by Christopher Schafenacker
If you caught the recent article in Climbing Magazine about the value of hypertrophy training in our sport, you might be tempted to believe that climbers get a pass to skip leg day every time it rolls around. After all, the accompanying photo featured Alex Megos posing beside a meaty, muscly beach specimen, and what stood out wasn’t the German’s jacked upper body (itself pretty impressive), but his complete lack of legs. If one of the world’s best climbers appears to balance on toothpicks, you might justifiably think that leg workouts for climbers aren’t a prerequisite for crushing hard…and yet the science says otherwise.
A recent study published by researchers at the University of Augsburg (Germany) demonstrates that the single most important distinguishing factor of performance amongst climbers of all levels is leg strength. Let that sink in. Leg strength (and by extension, leg training for climbers) is número uno in determining climbing performance.
This revelation is both absolutely bonkers in that it goes against everything we are taught, and also perfectly logical. After all, you climb a ladder with your legs, not your arms, and rock climbs are essentially very complex ladders.
Your leg muscles are much stronger than those of your back or arms, and the more you can put them to use, the harder you will climb. Intuitively, climbers know this (anyone ever heard of footwork?) but they rarely account for it to the point that leg training for climbers becomes a part of their routine.
Time to change that.
3 Leg Workouts for Climbers You Need to be Doing
Deadlifts are amongst the best rock climbing workouts, period. They work your entire body, but are especially beneficial for the lower kinetic chain. This said, they’re also dangerous and apt to cause injury. Accordingly, proper form is key. Begin with the following protocol.
• Watch this video on proper deadlift form.
• Practice with minimal weight until you are comfortable with the movement.
• When ready, perform 1 (max. 2) weekly workouts of 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps at 70% of your maximum weight. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
2. Box Jumps
Like deadlifts, box jumps target your entire body but are especially good for your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. The particular benefit of box jumps for climbers has to do with power. This exercise builds explosivity in the legs, which is essential for dynamic moves. Begin with the following protocol.
• Watch this video on proper box jump technique.
• Choose the tallest box you can reliably jump.
• Perform 2 weekly workouts of 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps, with 2-3 minutes of rest between each set.
3. Pistol Squats
Nobody likes doing pistol squats, but performing this exercise is amongst the best leg workouts for climbers. Pistol squats work your glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip adductors, calves, core muscles, and balance. Getting good at them will train you to stand up powerfully from high-foot positions and will teach you to balance confidently on precarious foot chips.
• Watch this video on proper pistol squat form.
• Use assistance if necessary (as you build strength).
• Perform 2 weekly workouts of 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps (per leg) with 2-3 minutes of rest between each set.
Leg training is amongst the best rock climbing workouts, and these three exercises will get you started. Do them regularly, and start getting excited to finally crush at that next level!
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