Train Technique or Train Strength

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion on the interwebs if climbers should focus on technique training, or strength training.  Much of this talk was spawned from the Sean McColl training video, which shows him doing many supplementary exercises.  McColl is no stranger to high level competition, so obviously he’s doing something right.  Notice the something in italics… we’ll get to that.

On one side, you have the climbers that say to only train technique, or “just climb” a lot.  These climbers will work routes or boulder problems until they send them, endlessly working individual moves.  Many of these climbers think proper movement is the answer, and that their current level of strength is not their weakness.

On the other side you have climbers who train like monsters.  They work some movement, yes, but most of the time is spend on hangboards, campus boards, system walls, and in the weight room.  They will perform many precise and calculated exercises that don’t really replicate actual climbing movement.  These climbers tend to think that you need a certain level of strength to perform certain moves.  No matter how refined your movement is, you may not be strong enough, hence their desire to train for strength.

So who is right?  Which method generates the better climber?  What’s the best way to train for climbing?  Well, in my opinion, they are both right.  It’s an extremely complex problem.

Climbing is not just technical or not just physical.  Climbing requires technical, physical, and mental strengths.  But this is not a unique problem to climbing alone.  Many sports are like this, and debates are frequent on how to train for them.  Take for example, olympic weightlifting.  Weightlifters must obtain perfect movement perform the clean and jerk and snatch effectively.  There must be no inefficient movement and body position must be optimal.  They train technique a lot.  At the same time, they must possess a certain level of strength to move heavy loads.  It doesn’t matter how technically sound their movement is, if they don’t have enough strength to move the barbell, the lift isn’t happening.  Therefore, they train strength too!

Ideally, climbers will increase their technical abilities and their strength.  Practicing movement is good.  Climbing harder boulder problems at the gym or outside is good.  But did you succeed because you got stronger, or your movement skills increased?  This is why training only by climbing is not the best method in my opinion.  You may be advancing your movement, but you may not be getting stronger.  It’s very difficult to gauge.  A better gauge for strength increase is very controlled and easily measured training such as hangboarding, campus boarding, and weight training.  If you can hang on the hangboard for a longer period of time or with more weight, you got stronger… simple!

Unfortunately, we all only have a certain amount of time and resources at our disposal.  I, for one, live 1 hour away from the climbing gym and 3 and a half hours from the New River Gorge.  This makes movement training during the week (as well as bouldering, 4×4’s, etc.) very difficult.  I simply don’t have the time to drive 1 hour each way to the gym.  So I’m left with strength training.  I utilize the hangboard, rock rings, and weights to train.  It certainly is better than nothing.

Too many people argue that a certain way of training is a “waste of time”.  I don’t think any of it is a waste of time!  Whether you are climbing at the gym, working movement, hangboarding, or other strength training, you are getting better.  Something is always better than nothing.  There are many theories on the best way to train at any sport.  They all have some sort of validity.  So, in short, get out there and do something!


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