If you want to improve your fitness, top-roping is an excellent option for convenience and effectiveness. Depending on various factors, you may have experience limiting fitness training exclusively to lead climbing or bouldering. Still, if you have a dedicated climbing partner, belayer, or access to an auto-belay, you’ve come to the right place to improve your fitness, taking it to the next level.

First off, the term fitness may be confusing to some. Generally speaking, fitness refers to one’s overall athletic capabilities. However, in rock climbing, fitness is often equivalent to endurance training. Or in other words, your level of climbing fitness is indicated by how long and hard you can climb before succumbing to the pump. 

In the following section, we’ve broken down the steps, tips, and tricks to improve your fitness with top-rope climbing.

Improving Your Fitness (Endurance) with Top-Rope Climbing

  • In rock climbing, most of the time, when people refer to fitness, fitness = volume. When you go into the gym for a fitness session, your goal should be to spend as much time on the wall while moving as possible. If you’re climbing with a partner (not using an auto-belay), your rest period will be while you belay them. During your turn, your rest should be minimal, or, even better, you should rest on the wall.
  • To effectively maximize your session’s volume, pick moderately challenging climbs. Improving fitness builds the stamina to complete your project climbs without pumping out. In other words, you should not be projecting during a fitness session. You will see the most gains when you choose climbs you know you can complete with moderate intensity. It is excellent if they are slightly challenging but opt for something other than a climb you know may cause repeated falls.
  • Maximizing time on the wall means repeating climbs. The most efficient way to increase volume and decrease rest/transition time is to climb every climb with easy to moderate difficulty on one top rope or repeat the same climb three to five times in a row. Up the ante by downclimbing from the top instead of your belayer lowering you.
  • Use auto-belays. Whether or not you have a climbing partner, a fantastic tool for training fitness may be an auto-belay. As long as they are not in high demand at your gym, you can top-rope for a theoretically infinite amount of time, or more realistically, until the pump destroys your ability to grip. An auto-belay is perfect for downclimbing and forcing rests on the wall since a fall lowers you to the ground.

If you are still on the fence about improving your fitness with top roping, consider the logistical benefits it could provide. Repeating bouldering can become tiring as boulders generally demand short, intense bursts of power. You may also drop down or fall more frequently, resulting in repetitive pounding on your joints. Considering the amount of climbing you aim for, you may want to avoid climbing the same boulder ten times, dropping down between each go. Additionally, lead climbing can be great for endurance training, but it’s significantly more time-consuming as you have to untie and pull the rope through the anchors after each climb. You can get double or triple the volume in the same length session opting for top-rope versus lead if you are itching to get the clipping practice while training, just mock clip while you’re on top-rope. It will get you used to the motion without the added hassle a lead rope causes during transition periods. 

The worst thing to do if you are looking to improve your fitness is to hem and haw over choosing a workout. After reading through these tips and tricks, there should be no doubt that choosing top-rope climbing is a tried and true way to make endurance gains and improve your climbing. Let us know in the comments below if you’ve hopped on the top-rope fitness train or have been training this way for years! Either way, we’d love to hear from you!