5 Grip Strength Exercises for Rock Climbing and Bouldering

5 Grip Strength Exercises for Rock Climbing and Bouldering

Rock climbing and bouldering require physical strength and mental and technical skills.
Reading 5 Grip Strength Exercises for Rock Climbing and Bouldering 13 minutes

Rock climbing and bouldering require physical strength and mental and technical skills. However, elite climbers understand that developing grip strength and finger strength are crucial to conquering the toughest holds.

Whether you're new to bouldering or an advanced athlete who wants to improve beyond the average grip strength for rock climbers, this blog will offer you some excellent tips on rock climbing grip training and how to increase finger strength for rock climbing.

Why is Grip Strength Important for Rock Climbing?

If you're determined to become a better climber, prioritizing forearm and grip strength is crucial. These attributes are essential for tackling demanding and lengthy climbs with confidence and efficiency.

While nothing compares to actual climbing practice, incorporating a variety of exercises into your training regimen can significantly improve your forearm and grip strength. Mobility exercises, endurance training, and general strength workouts all play a part. Climbers can supplement their routine with equipment such as free weights, hang boards, pull-up bars, and rope climbing to enhance their stamina and overall climbing performance.

Developing excellent grip strength in rock climbing allows you to endure the challenge of narrow holds for extended periods. Additionally, a robust grip enables you to find moments of rest and recovery on these holds, preserving your stamina for the rest of your climb.

What's the Average Grip Strength for Rock Climbers?

Grip strength serves as a measure of the strength and health of the muscles in your hands and forearms. It is typically assessed using a Jamar Analogue Hand Dynamometer (or just a dynamometer), which involves squeezing the device three times in each hand.

On average, men exhibit a grip strength of approximately 72.6 lb / 32.9 kg, while women have an average grip strength of around 44 lb / 20 kg. However, a 2020 study focusing on recreational climbers revealed that they tend to have much higher grip strength levels. The study reported an average grip strength of 125.4 lb / 56.90 kg for men and 73 lb / 33.15 kg for women among rock climbers.

If you're looking to improve your grip strength specifically for rock climbing, the same study emphasizes the importance of gradual grip strength and finger strength training for both hands. By incorporating targeted exercises and training techniques, you can work towards improving your grip strength and ultimately enhance your rock climbing abilities.

Grip Strength Vs. Finger Strength

Grip strength is a measure of the maximum force or tension generated by your forearm muscles. Grip strength measures the grip of your entire hand. Grip and finger strength are necessary for rock climbing and bouldering, though for different reasons.

Rock climbing finger strength, while indeed a skill that elite climbers train, is a bit of a misnomer since there are no muscles in your fingers. Your fingers move by the pull of forearm muscles on the tendons in your fingers. However, finger strength does correlate to your grip strength, so it can be helpful to strengthen your fingers for climbing. Finger strength is the force of a pinch applied between your thumb and index, middle, or ring finger, or any combination of those three fingers.

Grip strength is more critical than finger strength in beginner climbing grades. As you progress in climbing, you'll see that your grip and finger strength will improve over time. But having powerful climbing finger strength is vital on smaller, narrow holds.

5 Exercises to Improve Your Grip Strength for Rock Climbing

The best rock climbing tips for beginners are to develop your grip strength and finger strength. Whether you’re new to grip strength training or looking for new grip strength exercises to add to your training regimen, here are some of the best grip exercises for rock climbing to improve your grip strength and finger strength.

1. Barbell Finger Curls

Barbell finger curls are a common exercise used to isolate and increase forearm muscle development and improve grip strength. When performing barbell finger curls, it's vital to use light weights and proper form in your training technique. Using too much weight could place excess stress on the tendons in your fingers or cause elbow injury.

How To Do Barbell Finger Curls:

  1. Start by kneeling on the floor (an exercise mat may make this move more comfortable). Keep a long, tall posture.
  2. Hold an empty barbell in front of you using an underhand grip (palms facing up), with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Slowly roll the barbell as far as possible down to the ends of your fingers. Then curl your fingers up to roll the bar back up and squeeze the bar in your palm. This is one rep.
  4. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Rock Climbing Tip:

Barbell finger curls can help you to build power and endurance for climbing.

