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Pull Up Workout Session: Upper Body Strength for Climbing

Train upper body strength with our complete pull up workouts for everyone – beginners to advanced climbers!

Upper body strength is essential for the pulling movements we find in climbing as we move up the wall. One way we can train upper body strength for climbing is through pull ups. Pull ups work out everything from your back and shoulders, all the way to you biceps, forearms and fingers.

It’s not just elite level athletes who benefit from pull up training! Even beginners can train pull-ups and will benefit from the strength it develops.

How to Train Strength: Maximum Strength Session

This rep range is going to recruit our muscles, to help us on those really hard moves that require maximum strength.

You can use a weight belt to add weight. You can also use a harness but weight belts distribute the weight more evenly.

To remove weight, you can use a pulley system. Resistance bands also work, however, their resistance isn’t consistent throughout the movement (more assistance at lowest position, less assistance at highest position)

The Session:

  • 3-4 reps
  • 4-5 sets
  • ~9/10 RPE (roughly 90% of your 1RM^)
  • Add or remove weight to achieve RPE*

You don’t have to start at the prescribed number of sets. You can increase the volume as you get stronger.

Once you’ve achieved the prescribed sets, focus on maintaining the 9/10 RPE. Over time, as as you get stronger, the load will generally need to increase.

^ 1RM = 1 Rep Max – the maximum amount of weight that a person can possibly lift for one repetition. (This can be sub-bodyweight.)

*RPE = Rating of Perceived Effort – The conscious sensation of how hard, heavy, and strenuous a task is.

How to Improve Your Bodyweight Pull Up Reps: Hypertrophy Session

This rep range causes hypertrophy; and develops the strength needed for multiple moves. Climbing isn’t just one hard move, it’s a sequence of moves that each require a certain level of strength.

The Session:

  • 8-12 reps
  • 3-4 sets
  • Add or remove weight to achieve rep range


We’re going to use a similar model as with the max strength session.

Negatives are just the ‘lowering’ part of the pull-up. They’re an eccentric contraction meaning the muscle is lengthening.

Use a box, chair or bench to help you get into the elevated position with our chin at bar level. Lower your body in a controlled manner. When you reach the bottom, use the box/chair/bench to help you back into the start position.

You want the lowering movement to be slow and controlled. Reduce load if you can’t achieve this slow pace.

Negatives are a great way for people who can’t do a bodyweight pull-up to begin pull-up training. Advanced climbers can also use negatives if they’ve hit a plateau.

The Session:

  • 3-4 reps
  • 4-5 sets
  • Each rep should be for 2-3 seconds
  • Add or remove weight to achieve rep range


Lock-offs are isometric (static) contractions that transfer well to that specific position on the wall. We tend to train lock-offs at 90 degrees and 120 degrees as these are two positions frequently encountered on the wall.

We generally avoid deep lock-offs as they may cause elbow problems.

As with negatives, you’re going to want to use something to help you into position.

Changing time under tension will change the intensity, less time, more load = max strength, making existing fibres stronger

More time, less weight = capacity, hypertrophy, building new muscle

The Session:

  • 4 sets 90 degrees
  • 4 sets 120 degrees
  • Hold for 10 seconds
  • ~80-90% 1RM

Power Pull Ups

The key focus with power pull-ups is velocity. This training translates into dynamic movement on the wall.

The movement pattern is similar to a conventional pull up except the intention is to develop power and speed.

As you pull up, aim to get your chest to the bar, moving quickly. On the way down, lower slowly in a controlled, engaged manner.

The Session:

Speed is key; it will dictate the number of reps you perform.

  • As many reps as possible before velocity decreases; usually 2-4 reps
  • 3-4 sets
  • Reduce weight using resistance band if needed

Stop training when the velocity drops because you’re no longer training power.

When to Train Pull-Ups?

You want to train pull-ups when you’re feeling relatively fresh. Ideally, you don’t want to perform pull-ups before climbing, as you’ll go into your climbing session fatigued.

Train them after a climbing session when you still feel like you have energy, or on their own.

Want more details? Check out this video!

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