How Mountain Climbing Builds Muscle: A Complete Guide


So, you want to climb mountains to build muscle and you want to know the best way to do it. Well, you’re in luck.

How do you build muscles by climbing mountains? The very act of carrying heavy equipment while traversing uneven terrain and steep slopes is enough to build good muscle in time. However, depending on what type of muscle you want to grow, you might need to add more weight, extend your climbing duration, or add some extra intensity to the practice.

Growing muscle is a science and not understanding the intricacies of it can lead to issues, even with an activity as effective as mountain climbing.

Building Muscles with Mountain Climbing

There are a variety of ways in which you can build muscles when you are mountain climbing. More to the point, mountain climbing itself is an excellent way to pack on the protein pounds. This is due to a variety of factors, many of which include the following:

·         Elevation

·         Natural obstacles

·         Altitude

·         Constant movement

·         Weights from equipment

These factors and more are what can make mountain climbing so perfect for building muscles. However, even as you simply conduct the activity as normal is enough to help bulk you up, there are ways to modify your actions so as to achieve certain results. The table below should provide an adequate look into the methods you can use for this purpose:

MethodsDescription
Normal ClimbingClimbing as you normally would with the goal of reaching the top
Weighted ClimbingClimbing with more weights than necessary for extra resistance
Intensive ClimbingClimbing faster and with more urgency than normal, with bursts of movement
Sustained ClimbingClimbing for long periods of time, often choosing the longer routes that offer more obstacles
Hybrid ClimbingA combination of the other methods

As you might have noticed in the table above, whichever method you may choose, you are sure to build muscles when you are mountain climbing. However, it helps to make sure that there are no misunderstandings with regards to this topic, to begin with. Specifically, building muscles is not necessarily about becoming a bodybuilder.

To build muscles is to simply increase muscles that you may have in your body. There can be a myriad of reasons for doing so, as will be discussed in a bit. For now, though, it should be pointed out that the type of muscle that you are going to get will be affected by the method that you will use. So make your decision wisely.

More than that, there are safety issues to consider when you are trying to build muscles while climbing mountains. After all, you have to think about the usual perils of the practice while also trying to accomplish another task other than reaching the summit. This is bound to add more pressure on you.

Normal Climbing – As you might have gathered from the name alone, normal climbing is basically a method where you just do what you would normally do when summiting a peak. You act exactly as you want to in the manner that you want to with no changes. This is fine since the simple act of climbing a mountain is already enough to stimulate muscle growth and formation.

The body is a magnificent machine that adapts in accordance with its situation. When you climb enough times, your muscles will eventually morph into ones most suited to the task of climbing. This way, you will be able to accomplish the task easier. There is no getting around the fact that you will develop muscles, either.

Whether you want to or not, your body will become leaner and you will lose fat. This way, your muscles will become more pronounced, especially in areas that see the most amount of activity. For some context, these would be your legs, your buttocks, your shoulders, and your arms. If you are a rock climber, your forearms are bound to see some changes, as well.

If all you really want is to get some definition without caring how or in what form, then this is all you really need to do. However, if you are after something more specific, you will have to go a bit further and make use of other methods.

Weighted Climbing – It is a universal rule that in order to build muscles, you need resistance. Weights represent the ultimate resistance and the more of it you lift or move with, the better your muscles will develop. In the case of those who want muscles that bulge out of their shirts, going with weighted climbing might be worth doing.

Now, before we go any further, there are a few caveats that should be brought up. First, you must never attempt this unless you are already a seasoned climber. Second, you are going to have to do this a few times to see results. Finally, weighted climbing is more dangerous and requires more breaks than regular climbing, so get ready for that.

To start with, the main idea that helps you build muscles when using weights for climbing is to put your body through enough strain to tear some muscle fibers without going overboard. You will only cause enough damage in proportion to the amount of recovery that you want to stimulate. This is because muscle grows in direct correlation to recovery.

This means that if you are going to climb mountains with additional weights from sandbags, rocks, or even iron plates, you will need to rest quite often. This is to give your muscles plenty of time to rest during the interval. If you overstrain your muscles, it won’t grow and swell to the sizes that you may be aiming for. This is just something that is worth keeping in mind.

Intensive Climbing – Contrary to weighted climbing or regular climbing, intensive climbing is all about speed. Specifically, it’s all about bursts of movement that would leave the body feeling more tired in just a few minutes than an hour’s worth of weight training. For those who are wondering, the principle is similar to that of HIIT or even cross fit.

Now, to avoid any misunderstandings with regards to this particular type of climb, you don’t actually do continuous bursts of speed as you climb. Rather, you pepper the bursts in regular intervals as you go along. For example, for every 10 minutes of regular climbing, you can throw in 1 minute of high-speed climbing.

As with weighted climbing, this is extremely dangerous and the only real reason to do this is to develop both your actual muscles and your cardiovascular muscles. For best results, it might be best to do the bursts in trails that are fairly straightforward instead of terrains that are unstable. You also do not want to do this while you are rock climbing.

