Mountain Project Logo

Climbing hard at 200+lbs?


Original Post
Brent Kelly · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 30

Looking for some inspiration and maybe guidance...

Anybody here pushing 200lbs (90kg) and still pushing grades into 5.12+ and beyond? Or have friends who do?

If so, what have been the big boons and banes of your training?

In my case:

5.13a has been a distant but seemingly achievable goal since I started climbing ~10 yrs ago. (5.14a.... eh, dare to dream)

I’ve ticked a couple 5.12c’s, but minor and major injuries prompted some significant time off and setbacks. Even had to have a rib removed in order to not die from a compressed vein.



​As for BioStats, I’m 6’3” (1.9m) +0, and grateful for the reach.

However, I’m 200 +/-10 lbs (90kg). The plus/minus is weekend warrior mode & ice cream VS marathon training & the flu.

I fenced very competitvely for about a decade as well, during teen years, so my legs are fairly powerful, but with some extra meat on the bone to drag up the wall.



So techy vertical climbs, like Ten Digit Dialing, generally feel more feasible for me than steep cave routes, especially when my height advantage helps me reach past the small stuff. But when the holds get super thin, I tend to hurt my fingers even just trying to hold body tension.

And on the steeper stuff, like The Great Escape, heel hook trickery tends to save my fat ass from completely flailing and failing. However, pure steep resistance climbing and campusing often feels like a sisyphean endeavor.And when, in the 12d/13a range, the climbs get longer or the holds get smaller, I just feel *heavy*.

I know climbing hard at this weight is possible, feasible, easily achievable, even, with the proper climbing specific training and a good amount of focus on opposition/stabilization training.

John Dunne definitely inspires...https://www.climbing.com/news/no-excuses-two-heavy-climbers-crushed/

But any kind of work-out other than actually climbing is boring and hard to buy in to, unless I’m already feeling some stability issues. I need all the motivation I can get to convince my lazy ass to do push ups and shoulder flys and hangboard sessions. And also any words of wisdom on how to avoid over training and optimize rest periods.

These days I’m focused on short, hard sessions on bouldery routes with ample rest in between, which seems to be helping push the grades back into 5.12+ territory. But I’m eager to up my pure strength and pure endurance soon, since that seems like a crucial element in the jump from 12- to 13-, and I’m suspicious I’ll find a way to seriously injure myself again....

So, who’s got some stoke filled anecdotes on how they pushed into the realm of heavy sends?!

Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0

Yo Bro, I'm right there with the height and weight (6'2" /  190-210 lbs, depending on time of year), but I've never climbed anything as hard as you. Probably because I mostly trad climb. I find climbing anything crimpy that's overhanging causes me to pop finger tendons and develop bursitis and tendonitis. I am probably much older than you, and injury prevention is more important than grades to me at this point.

Sport climbing is all about how skinny you can get, check out Stevie Haston on how he finally did a really hard sport climb in France....hint, he looked like a skeleton. All things being equal, you can climb harder the thinner you are, so that is probably going to be the easiest and fastest way to progress for you if all of your other skills are honed.

Eric Carlos · · depends · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40

My buddy Al has climbed 13a at 200, and I believe Nick Duttle has been not far from that weight, and climbs 14's.  He is certainly on the heavier side of top end climbers.

the schmuck · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 110

John Dunne, 14+. 

Parker Kempf · · Bellingham, WA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 210

I'll hop in the boat with you OP

I'm 6'3, 215, with +4 on the reach and not a ton of fat to lose
I've been meddling in the mid 5.12 range for a while, and can't seem to break the barrier into the 13's.

There are 2 things that consistently shut me down when trying harder routes:
-Flexibility, when the 'box' is to small I get spit off the wall, especially with small holds because I cant get under them.
-Lockoff strength, I often feel like on a steep section with small holds and bad feet I have a hard time cranking on consistently small holds because my hands just cant hold the weight

Ive been trying to do harder and harder gym bouldering circuits on thin holds (because hangboarding and lifitng weights is boring and im way to injury-prone for that) and i've been distance running (with lots of hip stretches) to attempt to get my weight down in the low 200's

OP do you run into the flexibility/lock off issues I described?