Pro Tips for All Athletes:

Once you’ve mastered this move, you may want to try performing it by holding the barbell behind your back for better forearm contraction. If you don’t have a barbell to use, you can also use a free weight in each hand, like a YBell Arc or a YBell Neo.

2. Full Minute Dead Hangs

Performing dead hangs from a pull-up bar offers many benefits beyond increasing your grip strength, including stretching the muscles in your forearms, hands, core, shoulders, and back, and decompressing your spine.

How To Do Full-Minute Dead Hangs:

  1. Using a weight bench or a spotter, jump up to a pull-up bar using a parallel grip — the fingers of each hand should face each other.
  2. Hang for as long as you can in a dead hang, without shaking out your arms. Aim for a one-minute hang. This is one rep.
  3. Rest, and then repeat the dead hang for another minute.

Rock Climbing Tip:

Dead hangs can help you build your forearm strength to lift yourself over the crest of a climb.

Pro Tip for All Athletes:

You may need to work your way up to one minute but try to hang on for as long as you can. If you want to add difficulty to this movement, try weighted dead hangs with a weighted vest or one-armed dead hangs.

3. Weight Plate Pinches

Plate pinches are a simple way to build strength in your forearm flexors. Weight plate pinches are great for building your hand grip strength and pinch grip. Of the five types of grips, the pinch grip is generally considered a weak grip, although it does require a great deal of thumb strength.

How To Do Weight Plate Pinches:

  1. Stand up straight, grasping the top of a weight plate in your hand. (You can grip plates in each hand simultaneously or alternate sides.)
  2. Pinch the plate with your thumb on one side and your other four fingers on the other. Don’t hook your fingers around the weight plate — the challenge is to pinch it.
  3. Attempt to raise the plate to your chest and hold it for as long as possible.
  4. When you feel your pinch grip giving out, bend your knees and slowly lower the plates to the ground in a controlled movement. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat for 6 to 8 reps on each side.

Rock Climbing Tip for Beginners:

Pinches are a common hold in rock climbing and bouldering. Training to increase your pinch strength in both hands will go a long way to help you improve your narrow holds.

Pro Tip for All Athletes:

It’s best to start with one plate, but you can hold two smaller plates to add more challenge to this pinch strength exercise. If you can hold the pinch for more than 30 seconds, try increasing the weight or number of plates to increase the difficulty.

4. Wrist Rotation

Wrist rotation, also known as dumbbell forearm rotation, is a phenomenal grip strength exercise that works your hand flexors and extensors while isometrically training your biceps. Wrist rotations also strengthen the stabilizing muscles in your wrists, making it an excellent injury rehab exercise if you suffer from wrist pain.

How To Do Wrist Rotations:

  1. You can perform this movement standing or sitting. Using a center grip, grab a YBell in each hand, with your arms to your sides, and palms facing inward.
  2. Keep your elbows tucked to your sides. Raise the YBells until your forearms are parallel to the ground and your elbows form a 90-degree angle.
  3. While keeping your arms at this angle, inhale and rotate your wrists away from your body until your palms are facing up. This motion should only occur in your forearms.
  4. Then exhale and slowly rotate your wrists toward your body until your palms face down, isolating the motion to your forearms. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.

Rock Climbing Tip for Beginners:

Wrist rotations make for a great warm-up and stretch before you begin a climb. Stretching your forearm and stabilizing muscles means increased blood flow and less tension during your climbing or bouldering session, which decreases the chance of muscle injury.

Pro Tip for All Athletes:

Wrist rotations should be done with light weights, emphasizing high reps versus heavy weights. Another variation on the wrist rotation is twist curls, which can be performed with dumbbells or YBells.