If you want to be extra safe, you should only apply intensive climbing on mountains that have fairly reliable and worn trails. This means that the terrain will be fairly flat and you won’t have to worry so much about slipping and falling. What’s more, you will also be less likely to get into trouble with no one around to help.

What would be the point of building lean and explosive muscles if you get stuck in a ditch?

Sustained Climbing – Then we come to sustained climbing, which is basically like regular climbing, but you intentionally make it a much longer affair than it needed to be. This is where you choose the longer trails, take detours that would normally be unnecessary, and just generally do what you can to make your climbs longer. Instead of distance, what you are aiming here to increase the time.

Basically, you want the duration of the climb to last longer so that you will be forced to keep climbing for longer. The reason for doing this has to do with your endurance. That is to say, you are aiming to make your body capable of withstanding punishing conditions for long periods of time. It’s a bit like survival training, with less of the intentional severe scenarios.

In any case, if you are intent on doing something like this, you want to make sure that you are prepared for it. This means having enough supplies, understanding the terrain, knowing where all of the pit stops are, and maintaining proper communication channels. You are not trying to get off the grid here. You are just trying to build some muscles.

On that point, you do want to keep yourself fairly hydrated and nourished. Focus on eating food items like dried meats, fruits, and nuts since those are filled with a ton of protein. Try to avoid bringing sugary drinks and consumables with you. Those will only sap you of your strength and slow you down in a bad way.

Hybrid Climbing – Finally, there is hybrid climbing, which is basically just a combination of all of the climbing methods already mentioned above. With this method, you can mix and match as you like. However, you are only ever advised to combine two methods. Otherwise, you will start seeing counterproductive results, which are not worth the risks.

For example, if you add a bit of weight to your intensive climbing practice, it would add a little bit of extra resistance. This would then increase the results that you will see in direct proportion to the amount of time you spend during the burst and the weight that you are carrying. In this scenario, the pros outweigh the cons.

However, when you take that particular case and then add sustained climbing to the mix, you are already entering dangerous territory. You should not even consider it because it would put too much of a strain on your body. The only time you should even be subjected to that kind of condition is during an emergency where adrenaline and other hormones are helping you out.

As an intentional practice, though? Forget about it. You would be tearing your muscles to shreds, ripping your ligaments and tendons, and your bones can even fracture. It’s just not worth doing that kind of exercise. So stick with combining just two and even then, you should try to limit the amount of weight or the time you expend in the process. Being careful matters too.

Different Types of Muscles

Now, as we are already talking about building muscles using the methods mentioned above, it might be worthwhile to discuss the different types of muscles that you can actually develop. These muscles can come in different forms, functions, and features. That’s right. You can get muscles like you can get a smartphone.

Obviously, you won’t be able to build muscles as easily as you would switch your mobile device. It takes a lot of time and effort to do so. What’s more, once you have made your choice, you need to stick with it or you are never going to get any results. With that being said, you might want to take a look at the following types of muscles that you can develop:

·         Explosive

·         Endurance

·         Cosmetic

Explosive muscles are basically ones that are focused primarily on strength. That is to say, the only real purpose of it is to help you lift heavy stuff. This is the kind of muscle that those who join contests like the “World’s Strongest Man” have. These involve no-nonsense and are often more associated with beefy forms than anything else.

People who have explosive muscles are those who basically look like they can take on a bear in a wrestling match. Think arms the size of tree trunks, chests the size of oil drums, and strength that can stop a car. Obviously, there will be discrepancies depending on the individual and the kind of training that they did, but you should get the idea from this.

Then we have endurance muscles, which are muscles that are more suited to – you guessed it – endurance. Now, you might think that this applies to certain physical activities and events like marathons and long-distance running, but this is not exactly right. Rather, it’s about muscles that are able to contract longer while retaining strength.

Basically, what happens when you are using your muscles is that the fibers contract, which then causes tension. This tension is what allows you to grab, lift, pull, or push objects. The more useful muscles you have, the higher the tension will be. Naturally, there is a limit to the amount of tension that you can actually pull off for a certain period of time.

Eventually, your muscle fibers become inflamed, lactic acid floods your limbs, and you begin to feel tired and become in pain. When you have endurance muscles, you are basically able to extend the amount of time that you can do this. Though, the amount will certainly depend on a few factors.

As just one example, rock climbers have some of the best endurance muscles in the world simply because of the nature of their hobbies. They spend a considerable amount of time suspending themselves on the face of rock cliffs, often with only a modicum of footing. This allows them to try practically every single finger and muscle fiber on their limbs.

Another example would be competitive pole dancers, which are basically those people who can remain in a horizontal position with only their core and arm muscles. It takes a considerable amount of endurance to do all of those things. Naturally, you will find them useful when rock climbing, as well.

Finally, we have cosmetic muscles, which are – for lack of a better word – mostly for appearance. These are what you would normally get with bodybuilders and magazine photoshoot models. Simply put, they are for show and are not meant to do anything more than to showcase the beauty of the human figure. This applies to both men and women.