Also i've been getting on more 5.12 trad climbs and find that its a different kind of 'hard on the body' and seems to really help as a training mechanism. haven't tried any trad 13's because that is just to scary 

Cole Paiement · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 245

Alright so I might be a little outside your target audience but at 6'2", 185 I'm not TOO far outside. I'm mostly a sport climber with quite a few 5.13 ticks (and even one soft 5.14) but I can also manage 5.11 trad and V6-V7 boulders.

It sucks to say but some people just need to work harder to be strong climbers. Stop looking at those little 5' 6" spidery dudes climbing V10 at the gym. They aren't you. That said, 5.13 definitely isn't outside your range, the problem is that it will take focused training to get there. If you climb long enough (which it sounds like you have) the "just climb to get better" mentality stops being effective and you need to begin actively working on improvement. There are lots of different training protocols (I use Rock Climber's Training Manual) but no matter what you use the important thing is to stick with it. Training when the mood strikes won't make you better, you need to be disciplined.

Important things:
1. Weight loss
Carrying 15 lbs of cookies and beer definitely won't help you sending. But don't go overboard. From personal experience losing too much weight will make you weaker. At one point I dropped 10 lbs and though I was climbing well I could only do a couple pitches each day before I was completely exhausted.
2. Finger strength
Everybody needs this but bigger hands and more weight means that weak fingers can often be a limiting factor.
3. Flexibility
This is especially important for bouldering. Being bigger might mean you have a longer reach but it also means you will often need to fit into a box better suited for smaller climbers.

Last thing: prepare yourself for the "you can just reach that" comments you will inevitably get constantly when you start climbing 5.13. Yeah I only have to do three moves through that section when you do seven but my monos are jugs to your little doll fingers and the crimps you are shaking out on just feel like hatred and fire to me.

Good luck!

Rui Ferreira · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 878

Different generations have had heavy weight climbers setting standards, such as Don Whillans or John Long, but by far John Dunne should be your inspiration

https://www.climbing.com/news/no-excuses-two-heavy-climbers-crushed/

Jplotz · · Wenatchee, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 1,205

6' 2", 197 lbs with a  +6.5 reach that doesn't do shit for me in the gym or on sport routes but is a bonus on cracks!  

Everyone keeps referencing John Dunne.  What are his stats as far as weight and height?

Chase Webb · · Little Rock, AR · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 367

I can definitely relate to how you are feeling, I'm around 6'4" and am sitting at 210 lbs right now. I typically can send 12-'s fairly quickly but haven't seemed to be able to push it to that next level. I used to want to blame it on my size, but after some reflection I think there are a few factors to take into account. First off, I think there is a natural barrier for most people regardless of size when breaking into harder 12's and 13's. I think this is due to the fact that the majority of climbers have to start doing dedicated training to keep progressing past this point. I know I personally have not put in the work, so I should not expect to naturally climb harder just by climbing more. Lastly, I have not attempted very many climbs in the 12+/13- range, so the lack of exposure could also play a big role in this.

Rui Ferreira · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 878
Jplotz wrote: 
Everyone keeps referencing John Dunne.  What are his stats as far as weight and height?

I do not know his stats, but from this video you can see that he was well north of 200 lbs during his climbing career

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3D0Mp0RrQRA
Brent Kelly · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 30

I hear what you guys are saying about the importance of dropping weight to send hard. But at a certain point, it doesnt seem feasible, or even worth it. It’s just rock climbing, after all. Not worth starving over.

Other than ego-tripping-spray, I think my main concern here is understanding how to progress towards the goal without tearing my body apart with injuries.

Parker, I hear ya. I’m hyperflexible in some ways (which can also have its drawbacks), but definitely feel the limitations when muscle imbalances manifest, and squeezing into “the box” is definitely tough sometimes. (Who are these microsized, masochistic “sit-start” boulderers, anyways?)

Lock offs have definitely been a struggle, though I’ve found that over the years, its gotten easier, at least on bigger holds. One thing that’s really helped me with lock offs has been focusing on rotator cuff stability exercises, and frenchie pullup sets - but ONLY to the extent theres not aches or pains. Injuries just seem way to likely when the elbows or AC joint ache. YTWL shoulder flys are tough medicine, even with 2lbs freeweights, but I almost always feel like I’m getting a ton out of them.

