When you want to develop the strength you need for rock climbing, climbers may tell you, "just climb." While it's true that doing your share of boulder problems and rope routes will help you build your climbing muscles, you can get some additional help in the gym. Climbing requires arm, core and leg strength, so you should ideally work your entire body; but if leg strength is not your strong suit, a number of basic weightlifting exercises will help build muscle.
The quadriceps will help you with the large upward movements you'll complete during both boulder and rope climbs. Thus, work on strengthening them by doing a leg extension exercise. Use the leg extension machine at your gym and set it to a weight that is about 75 to 80 percent of your maximum output. If you don't have access to weight machines, strap on a set of ankle weights, sit on the edge of a chair and extend your legs -- which should start out at a 90-degree angle with your feet on the floor -- to a straight position so your legs and upper body create an "L" shape. Another biggie for the quads and gluteus maximus is the squat. Do the exercise with a barbell, or simply hold a set of dumbbells and move from a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart to a bent-leg position, and then stand back up.
The hamstrings at the back of the legs are also key in stability and pushing upward in climbing. To strengthen these muscles, perform the leg curl exercise -- something opposite of the leg extension. On a machine, again select a weight about 70 to 80 percent of your maximum, and then move your legs from the starting position, extended out from your body, to a knees-bent position. If you don't have access to machines, strap on ankle weights and lie on the floor or on a flat weight bench. Start with your feet nearly touching your buttocks, and then straighten them to form a long straight line with your body. You should feel tension as you move your feet back to touch your buttocks.
You'll also need plenty of flexibility in your hips for traversing and stepping upward. To strengthen your hip flexors, perform both hip adduction and hip abduction exercises. You can do these at your gym using stationary machines, or simply do them standing up. Put on your ankle weights and stand with your feet fairly close together. Hold onto a bar or table to stabilize yourself as you raise your leg out to the side; this is hip abduction. Then push your leg back toward the standing position, but instead of stopping your leg at standing, push it in front of your other leg. This is hip adduction. You can also do these exercises lying down.
Doing lifting exercises to optimize your climbing routine may be different than the lifting you'd do for other purposes. Massachusetts strength training consultant Wayne Westcott recommends climbers perform their weightlifting exercises using slow, controlled movements during lifting, as this better mimics the "tensive" nature of climbing. Also, it's OK to do just one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise -- as opposed to doing higher reps -- as long as you're feeling fatigued at the end of each set. If not, increase the amount of weight you're lifting. Perform each set of exercises two to three times a week, giving yourself a break of at least 48 hours between lifting sessions.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.