Climbing Wall Training: Lock-Off Strength
by Christopher Schafenacker
While modern gym bouldering with all its hops, skips, and jumps might have you believe otherwise, there is no skill more fundamental to climbing than the lock-off. Both outdoors and in, every move that isn’t a dyno or a deadpoint (which is most of them) involves locking-off in some measure. This is because a lock-off is simply the act of pulling statically from one hold to the next.
But isn’t a lock-off, by definition, a reachy move that requires full contraction of one arm and simultaneous full extension of the other? At the extreme end of the scale, yes. But as your lock-off strength (and footwork) improves, you will discover that where you once had to reach with desperate piano fingers, you can now cruise as if the move were routine. Put otherwise, what might be a full lock-off for you is nothing but an easy pull for Ondra.
Don’t believe me? Try the following three exercises for a three-week training block and see for yourself.
A Guide to Training Lock-Off Strength
Before diving in, two things need underscoring. First, the following plan is a guide and the levels described are general. Make sure to adjust the suggested loads to your body and skill level. Second, lock-off training is notorious for producing elbow pain and so if at any point things start feeling tweaky, take a week off and start again at 50% intensity before ratcheting back up.
1. Home Climbing Wall Training: The Hover
The best training for climbing is climbing itself and this applies as much to lock-off strength as to any climbing skill. The hover is thus a perfect drill to get you pulling easily through sequences that were once limit. Here’s how it works:
Choose three boulder problems two grades below your maximum.
Climb them as normal with one adjustment: each time you make a hand movement stop and hover your leading hand over the next hold before gripping.
During your first week, repeat all three boulders in a row, hovering for 3 seconds per move. Perform 3 sets. Rest 2 minutes between each set. If you fall repeatedly during attempts dial back the grade.
·During week 2 hover for 4 seconds and perform 4 sets.
Week 3: 5 seconds, 5 sets.
Repeat twice weekly.
The hover, like all climbing wall training, is an integral exercise that acknowledges the complexity of climbing movement. Lock-off strength is not just about having pistons for arms, after all, but about being able to press through your feet and hold tension in a range of contorted positions.
2. Hangboard Workout: Frenchies (Interval Pull-Ups)
However ideal, not all climbing training can happen on a home climbing wall. Time or space limitations sometimes mean a hangboard workout will have to do. Luckily, lock-off strength can be effectively trained with nothing more than two good jugs. Here’s how:
Begin by hanging (in proper form: scapula pulled back, elbows engaged) from the two best holds on your hangboard.
Pull up to a full lock-off (chest to bar), hold for 5 seconds, lower.
Pull up to a full lock-off, lower to a 90-degree elbow bend, hold for 5 seconds, lower.
Pull up to a full lock-off, lower to a 120-degree bend, hold for 5 seconds, lower.
On the same days that you train hovers, perform 3 sets of frenchies to failure (as many reps as possible). Rest 5 minutes between sets.
Repeat for all three weeks of this program.
3. Hangboard Workout: Uneven Pull-Ups
Locking off is more than just pulling and reaching. You also need to push with your non-extended hand if you want to gain full range. Uneven pull-ups train just this while also building one-arm strength. They can be performed on widely-spaced holds on your home climbing wall (12 to 24 inches apart in the vertical plane), on a hangboard with a sling extended from the bottom, or on a simple pull-up bar with the same.
Using an overhand grip to hold either the bar or jug on your hangboard and a two-finger grip to hold the sling (or whichever grip is needed to hold your chosen two holds on your home wall), initiate movement by pulling with both hands.
As you pass mid-height, begin pushing downward with the low hand until the arm of the upper hand reaches full lock-off.
Perform uneven pull-ups on the same day as the above exercises according to the following schedule.
Week 1: 2 sets of 3-5 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets.
Week 2: 3 sets of 3-5 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets.
Week 3: 4 sets of 3-5 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets.
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