Arnold vs. Spider Monkey

All climbers fear getting “too big”.  We don’t want excessive muscle bulk because it will hinder our performance on the rock.  Arnold would not be a good climber.  On the other end of the spectrum there is the skinny spider monkey boy.  Lots of climbers look like this and I think it’s a mistake.

Now, first off, I’m no gun show.  I’m still quite thin, but I used to be much skinnier.  I’ve had multiple dislocations in both shoulders and have had surgery in both to correct it.  I think that it could have been prevented if I had more shoulder bulk and muscle at the time.  This is one motivation for me:  injury prevention.  I want to pack as much muscle as I can in my shoulders.  When you go for a big dyno or shoulder ripping gastone, I would rather have the load on the muscles.  It’s undesirable to load the joint because there isn’t enough muscle to support it.  Why load a joint?  It’s just bad all around.  Joints don’t stretch too well, but they tear beautifully.

Chris Sharma - © Corey Rich

Look at the “big” climbers like Chris Sharma or Dani Andrada (he’s a beast when he climbs Ali-Hulk in Dosage V).  You don’t hear about their injuries.  Their bodies are balanced and they actually have some pecs to support the front side of their trunk.  Alex Puccio is the female equivalent.

Skinny Ondra strong Andrada

Adam Ondra vs. Dani Andrada - © Pete O'Donovan

Look at the thin climbers like Dave Graham, Paul Robinson, Adam Ondra, etc.  Paxti Usobiaga injured his shoulder requiring surgery and so did Ethan Pringle and Beth Rodden.  They all have quite wide shoulders but no muscle to back it up.  And certainly no arm and pec muscle!  I would rather be a “big” climber…but that’s just me.  Note: I highly respect all of the professional climbers I listed above.  They are supremely talented and have done so much for the sport.  I am simply listing them as an example to support my opinion.

Skinny dave graham

Dave Graham - Courtesy of Dave Graham /

Everyone has a natural weight to them.  If you’re the skinny type, so be it.  I’m skinny too but I’ve worked to put some muscle on and still have some more to go.  I’ll reduce some more body fat and add some more muscle….ideally of course!

Lifting heavy weight will not make you into Arnold!  Last, sometimes it’s just nice to be able to lift heavy stuff.  I don’t want to have to throw my back out to lift a couch or keg.

  • Gaelyn

    I don’t know how some of the thin guys (and girls) get out there and send hard routes! I have personally tried to build my muscle and strength to improve my climbing. As a female climber, I feel combining my agility with power will advance my climbing more effectively than technique alone. However, I have seen my fair share of thin spider-monkey-girls climbing hard at the Coliseum down at the NRG – no idea how they do it. I’m always saying I’m not strong enough yet – could be a mental block.

    By the same token – the girls sending Mercy the Huff at the Red need power and endurance to finish that route.

    Does all come down to personal style? I don’t know if you can say one body type makes a better climber than another??

  • Evilllamas

    Take a look at Bruce Lee- he wasn’t a climber, though with a little practice he could have been very good!
    He only weighed 130lb about- but was as strong as many body builders.
    He trained for that physique- with weights, lots of weights! He had a body that would have been perfect for climbing if he tried it!

    • Gif

      Excellent point! However, Bruce Lee was only 5’7″ so proportionally, he has more muscle mass than many of the “spider monkeys” I am referring to. None the less, you have a great point and Lee’s strength to weight ratio was exceptionally high! Thanks for commenting.

  • Skinny man

    I think every guy wants to look great, but here the discipline is not couch lifting, but smoking high grades. I think it is embarrassing that all the Arnolds are getting their asses kicked by a spider monkey youth. Big muscles remain lipstick if it cannot deliver the grades.

    • Gif

      Thanks for you great comment, Skinny man.  I completely agree that the point is to smoke high grades, and not look good.  However, plenty of the big guys (Sharma, Andrada, Puccio) are smoking high grades and are “big”.  Also, I think having lots of muscle will increase your durability and longevity in the sport.  Lots of the skinny guys have been injured.  I suspect they would reduce their injury probability if they had more muscle.  

      I’m in this sport for the long haul.  I, personally, would rather have more muscle than less.  Keeping my body strong and durable is the key.  We will see how Ondra’s body is holding up when he’s 30.  Obviously looking huge is not conducive to climbing.  When I say “big” I mean like Sharma and Andrada.  Thanks again for an awesome comment!!  

      • Skinny man

        Hi Gif. I get your point…thanks. I am thinking more of the guys who train for looks but cannot climb more than grade 22/5.11a – although I agree that the Sharma look probably goes a longer way if you are on the wife hunt. I guess a lot has got to do with your natural build. If I train hard and even when I work on strength, I get even skinnier…bummer (but I can do more than a 1000 sit-ups non-stop for endurance).  I have tried to work more on shoulders as I see it is a weakness for skinny guys like me to get rid of the coat hanger look! 

        • Gif

          Don’t think of it in terms of how you look.  The guys who train for looks and can’t climb 11a aren’t training for climbing.  If that’s their focus, that’s fine, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.  Train to get stronger and build muscle to achieve durability and longevity.  Strive for a balanced body.  If you get skinnier when you train it is likely due to your nutrition.  When you train hard, you need to eat!  Take a look at some of my other training/nutrition articles to get an idea.  

