Is Climbing Bad for Your Fingers?

How to plan and schedule your climbing and bouldering workouts for most efficient gains

Simply going climbing is all well and good, but at some point you won’t get any stronger on your own. From there on, targeted training helps. If you can’t go to the climbing gym at the moment, training makes even more sense so that you don’t have to start from scratch later on. In this article you will find detailed information on how best to organize your climbing and bouldering training.

Why does it make sense to create a training plan in the first place?

A training plan makes sense for several reasons: first, you think about what you actually want – instead of just training on the fly. You have to answer:

  • What am I actually doing this plan for?
  • What goal do I want to achieve with this training?
  • This objective is important in order to select from the multitude of training exercises those that really bring you something in the end.

On the other hand, a training plan is also a tool to keep you motivated. Rock climbing has many aspects included, and is a sport depending both on endurance and strength as well as technique. Especially now, when most of the training takes place on the hangboard and the sling trainer, the topic of motivation is very central. If you don’t have concrete days or exercises planned, it’s easy for the bastard to talk you onto the couch every day. But if you know when you’re going to do what, the necessary effort to overcome the obstacles is reduced.

We often assume that the motivation has to be there first so that we can then start exercising. But most of the time it’s the other way around: once you’ve started, you’ll suddenly gain momentum. If you can’t get yourself going at all, then make a resolution to do something for at least five minutes. Usually, those five minutes are enough to overcome resistance and get you through your workout as planned. And if it really is only five minutes – it’s always better than nothing. To start a training session, it helps immensely to know what you want to do on a given day: for example, what 5 exercises you want to do with what number of repetitions and rests.

And then, of course, there’s often the opposite case: if someone is highly motivated, a workout plan helps keep them from overdoing it and keeps the especially eager from getting into overtraining or injuring themselves. Spoiler alert: Rest days are part of the plan! When planning, it is also important to correctly assess your own possibilities: For example, is it realistic to get three workouts in during the week you submit your master’s thesis? Coordinate your plan with the rest of your weekly schedule and block out time in your schedule for your workouts.

How do I set my goals for climbing and bouldering training? For example, is “getting stronger” a good goal?

I hear this phrase all the time and I even tend to tell myself “you need to get stronger”. But the formulation is far too imprecise. It usually turns out that you want to get stronger for something specific, for example, you have a certain style like overhang or a specific route or boulder in mind.

With such a goal in mind, you can proceed backwards by asking yourself what is still missing to be able to climb, for example, a boulder or route X. The things that are missing are logically the construction sites that need to be trained to reach the goal. A good guideline for goal setting: set goals that are as specific as possible. Formulate your goals SMART, in German: specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and timed.

These goals must really inspire you, so that you stay with them even when the training sucks. This is your long-term motivation, so to speak, the basis that will carry you through the time of training.

What’s the next step when i plan my workouts on the wall or for bouldering problems? How do I make the concrete plan?

Okay, now it gets a little more complicated. It’s best to take an example to describe a possible approach:

Lets say Janine is 25 years old and has been climbing for three years. She usually manages the sevens in the hall in five to ten attempts. However, she has not yet managed a smooth seven in the overhang. Her goal for this spring is: In three months, she wants to be able to climb a seven in the big overhang of her climbing hall in less than ten attempts. And for those who think that Janine is very precise with her goals: I helped a little to make the goal so concrete (laughs)!

Many are afraid to formulate their goals so concretely, because they are afraid of failing with it. But the more concrete the goals are, the better you can control the training and, above all, notice exactly when a training session hasn’t worked and change things accordingly for the next time.

Next, Janine should think about what she is still missing to be able to achieve this goal. I think this is the first big problem for many training beginners, because finding the right reasons why the route in the overhang is not yet working and what is still missing is not so easy and requires above all experience and often also a view from the outside. If you want to proceed in a particularly targeted and effective manner, it is best to consult a trainer.

Without a trainer, you need to assess yourself honestly and realistically, and ideally also be assessed by others. Think specifically about what you are not so good at. Ask your climbing buddies about your weaknesses or see what kind of routes or bouldering you are more comfortable with – and especially which ones you are not.

Let’s stay with Janine and her goal to climb a seven in the overhang. According to Janine’s own assessment, she can hold small holds well, but is not good at wide and dynamic moves. A small performance test reveals, among other things, that Steffi can’t do a pull-up or a toes-to-bar. With the help of these and other results, Steffi can select suitable exercises as a focus for this winter and then increase the scope and/or intensity as she progresses.

