Four reasons climbers should deadlift

Alex Huber is famous for saying " It's like I have power to spare".

Simply knowing power to spare is even possible, should inspire us all to search it out. But how do we go about developing this elusive trait? Where should we start?

Strength training, especially deadlifing, are popular training tools among some climbers and coaches. Yet even the most enthusiastic climbers and training monkeys among us can be skeptical of the benefit. What does the crux sequence of my project have to do with bodybuilding? Seeing the benefit can be tough so we've discussed some of the top reasons deadlifts and squats are good for climbers. Just how to implement these lifts and other strength training protocol will be in future posts.

If you're wondering if deadlifting will make you a better climber, the answer is no. Will it make you a stronger climber? Without question. The primary goal of training should be to get better at the sport. But to be strong is to arrive at this goal safer, stronger, more resilient, and injury free, and likely faster. 

Core Strength

The deadlift and squat are two of the most functional movement exercises. These lifts engage more large muscles than any other movements and they target a broad number of muscle groups while building strength through large ranges of motion. They are a fast and logical way to build a strong human foundation from which to scale on more sport specific strength. Your back is part of your core, it's just hard to see it in the mirror. The deadlift activates the entire posterior flexor (as you lower) and extensor (as you raise) chains. Strengthening this oft-neglected part of your core is critical to back health, injury prevention, core strength and trunk stability. Further, a strong foundation increases your ability to do more work, or work capacity. In turn, the hike to the crag, alpine wall or boulder problem, hauling on long free routes or any psychical exercise will leave you less fatigued than before. There for, we often programming the deadlift and squat early in the training cycle to build stamina. This prepares you for the difficult work in the climbing specific strength phase of your training.

Free Drugs and Bigger Forearms

Testosterone and human growth hormone are anabolic hormones produced by the body. The list of benefits, not the least of which is they simply make you stronger, is long. They are also vital for protein synthesis, growth, and repair of muscles, and are produced when we perform heavy deadlifts and squats. The best part for climbers is these hormones are not limited to the muscles worked. All muscles in the body, including the climber limiting forearm flexors, benefits from the free flowing hormones in the blood. So, if you lift heavy on the same day you work finger strength your forearms and fingers will reap all the hormonal benefits created by the heavy lifting.

Unfortunately, hangboard and bouldering session cannot produce the stress required for the body to produce the same amount of these powerful anabolic hormones.

Don't be scared by the word growth. The aim isn't to gain mass. Mass is more a product of ingesting lots of calories and high repetitions of the exercises, neither of which is the proper prescription for climbers. In fact, another benefit of the hormones is an increase in fat loss. Proper programming will provide the strength benefits and hormonal response without becoming a beefcake. This is because of proper programming results with a neurological strength adaptation and limits hypertrophy (mass) of the muscle. And if a climber adds a few pounds, it’s okay, because it’s likely they;  got stronger, increased their insulin sensitivity thereby defending against type 2 diabetes. Given these points and the many other health and performance benefits of these hormones, these lifts should be part of many climbers training. 


The truth about core training! Common core exercises like leg lifts, crunches, planks and other bodyweight exercises produce less core activation than classic full body functional lifts like the deadlift and squat. Research has found that "80% 1RM squat and deadlift resistance exercises exceeded the core activation levels achieved when performing body weight and instability exercises.-Source J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Nov;21(4):1108-12. This and many studies like it show the effectiveness of the deadlift and squat for developing a strong core. It's no wonder they are go-to exercises for many Olympic and professional athletes in an array of sports. 

 Further, deadlifts and squats increase athleticism by informing—the stabilizer, neutralizer, agonist and antagonist muscles—to work together efficiently during a movement. And through weight training, we also teach the motor neurons within a muscle to fire together. This means muscle fibers within the same muscle work together more effortlessly. Increased efficiency and neuron connectivity means less total energy expenditure while climbing.

So the ability, to perform a high step, mantle, toe hard and pull in on steep rock, heel hook and compress, generate body tension and drive the hips into the wall, or simply rock climb, will become physically (not technically) easier because of increased muscle coordination. 


The examples of climbers maintaining a high level of performance late into their career are impressive. Even more prolific in our sport, are the large numbers of climbers aged fifty and up who climb on a regular basis. Some fun examples are: Lee Sheftel doing his first 5.14a at age 59, Stevie Haston completing his first 14d at age 52, Steve Hong climbing 5 14’s in his sixties, Jim Donini (70) and George Lowe (69), do the Nose on El Cap in 29 hours, and Herman Golner sending Pump O Rama (13a) in Rifle again, at 69, with two new knees. And of course, there is Fred Beckey, who is still planning climbing trips at 92.

Physical strength and body composition are two critical matrixes in healthspan and longevity. Dr. Michael Roizen, MD of Internal Medicine states “We lose an average of 5 percent of our muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 35—if we do nothing about it.” Losing strength and power because of a decrease in muscles is something we have control over. As we have discussed, heavy resistance training is the best way to maintain strength and extend out health span late into our lives.

The deadlift and squat because of their hormonal response, functionality, and ability to turn on critical muscles groups are optimal exercises for climbers looking to be strong and go long!