Cole - inspiring stuff, thanks! I’m gonna have to give the RCTM a serious read through and see what gaps I can fill with some disciplined, boring training. Horst’s “How to Climb 5.12” was a helpful and inspiring read back when I was a 5.11 newbie, but looking back I feel like the gist of it was “climb a bunch, thoughtfully and progressively” with some focus on periodicity, and a little bit of grip strength training. At this point I think I need more focus on safely upping max finger strength, and ensuring the overall chain of pull muscles are balanced by sufficient antagonists - which for some reason I find pretty intimidating and confusing, having never been much of a weight lifter/body builder. 

And yeah, being hungry and tired all the time for a 20minute send burn just doesnt seem worth it. I’d rather have MMA style all around fighting fitness in general, anyways. I think below 190 and I’m in eating disorder territory. No bueno.

Plus, seems like folks are less likely to give the “you can just reach that” gripe when you willingly admit it’s an advantage in some ways, and are also capable of suffocating anyone who won’t shut up just by sitting on them. Being able to pluck people out of the air while spotting them on boulders is a plus too. “You just saved my life” gratitude is always nice to be on the receiving end of.

Chase, I think you make really strong, straightforward points. With honest reflection, I haven’t tried many 12+s or 13a’s... Partly out of fear of injury ( the shorter ones general involve some stressful moves on small holds), partly out of not wanting to waste time, but probably mostly from not wanting to get shut down and feel unworthy. Definitely getting stoked to carefully check out some enduro-style 12+s and start seeing what reality feels like in that realm, even if it is a demoralizing beatdown.

If anything, I’m finding it helpful to remember that at 190lbs+, 13a will be a decent feat. I don’t have any delusions of competing with the young, thin 14+ semi-pros. But ideally, I do want to be able to enjoy the more interesting movement of 5.12+ terrain without each line becoming a battle or obsession.

I’d love to head back to the RRG on a short trip someday and be able to have a lot of fun 5.12- options that feel semi casual. I think a trip involving a casual send of Twinkie, making faily short work of CellBlockSix, and managing a send of Table of Colors would probably be the natural pinnacle of my recreational sport climbing. Sounds like anything more might be begging for an unreasonable sufferfest of a hobby. Ain’t nobody got time fo that.

Also, I guess my Google-Fu was off when I first posted, didn’t realize there was another (mostly non-toxic) “climbing hard while heavy” thread, as well.
https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/107757820/fat-guys-who-climb-hard


Ok, so, for a much more specific ask of those who climb hard while heavy - 

What have you found most helpful to develop balanced strength and help mitigate likelihood of injury?

(So far, for me, taking care to stay hyrdated has been *huge*. Also some rotator cuff exercises, and focus on chest-out-shoulders-back-and-down posture throughout the day have seemingly been difference-makers)

Mark Paulson · · Raleigh, NC · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 130

Hangboarding, regular antagonistic training, and time-restricted eating...

I started out doing periodic, RCTM style hangboard cycles, but the sessions were miserable, and with so much down-time between cycles, progress was one step forward, .9 steps backward.  I’ve switched to Bechtel ladders, which are much more palatable... but perhaps more important that the actual protocol is the belief that hangboarding is an essential exercise you should always be doing, and that gains should be measured in years, not weeks.  45 minutes, once a week, on a wooden board is not too much to ask if you’re serious about climbing harder grades.  And I’d also consider it to be the single best method of finger-injury prevention.  Training a full crimp on a 7mm incut has had a direct effect on my comfort on outdoor holds I’d previously been afraid to fully commit to, and besides the occasional collateral ligament tweak, my fingers have been injury-free for years.

You said non-climbing workouts are boring, and usually only spurred on by feelings of instability, but at that point you’re already at a high risk of injury.  Unless you’re in your teens or early twenties, antagonistic muscle workouts should be seen as mandatory, especially the harder you climb and the older you get.  Rock climbing is a pretty unnatural activity, and can (and usually does) create serious imbalances in the body.  You don’t need to train those muscle groups to climb 13’s per se... you need to train them in order to stay healthy whilst doing all the climbing-based training you’ll need to do to climb 13’s. I’ve found yoga to be an almost ideal antidote for many of my climbing-related ailments (shoulder impingement, proximal biceps tendinitis, lower back pain), but also try to do a general push workout 1-2 days a week.

