This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 233 (April 2016).
While climbers may acknowledge the value of non-climbing exercises such as pumping iron and grinding away on the treadmill, the benefits of these activities have always been indirect. Until now, that is. The development of suspension systems—essentially a glorified, versatile variant of gymnastic rings—has opened the door to a new and exciting world of supportive strength training.
The suspension system uses your body weight for resistance, and virtually all the exercises develop stability and core strength that are specific to the
requirements of climbing. Suspension training has become standard practice among elite sport climbers such as Magnus Midtbø (see video below) and Adam Ondra and boulderers such as Daniel Woods and Alex Puccio.
While the benefits for sport climbing are also clear and tangible, suspension training really comes into its own when applied to bouldering. As you crank up the resistance and drop the reps, suspension exercises can develop crushing strength in the upper body for compression and press moves as well as the leg strength for dynamic heel hooks.
For all the exercises given, the straps need to be approximately shoulder-width apart. The height of the straps from the floor determines the resistance and difficulty of the exercise.
Always make smooth movements with strictly controlled form. A guideline for training strength is to keep the reps below eight and go to failure on all sets. However, people who are new to suspension training should start off with a phase of higher-rep sets (15-20) aimed at conditioning and strength-base development.
There are many schools of thought on the optimum way to structure sets for strength training, but the time-honored pyramid still works well. For example, start with a set of seven to eight, then increase the resistance, do a set of five to six, increase again and do a set of three to four, and finally,
hit peak intensity with a set of one to two. Don’t do all the exercises given for chest, shoulder and triceps in the same workout or you will over-train;
instead pick two or three per session. Elites might do a total of 10-12 sets for these muscles spread across three exercises, while intermediates would do six to eight sets spread across two exercises. Rest two to three minutes between sets.
Train like Magnus Midtbø: