So you’ve discovered that rock climbing is not only awesome fun, but also a great way to get in shape, and stay in shape. But what are the best exercises for rock climbing, that will not only improve your climbing but also help you climb well into retirement?
Climbing is a versatile sport that demands more than just strong fingers and forearms. In fact, only doing pull-ups will often give you muscle imbalances that could lead to injury. In this post, The Adventure Junkies will walk you through the best exercises for rock climbing, including workouts that will not only improve your climbing, but also help to maintain good balance and flexibility.
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST EXERCISES FOR ROCK CLIMBING
1. PULL UPS AND DEAD HANGS
Climbing starts with you fingers, forearms and shoulders, which all flex and strain to pull you up a route. The classic exercise is doing sets of pull-ups with your palms facing away from you. Do sets of five (or more, if you’re more advanced), with a short rest in between. This mirrors a climbing route, where you pull hard for a short period (through a crux, perhaps), and then reach a resting point.
If you’re just starting, then you don’t want to pull too much, too soon, as this could lead to injury. You could try assisted pull-ups, starting with your feet elevated on something, such as a chair. After a week or two, if you can feel the difference in your strength, then start to graduate slowly to more weight.
If you have a hangboard, you can use it for specific pull-ups and dead-hangs (static hanging, without pulling up) to work on your fingers, arms, shoulders and core. If not, you can do pull-ups using any horizontal bar that you can hang on to, or a solid door-frame. Make sure what you’re using is strong enough, and isn’t going to leave you with an ugly household repair bill.
Door-frames can also be used for stronger fingers. It is best to strengthen your fingers through isometric training, which means dead-hanging with a set weight for a short period of time – usually five to 10 seconds – without trying to pull up.
Make sure you hang correctly – squeezing your shoulders inwards to engage the muscles – to minimize the chance of injury. If you are dead-hanging, your elbows should be slightly bent.
Good climbing technique dictates that you use your legs to push yourself up, rather than your arms to pull yourself up. Your leg muscles are much larger than your arms, so having stronger legs will also improve your climbing.
Try doing a series of single-leg squats. Standing up with your hands on your hips, raise and straighten one leg as you lower your weight onto the other, going as low as you can before standing back up. Try to take 30 seconds to lower and then raise yourself, and then swap legs.
If this is too difficult, do sets of basic leg lunges. Again, this will improve your climbing because the action mirrors a common movement on a climbing route: pushing your body up with your legs.
A strong core is great for any climber, as it allows different muscle groups to take some of the weight off of your arms. It can be particularly useful on horizontal roof climbs, or tough boulder problems where you have to tighten every muscle in your being to prevent popping off the rock.
A plank is a resistance exercise where you engage your core as you hold yourself up on your hands or forearms, keeping your body as straight as possible. Holding a standard plank position for one minute intervals is a good core workout, but there is a variation that can also help with finger strength. Try planking on straight arms, with fingers outstretched.
Another variation is to hold yourself in a plank position on your hands, and then slowly, and in a controlled fashion, raise your left knee up to your chest, followed by the right knee. This is called the Mountain Climber Plank. For another variation, touch your left knee to your left elbow, and your right knee to your right elbow.
VIDEO: HOW TO DO A MOUNTAIN CLIMBER PLANK
Using your core to lift your legs is another common movement in climbing, especially on overhanging or roof routes. To do hanging leg lifts, use a hangboard or a pull-up bar to hang from your arms, and then raise your legs so they are perpendicular to your upper body. Hold the position for 30 seconds, and then lower them in as controlled a manner as you can. Try to do this 10 times, with a short rest in between. If this is too difficult, you can ease the strain by bending your legs at the knee.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/agl_photography
If you’re just starting out, or don’t have anything to hang off, you can still do leg lifts by sitting on the floor, leaning back slightly (and keeping your back straight), and lifting your legs to turn your whole frame into a ‘V’ shape. Start with bent knees for an easier workout. You can also swing your legs to the side in a windshield-wiper motion to work out your lateral abdominal muscles.
VIDEO: CLIMBING LEG LIFTS FOR BEGINNERS
4. ANTAGONIST MUSCLES
Climbers tend to pull a lot, and have hunched, imbalanced shoulders. This can be countered by doing exercises to develop strong antagonist muscles, which can help prevent injury.
Great for chest muscles, as well as shoulders, arms and core, a good push-up starts with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders, and keeping your core engaged and your body straight as you lower your chest to just above the ground. Keep your elbows as close to the sides of your torso as possible, which activates your triceps and aligns your joints correctly.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/shironosov
These dips will work on your triceps as well as your chest, shoulders, and abdominal muscles. Take a chair or bench and lean on it, with your chest facing up and the palms of your hands on the bench, shoulder-width apart. In a controlled manner, lower your upper body until your arms are bent at right angles, and then push back up.
Keep your legs, head and back as straight as you can. Do three sets of 20 or more, depending on how comfortable you are with this exercise.
It’s no wonder that many climbers also practice yoga, which not only improves their climbing, but also their longevity. It’s fun, and great for strengthening as well as improving balance and flexibility.
There are many yoga routines, some of which focus on strength, others on flexibility, or both. After a day of climbing, an evening yoga session based on stretching your muscles is an excellent way to ease the muscular tension of a full day of pulling on rock.
One sample session includes poses such as the eagle, warrior 1, downward dog, seated twist and bridge pose, which will stretch your shoulder, trapezius, calf, chest, hip flexor and lower back muscles, while also strengthening your leg and butt muscles.
You should try and do a full yoga session at least three times a week to keep your climbing muscles loose, which not only makes them stronger, but will also make them less susceptible to injury, and keep you climbing harder, for longer.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/alexbrylov