Muscle Strength


Disclaimer!: Do not attempt any of these workouts before getting warmed up or stretching; be sure to check the agilty and flexibility page of the website!

Before getting into those beneficial workouts I have compiled for mountaineering, it's good to get used to some new and essential terminology/vocab.  Whoever wants to go up mountains has to focus on 3 specific areas (legs, lungs and core). When looking at mountaineering, outdoor exercises like hiking, climbing or running are all healthy cardiovascular endurance exercises that improve the lungs which is beneficial for enduring higher altitudes in mountain climbing. However, training lungs is not the only part. Having strength is just as important as having athletic agility. In the infographic below, I have compiled some basic information for the three basic categories of exercises. CLICK HERE for the aeroibic endurance source and HERE for the information about strength training that I found. I would first off recommend going to the "aerobic capacity" page of the website, as this provides information on how to fuel the body both with air (aerobic or anaerobic) and how nutrition affects respiration (breathing) in the first place.

Cardiovascular endurance

 Exercises that emphasize on longer periods of time, training the heart and lungs, correlating with oxygen intake. This makes cardio exercises aerobic (a long lasting exercise for prolonged periods of time that requires oxygen, thus training the heart and lungs). Ex: marathon running, swimming, rowing, etc.

muscular strength

All about exerting maximal and brute force against an object during a workout in a short time-span. Muscular strength exercises are always anaerobic (without oxygen), as this relies on short bursts of energy where the heart cannot supply enough oxygen to the muscles. Exercises are typically quick, which explains the absence in oxygen. Ex: doing as many pull ups as you can as quickly as possible, lifting a very heavy weight once (heavy box), doing as many sit-ups as you can in 1 minute, etc.

muscular endurance

More to do with being able to do an exercise or movement more repetitively and consistently for a prolonged period of time. In other words, the number of times you are able to do an exercise (doing multiple sets for each repetition). Ex: how long you are able to hold a plank, how much you can lift for 5 repetitions, etc.

 This builds strength for muscles

This builds stronger lungs as well as heart and blood vessels

This builds endurance for muscles

Frequently asked questions

What is Set and a Rep?

Repetition or "Rep": the number of times you perform an exercise Set: A certain amount of repetitions Example: Doing 20 sit-ups means you are repeating a sit-up 20 times and that is equal to 1 set. You can also add mulitple repetitions to be equal to 1 set, like so: (20, 15, 10) = 1 set (1 minute breaks in between) The workouts I have demonstrated and justified below are all really great for developing strength. Of course, I'm not a projessional and I would still recommend getting advice from a coach or friend of yours who has experience with fitness. I've linked some extra articles below here related to building strength for mountain climbing, in case you wanna find out more. Artcle 1: Published by a great mountaineering asscociation dubbed TheTrek, Talks about various examples to get into piek physical condition for mountaineering, Article 2: Published by a cool climbing fitness website called 99boulders that talks about effective workout you can do at home, specifying the muscle groups individually,
Article 3: Published on, this detailed article goes in depth for 10 unique workouts on how to strengthen the core for mountain climbing,

What is Aerobic and Anaerobic?

These terms seem kind of weird, but they pretty much just mean with oxygen and without oxygen during respiration of an exercise. Muscular strength exercises or extreme forms of cardio are typically anaerobic, as you will be exerting maximal force and the body will not be able to supply the body with enough oxygen during the workout (as you will be most likely panting). I've covered all of this in my aerobic capacity page, where you can learn how it relates to mountaineering.

What is the different Between Muscluar Strength and Muscular Endurance? Which is better?

Lifting a heavy box onto a table is muscular strength (short burst of maximum energy), whereas muscular endurance takes that strength and tests you how long you can hold the box for or how many boxes you can put onto the shelf over a longer period of time (perhaps repeating that exercise as a set). To find out what's better or preferable for you, check out my aerobic capacity page where I linked some pretty interesting facts and studies. There have actually been studies that have proven that anaerobic exercises are better for weightloss and less time consuming. According to The World Journal of Cardiology, "anaerobic activity can burn 9 times as much body fat for every calorie expended as compared to aerobic exercise". Of course it all depends on you and at what pace you want to workout (are you a sprinter or a marathon runner?); try and self asses to see what works for you. Link to Study: Patel, Harsh et al. “Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system.” World journal of cardiology vol. 9,2 (2017): 134-138. doi:10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134

How can these 3 sectors of exercise be beneficial towards being a healthy mountaineer?