5. Wrist Curls and Wrist Extensions

Single-joint resistance training exercises like wrist curls and wrist extensions are used in strength training to build up and strengthen the muscles around the joint being flexed. Because these exercises target your forearms and wrists, they're great for improving overall grip strength.

Wrist curls and wrist extensions are primary forearm flexion and extension exercises often recommended for building forearm strength.

How To Do Wrist Curls:

  1. Kneel next to a weight bench. Bend your torso forward at the hips and rest your forearms on the bench. Your wrists should be hanging over the bench.
  2. Keep your back straight and bring your shoulders back and down. Do not allow your back to arch during this exercise.
  3. Your palms should be face up, with your wrists in a neutral position. Hold a YBell Neo or YBell Pro in each hand using a top lock grip.
  4. Engage your forearms and exhale as you slowly curl your wrists upward for full flexion. Engaging your forearm muscles will help you prevent the YBells from straining your wrists.
  5. Inhale, and reverse the movement by extending your wrists downward as far as they will comfortably go.
  6. Return your wrists to a neutral position. This is one rep.
  7. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.

Rock Climbing Tip:

Advanced climbers use wrist curls and extensions for forearm antagonist muscle training to help train wrist stabilizers and prevent injury.

Pro Tip for All Athletes:

Once you’ve mastered wrist curls, you can try reverse wrist curls, AKA: wrist extensions. With wrist extensions, your palms face down, which targets the wrists more than the forearms. Aside from the direction of your palms, the rest of the exercise is performed exactly like a wrist curl.

Grip strength training in bouldering and rock climbing should be vital in your training regimen. In fact, a study published in the European Journal of Sports Science found that relative grip strength accounted for more than 50% of performance in female climbers and just under 30% of the performance in male climbers.

Your grip strength for climbing goes beyond your hand strength. Regardless of your training regimen, be sure to include exercises that engage your hands, forearms, shoulders, and core to ensure successful climbs.

Get the Best Grip Training Equipment at TRX Training

There are four types of grips that climbers want to focus their grip training around for handholds:

  • Open Hand Grips

Open-hand gripping is when you stretch out your fingers while your middle knuckle stays straight. It's one of the most accessible grips for climbers because the joints are straight, and it gives you more surface area contact with edges.

  • Friction Grips (AKA: Palming)

Friction gripping is when you lay your open palms over a handhold and hold it in place using the friction of your palms. Palming is a typical hold for bouldering that you can practice by wrapping your hand on smooth pieces of rock.

  • Crimps (Full or Half)

Crimping is when you grab small incut edges with your fingers bent at the middle knuckle, and your thumb wraps over your index finger. Crimping is an advanced hold that places extreme stress on your finger joints and tendons and can lead to injuries if not appropriately trained.

  • Pinch Grips

Pinch gripping is the most common rock climbing grip and pinches are often available at indoor climbing gyms, making it an easy grip to train for. With a pinch grip, you'll use a half-crimp or open-hand grip while your thumb pinches the opposite edge.  

Whether you're a new or advanced climber, functional training with YBells is an excellent way to help you improve your grip strength. I urge my clients to "crush the YBell" when performing ground-based exercises like chest push-ups or push-up rows. Crushing lets you slow down your reps and focus on the time under tension for each movement.

The YBell Neo and YBell Pro are fantastic for improving flexion-extension grip force when you hold the YBell by its outer handle. Start by holding the YBell with an outer grip with your arm completely extended. Then, flex your wrist downward toward the floor and back up to the ceiling while your arm stays in that extended position. You'll notice that the weight distribution of the YBell is not as harsh as a kettlebell, which allows you to perform this grip strength movement much more effectively.

Whether your goal is to gain more muscle and overall strength, take on more challenging climbs, or prevent a muscle injury, enhancing your grip strength is the best way to accomplish your rock climbing and bouldering goals. YBells are fantastic for strength training and phenomenal as grip training equipment for rock climbing.

If you're looking for more functional fitness exercises to improve your grip strength, download the TRX App to learn about grip transitions and try our workouts.  Add image description