You can usually see these in the form of individuals who join Mr. Universe or other similar shows and the characteristics are easy enough to spot. In the case of the bodybuilders in decades past, the favored shape is a V, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. These days, it has become acceptable for the core to have more bulge for stability and strength.

Then there are the various models and celebrities who maintain their figures for the purpose of selling; i.e. movies, magazines, sponsored products, etc. These are the kinds of muscles you would see on actors who are trying to play action or superhero roles. In many cases, the form of the muscles can be downright exaggerated.

In case you were wondering, you can get these kinds of muscles when you are mountain climbing, as well. However, you would have to put in more effort because the body you get when summiting would often turn out more functional than not.

Why Build Muscles with Mountain Climbing

There are gyms that you can turn to, there are beaches with weights you can use, and there is also your house where you can exercise with a few pieces of equipment. Why would you rather do any kind of muscle training by climbing mountains? Well, for one thing, the body responds more to a stimulus that it isn’t used to.

Workout fanatics run into this problem all the time. They make huge gains by doing certain types of exercises and then they hit a wall. A huge part of this is because the body has already gotten used to the kinds of exercise that it is being subjected to via the usual methods. As a result, you see people who have been seeing good results suddenly plateau.

One of the ways to deal with this particular issue is by changing things up and giving the body a new experience. A lot of the times, this is done by basically adding more weights, increasing the number of sets and reps, or basically turning to a new form of exercise. However, if you really want to shock the body out of its stupor, you need something truly challenging.

This is where mountain climbing comes in. To say that you never really get used to this particular activity would be an understatement. Conditions in the mountains change all the time and more often than not, you are confronted with something new every time you make the climb. Depending on your choices, the ascent can be more difficult or it can take longer to do.

As far as methods for keeping the body on its toes go, very few other activities are on par with mountain climbing. This goes doubly true when you start applying any of the methods that were mentioned above. Even something as simple as starting at a later time can give the body plenty of reasons to stay alert and thus keep growing.

For those who want to build muscles, a method for breaking through the plateau might actually be just to try and climb an actual plateau. From there, you can do things like rock climbing, ice peak climbing, cave diving, or whatever else that requires you to ascend and descend.

You will immediately see just how big of a difference it can make to do all of these things, even if you only do them a few times a year. The point is mainly to give the body the appropriate level of shock and having to scale a mountain filled with snow and is really cold can certainly accomplish that. Then you can go back to the usual workout that you normally do.

Whether you do it on a regular basis or just from time to time, there are plenty of merits to doing mountain climbing for the purpose of building muscle. From there, it’s just a matter of choosing what kinds of muscles you want to gain so that you can choose the right method for the job.

Related Questions

How to Get in Shape for Mountaineering?

You start with lots of cardio exercises because your heart will be beating out of your chest if you don’t exercise that organ when you start climbing. You can then throw in some strength training in there so that you can carry your heavy equipment and supplies with no problems.

What Are the Benefits of Mountain Climbing?

There are a ton of health benefits to climbing mountains, including increasing your circulatory system’s functionality, boosting your immune system, and strengthening your heart. Then there are the natural muscle, bone, and organ benefits that come with actually moving your body.

Rock Climbing Vs Mountaineering for Building Muscles

If you have to choose between rock climbing and mountaineering for building muscles, which one would be the most beneficial. To answer this question, you have to answer another. What kind of muscles are you looking to develop? Once you are able to resolve that particular issue, then we can proceed to discussing which of these two options are worth your time.

If we have to layout the benefit and disadvantages with regards to building muscles, though, it has to be said that rock climbing is good for endurance muscles while mountaineering is good for the rest. As such, if you have to choose between them, you would have to look into those particular details. Do you want explosive or cosmetic strength, or do you want muscles for the sake of endurance?

After you make your choice, you will have no recourse but to tread it until you reach the end. If you want to get anywhere with your muscle training, you need to stick with one path and not change halfway for anything. Otherwise, you will just be putting in a lot of time and effort into something that is never going to be of use to you.

Why Rock Climbers Are Thin

Now, you might be wondering from the many videos and photos you might have already seen why rock climbers always appear to be quite thin and stringy? Well, the answer to this has to do with the kinds of muscles that they develop and what the effects of those muscles would have on their bodies. As already mentioned, the body is quite adaptable, after all.

Rock climbers develop endurance muscles and these muscles essentially make the body look extremely lean. This means that the body has only developed a form that is useful for that particular task, which is a scaling rock face. To that end, any unnecessary weight would obviously be a hindrance, so this leads to a shedding of the extra bulk made of both muscles and fat.

More than that, rock climbers expend a lot of energy during their climbs and this energy comes from calories. What happens when the body runs out of calories from food? It turns to fat, which the extremely efficient muscles would then burn for extra fuel.

This is why rock climbers often appear quite thin and why their muscles might be different from those of bodybuilders. Still, you should not be fooled. Veteran rock climbers are extremely strong. 

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