Bio-inspired climbing robots relying on adhesion systems are believed to become essential tools for several industrial applications in the near future. In recent years, research has mainly focused on modeling micro-scale adhesion phenomena; a macro-scale adhesion model has however to be developed for the design of macro-scale systems. In this paper a macro-model of adhesion suitable for real-time applications is presented; it relies on a continuous representation of adhesion. An extension of the von Mises criterion is proposed as failure adhesion criterion in order to estimate the occurrence of detachment at any point of the contacting surface. An experimental set up has been designed in order to define the parameters of the model. A semi-automatic process has been developed to ensure repeatability and accuracy of the results. Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which has revealed promising adhesive features for robotic use, has been used during the experimental phase. The macro-model of adhesion has been implemented in a multi-body dynamics environment based on Open Dynamics Engine (ODE) to simulate a spider-inspired robot. Simulations based on this model are suitable to represent the behaviour of climbing robots and also to optimize their design.