April 24, 2014 posted by

Climbing Power Workout #1

Climbing Power Workout #1

Here’s the first of the two power routines that I did this month. I did this one four times, and used it to gauge progress. Strength improved over 20% in three weeks. I learned this workout from Xavier Bueler, a Swiss climber, in 1990. It’s evolved over the years but, as simple as it is, still works very well for developing power.

Note, there no actual climbing in this workout. Just a hangboard and some exercise equipment. When I first did it, I was stuck inside everyday, so I couldn’t get outside to climb at all. A board and some weights were all I had. Then, as now, it requires a little integration time get the strength gains made fully applicable to time on the rock, While you could do this workout around climbing, I feel its most applicable to when you’re forced not to climb. This keeps your focus where it needs to be; on hanging every single hold.

Some would, undoubtably, find this workout boring but I think it’s fun. I usually only do it for 3-4 weeks, and always make huge improvements. This keeps it fresh. I would never recommend doing this workout longer than 6 weeks.

Equipment needed (click on links to see examples): Fingerboard (or two), hanging scale, pull-up bar, rings, dumbells, optional stability ball and push-up stands.

Warm-up – Warming up for fingerboard power workouts needs to be very thorough. It’s probably best done on a wall. I have a wall, but have been doing this long enough to know how to properly warm up on a board. Here’s my sequence.

plange pushups top position

Functional warm-up, hanging retraction (shrug at the bottom of a pull-up), protractions (from push-up position-pic), wall angels, one set of these movements, break.

Next, do the hangs that will be done in the workout, in reverse (easiest holds first). I began with four exercises, then added two once I felt I could handle it. The holds you use should depend on your board and your goals, but they should cover, at least, the three phalanges of your fingers. I used holds in this order.

Big slope (full hand)

Wide pinch

3-finger, 2nd digit

2-finger, 2nd digit (2nd)

4-finger, 1st digit

small slope (2nd)

I hang these with both arms first. Then I go back through and hang the bigger holds with one arm, and the other on a scale. My scale is comfortable for 3 fingers, so I can easily take as much weight off the hold be stressed as necessary. Some scales require a sling or other alteration to make them useful. They aren’t made to hang from. Only hang each until it feels solid. Never until you tire. Then take a break and drink some water (and keep drinking water throughout the workout!).


These are very short hangs, from split second to a few seconds, top. The goal is to control the hang with one arm and take as much weight off of the scale with the other. Once the hang is under control, stop. Sometimes this takes a few seconds to control, where you’re putting more weight on the scale, then you slowly let it off until you can control the hold. One second of control is all you need, or even a little less. The goal is absolute power. Any further time you spend on the hold diminishes the effect.

Start with the harder exercises first (1st digit) and progress to easier movements. Do one arm, then immediately do the other. Rest for 2-3 minutes (my timer is set for 2:30 and includes the set). Repeat four times for each grip position. 

In between exercises, stretch your arms and fingers. There’s a lot of down time. I find climbing videos help keep you entertained and psyched for each set. Consider that the actual time you’re spending doing something in this workout is very short. You want to maximize it with hyper focus.


Record each set of each workout and use them as your target. You should improve every workout. Not necessarily every set and rep but, in general, you should get better every time. If not, you should stop the workout and take another rest day, or end the training block.

Part II – Circuit training. 

While the hangs are the main focus, these upper body power movements are also very climbing specific. I did two to four rounds of the following circuits, depending on how I was feeling. I moved from exercise to exercise with little rest, but did rest between rounds as I felt necessary (tried to keep this to a minimum for time’s sake). Since goal is power, not endurance, you want each rep or each exercise to be as strong as possible. You want failure to happen due to lack of strength (recruitment) and not fatigue (pump).

Circuit 1

Towel pull-ups with weight – done side to side, with enough weight to fail between 2 and 6 reps.

Ring push-ups with feet on a stability ball – to failure (but quit when control not perfect)

Front levers, bent leg if necessary

Dips with weight – enough to fail between 2 and 6 reps

Roll on, roll off reverse – From Gimme Kraft, I do this with my feet on a ball and my hands on push-up stands. Move into L-sit position, then extend, pushing your feet away from you and exending your arms fully. Reverse. It’s an extension exercise to help offset of the contraction that’s going on.

Circuit 2

Typewriter pull-ups – instead of adding weight, I hold the lock-offs, which I can’t do for long.

Fingertip push-ups

Metronome, from rings (ground ok if you can’t do this) – feet together, toward sky, drop one side, then up and over to the other.

Wings – Gimme Kraft. Hold a ring with one arm, extended down one side of your body. Lean into the ring until your arm is 90 degrees away from your body. Reverse. Repeat. 8 each side.

Butterfly Reverse – Gimme Kraft. Hard to explain. There are at 1:09 in this video.

Reverse curls, shake arms on the eccentric part of the exercise.

Cool downNIS stretching and, sometimes, the rice bucket for 30 seconds each position.

Top pic: my board set-up. The rope is for taking weight off, as is the scale (behind pulley on the left). Different apparatus for different applications. 


  • Great stuff. I’m about to do a couple weeks of power training to try to squirt a little boost out of the last couple months of the season. Going to follow this protocol and see how it works. I often have some climbing vid on the ipad when I use the board. really helps with the psych.

  • Curious to see what you think. It will help, certainly, but whether it’s still the best protocol to develop power is debatable. I was alternating it with campus training, which I’ll explain in the next workout. This, obviously, is a lot safer.

  • After all these years, I still find The Real Thing the best training vid. What’s up with that?!

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