There have already been a few instances of “climbing hard isn’t worth feeling tired and weak” on this thread, which is how any sort of diet or dietary restriction is often viewed here on MP.  But unwillingness to hold oneself accountable for what you’re putting in your body (or _when_ you’re doing it) doesn’t bode well for future hard sends.  I’ve seen 6’+ people send 13’s, seen 5’ folks send 13’s, and pretty much every height in between—the common factor they _all_ shared was they were all, to a person, ripped.  Men and women both. Not necessarily shrink-wrap/back-vein shredded, but pretty cut.  There may be the rare 5.14 crusher that went doughy and can still crank 13’s, but they’re the rare exception.  The most sustainable diet I’ve found is time-restricted eating. Google it if you’re not familiar. It’s easy, it’s adaptable, and it works.  It also has a host of beneficial effects on the blood (higher HGH, higher T, lower insulin, easier ability to grow and maintain lean muscle), and should be considered even if you’re -not- trying to lose weight.  Caloric/dietary restriction has also been the only method proven to increase longevity, if you’re in to the whole “living” thing.  I basically vary between an 8 to 10 hour eating window, depending on when in the season it is.  Going down to 8 hours in the couple weeks before a trip or project not only helps to cut a little weight, it also adds to a sense of discipline and self-determination.  I’d recommend it to anyone.

Brother Numsie · · AnCapistan · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 880

I have spent my entire life from 10th grade until now (many decades) at 6', 190 to 220. Negative AI.
My peak was in the mid 90's, where I projected on .12C/D.
I was a Varsity Linebacker and wrestler, continued some football into college. Post team sports, I fell in with the Nautilus Fitness, body sculpting crowd mid 80's.
Because of all that, I developed the ability to perform extremely painful weight workouts. Even bodybuilders would puke from lactic acid trying to follow me and my partners through a workout.
Gym workouts are for appearance and mitigating injuries. So you definitely need to put weight training into your regimen primarily to help fend off muscle and ligament tears. It absolutely worked for me, my worst climbing injury was a couple popped pulleys. The idea being larger muscle groups protect the smaller ones.
Power is both our strength and weakness. You need power to huck moves that the spindly guys just float. But then, power is the main attribute large people have simply due to a life of having to exert more energy than a little person.
I had several years where I could do 3-4 one arm pull ups. But that by itself never translated to my climbing, it was more of a stunt. Like ripping apart all 6 of the plastic six pack rings.
There simply is no substitute for hard climbing ability than climbing a lot.
My peak years coincided with the first waves of bolting CCC and Devils Head, so the opportunity to get out 5 times a week was always present; including the calls to get oyt from better driven partners.
Looking back, what failed me the most wasn't my weight or short reach, it was overall fitness. I would have full body flame outs on the long sustained routes.
Another aspect I had to deal with was the much larger fingers and paws. Monos were unusable for me about half the time.
So I would say, focus on getting out no less than 4 times a week with actual climbing. Also, around that, incorporate body sculpting style weight workouts with a heavy focus on full range of motion resistance and isolation. Because it makes people puke the popularity of this style of workout has fallen off greatly. If you also get to where you throw in Supersets, you will get realky good aerobic benefits too.
Final note: aerobic fitness. Moreso than the little people, you need oxygenated bloodflow. So push really hard into that avenue as well.
During my peak years, I worked simple construction so had 8 hour days that ended at 2 or so if I got an early start. I lived alone, was not only totally celibate but didn't even bother dating. It was work, climb, workout, eat.

Mobes Mobesely · · MDI · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 865

Hey Eli, this has been discussed numerous times, you better report it.

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 95

It has nothing to do with your body weight per se, but your finger strength to weight ratio is 95% of climbing.

Being able to throw a 90 mph fastball is a gift from birth, not remotely something anyone can train to do ergo not everyone will be able to train enough finger power to pull 5.13a...