  • Just Saying

    Patxi Usobiaga is a big climber.

    • Gif

      5’8″ and 136lbs is not big in my opinion….just sayin

      • Just Saying

        Interesting, haven’t seen him live, just a training video on youtube and he looked big.
        You have to admit though, Ondra at the moment is the best, crushing boulder competitions and hard routes as well. So his body and climbing style should be the optimal thing (record wise at least, not climbing career lenght wise).
        Btw, do you know Ondra and Sharma’s height and weight too?

        • Gif

          According to the “unofficial Ondra site” and wiki, he’s 5’11” and 130lbs.  Very thin.  Sharma is very hard to find.  I’ve heard around 6 ft and 170lbs.  

          No doubt Ondra is crushing more than anyone else.  However, his longevity is in question for me.  I don’t think he can support those loads on such a small frame for long.  Again, just my opinion.  We’ll see how he’s doing when he’s Sharma’s age.  

          • Just Saying

            Ondra’s style rarely involves dynamic movements like jumping though, and I think that is more key to preventing injuries…

          • Gif

            Agreed, but that is more dependent on the climb itself at that grade.  There are either holds, or there aren’t.  I think Ondra has said he struggles with big power moves.  

  • Carlos

    I tried the arnold way and it didnt work out for me.Never link a 5.12.I tried the skinny way , i did my first 5.12 last week.I started to run a lot.

    • Gif

      Very interesting to say the least. I find it odd that you started running (which provides no training for climbing other than excess weight loss), and that gave you the edge to climb harder. Perhaps there were some other factors

  • Martin

    Good point.

    I often fear a little bit about the joints of the climbers when I see someone like Graham fight in an shouldery 8C!

    But I wanted to say that in my opinion Andrada has no balanced body, he is all chest and back and biceps, but has barely developed his antagonists.

    Further I think the skinny climbers often have an immense intramuscular strength so they can use it to stabilise their joints.

    None the less I agree that more muscle mass is a good protection for injurie. I also train especially my shoulders because I once had problems with them and I’m willing to carry this “extra weight” up the routes if this gives me the freedom to climb fearless (concerning injuries) and I can trust my body when pull as hard as I can.

    Cheers, Martin

    • Gif

      Excellent points, Martin. I think experience and longevity is on their side when smaller climbers perform shouldery or tweaky moves. I don’t know how their joints stay in place! I’m totally with you, and would rather carry a few extra pounds up the rock, but know my body is strong and durable. I think durability is one of the most important aspects in any mountain sport. Without it, you won’t be enjoying your sport very often! Strength + Mobility = Durability.

      I think my comment on Andrada was more of a comparison to other smaller climbers. Thanks so much for reading and for the excellent comment!

  • David

    You better check what Adam Ondra himself says: Had been pretty weak compared to grades I had been climbing. Does it mean I had a good technique? I hope so. Then I added some campusing to the training. Result? I am stronger, but feel like I am losing technique. Being strong and aquiring some good technique? Incredibly difficult. Getting stronger and working on your technique? Even harder.

    • Gif

      Hmm something to think about for sure. Although, if one feels like technique is decreasing, get on technical routes that you can’t muscle your way up. You will have to climb smart and clean. If technique is good but strength seems to be falling behind, get on burly routes that you can’t tech your way up with any sort of voodoo, you gotta be strong. I think this is a good thought, but there are work arounds to make sure technique or strength can gain at the same time. Most climbers technique and fitness increase the longer they climb, maybe not at the same time, but they do get better. Thanks so much for reading and for the comment David!!

      • David

        Gif: you did not understand what i meant. I didn’t talk about myself, It was a quote, I was quoting Adam Ondra. That’s what he said. I myself wouldn’t dare to lecture you but he must know what he’s talking about since he’s the world’s best climber.

      • David

        But sorry for confusing you, and thanks for a nice answer

  • martin

    Accoring to wikipedia, Dani Andrada and Adama Ondra have the same size and the same weight…

    • Gif

      Martin, I found Ondra’s weight on wikipedia but only found some small source for Andrada’s weight. Andrada appears to be a few inches shorter as well. However, it’s still hard to believe based on their pictures right?? Very interesting. Thanks for commenting Martin!

  • douglas gray

    If you look at when gymnasts peak, youth and flexibility along with strength help a lot. Look at Ashima Shiriashi and Brooke Rabitou, doing 14 b and c at 12-13 years old. Ashima was doing the tie breaker at a competition in 2014, and the amount of time she could hang on a few fingers of one hand was amazing. She would try the move with one hand, didn’t work, then she switched to the other, then she kept doing that, so not only strength, but remarkable endurance for such a young age. As you get older, the decrease in flexibility means you need more strength to compensate. It’s all physics, the joints are less flexible, so the amount of arm and finger strength needed to pull against a tighter hip flexor, for example, is greater. With the flexibility, you don’t have to pull against a resisting joint in addition to your own weight.

    • Gif

      Good points Douglas. Thanks for the comment!

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