels to support each other’s learning through the Lady Crushers class on Tuesdays. Visit us online or speak with a staff member at the front desk for more information and to sign up.

Are you ready to transform how you approach climbing? I thought so! Register Today for Bouldering Level I or Lady Crushers to learn how to climb smarter so you can climb harder.

Rebecca Allison, AMGA Certified Climbing Wall Instructor & Lady Crushers Coach

Building Endurance – Part 1


Strength is the best, but it’s not everything. At LCC, we love training strength and power. It’s one of the reasons we built a bouldering gym—bouldering is strength and power. We went all-out on this: Kilter board, Tension board, systems board, campus board, hangboards…the finest tools available for getting climbers outrageously strong. Strength is the master quality of fitness. Increased strength will generally improve other attributes of fitness, while the reverse is not true. So, get strong. (Much more on this in the future).  But what happens if you take your fingers of steel out for a field trip up Boulder Canyon, and they crap out on you halfway up the second pitch of the day? More hangboard and deadlift! Just kidding. The truth is that climbing demands a uniquely well-rounded set of attributes from the athlete. Endurance is one of them. Here are two straightforward ways to improve.

ARCing = Jogging for Climbers

ARC Training…you may have heard of it. ARC stands for “Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity.” I could ramble about the science of this for at least a couple paragraphs, but I’ll put it simply: ARCing is the “jogging” of rock climbing. In short, it will improve your low-end endurance, and make your forearms more veiny, which will increase blood flow, which is definitely a good thing.  Traditionally, you would ARC for multiple sets of 20-45 minutes. This will no doubt work wonders for your endurance, but the downside is that it’s so boring you’ll never do it. Here’s a suggestion that you might actually try.

What to do:

  • Use the big training board in the back of the gym. If you’ve never tried ARCing before, then start with the wall set at vertical.
  • Climb continuously at a fairly easy pace. A slight slight pump in the forearms is okay, but don’t push it to the point of failure.
  • Don’t try to climb specific routes on the training board, just climb around on all the holds.
  • ARCing is a great chance to work on specific climbing technique: flagging, silent feet, etc. Also, this is a great time to practice the very important skill of “not grippingholds any harder than you have to.”

When to do it:

  • Employ ARCing during your warmup or cooldown. One set of 15 minutes to warm up, or one set of 15 minutes to cool down. If you have time, ARC in your warmup and your cooldown.

How to progress:

  • Work toward 15 minutes of continuous climbing. If 15 minutes is too much for you at first, that’s fine. Start by ARCing for whatever length of time you can manage without getting pumped, and strive to add a minute or so per week, until you’ve reached 15 minutes.
  • Once you can climb for 15 minutes with the board set at vertical, increase the board angle by 5 degrees and build back up.

Linked Boulder Problems = Sprinting for Climbers

ARCing will cover your base endurance, but we all know that “other” type of endurance. It’s the deep burn type of endurance. It’s the “I don’t know if I can make this move, but I’m going to try anyway” type of endurance. It’s called Power Endurance.

Power endurance happens at a higher intensity than aerobic endurance. That means that the sets are shorter, but more difficult. Unlike ARCing, you should expect to feel hideously pumped during this session. Because of the increased intensity, you should only do linked boulder problems 1-2 times per week.

What to do:

  • Use slightly-overhanging terrain. The Prow is a great section of the gym for this type of session.
  • Pick 2-3 boulder problems that are close to each other on the wall.
  • Choosing the right problems is a bit of an art, and you’ll have to experiment, but here’s a general guideline: 1 easy problem, 1 hard problem and 1 medium problem.
  • Get out your phone and open the stopwatch app. Start the stopwatch when you begin climbing.
    Climb up Problem 1, traverse over and climb Problem 2, traverse over and climb Problem 3.
  • Get off the wall and check the stopwatch. Rest for 2x the amount of time you were on the wall.
    Repeat the circuit 3 times total, then rest 5 minutes while you make up another circuit.
    Repeat the same process with the second circuit. Build up to doing 4 circuits.

When to do it:

  • You will be tired and sore after a session like this, so don’t do it the day before you go climbing outside.
  • Generally speaking, work on power endurance a couple of days after a strength session.

How to progress:

  • Start by resting 2x the amount of time you were on the wall.
  • Over the course of a few weeks, gradually reduce this rest time until your rest period is equal to the amount of time you were on the wall.
  • Finally, increase the difficulty of the problems in the circuit.

As always, if you have any questions about training, ask The Guy With The Beard (a.k.a. Taylor)