Climbing-specific training is the answer, but do the smallest bit of searching online and you might end up more confused than when you started. Here’s the secret: The only thing that matters is consistency. (Well, and not getting injured.) It almost doesn’t matter what you do when it comes to training, how many sets/reps, how much weight, as long as you are consistent, you will see improvement. That means finding a weekly routine that works for you and sticking to it. Three of the best tools to target climbing-specific fitness are the hangboard, the campus board, and the MoonBoard. Below we explain the basics of how each tool works, what it targets, and how to incorporate all of them into your training routine. We tapped training aficionados Anna Liina Laitinen and Kyra Condie to give us their best advice for training, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro like them.
“The majority of my sessions are still just climbing,” Condie says. “I finish my warm-up and always do my training (campus board/hangboard) immediately after. I think it’s important to do at the beginning of the session. You’ll see the most improvement and have a better chance of not getting injured.” She spends an hour each session doing some sort of exercise, whether it’s hangboard, campus board, or climbing that targets power-endurance or endurance. After this hour-long exercise, then she climbs hard problems and routes.
Condie says if you can only do one thing in addition to climbing, you should hangboard. “With limited time, you can see the most improvement,” she says. “But you gotta work up to it—no finger injuries! And never do it multiple days in a row.”
The campus board is all about power and contact strength. “Power is the result of strength and speed,” Laitinen says. “It’s the snap [of climbing moves.]” Any time you have to do a big or dynamic move, you’re utilizing power, and it’s especially crucial in bouldering. Contact strength is your ability to latch a hold when you first touch it. Think about making a huge move to a jug, then think about that same move, but this time to a small crimp. Holding the crimp when you first hit it requires more contact strength. Besides increasing your actual fitness in these areas, i.e., developing your muscles, campusing also improves your mental approach when it comes to being able to do big moves.
There’s no way around it—the MoonBoard is hard. Because it’s one flat panel that’s really steep and most of the holds are not good, it’s all about pure strength and power. There is really no movement technique involved; you can’t use any trickery, heel hooks, or other nuanced beta to complete a problem. Often you’re making big moves to bad holds with inconvenient feet, which you must cut from the board, control the swing, and set up for the next move. The holds don’t change, so you can keep coming back to the same problems year after year, using them as benchmarks to track your overall climbing progress. The problems in the app range from V4 to V14, but the V4s aren’t typical V4s you’ll find in the gym. MoonBoard climbs are very shoulder- and finger-intensive, and injuries are quite possible. Realistically you’ll need to climb V5 or V6 consistently before you start using the MoonBoard. The best part about this training tool is that it’s more like regular bouldering, where you can project problems with friends and not feel like you’re training. The MoonBoard might be very hard, but it’s also very fun!
Endurance: Laps on a lead wall are excellent. Find a climb that’s hard for you and try to do it twice in a row.
Circuits: A great way to focus on power-endurance. Go for a number of moves on a bouldering wall, so 50 moves then rest. Then do it again. Time: If it’s a bouldering-only gym, build endurance by trying to stay on the wall for 5 to 10 minutes.
Pointers: While you’re on the bouldering wall, have someone point out holds to use, aiming for 70 to 90 moves total.
Injury prevention: Focus on training opposing muscle groups by doing light weightlifting, especially in the shoulders.