How To Use The Gym To Improve Your Climbing

Image: Georgie Bull

Image: Georgie Bull

Many climbers don’t go to the gym. True, it’s not quite as exciting as climbing, but there’s a good reason to start including gym sessions in your training regime: it could benefit your climbing as well as greatly increasing your overall fitness. Focused training in the gym to strengthen the muscle groups used in climbing can also help to prevent injuries while climbing, particularly overstretching muscles and tendon damage.

Brown’s Gym is located upstairs above the climbing wall in Vertical Limit and has a wide selection of equipment, weights and a boxing area. Entry is included with your climbing membership or one-off entry to the climbing wall, so there’s no excuse not to give it a go! Dave Brown, owner of Vertical Limit and Brown’s Gym, is an experienced personal trainer who has previously trained two Mr. Britains! Vertical Limit offers personal training sessions, and Dave is also happy to show climbers new to the gym how to use the equipment and weights to ensure you are using proper technique and not risking an injury.

What exercises should you be focusing on to benefit your climbing?

Below are our recommendations of the best equipment to use and weight training exercises to benefit your climbing.

Overall Fitness - Cardio

Just as you would warm up before climbing, never start working out in the gym cold as this can lead to injuries. You should start with at least 15 minutes of cardio to warm up.

Dave recommends the rowing machine as it’s a good all-round exercise. The correct position and body posture to use the rowing machine is shown below.

If you find the rowing machine difficult, Dave recommends using the ski machine instead, which is a more passive workout but still gets your arms moving and heart-rate up. There is also, of course, the treadmill for a warm-up run.


Ever noticed that your forearms have pumped up after smashing an overhang? If you’re new to climbing and your muscles are not used to the strain, this can sometimes be painful.

The muscles that move your finger joints are located in your forearm and palm. Climbers use their fingers a lot, so it’s worthwhile including a weights exercise that strengthens your forearms in your workout. Our recommended exercise is a palm-up wrist curl, shown below. When doing wrist curls in a seated position, lay your arm flat against your thigh. Your elbow should be resting against your thigh.


Upper Body

Arms and Back

Assisted Chin Machine

A good one for gym beginners, the assisted chin machine is recommended for people who find pull-ups difficult, although weight can be adjusted for stronger people so this machine can be used by everybody. Unlike other weight machines, you should put the pin at a heavier weight as this machine is taking the weight for you. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds and set the weight pin at 110 pounds, you are then only lifting 30 pounds of your body weight.

The assisted chin machine works on multiple upper body muscle groups, primarily your back muscles and biceps. When you lower yourself from a pull, it is important to lower slowly to minimise risk of injury. Keep your abdominal muscles tight while using your back and arms to pull yourself up. Don’t swing your body or lean forward - keep your back straight.

Chest, Arms and Back

Fly Machine

There are two ways to use the fly machine.

To work on your chest muscles, shoulders and arms use the fly machine in the position shown below.

To work on your back muscles, use the machine as below.

Abdominal muscles (core)

As climbing routes become more challenging, the strength of your core is tested and a strong core becomes ever more important. Having strong core muscles will help with your balance and can help to hold your body in place on an awkward move. Check out last week’s blog post Bouldering Tips for an explanation and video demonstration of how Isaac uses his core muscles to boulder a difficult V8.

A good exercise to strengthen abdominal muscles is the popular sit-up (crunch). Your feet can either be flat on the floor (legs slightly bent) or raised (six inches off the ground). The important thing is to make sure that your arms are positioned correctly. Place your hands next to either side of your face. Your arms should be bent and elbows pointing 45 degrees. This is to make sure you are using your abdominal muscles to pull yourself up. If you leave your arms by your sides you are likely to end up accidently using your arms to pull your body up rather than your core. This is a common beginner mistake and you will lose most of the benefit of the exercise.

Russian twists are a more difficult core exercise, and you can use a weighted ball to make it even more challenging. While doing Russian twists always look straight ahead and bring your arms across your core - this will naturally ‘twist’ your core.



Climbers with better technique use their legs more than their arms, and know that using your legs is easier! Unless you do lots of weight lifting to build your upper body strength, your leg muscles are naturally far stronger and bigger than your arm muscles, and the power in pushing yourself up using your legs is far greater than using your arms to pull. In the case of jumping moves, you’ll need strong legs to propel the entirety of your own body weight upwards.

Dave recommends squats as the best leg strengthening exercise. Squats can be done either with or without weights. It is tricky to get the correct position for squats. Check out the image showing the correct position below. The main tips for squats are to have a fairly wide stance, feet parallel to knees (no outward-facing knees), lean forward slightly, and your head should be tilted up. If you’re not sure on the correct position - ask Dave.


If you find it tricky to do squats, Dave recommends the leg-press machine instead, shown below.


Vertical Limit also has finger boards available (upstairs past the Aerial Inspirations studio) to strengthen the fingers and practice with small holds.


Images in Brown’s Gym: Georgie Bull and David Comer

We hope to see more Vertical Limit climbers in the gym soon! For more information on booking personal training sessions, useful exercises to benefit your climbing, or if you are looking to build a specific area of muscles, talk to Dave Brown, or email