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eeping Fit

Conditioning for Rock Climbing and Hiking

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by Wayne L. Westcott PhD. View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott

A few years ago we conducted some research studies on the physiological benefits of rock climbing, using a mechanical rock climbing apparatus that allowed us to collect data on each exercise session. We actually trained 30 men and women for 20 minutes a day, two days a week, for a period of eight weeks on a Treadwall revolving rock climbing machine. Even this rather limited amount of simulated rock climbing produced significant improvements in body composition, muscle strength, joint flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. To say the least, we were highly impressed with the physical adaptations associated with regular rock climbing activity.

Of course, there is another side to the rock climbing coin. Due to the intense nature of this muscle-challenging activity, prior physical conditioning is highly recommended. Based on our research results, we recommend a sensible combination of strength exercise for the muscular system and endurance exercise for the cardiovascular system, as well as some stretching exercise for enhanced joint flexibility.

Strength Training Exercises

Because rock climbing involves essentially all of the major muscle groups, we suggest a comprehensive program of strength exercise. Your strength training program should address the muscles of the legs, torso, midsection, arms, neck and forearms. Although the forearms are not normally considered a major muscle group, gripping ability is particularly important for successful rock climbing experiences. Table 1 presents our recommended single-joint exercises that better isolate the target muscles relevant to rock climbing. These are the leg extension, leg curl, hip adduction, hip abduction, chest cross, pullover, lateral raise, biceps curl, triceps extension, low back extension, abdominal curl, neck extension, neck flexion, forearm extension and forearm flexion.

Table 1. Recommended single-joint strength exercises that target muscles used in rock climbing and hiking.


Muscle Groups

Leg Extension


Leg Curl


Hip Adduction

Hip Adductors

Hip Abduction

Hip Abductors

Chest Cross

Pectoralis Major


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About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and......more
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