Calisthenics and rock climbing have a lot in common. They body rely on body weight exercises and strength and flexibility and both combine static with dynamic exercises.
For that reason, calisthenics is a great activity to cross train for rock climbing and vice versa.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the most beneficial bodyweight and calisthenics exercises for bouldering and climbing in general.
If you’re looking for a more generalist beginner friendly workout, check out our beginner calisthenics routine.
Finger Training for Rock Climbing
The first set of muscles we will be focusing on are the fingers. If you are a beginner climber, these will probably be amongst the weakest muscles and strengthening them will yield the biggest improvements to your bouldering.
Exercise 1- Finger Push Ups
As the name suggests, finger push ups are simply push done in the tips of your hands. This may sound daunting at first, but remember that as most calisthenics exercises, there are progressions that can ease you into the main exercise.
Tikato fitness has a good demonstration of a variation of the progression below:
Progression 1: Knee Assisted Holds/Push Ups
For the first progression, get down on your knees and lean forward to the push-up position. Now, instead of grabbing the floor with your palms, hold only with your fingers, leaving the palms suspended.
As a first exercise, hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
If you can easily do this, go for a set of at least 8 reps.
For each of the two above mentioned exercises, progress only when you can confidently do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Progression 2: Normal Finger Holds / Push Ups
Difficulty: Intermediate / Advanced
The second progression is pretty much just doing finger push-ups. You can start by holding the plank with your fingertips for about 10 seconds and when this has become easy to you, move on to finger push-ups.
If these ever become too easy for you, elevate your feet to raise the difficulty.
Exercise 2- Finger Pull Ups
When it comes to hand and finger strength, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The pull up is a tried and tested upper body and core exercise and it can easily be adapted to work on the fingers and grip.
Progression 1: Band Assisted 4 finger pull up
When you start training your grip, you won’t have the strength to do the pull ups whilst holding the bar only with your fingers. For that reason, it’s a good idea to start with a band.
These can have more or less resistance, depending on your strength, but we recommend starting with a 45kg /99lbs resistance band, and then move on to fewer resistance bands.
Once you can easily do 10 reps, move on to bands with less resistance.
Progression 2: Normal finger pull up (reducing the number of fingers)
If you can easily do band assisted finger pull-ups, you can start trying without the band, reducing the number of fingers.
Exercise 3- Finger Hangs
There isn’t much to say about this exercise. It is similar to the finger pull up, but instead of doing the pull-up movement, simply stay static in the bar. You can spread your hands far away from each other and try shifting your weight from one hand to another to increase the difficulty.
Calisthenics Forearm and Arm workout
The next region we will be focusing on are the forearm and arm area.
The forearm will require special attention, as once again if you’re a beginner, it will be severely underdeveloped.
Exercise 1- Over/under Hold
Grip the bar as if you were going to do a chin-up, keeping the arms between 90º and 180º and change the grip on one hand to a pull up grip, and then the other.
The video below illustrates the exercise well:
Exercise 2- Pull Ups with Towels and Balls.
If you want to improve grip strength, the pull-up bar really is your best friend. Many people believe that you need
Progression 1: Different grip pull up
You don’t need to buy fancy grips to try different pull-up variations. You can simply get a strong towel, throw it over the pull up bar and do normal pull-ups. These will strengthen your grip and work on your wrist, forearm, and finger muscles.
In the video below, the tapp brothers demonstrate how:
Upper Body Exercises for Climbers
In this section, we will focus on exercises for the upper body, with a special interest in explosive strength exercises, as these are the most useful for climbing.
Exercise 1- The Muscle Up
The muscle-up is the quintessential calisthenics exercise. It relies a lot on momentum and movement, but also on explosive force. For those reasons, it’s one of the best calisthenics movements for climbing.
As mentioned in other articles, our favorite muscle-up tutorial is by ThenX:
Progression 1: Resistance Band Assisted Muscle-Up
If you can do 10 normal pull-ups, you can probably do muscle-ups. But if you’re not there yet, but want to start practicing the muscle-up, get yourself a resistance band and practice the movement.
Progression 2: Normal Muscle-up
Once you start moving down the resistance bands, you’ll be ready to start doing the muscle up without bands.
Exercise 2- Clapping Pull Ups
If the muscle-up movement isn’t really working for you, another way to work on explosive strength is to do clapping pull-ups.
The reason why these are better than normal explosive pull-ups is that our brains work better when they have a goal in mind.
If you don’t have enough momentum to clap, simply release the hands from the bar and grab it again.
The Barstarzz have a good tutorial on this move:
Core Exercises for Climbers
Exercise 1: L-Sit
The l-sit is another great static exercise. It can be done in all kinds of bars and also on the floor.
Once again, we recommend antranik’s tutorial on the exercise:
Progression 1: Bent Leg(s) L-sit
Grab the pull up bar with hands at shoulder length, and raise your knees with your legs bent. Hold.
If it is easy to hold for 10 seconds +, try stretching one leg, whilst keeping the other close to the chest.
Progression 2: Pull Up Bar or Parallel Bar L-sit
If one leg bent l-sits becom easy, try to stretch both legs. Holding that 90º position for as much time as you can.
Exercise 2: Planks and Flags
We won’t go into the hundreds of variations of planks and flags available, but most of them will help you improve your climbing
We particularly like flags as these focus on the lats, which we haven’t focused on much in this article.
Here is a nice video demonstration by ThenX:
Exercise 3: Dips
This exercise is less calisthenics specific, but it is also highly used by calisthenics athletes.
The progression mimics many other exercises, with beginners being advised to use bands.
Below is a great video on the correct form to perform this exercise:
We hope that we’ve demonstrated how similar calisthenics and climbing training can be. Both these sports require strong grip, upper body, and core strength and they and should be practiced in conjunction.
This a popular regiment for athletes preparing for events such as the ninja warrior.
Please leave any feedback or suggestion in the comment box below.
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.