Check your fitness level for climbing workouts
Do little sessions on gym walls to estimate your fitness level

How can i check my climbing fitness level to see where to start?

To plan wisely, you need to determine where you are at the start of the training plan. After all, you can only start where you are. And then you think about the steps that will gradually bring you to where you want to be. All in all, of course, it’s a complex interplay of many components. Take Janine, for example: In order to climb a heavily overhanging route, it is of course not only strength that is crucial, but also technique, tactics, her mental attitude and other factors. At home, however, she can now mainly train strength and agility. Therefore, it makes sense to find out where she stands in the areas relevant to the overhang.

Strength in the upper body is definitely more crucial in overhang than in vertical climbing, so I would test how many pull-ups she can do, how well and long she can block, and how good her quickness is to do a dynamic move once in a while. Another important aspect is body tension. Can she do “toes to bar” on the bar? How long can she hold a plank? How strong is the muscle chain on the back of her legs? This musculature is important, for example, to be able to hook well, which is a relevant technique for the overhang.

I know, I’d love to list a universal performance test with all the parameters now (laughs) – but unfortunately it’s not that simple. Maybe you can say overall that it’s definitely not wrong if you can do a few clean pull-ups and don’t collapse after a push-up. However, from my many years of experience as a trainer, I can tell you, for example, about a national squad athlete who had top rankings at the national level and could barely manage a single push-up. There’s no question that she would benefit from more push-ups, especially health-wise. But climbing is so complex that you can’t just say: If you can do ten pull-ups, then you can climb sevens in the overhang. However, you can improve your prospects.

In short, look at which characteristics are particularly relevant to your goal and establish where you stand with a test. The values are then especially important to see during and after the training period whether you are doing or have done the right thing. With such a test it is important to warm up really well and not to test all things directly one after the other. For example, if you are trying to see how many pull-ups you can do, you should not try to see how many push-ups you can do immediately afterwards. Your muscles in the upper body will then logically be tired and you will get a distorted impression.

Follow this rough guideline for a training plan

This can hardly be generalized, because it depends on the goals and the training condition of a person. It rarely makes sense to plan training for longer than three, at most four months. If a goal cannot be achieved in this time, one should break the goals down into sub-goals and then proceed step by step.

However, I would advise any training beginner to start small anyway. Training for the long term and working with different training cycles requires a certain amount of experience. As a general rule, I would recommend the following to someone who has not trained much or at all and is climbing or bouldering at an easy or medium difficulty level.

Train over a period of six to eight weeks. Train regularly one to three times a week. If you train once a week, you will just about avoid losing your level, and if you train three times a week, you will almost certainly increase your level.

A very important principle for training is to set priorities. Even though you would like to, it is impossible to train everything at the same time and equally well. Therefore, prioritize based on your goals! One mistake many people make is to train too much. This can quickly put you into overtraining, where your body is overloaded overall and instead of getting better, it only gets worse. It is also common to overload individual parts of your body, such as your shoulders or fingers, which can lead to long breaks and tedious rehab.

When planning your training schedule, you should therefore make sure that you include enough recovery days in addition to the training days. For starters, one training day followed by one or two recovery days in a row is usually a good starting point. You should listen to your body. Especially in the beginning you will still feel tired and have sore muscles after a break day. Then take another break day.

To illustrate it again with our hypothetical Janine: She has never trained properly. That’s why she should use an exercise set for six to eight weeks, during which her body gets used to the new load. For the goal of climbing a seven through the roof, Janine needs shoulder and core strength, which she still lacks. Exercises for this could be pull-ups with power band relief and rowing pull-ups on the sling trainer twice a week. Between training days, there is a break of one to two days to allow for recovery and adaptation.

What does that mean for Janine in the reality of training?

This phase is there to prepare the body for the load and to create a kind of foundation. The goal is to build muscle and, of course, to get to know the reactions of your own body. Every body reacts differently to training stimuli! So you have to observe, best document your training and then react and adapt accordingly.

You can roughly say that the number of repetitions of the exercises should be 10 to 15, the breaks 2 to 3 minutes, a total of 2 to 4 sets. If Janine notices that she can do significantly more repetitions or hardly gets tired or can do significantly less, then she can adjust the load. This means either making the exercise more difficult or simplifying it.

If i usually go to the gym twice a week, how often should i train now?

I would recommend her to train two to three times a week and always take 1-2 break days between the training days. The important thing to remember here for all beginning climbers is that the training time should only be a fraction of the time you would otherwise spend on the climbing wall.