Cardiovascular Endurance: For long expeditions in mountaineering, having good lungs will be crucial when reaching higher altitudes, as there will be less oxygen to fuel your body. If your regularly mountaineering and training at high atlitudes (2,400 metres above sea level), your lungs will be stronger than ever once you return to sea level, as oxygen intake is much higher than in the mountains; this will overall boost your cardiovascular performance drastically. Muscular Endurance: You are going to require a lot of strength in your muscles to endure longer walks and push yourself up certain obstacles when traversing across various terrain. The benefit of training your muscles to become more enduring (improve in stamina) will help you keep a healthy bodyweight and improve your overall sports performance. Muscular Stregnth: At times, you are going to neet short bursts of energy to get you up certain obstacles like a large rock or putting your rucksack back on, which will require more powerful force from your muscles than usual. In day to day life, training muscular strength can also help with carrying boxes or holding heavier objects. Not to mention, your risk of injury will be reduced too, as you will be able to endure heavier objects without your muscles over-stressing and possibly being damaged (tearing tendons or potentially damaging ligaments).

Weighted Step-up

Three times a week (2 sets/day)

Weighted sit-up

Three times a week (1 set/day)

Side bends

Three times a week (1 set/day)



Trainer of Video: Connie Sciolino


Trainer of Video: Eric Hörst

Finger Strength

Stronger fingers are essential as they are:

  1. Effective for grabbing/gripping smaller holds and pockets
  2. Can endure longer on submaximal holds
  3. Can recover on smaller holds to rest in the middle of a climb
  4. Overall provide better stamina (can endure and hold up over a rigorous session of climbing
Practicing in a climbing gym/hall is very important and very accessible, as workouts/climbs can be optimized (in regards to difficulty) and practice eye-hand coordination (an overall improvement for climbing in terms of stamina, endurance and skill/technique). This improves finger and grip strength drastically, but there is also another efficient way to practice/train grip strength that is more accessible and can even be done at home. This video I have linked on the right is from the YouTube channel EpicTV, hosted by climbing coach and author Eric Hörst to talk about the necessary skills needed to become an all around better climber in a series of videos. This video titled “Training for Climbing - Finger Strength”, specifically talks about finger/grip strength and why it is important and how to improve/train it for climbing. Hörst, suggests finger-boarding and provides 2 effective finger-board training protocols: The first protocol he suggests is minimum edge training (AEROBIC). He describes this as the “entry-level” program for beginners to intermediates as well. Finger boards come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. To do these exercises, he recommends a fingerboard with many different sized edges and pockets. They are very free-range and versatile, so he states that you must identify different features that you can hold on to, for about 15 seconds whilst using your four index fingers; a plain/normal hold that can fit all four fingers is suggested. The first workout consists of using the 4 index fingers (not including the thumb), for a total of 12 seconds: Beginners to Intermediate: (12 second hang + 2 minute rest) x 5 = 1 set Beginners should aim for 2 sets every 3 - 5 days a week maximum.

Advanced climbers: should do 5 - 6 sets, along with targeting other grip positions (2 finger grip pocket, pinch grips, etc). Rest 3 - 5 minutes in between sets. Advanced climbers should progress over time, to use smaller pockets and edges as your strength increases. Each hang should be close to your maximum, however, he states that you should not hang to failure (ie: holding as long as possible until you lose grip and fall). It is important not to over-work the fingers and make sure they do not get to tense (build up the difficulty gradually). If 12 seconds is too long, lower the hanging time by about 2 seconds and test out what works for you. However, it is still important not to lose progress, so you should still stick to doing 2 sets every 2 days a week a the least. 3 - 5 days a week of 2 sets is more than enough and it is important to not risk injury (READ RISK ASSEMENT BELOW). PHYSICAL BENEFITS: Flexioning of the finger joints in various holds, will train the aerobic system to endure (stamina) and train the finger muscles to last over long periods of time. He states that over time, you can also add some open hand pocket and pinch training. This essentially means using less fingers (ex: only using the index and middle finger in a hold), while using the rest of the fingers to grip other parts of the boards, like so: Link to Photo: Extra Terminology: - Pinching: squeezing for grip - Pocket: inserting your hand into a pocket and doing endurance hanging Lastly, the second protocol he suggests, is maximum weight training: ANAEROBIC This requires you do add a weight (ex: dumbell) and attaching it through the belay hoop of your harness. Your actual training will last 7 seconds. (7 second hang + 53 second rest) x 3 = 1 set After each set (that lasts 3 minutes), you should rest 3 minutes as well. If you are new to weighted hand training, he states that you should do 2 sets, for 2 days per week. Advanced climbers: 5 sets, but still 2 days per week maximum (be sure to look at risk assessment below). Equipment and accessories:
  1. Fingerboard that is preferably made of wood (smoothened). This is because there is less friction between the fingers and the surface of the board, therefore, there is no support (relying more on strength). It will also not wear your skin out as quick as plastic would (pain would be less of a factor).
  1. Optional: a bag of chalk, used to help coat the hands and fingers, making them more rough for better grip support. This can be useful for beginners that are struggling and will make the stress on the fingers reduced.

