Many climbers live by the adage that the only way to train for climbing is to climb more, and maybe that works for you, but if you’re looking to add some off the wall training to your climbing routine, antagonist training might be a good place for you to start. It can help minimize your risk of injury and can help you recover for injuries if you do get one.
While most antagonist training routines don’t require a whole lot of gear to do, if you’re looking at creating an antagonist training routine for yourself, it might be a good idea to think about investing in some workout gear. You can find sets of resistance bands at many gyms or online for relatively cheap. Resistance bands are a great way to help yourself stretch and minimize injuries. If you want to reduce your cost, but maximize the number of workouts you can do, resistance bands might be a good investment for you.
What is Antagonist Training?
Antagonist training is focusing on the muscle groups that antagonize or oppose other muscle groups. For climbers, this might mean working your triceps that help pushing away since climbers tend to have stronger biceps from pulling up. By focusing the training on under-utilized muscles, you may be able to improve your stability and overall balance.
Another benefit of specific training of lesser-used muscles is that it often can help prevent injuries or at least minimize the impact and length of an injury. Injuries do occur in climbing, so helping to mitigate the risk will help keep your body in better shape.
Why is Antagonist Training Important for Climbing Conditioning?
Antagonist training helps to train and workout the connective tissues between the muscles that are more under-used, as well as those muscles. If your tendons, connective tissue, and muscles aren’t working well together, you are significantly more likely to hurt yourself, and you will also take longer to heal. If all of these muscular systems are working together and are all strong, your chance of getting injuries will decrease.
One of the most common climbing injuries is often called climbers elbow. It’s localized pain in, you guessed it, your elbow. Antagonist training can help to minimize climbers elbow and help shorten the healing time if you do have climbers elbow. By utilizing training that focuses the lower arm, the upper arm, and all the rotator muscles in the shoulder, you will lower your chances of being benched by climbers elbow.
How Do I Train My Forearms to Climb Stronger? 3 Exercises
1. Reverse Wrist Curl: This exercise works out your forearms, but also your wrists a little. Begin by sitting in a comfortable position with your forearms resting on your thighs and your palms facing down. Hold the weight of your choice in your hands, and slowly pull your hands back towards your body, keeping your arms flat on your thighs and then return to your horizontal starting position. (20-35 reps, 3 sets)
You can do this workout with regular weights, as you would at a gym, or you can improvise at home. For some people, it may make sense to invest in a small set of home free weights, but if you don’t want to buy any yourself, you can always make your own. Just fill a water bottle with water until you reach the weight you want.
2. Reverse Pullups: A reverse pullup is both a great way to train antagonistically and a great way to work up your strength for normal pullups. To start a reverse pullup, use a chair or other step to help you get to the top position of a normal pullup, then slowly lower yourself down to what would normally be the starting position. This works your arms and shoulders, just make sure you keep your shoulders engaged the whole time and don’t let them pop up near your ears. (5-10 reps, 3 sets)
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3. Farmers Carry: For a farmers carry, you will need a weight of your choosing and a space to walk, probably 30-50 paces. Start at one end of your space and with the weight in one hand and walk to the other end of your space. Make sure you engage your core and shoulders to keep your body upright despite the weight on one side of your body. When you reach the other side, switch hands, and return to your starting point. (20-25 reps with each arm, 3 sets)
What are Good Wrist Stability Exercises? 3 Exercises
1. Wrist Extensor-Ups: To do this workout, start in a kneeling position, but with the back of your hands on the ground and your fingers pointed inwards. Slowly curl your hands closed until you are kneeling on your knuckles. The first few times you do this workout, don’t put all your weight forward onto your hands, keep some on your knees so you can slowly build up your strength and not hurt yourself. (20-25 reps, 3 sets)
2. Wrist Curls with Resistance Band: If you have a resistance band, this is a good option for strengthening your wrists. Attach the band to a solid place at your elbow height. Keeping your upper arm tight against your side and your lower arms parallel to the ground, hold the band in your hand and bend your wrist, pulling in towards your core and away from the attachment point of the band. This is a good way to work your wrist stabilizing muscles. (20-25 reps, 3 sets)
