There's no question about it. When your forearms are fried, the dishes are done. You're going to fall off your route.
Technique is important for climbing and it can save your strength. Indeed, on routes with a rating below 5.8, strength may not even be an issue if your technique is adequate. But as you start to push up through the grades, you'll find that forearm strength becomes more and more important.
The more you train your forearms, the stronger you'll be. And the more you train your forearms, the more likely it is that you will be able to rest them quickly and adequately by shaking out or finding a stance on which to take a break.
There are a handful of exercises that work to build forearm strength and endurance. Following is a quick breakdown of some of these exercises:
You probably remember from your days of lifting weights in the high school weight room that muscle is most effectively built when you workout until muscle failure. Commonly, an athlete will work a specific muscle group by lifting a weight a number of times (referred to as reps) until the muscle fails. Most will know that with a given weight, the muscle will begin to fail after a given number of reps.
A static hang works the muscle in much the same way. For this to work effectively, you have to hang until your muscles fail. This doesn't mean that you have to hang until it hurts or even until it hurts a lot. You have to go beyond those thresholds to the point of complete muscle failure.
After failure, allow the muscles to rest for five minutes or so and then try again. Ideally, you will do this exercise three or four times in order to get the most out of it.
Endurance Static Hangs
Hang on a bar or a hangboard with both hands. Drop one hand and shake it out while still hanging on the other. Hang for at lease five seconds on one arm before switching.
This particular exercise is great for climbers because of the way it imitates real life!
There are two effective ways to do forearm curls. One may use a regular barbell or a dumbell.
To use a barbell, you will need to lay your forearms across a weight bench holding the barbell. Your hands should hang over the edge, palms up. All the bar to roll toward your fingers and then flex, bringing it up into your palm.
With a dumbell, the system is almost the same. Allow the dumbell to roll out toward your fingers and then flex, allowing int to roll back into your palm.
With both of these exercises, it tends to be more effective to work toward a combination of strength and endurance by working on time as opposed to reps. Try to do as many curls as possible in a minute and then work up from there. Remember most sport routes take five to ten minutes to climb, so that should be a goal in the exercise.
Indoor Gym Exercise
One of the best ways to build forearm strength and endurance is to traverse around the climbing gym on easy holds. Try to stay on the wall for at least twenty minutes. Another version of this same exercise is to try to down-climb the routes after you reach the top.
As with other excercises, a series of these twenty minute sessions will be more effective than a one time run at them.
There are a number of different commercial forearm exercising devices out there. Perhaps the most popular is the blue latex rubber doughnut. The value of these devices is that they work out both fingers and forearms. This should be used like any weight device. Do a series of reps until failure, rest and then repeat two more times.
You can find more on forearm workouts here. For information about why forearms pump out and about lactic acid buildup in forearms, click here.
--Jason D. Martin