As the forearm anatomy contains many small muscle groups, it’s vitally important to keep them all strong and healthy if you want balanced lower arms for climbing.
But just how effective are rice bucket climbing exercises?
Like many fitness protocols, the rice bucket is quite controversial. So in this article, I’ll clear up some common rice bucket queries and then get straight into the climbing-specific exercises and workouts that you came here for.
Related post: forearm training for climbing
Are rice bucket exercises useful for climbers?
Let me ask you this: In the most basic sense, what is a rice bucket?
As far as your muscles are concerned, it’s resistance. Muscle tissue, it is often said by strength coaches, is just a piece of meat. It doesn’t know whether it's resisting rocks, dumbbells, or rice. Muscles only respond to tension.
And while the rice bucket is certainly a convenient lower arm strengthening and rehab method for some people, others will find more traditional strengthening drills more useful.
In particular, I recommend rice bucket climbing exercises for rehabilitation. In this injury recovery scenario, you’re not typically training your muscles close to failure. Instead, you just want to feel the muscle working so that you can get it used to handling tension again.
This is where the rice bucket excels.
In this regard, rice buckets also serve as a great warm-up drill (in addition to your regular warm-up) for climbing because they work your hands and fingers as well as your forearms.
For the building of grip strength, they can work too. However, they won’t build the same strength or endurance that traditional resistance training methods like free weight lifting will. Moreover, there are countless grip-specific exercises out there with a much more proven track record than rice buckets for developing lower arm strength for climbing. 
Top 7 rice bucket exercises for climbers
You can do these rice bucket exercises for climbing as part of your warm-up, as a tool during rehab, or as a method for strengthening your lower arms, including your wrists and hands.
1. Extensor flicks
Many climbers have strong, well developed forearm flexors since these muscles help them to close their hands. However, although active isometrically during climbing, the forearm extensors don’t get the same kind of tension.
As a result, if you don’t get them used to handling resistance outside of your climbing activities, then they could hamper your performance by fatiguing prematurely. That’s why I love extensor flicks.
Place your fingers in the rice at one side of the bucket. Then, while keeping your elbow almost fully locked out (we want to isolate the wrist extensors here), flick your wrist away from your body until you start to dig a hole in the rice.
Repeat this motion for around 30 seconds or until you start to feel a good burn in the top of your forearm. Oh, and don't forget to work your other arm!
2. Rice bucket grabs
This climbing drill works your hand and finger muscles as well as those in you forearm (many of the forearm muscles actually insert into the hands). It also helps to improve your explosiveness.
Kneel next to a rice bucket and pin your arm to the side of your body. Ensure that your arm is fully locked out and that your fingers are completely extended and touching each other. Forcefully “stab” into the rice with your hand until you can’t go much deeper. Then, grab the rice in a fist, release it, and then extend your arm out of the rice explosively.
3. Fist extensions
This exercise is very similar to the first. But since our fingers aren’t extended, we’re emphasizing the superficial muscles that lie close to the skin rather than the deep muscles that move the individual fingers.
Punch into the rice bucket with your elbow almost fully locked out. Then, while maintaining a firm fist, extend your wrist back and forth by moving it away from your body. Again, keep the motion going for around 30 seconds before switching hands.
4. Hand circles
Develop stronger and more supple hands and fingers with this rice bucket climbing drill. Due to the semi-flexed position of the fingers, it’s an especially good movement for rock climbing. 
Close your hand slightly as if you were gripping some climbing holds or jugs, and then put your hand into the surface of the rice so that only the tops of your fingers are submerged. Then, rotate your hands back and forth as if you’re waving at a friend while keeping your upper arm as still as possible (don’t bring your shoulders into the movement).
You can also submerge your hand slightly further and perform repeated gripping and releasing motions with your hands in the same position, i.e., like they’re gripping rock climbing jugs.
5. Wrist rotations
Strengthening your forearms is all well and good, but if your wrist joints don’t get a sufficient workout, they won’t be able to keep up with your lower arm muscles.
Stab into the rice with your elbow fully locked out, and then make a fist once your hand is almost fully submerged in the rice. Then, rotate your wrist in a circular motion in a clockwise direction for 30 seconds and then in an anticlockwise motion for 30 seconds.
Make sure to perform a complete circular motion so that you work all of the main forearm functions; flexion, extension, ulnar deviation, radial deviation.
Supination and pronation are two underappreciated functions of the forearm. They help you to rotate your lower arms and grip things that involve differing wrist positions.
Stab into the rice so that your knuckles are facing away from you. Make sure that your arm is pinned to the side of your body. Then, while keeping your shoulder as still as possible, rotate your hand and forearm so that your palm is facing away and your knuckles are pointing towards you.
As mentioned, avoid rotating your shoulder as much as possible so that it doesn’t detract from the forearm stimulation.
7. Flexor flicks
While many climbers have overly dominant forearm flexors, this isn’t the case for every athlete and enthusiast. Therefore, we’re going to finish where we started. Rather than doing extensor flicks, we’re going to move onto some flexor flicks. 
Stand at one side of the rice bucket and then place your fingers into the rice on the opposite side of the bucket. Your palm should be facing you. Now move the rice towards you by flicking your fingers toward your body. Keep this motion up for 30 seconds or until you start to feel a burn in the muscle. Again, make sure to work your other arm as well.
Rice bucket workout for climbing
You can use this rice bucket workout for climbing as part of your warm-up, during any rehabilitation that you might be going through, or to build your overall forearm, wrist, and hand strength.
Alternatively, pick and choose from the climbing rice bucket exercise above and create your own routine.
Notice how we’re doing slightly fewer sets for the rotational drills.  This is because these exercises provide a greater range of motion than simple flexion and extension movements and thus require fewer sets/less time under tension to produce the same effects.
1: Extensor flicks — 2-3 sets of 30 seconds
2: Flexor flicks — 2-3 sets of 30 seconds
3: Wrist rotations — 2 sets of 30 seconds
4: Hand circles — 2 sets of 30 seconds
5: Fist extensions — 2 sets of 30 seconds
Conclusion: Is the rice bucket worth it for climbers?
While I’m not the world’s best climber, I certainly understand the need for strong and functional forearms in the sport. As for rice bucket climbing exercises, yes, I think that they’re useful for many people.
I particularly recommend including them as a warm-up or for building general strength without limiting your recovery, which is common when you perform too much training volume with weights.
- Saul, D., Steinmetz, G., Lehmann, W., & Schilling, A. F. (2019). Determinants for success in climbing: A systematic review. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, 17(3), 91–100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesf.2019.04.002
- Giles, L. V., Rhodes, E. C., & Taunton, J. E. (2006). The Physiology of Rock Climbing. Sports Medicine, 36(6), 529–545. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200636060-00006
- Finsen, L., Søgaard, K., Graven-Nielsen, T., & Christensen, H. (2004). Activity patterns of wrist extensor muscles during wrist extensions and deviations. Muscle & Nerve, 31(2), 242–251. https://doi.org/10.1002/mus.20237
- Charles, S. K., & Hogan, N. (2011). Dynamics of wrist rotations. Journal of Biomechanics, 44(4), 614–621. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2010.11.016
- Central Rock Gym. (2018, July 30). 6 Best Rice Bucket Exercises for Climbers! VLOG! [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tz5GioEybg