3. Reverse fists: To do this exercise, you will need a strong rubber band or hand trainer. Many climbing companies sell different strengths of rubber bands with holes for each finger to go in, but you could also just use a thick rubber band and achieve the same result. Place the band around your fingers while your fingers are all pulled in together. Then open your hand, making sure to push equally with all your fingers, so you don’t strain one more than the others. (20-30 reps, 3 sets)
What is Other Good Strength Training for Climbing? 5 Exercises
1. Push-ups: Push-ups might seem simple, but if done well, they can work a variety of muscles and help strengthen your shoulders well. As the name describes, push-ups engage muscles that push, while climbing tends to focus on muscles that pull, meaning that push-ups are a perfect antagonist exercise for climbers. To do a proper push-up, keep your elbows in and your shoulders down as you lower yourself down and push yourself back up. (20-25 reps, 3 sets)
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2. Standing Rows with Cactus Position: Start with mid-weight resistance bands secured at shoulder height and your arms out in front of you. Slowly pull the bands back, with your elbows out, until your elbows are in a 90-degree angle. Then rotate your arms, so your hands are up towards the ceiling, the cactus pose. Hold this pose for 3 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position and repeating. (15-20 reps, 3 sets)
This works your rotator and stabilizing muscles that will help smooth your movements. While climbing, smooth, and static movements are much less likely to cause injuries than large dynamic movements, so minimizing dynamic movements can help lower your chance of injuries. This exercise can also help work your upper back and shoulders.
3. Dips: Dips can be done off the side of a bed frame, a solid chair, or even off of a short retaining wall or garden bed if you want a good outside option. They work your upper arms, shoulders, and back. Start with your back to the object you choose and place the palms of your hands on the object, fingers pointed towards you. Then slowly lower yourself down and then back up, stopping in the up position when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. (20-30 reps, 3 sets)
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4. Shoulder Curls with Resistance Band: If you have a resistance band, this is a good option for strengthening your shoulder. Attach the band to a solid place at your elbow height. Keeping your upper arm tight against your side, hold the band in your hand, and slowly rotate your arm from out to in front of you. Hold for 10 seconds before slowly releasing. This works both your forearms and your shoulder muscles. (20-30 reps, 3 sets)
5. Bicep Curls: At first glance, you might think that bicep curls are working the muscles that contract your arm, the same muscles that you use climbing, but the antagonistic part of this exercise is the second half, the lowering. Start in a comfortable seated position with weights in your hands and your arms in your lap, hands pointing away from you. Slowly bend at the elbow and pull the weight towards your body. Pay attention when you release the weight and focus on slow and smooth control while you lower the weight back down to your leg. (20-25 reps, 3 sets)
What Does Eric Hörst Say About Antagonist Training?
If the words “antagonist training” sound familiar to you, you might have heard of Eric Horst before. He is a well known climbing trainer and coach who supports increased antagonist training for climbers. His website has a variety of resources for climbers who want to get started with antagonist training, so if you’re looking into creating an antagonistic climbing training program for yourself, you may find some helpful resources on his website.
He believes that antagonist training is the key to minimizing the frequency and severity of injuries from climbing. Much of his antagonist training focus on finger, wrist, and arm antagonistic muscles. This will help with stability while climbing and give you more energy to continue to push yourself climbing.
Helpful YouTube Videos of Antagonist Workout Routines
Below are some links to YouTube videos of some good antagonistic workout routines that we’ve found to be beneficial, but feel free to use them as guidelines to create your own workout routine that works for you and the space you have available.
Here is a video of Eric Horst giving his own antagonist training advice:
This is a video from Lattice Training on their top antagonist training workouts:
If you’re just starting out with antagonistic training, this video may give you some good tips:
Wrapping Things Up: Antagonistic Training for Climbing
In general, creating a good climbing training and conditioning routine can help you both minimize the number of injuries you get as well as the time that injuries last for. Antagonistic training is a great tool to work into your new training and conditioning schedule to help you work the lesser-used muscles. It will help stabilize the more commonly used muscles and help smooth out your movements while climbing. Please use safe practices when working out, and don’t push your body to use more weights than is healthy for you. Take your time with training, it’s a process, but if you’re patient, you may see amazing results!
Looking for more guides? Check out more of our climbing tips here.
Here are a few to help you out:
> The Ultimate Guide to 4x4s for Rock Climbing Training
> 15 Climbing Core Workout Tips
> 21 Advanced Bouldering Tips and Techniques