Core and Leg Strength (The 3 workouts in depth)

By only doing cardio (ex.comfortable jogging at a good pace), burning calories will become harder and more time consuming. The video on the right is from Outside TV, where the host (Nick Heil) interviews Connie Sciolino from the Alpine Training center in Colorado who has lots of experience with alpine and climbing sports and how to get physically in shape for them (Demonstrator in the video: Nick Heil). These muscular endurance exercises are recommended by the instructor in the video to be done aerobically (with oxygen); making them steady and consistent. She breaks down the 3 main muscle groups that you can train at the gym or at home with a variety of workouts:

  1. Legs: The legs are going to be doing virtually all of the work as you will be traversing and switching between hiking and climbing.
  2. Lungs: cardiovascular fitness will be important later on, especially at higher altitudes when the lungs will be important for respiration when doing intense and long term hiking or climbing (hence: it is an aerobic sport). - Check out the Aerboic Capacity page
  3. Core: The core provides strength when carrying loads (backpack) and helps your body to optimize with a change in terrain
The instructor then tells you how to do each exercise in terms of technique and how the difficulty can be increased (inlcuding the overall benefits of the exercises): Leg Workout: Weighted STEP UP In this exercise the upper legs and lungs are being used which includes the following muscles: hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps (from the legs). A step up usually just requires a bench or a box high enough so that one leg is on the ground and the other legs stepped on the bench should be 90 degrees. This exercise is very versatile as you can change the difficulty by changing the height of the box or adding weight.
Step 1: Pick a starting foot that you want to put on the box (say: right) and then step up with that foot onto the box (carrying the other foot with you). Step 2: In the same order, step down from the box (right foot down and then left foot down from the box) Step 3: Repeat this for the next foot (switch feet once you're done with each set) Circuit Plan: With weight Men: 20 kilo bar with 5 kilos on each side (30 kg) (7, 5, 3) = 1 set for each leg Women: 20 kilo bar with no extra weights (5, 5, 3) = 1 set for each leg Aim for 1 set for each leg, for every day you train (3 times a week) Circuit Plan: Without weight Men: Either no weights or light - heavy dumbbells in each hand (15, 12, 10) = 2 sets for each leg Women: Either no weights or light dumbbells in each hand 12, 12, 10) = 2 set for each leg Note for Technique: When doing the exercise with weights, you have to breathe in through the nose once you step up on the bench and out from the mouth in order for air to circulate better to the lungs and the heart (instead of just randomly breathing); oxygen will also be providing you with energy as it runs through your blood stream to your muscles (see aerobic capacity). You should also be alternating your feet correclty as shown in the video (be sure to check RISK ASSESMENT below again). Lastly, be sure to train both legs after you done with one set. Benefits of Step up:
  1. Eye & Foot coordination ( foot work)
  2. Stability and balance (from upper arm, thus also building symetry as both arms are being used). Symetry will provide you with better foot work as both legs will be able to exert maximal and equal force.
  3. Trains legs and lungs
  4. The workout itself it versatile as it can be done without weight to amplify the difficulty and intensity (how fast you step up against the box and down).
  5. Encourages teamwork in the gym; a key part of mountaineering
Core & Arm workout: Weighted Sit Up Step 1: Lie down a floor with a comfortable surface (like a gym mat) so that your body and arms are flat, but your legs are bent: Step 2: Extend your arms straight to the front so that the hands aligned with the knees: Step 3: Sit up, until your elbows touch knees: Circuit Plan: Men: (25, 23, 20) x 3 = 1 set Women: (20, 18, 15) x 3 = 1 set With Weight: RAMP UP THAT DIFFICULTY Make sure to have a partner at all times helping you when adding heavier weight: anything from 2.5 - 5 kg can be unassisted, but anything higher should be done under supervision. No more than 20 kg should be added to this exercise as the weight can get to large (physically) and block you from your elbows touching knees. Technique: Make sure your elbows touch knees and don't swing the body forward (bring the core with you). Elbows couls touch knees to make sure that you have trained the core to its full extent (be sure not to slouch over or hunch your back). If its becoming hard, I always recomend having a partner with you so he/she can stand on your feet to make the sit up a little easier (extra assist). Having a partner will also be mandatory when doing a weighted situp, as you might lose grip and drop the weight onto your stomach. Depending on how much time you have or how many calories you want to burn in a given time frame, you can decide whether to do sit-ups aerobically (with oxygen) or anaerobically (without oxygen). This means that you can change the exercise from being muscular strength (quick, short and maximul bursts of power) or muscular endurance (consistenly and repeditevely doing a workout with higher repetitions). Benefits of Sit up:
  1. Strengthens and trains your abdonminals (core)
  2. Trains stability and symetry for the arms (with weight)
  3. Encourages teamwork in the gym
  4. Strengthens lungs
  5. Versatile (aerobic or anerobic)
  6. Accessible from anywhere (without weights)
Core and Lower Arm Workout: Side Bends Stand up straight and hold a dumbbell or weight (about 5 kg) in each hand. In terms of technqie, you should not be letting the weights drop (bring the weights instead). Posture should also be straight in the spine when doing this to prevent muscle kramps. The weight should "drop" (be lowered) at about knee level and then be lifted again. Circuit Plan: Men: (15, 12, 10) x 1 = 1 set Women: (12, 10, 8) x 1 = 1 set Intensity: The circuit she developed is meant to be done 3 times a week at about 2-3 months before your climb/expedition. You should then be in good physical condition. Need to find your skill level? Everyone is different physilogically and finding a set starting point isn't as easy as it may seem. Sciolino mentions that you should start gradually and not push yourself. If you are not comfortable, you can for instance start without weights or change the number of reps and sets (look for further information in my risk assesment). Nick Heil (producer of the video) recommends consulting a trainer farmiliar with climbing for your "specific needs, addiontal routines and guidance". Here are Norm Tables for some of the workouts (without weights) complied by the International Fitness Association (IFA) : click on image to find link to source - Step Up: Normal - Sit Up: One minute Sit Up test