Let’s take another aspirant as an example. Berno, 26, otherwise spends four hours in the bouldering gym three times a week. He may be tempted to think that now he also spends four hours on fingerboard and fills it with strength exercises. My experience shows that it is so easy to slip into overtraining and creeping overloads on especially shoulders, fingers and elbows. One and a half hours of training is perfectly sufficient, especially in the beginning, provided that the training stimulus is set correctly and is continuously adjusted.

When and how can I best increase the training load?

Basically, you can turn the following screws: You can increase the intensity, i.e. make the exercises heavier. Then you can increase the volume, i.e. do more sets. You can also, of course, increase the number of exercises, increase the number of training days and reduce the rest periods.

What are the most important contents of a workout suited for climbing strength and endurance?

I actually always base my training content and individual exercises on the following five basic exercises, which I then vary depending on my training level:

  • Pull-ups, (variations are for example single-arm, negative, quick pull-ups)
  • Bench press (or also different push-ups, dips)
  • Rowing (rowing movement for example on a sling trainer, power band pull in a sitting position or with dumbbells)
  • Toes to bar, abdominal raises (or core exercises in general)
  • Squats (or lunges, for example)

You should include one to two variations of each of these basic exercises with the above repetitions, set counts, and rests. When compiling the exercises, you should make sure that you start with the heavy and coordination demanding exercises and do the light exercises at the end. The core/abdominal workout is best done at the end.

Basically, the quality of the movement execution is enormously important and much more decisive than the quantity. So in concrete words: better eight clean pull-ups than 12 bungled ones!

In addition, I would do one or two finger training sessions on the board. If you have never hung on the board before, you should start with simple hanging exercises on good ledges in the so-called half crimp and on slopers and approach them really slowly. That is, first very large handles and possibly relieve by foot tips on the floor or power bands. A good exercise here would be the following, for example: Find a bar that you can hold for at least 14 and a maximum of 20 seconds. Hold on to that for 10 seconds, rest for 5 seconds and repeat 3-5 more times. This is a set of repeaters. Then you take a two minute break and then do it 2 to 4 more times. For board training, I can recommend downloading an app like Seconds or Timer+ to keep better track of times.

What are good rest day activities and how strenuous can they be?

Often after a day of training, you feel tired and may even have sore muscles. The saying that you should keep going just when you have sore muscles is only partially true. In no case should you put more training load on top of a strong muscle soreness. What does help the muscles to recover, however, is light endurance exercise such as walking, running, cycling or swimming to promote blood circulation. Make sure the load isn’t too high there either. For example, if you never go jogging and start with 40 minutes of running on your first day of rest, your body will be very exhausted. On an exertion scale of 1 (very easy) to 10 (very hard), you should not exceed a 4.

Yoga or general stretching can help you reduce muscle tension and speed up recovery. Again, it’s important that you don’t do long static stretches when your muscles are sore, because they put additional strain on the muscle.

In general, meditation and all other methods and exercises for relaxation, sufficient sleep and also very important, the right diet, also help with regeneration. I could tell you just as much about this now. Perhaps a few last very general tips: So that you have enough energy for training, you should eat enough beforehand. This is best done one and a half to two hours before your workout, so that the food is not so heavy in your stomach. For the energy kick before the workout something small like a banana or half a roll with jam. And, as everyone has heard, enough protein is important for the muscle to regenerate and adapt to the training stimulus.

Conclusion

  1. Train over a period of six to eight weeks. Train regularly one to three times per week. Schedule training realistically into your daily routine.
  2. Establish where you are with a test and create stages to reach your goal.
  3. It’s important for beginners to remember that training time should be a fraction of the time you normally spend on the climbing wall.
  4. Orient yourself to the basics and start slowly. Increase gradually.
  5. One training day followed by one or two recovery days is a good starting point.
  6. Make basic preparations. For example, get your favorite workout clothes ready and use warm-up routines to keep the hurdle to getting started low.
  7. Set priorities based on your goal.
  8. Schedule enough rest days for your body to regenerate and for the desired adaptations to happen.
  9. Learn to read your body’s signals and adjust your plan if necessary.
  10. Quality over quantity.

If you liked this article, have a look at some of our other articles. Maybe you’re about to start climbing and need some good and cheap climbing or bouldering shoes, well I tested them, and these are the top climbing shoes for 2021. Or you need some advice on how to prepare for bouldering and climbing, read more here.

Feel free to leave me a comment; I’m always happy to get some feedback!