Climbing Resistance Exercises for the Weight Room: Lat Pull-Downs

Spending time seasonally in the weight room can help sport climbers boost areas of weakness while also quantifying their strength and endurance gains. A targeted, climbing-specific, weight-training program can also prove instrumental in busting through climbing performance plateaus. Lat pull-downs are a cornerstone of a climbing-specific weight-training program.

Why Should I Do Lat Pull-Downs?

Reaching a hand above your head to grab a hold and pulling down on it is the most fundamental climbing movement you’ll do with your upper body. Countless variations exist on this basic motion. Training this specific move can help you develop the strength and stamina to repeat the “pull-down” on rock climbs more successfully. Pull-up workouts and lat pull-downs can enable you to build up your muscle to handle increased demands.

How to Perform a Lat Pull-Down

Sit on an exercise bench or chair. Keep your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Reach above your head to grasp the handles or bar on a lat pull-down machine. Start with a slight bend in your elbows and shoulders. Pull down evenly with both hands until the bar or handles are below your chin, as if you’re pulling your chin over a pull-up bar. Slowly release the weight back up to the starting position.

Lat Pull-Down Workouts

  • Increasing Muscle: If you’ve never done lat pull-downs or pull-ups before, use this foundational exercise to lay the groundwork. Start by performing one to three sets of eight to 12 reps twice a week, as suggested by the American College of Sports Medicine. Continue for at least four weeks before trying another lat pull-down workout.
  • Strength/Power:To build strength and power, perform one warm-up set of 8 to 12 reps at a moderate weight, followed by two sets of 1 to 6 reps to failure. For strength, aim to keep the pulling motion slow and even. For power, use a more explosive motion to try to pull the weight down quickly. Rest for 2 to 5 minutes between sets, as explained by Kristy Donathan Bryant, CPT in “Bodybuilding Techniques – Sets & Reps Guide For Strength Training Workouts.”
  • One-Arm Pulls: To train pulling with one arm at a time, use separate hand grips instead of a straight bar.
  • Varying Angle & Grip: Vary and/or expand your lat pull-down workout by adding wide-grip lat pull-downs and/or leaning back farther so that you pull the bar into your chest at a 45-degree angle instead of straight down.
  • Building Endurance/Power Endurance: Do three sets of 20 to 25 reps of lat pull-downs in your first week. The next week, drop the rest period between sets to 30 seconds (or 10 or 20 seconds). The next week, add one or two more sets. Expect the sets after the first set to drop off in reps. Try to add more weight each week if possible as well, always aiming for 20 to 25 reps in the first set. Continue this build-up for six to eight weeks prior to a roped climbing trip or season. This cycle is best performed after laying the groundwork for at least a month, and then undergoing a solid strength/power training cycle of at least six to eight weeks.

Use Lat Pull-Downs to Improve Your Climbing

Grasping holds above your head and pulling them down is a primary motion of rock climbing. Training this motion specifically and intelligently in a weight room can yield great gains on the rock. You’ll experience the greatest improvements in your climbing ability by integrating lat pull-downs appropriately into a well thought-out and comprehensive rock climbing training program that addresses your specific strengths and weaknesses.


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