Climbing is no different from any other sport. Some are marathoners, others are sprinters, others excel at mid-distance and they simply are not competitive at other events.

It has to do fundamentally with the ratio of fast to slow twitch fibers in your muscles which is established by your genetic inheritance from birth. This ratio cannot be changed though, the fitness of the fibers can be increased.

Otherwise everyone would win Olympic gold at w/e event they liked. Instead there is a narrow set of athletes that are competitive at every given discipline based on inherited physiological traits. Then you combine the right head with the right body for the event to win Olympic gold.

But if you don't have a lot of fast twitch fibers in your legs, you will never be a fast runner (or conversely in your forearms, send 5.13a).

Sorry, this is why kids throwing 90mph as freshman in high school get drafted into pro ball, and the rest stay in school.

TJ B · · Denver · Joined May 2012 · Points: 26

Great thread. Let’s keep it going. I’m a relatively new climber who’s only now really starting to push it. I’m 5’9” 185lbs. I’m really trying to cut weight and climb a bunch. I’m a struggling 5.10 climber, so at this point I should just be climbing as much as possible and strengthening my fingers, right? I’d kill to be a 5.12 climber with my build but I’ve kind of written it off as impossible. I’m not fat, but i spent the majority of my life playing football and lifting weights. I’ve traded in my comvential gym membership for a climbing gym membership in Dec. Any other advice for a relatively new larger build climber? You guys seem to be killing it 

Brother Numsie · · AnCapistan · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 880
TJ B wrote: Great thread. Let’s keep it going. I’m a relatively new climber who’s only now really starting to push it. I’m 5’9” 185lbs. I’m really trying to cut weight and climb a bunch. I’m a struggling 5.10 climber, so at this point I should just be climbing as much as possible and strengthening my fingers, right? I’d kill to be a 5.12 climber with my build but I’ve kind of written it off as impossible. I’m not fat, but i spent the majority of my life playing football and lifting weights. I’ve traded in my comvential gym membership for a climbing gym membership in Dec. Any other advice for a relatively new larger build climber? You guys seem to be killing it 

Boulder a lot. Develops both power and more importantly the ability to focus. It is hard to explain, but there is a mental/concentration/desire component to climbing harder. I had a problem at Morrison that took me years to send. The final key was a kind of focus that does not come overnight.

Mark Paulson · · Raleigh, NC · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 130
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote:But if you don't have a lot of fast twitch fibers in your legs, you will never be a fast runner (or conversely in your forearms, send 5.13a)
Sorry, this is just patently false. Not the running part, but the forearm part.  Unless you’re talking about speed climbing, but again, that’s all about leg (and some back) power.  Fast twitch muscle ratios have basically no relation to isometric strength, especially in tiny muscle groups like the forearm muscles.  In sport climbing, the only time a person with a higher ratio of fast twitch muscle would have an advantage would be during huge dynos or extremely dynamic moves.  We’re not talking V15 here.  There are plenty of 13’s at the RRG that don’t have a single move harder than V4 or V5, and can be done entirely statically.  
Anthony B · · Saint Louis, MO · Joined May 2018 · Points: 0

Based on my research, in order to climb close to your genetic potential, you need a BMI of 22 or less. Otherwise you just cant develop enough finger strength or general strength to overcome your extra weight. 

Gavin Towey · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 0
Brent Kelly wrote:I fenced very competitvely for about a decade as well, during teen years, so my legs are fairly powerful, but with some extra meat on the bone to drag up the wall.

Eppee? 

Zack Robinson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2018 · Points: 0
  • Anthony B wrote: Based on my research, in order to climb close to your genetic potential, you need a BMI of 22 or less. Otherwise you just cant develop enough finger strength or general strength to overcome your extra weight. 

This sounds right to me, and it's probably even lower for most people. I can tell a pretty distinct difference between when I'm 175 vs 165 (6' tall).  I'm pretty sure I'd be even better if I got down to 155, but I prefer to not receive food donations when I take my shirt off at the beach. And I don't think big mountain climbing reward the same strength/weight ratio points that rock climbing does.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
Post a Reply to "Climbing hard at 200+lbs?"

Log In to Reply