Why are climbers stronger than bodybuilders

As a sport climber in the Mucki-Bude !?

Every sport, no matter how versatile it is, leads to certain imbalances in muscular development (muscular imbalances), including climbing. How good that a "strength training herb" has grown for this: the opponent training.

“English man in New York !?” Admittedly: I too felt a little out of place as a sports climber when I was learning the first antagonist exercises with a sports physiotherapist in the weight room. But a little "pinch" in the shoulder was already noticeable after a few months "just climbing". In the meantime I think that one of the main reasons why, as one of the oldest in the field, I still compete in healthy competitions is that over the years I have given more and more training time and importance to the strategies and techniques described in this and the next 2 columns.

Every sport, no matter how versatile and demanding, leads to certain imbalances in muscular development (muscular imbalances), including climbing. This is almost guaranteed to be the case at the intensive level at which I do it as a professional. But be careful: Depending on genetic predisposition, even ambitious beginners can quickly develop initial problems such as a painful elbow. How good that a "strength training herb" has grown for this: the opponent training.

Muscular imbalances

But briefly back to the "root of (almost) all injury evils": A muscular imbalance is understood to mean disproportionately developed, often shortened work muscles (agonists) typical for the sport with simultaneous (relative) weakness of others in the sport-specific movement sequences not so directly involved muscles (antagonists, often also stabilizing muscles). This can have unpleasant consequences, including coordinative or functional disorders of incorrectly stressed joints.

When climbing, it is naturally the hand and finger flexors, the arm flexors, some muscles of the shoulder girdle and the latissimus that are disproportionately developed, in contrast to this, forearm and arm extensors, shoulders (primarily their spine and stabilization muscle chains), back extensors, etc. and climbing-specific strength training are far less trained and can really lag behind. Usually a gradual process, so you should definitely prepare early (prevention).

The correct interaction of agonists and antagonists is especially important for good joint control, including stabilization. From this (simplified) basic understanding it becomes clear that a strong muscle that pulls “wildly” on one side (the joint) needs a kind of control mechanism on the other side. For this to work, the opponent must have a certain minimum strength in relation to the agonist.

That is why I and other top climbers dedicate part of their training time to so-called "opponent training". Granted, not particularly funny, cool or spectacular, but necessary and therefore deserves your full attention.

What about tension exercises?

For ambitious climbers, body tension exercises do not actually belong in the category of "opponent training". Some of the hardcore representatives of this species, which I introduced to you in columns 8-10, are clearly exercises for the climbing-specific muscles and the core of the body (stomach, hip flexors). I count (body) tension exercises for the shoulder girdle and back extensor as part of my opponent training. (Pure body tension! (Part I) The high school of body control: The slope balance)

ABC and ... D!

As you may know from one or more of my books, I divide the training priorities into A, B, C and D units. The main discipline can be found under A: climbing. B and C units are those where the main discipline supporting components are trained, i.e. climbing-specific strength training (campus board workouts, pull-up systems, etc. as I have described extensively in the previous columns here on www.trainingsworld.com) or the body tension exercises mentioned in the paragraph above. D-units include non-specific, regenerative and balancing training such as basic endurance or opponent training. I do the latter up to 6 times a week, for beginners in climbing, 1-2 units per week (or micro-cycle) are usually sufficient.

"Eisenbiegen": Opponent training in the gym

What is typical main exercise for most gym attendees is counterplay training for me.

Forearm extensor: reverse curls with dumbbells

Shoulders (deltoids): Bench press, neck press (or military press), L-side raise, upright row; Except for upright rowing, I recommend the use of dumbbells, which are more demanding in terms of coordination and must be well stabilized

Shoulder girdle: Dumbbell covers (the counterpart exercise of my role model Andreas Bindhammer ...)

Trapezius muscles: Shrugs with dumbbells

Triceps: Triceps extensions in different variations; Compound exercise dips (upper body as upright as possible)

Back extensor:Deadlift; Personally, I only deadlift in the top third. The last thing I need as a climber is extra ballast in the form of thick thighs and massive buttocks á la Godzilla. Hyperextensions, possibly with additional weight.

I recommend 2-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions per exercise until positive muscle failure. To put it simply: The last repetition in the exercise sequence is also completed with technical precision. Do the whole thing qualitatively, i.e. with a 3-5 minute break between sentences. These exercises can also be easily integrated into a strength circuit. Please let an experienced coach or sports physiotherapist teach you the correct procedure. This is especially true for exercises like the deadlift, where relatively heavy weights are moved and technique is absolutely critical to healthy execution.

Do not overdo it, leave the ego at home, even if others are far superior to you in these exercises. Remember, you are neither a bodybuilder nor a strongman and as a climber you do not have to achieve any particular maximum strength performance, but “only” ensure an optimal relationship to your main muscles.


In parts 2 and 3 of this series of columns here at www.trainingsworld.com I will go into the variants of this essential “healthy chapter” of your climbing career. So I'll show you, among other things. Far more tricky strength training exercises for back extensors, core stabilization and rotator cuff than would "only" be possible with dumbbells & Co., namely with auxiliary equipment such as a Theraband and exercise ball. You can be curious and ... stay tuned!

Your Jürgen Reis (with Nikolai Janatsch)

Photos: Nicolas Delaleu (www.nicolasdelaleu.ch), Kurt Hechenberger and Jürgen Reis archive (www.juergenreis.com) and Jürgen Christmann (www.cuadro-austria.com)