FINGER STRENGTH - GRIP POSITIONING: TAKE CARE OF THOSE FINGERS AND HANDS Initial fingerboard workouts should train either the half crimp (b) or open crimp (a). An open crimp is were the fingers (all except the thumb) are inside a hold and are bent. The half crimp is the same, but the fingers are bent even more to bring the hand palm against the hold more and the thumb can add a slight amount of support through pinching. Horst states that you should not do a full crimp grip though (c), as this can lead to an injury; the thumb applies an immense amount of pressure which can stress the top joints of the fingers and lead to a pulley injury (lower joints of the fingers). It also adds too much support and makes the work-out less challenging and only trains pinching. Link to Photo: In the event of an actual injury, be sure to treat your fingers well and safe. Here are some links to how to treat an injury: - Here is a detailed article that discusses the most common injuries among climber, how they're caused and how you can treat them (healing and proper technique: - Here's another nice article that can show how to bandage your fingers properly from a pulley injury: Blisters and Callices: After training for a while in both a climbing gym, hangboard and on the rowing machine, you'll begin to notice that your hands will become different in both size, strength and surface. Because of the friction in between the hands and the handle, it is likely that skin begins to peel of and blisters will begin to form. From my experience, you should always wash your hands before and after every workout. If blisters do begin to form on your fingers and palms, poke a small hole into it with a needle and drain out any excess fluids like plasma, serum or pus. Next step is to sterralize or disinfect the wound. Most importantly, do not rip off any skin that is healing. If the hang board exercises are too hard for you, then don't do them. It is important not to push yourself, in order to prevent injury. What about Wearing Gloves? It may seem logical right? If the hands hurt, put on gloves to protect them!'s not that easy. Fingerless gloves are decent for rock climbing to protect and give your hand plams a break, but the fingers have to be able to be mobile. Wearing gloves while climbing can irritate when holding different grips that may be false (no skin to surface contact) and can lead to losing grip; quite the safety hazard I right? In rowing, too much sweat and friction will build up as well between the hands and gloves which will just lead to further infections on the skin. Do your hands a favour and don't put any gloves on; they like to be free. If you want to learn more about indoor and outdoor climbing in relation to those hands of yours, check out this cool article from Gripped Indoor Climbing, HERE! Finger Board - Proper Technique:

  1. Weighted hangs can deeply stress the nervous system and recovery should last a week at the least (hangboarding i not a training exercise that is meant to be done daily).
  2. A warm up consisting of dynamic stretching and/cardio is good to loosen up any muscles or joints.
  3. Avoid painful holds (self asses and do not push yourself) and do not do more than 3 days of sets a week. "Aggregate training consisting of 3 days of finger boarding is more than enough", says Eric Hörst.
  4. Maintain good technique by keeping a slight bend in your elbows and engage the shoulders (no shrugging) to relieve tension. It is called a hang board, but you should not just be hanging; you need to be physically engaged with your joints and not let them hang around.
Adding Weight - YOU NEED A PARTNER: Part of being a mountaineer is teamwork and humility. You need to make sure that your difficulty is just right for you in the gym (not too easy and not something too hard that you can't handle). Most importantly, you need to make sure that you have a partner with you in the gym whenever your adding weights to your circuit workout. You never know when your going to lose grip from a bar within a step up or even collapse and trip over with the weights while working out. Check out the Skills & Knowledge page to learn more about how you can benefit from teamwork as a mountain climber.

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