Strength vs. Technique: When to Train What...and How
by Christopher Schafenacker
Here we go again. Strength vs. technique is a debate as old as the rocks we climb, and yet folks continue spinning around the question.
Is strength training what you need to bring your climbing to the next level? Would you be climbing 5.14 if only you knew how to use your feet?
How the hell does that crusty old crusher continue running laps on your proj at the crag when she can’t send V7 in the gym?
Debating these aimless questions is as much a part rock climbing as screaming ‘psssat!’ or complaining about how you’re out of shape, and yet reducing the question of strength vs. technique to a simple dichotomy gets you nowhere (which, maybe, is a part of the fun).
The fact is, you don’t need to train strength or technique, you need to train both…and you need to do so simultaneously.
The Relationship Between Strength and Technique in Climbing
Strength is simply the ability to exert force. It is a function of (A.) your muscle fiber composition (genetic and untrainable) and (B.) your muscle fiber density (trainable). You get stronger by exposing your muscles to heavy loads; however, you only get better at climbing when you learn to apply this new strength to climbing movement.
Technique is climbing movement. Good technique means moving efficiently; bad technique means the opposite. Improving technique is, of course, a simple matter of climbing…but it’s also—and here’s the catch—a matter of strength. You can’t learn advanced techniques if you’re not strong enough to endure the positions required of advanced technical movement.
The question is thus not whether you should train strength or train technique in order to improve, but how can you train both simultaneously so that gains in one complement gains in the other.
The answer is not elusive (and, is also subject to infinite debate) but quite simply: a spray board.
A well-designed home climbing wall densely populated with thoughtfully placed holds allows you to train the full spectrum of climbing strength. Locks-offs? Yep. Compression? Easy. Power? Of course. What’s more, training these elements by doing actual climbing moves cuts out the need to later apply strength gains to climbing ability. Spray board training is inherently applied, which means it is more efficient than, say, doing free-weight sets in the gym.
The exception here is finger strength. You can achieve max. loads for nearly every climbing muscle via spray board training except, maybe, those muscles used for gripping. Efficient training here means targeted finger training, and this is best achieved using a hangboard.
Now, of course, all of the above comes with a torrent of caveats. Traditional strength training is an important aspect of training in general. Elite climbers follow all kinds of specific protocols to build specific skills. General body strength is crucial for avoiding and rehabbing injuries. The point here is simply that becoming a better climber is not an either/or proposition, but a both-at-the-same-time-in-strategic-measure kind of thing.
Featured Climbing Training Gear
Maverick: The on-the-go, bring it anywhere hangboard. On a family road trip to keep your fingers in shape. We like to bring this to the crag with us to keep our fingers warm—without losing skin on mediocre warm-ups—at that steep, thuggy sport crag.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…
The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.