Lock Off – Strength Training for Climbing

a climber performs a lock off while climbing

What is a Lock Off?

A lock off is a static climbing move.  A static move means there is no jumping or dynamic movement involved. You start off by grabbing a handhold with one hand. Then pull that hold down as far as necessary to reach the next hold with your free hand. Generally the hand you are holding on becomes level with your shoulder as you reach for the next handhold. A lock off is most commonly called for when you have to reach an arms-length (or slightly longer) to the next hand hold. Lock offs are most common on steep sport climbs, boulder problems and even crack climbs. Lock-offs are also very important for ice and mixed climbing.
Lock offs require a certain amount of strength. Since most lock-off strength is generated from your shoulder and latisimus dorsi, training these muscles is a good idea. You need to build strength both to perform a lock off and to prevent injury while performing a lock off.
A common issue women often face is lack of lock-off strength.
Typically, women rely on technique and foot work to climb well. But so often I hear, “Carolyn, I need to be stronger. Steep climbing is so hard for me.”
Just going climbing will make us better and stronger but at some point we have to train weaknesses.  That’s where specific training can really help you.

How do you Lock Off?

1. No matter what level of climber you are, establish good footholds and make sure you are balanced over your feet as best as possible.
2. Pick two good starting holds and identify the target hold you will reach to. Typically this target hold will be a full arms-length away.
3. Grab onto your two starting holds and stand up on your feet until your arm is in a bent position with your hand level with your shoulder.
4. Reach with your free hand and grab the target hold identified in step two, keeping eye contact with the target hold.
Now that you have an understanding of why, what and how you lock off, it’s time to do some practice drills. Here’s a fun way to break through the lock off strength barrier.

Three-Second Climbing-Strength Drill: aka The Hover

You can do this inside at the climbing gym or outside at the crag. Top rope or bouldering is usually the most effective.
Find a route or boulder problem that is comfortable for you and slightly overhanging. Instead of climbing the route as you normally would, here’s your challenge: For every hand movement on the climb, as you reach to the next hold, stop with your hand just hovering over the hold you want to grab next. Then count to three before you grab it. And I mean a real one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, three second count. Repeat this for every hand movement up the entire climb or boulder problem.

This will require you to lock off with the arm/hand holding on as well as focus on foot placement and complex core strength. The route that used to be reasonable for you just got hard. Possibly really hard.
Try this drill at least once a week when you climb after a warm up. Use it as what it is, training, its a drill designed specifically to train lock off strength for climbing. 
We can train lock offs in the gym too. But since lock off strength tends to be fairly linear, this lock off strength training tip will help you transition that strength to the complex, multi-planar sport of climbing- icing on the cake!
One to two times a week for 4 – 6 weeks, try this on multiple routes or boulder problems each session, and not always the same route. 
2 – 3 routes/4- 6 boulder problems per session. 
Until next time!
Carolyn Parker,