The Rock Climbers Full Body Workout

October 6, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2015

Climbing is an adventurous sport that requires specific skills and deep concentration. It is important to train both the body and mind in order to climb safely and efficiently. Training reduces the risk of injury and prepares the muscles and connective tissues for the stress of climbing.  

Here are some exercises you can do off the rock wall to prepare yourself for the real thing.

Crawling stimulates every system needed for climbing.

Spiderman Crawl

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Crawling is a part of the neurodevelopmental sequence that a child goes through when learning to walk. Crawling stimulates every system needed for climbing: inner ear (vestibular) balance, visual balance, and proprioceptive awareness (awareness of one’s own physical position in space).

Crawling also forges better coordination between the upper and lower body. The spiderman crawl calls for full range of motion in the hips, and hip flexion plays a vital role in climbing as it does in most sports.

  • Begin on the floor in a crouched position with your weight supported on your fingertips and toes.
  • Reach forward with the opposite arm and leg as far as you can and grab the floor. Shift your weight into the front hand and foot. Continue to press your weight forward as you reach with the opposite arm and leg.

Move forward in this way for 30 seconds.

Mid-Phase Turkish Get-Up

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Like crawling, this exercise stimulates the neurological systems needed for climbing. The movements are based on how a child gets up from the floor. They do so by pressing their extremities into the ground because their upper bodies are not yet strong enough to pull them up.

Training finger strength is vital for climbing.

When climbing, it is important to lead with your feet and press your weight down to propel your upper body up vertically. Otherwise, your smaller bicep and forearm muscles may end up bearing the brunt of your weight and cause fatigue much sooner than necessary. It is also safer if you know where your feet are first.

While the whole phase of the get-up is important, for climbing training purposes, well concentrate on the middle phase because this phase mimics situations climbers face on the wall where they may need to swing a leg through to the next mark while holding themselves up with the other extremities in an awkward and unstable position.

Practice first without weight. Performing this exercise without the bell is also beneficial for increasing mobility in the hip joint and stability in the shoulders. Then when you have the proper technique down, add a kettlebell or dumbbell, which will create more tension in your body. I recommend choosing a weight on the lighter side and having someone spot you the first few times.

  • Start by sitting up tall with your legs apart in a small “V.” Your left leg is straight on the floor with the foot flexed, and the right is bent with the only the foot flat on the floor. The left hand is down next to your left hip, and the right arm is straight overhead.
  • Press into your left hand and right heel to lift your hips up off the ground, leaving enough space to sweep your left leg through and behind you.
  • Bring your knee to the floor. Align yourself so your left fingers, knee, and foot are in a straight line. Your front and back legs should  be nearly perpendicular to each other.
  • Now do a hip-hinge by relaxing the crease of your left hip, shifting your weight forward, and resting the left buttock on the left heel. You torso should be straight from head to tail. Face straight ahead.
  • Now return by shifting your weight forward and to the left hand and reversing the movements back to the starting position.

Repeat 5 times on both sides.

Low Walks

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When you climb, it is important to develop good footwork and lead with your feet. This exercise requires concentration and balance as you carefully and strategically place each foot to maintain balance while moving forward.

  • Begin on the floor in a crouched position with your weight supported on your fingertips and toes.
  • Lift your arms up off the floor and reach forward with your right heel. Place the rest of the foot quietly on the floor and shift your weight onto it.
  • Push off your back foot and sweep it through to the front, reaching with your heel and finally shifting your weight onto it.
  • Continue forward, keeping the hips as low to the ground as possible.

Walk for 30 seconds.

Deep Squat Jumps

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This exercise will help keep your hips mobile and strengthen the legs. The landing is also important because you must be able to land safely when jumping down from the practice wall.

  • Begin in a deep squat with your feet slightly wider than hip distance.
  • Jump straight up into the air, and when you land, make sure to control your weight by landing through the toes, balls of the feet, then heels, and by bending the knees to absorb the impact.
  • Continue to bend the knees to return to your deep squat position. Your landing is also the preparation for the next jump.

Do as many as you can in 30 seconds.

TRX 1-Arm Row With Rotation 

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This works your back like rowing, but using only one arm changes your center of gravity so your core is forced to work harder. The TRX also adds an element of instability, and the torso rotation with the arm-reach mimics climbing technique you use when moving from one ledge to another.

  • Attach your TRX to a secure pull-up bar or in the top of a doorway. Make yourself a single loop to grab by pulling one handle through the other and pulling tight.
  • Hold the handle in one hand and walk your feet back so your body is straight as in the plank position and your arm is extended. Make sure you are “packing” the shoulder of the working arm by pulling the shoulder blade down and back.
  • Retract the shoulder blade of the working arm and pull your body forward in one piece (this is the rowing action).
  • Now reach your opposite arm forward by rotating the torso, moving your hand toward the middle of the TRX.
  • Return to the starting position.

Do 10–15 on each side.

Negative Pull-Ups

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A pull-up should always be initiated by pulling the scapula down and stabilizing them on the ribcage rather than initiating it from the front of the shoulder, as over time this will cause injury.

Most of climbing involves concentric contractions of muscles as you move against gravity to pull yourself up. Eccentric contractions involve contracting the muscles in a lengthened position to maintain control. In the negative pull-up, you have eccentric contractions in the slow lowering phase of the pull-up.

You can make enormous strength gains by using eccentric contractions, which will also prepare you for down-climbing that can require the most coordination of any climb and can often be the most perilous segment of any excursion.

To prevent elbow pain, make sure not to leverage yourself by moving your wrists over the top of the bar. Not only does this common mistake rob the larger back muscles of their full benefit from the exercise, but it can also cause pain in the elbow, wrist, and fingers.

  • Grab a pull-up bar with both hands in a wide grip. Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulder blades down the back, not by bending the elbows and lifting the shoulders up
  • Then pull your body up so your chin is above the bar. Lower yourself down slowing for a count of 10.

Repeat until you fatigue.

Dead Hang

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Training finger strength is vital for climbing, but not everyone owns a training board. The dead hang will help develop grip and forearm strength.

  •  Grab a pull-up bar with both hands. You can choose to use an alternate grip with one overhand and the other underhand. Just make sure to switch sides each time.
  •  Hang there without engaging your back muscles, so you are solely relying on grip strength to hold you up.

Hang for as long as you can.

Ashley Whitson is an ACE-certified personal trainer, Pilates-certified instructor, pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, Functional Movement Systems professional, Neurokinetic Therapy practitioner, and professional dancer in New York. For more information, see AshleyWhitsonPersonalTrainerNYC.com

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