Are you strong enough to climb?
Recently Chicago has become inundated with climbing gyms. This is a magnificent development and I love it, but climbing isn't always something a beginner can just jump right into. A lot of people forget that rock climbing is an extreme sport. I don’t mean extreme in terms of danger, I mean extreme in terms of stress on your joints.
If you are new to the sport, you likely need to address a few issues before you start scaling peaks:
1. Improving your grip strength
This one is the first and most obvious deficiency. My favorite newbie saying is, “I could do it if I could just hold onto the wall.” Well, no kidding, but there is a lot more that goes into basic climbing strength than just holding on. Probably the single best exercise for obtaining beginning climber strength is the farmers walk. The weight puts stress on your joints and helps you develop good posture under load.
2. Setting your pull and shoulder position
You need to maintain shoulder posture as much as possible when climbing to reduce your risk of injury. A few specific exercises can help you accomplish that.
Pull up in Depth setting your pull- If you set your pull before every move when climbing, you’ll quickly build a strong upper back in the safest way possible.
Active to Passive Shoulder- The big thing you want to accomplish with this is to try and move your shoulders away from your ears.
Band Pull Apart- Band pull-aparts serve as a great warm up for your shoulders and back. Aim to bring the band to your nipple line.
3. Developing your balance
If you’re going to start rock climbing, you have to be comfortable standing on one leg. People tend to neglect their legs while training for climbing, because at first glance, the sport appears quite upper-body dominant. Of course, that’s not actually the case. The activity is basically like climbing a ladder on crack—your legs are doing a lot of the work. This makes lower body mobility and strength a big concern if you want to go out there and smoke those rocks.
Single-leg squat: pistol- You need to be able to stand on one foot if you’re climbing. At some point, it will be a very "high foot."(That’s climbing terminology.) A great regression for the pistol squat is a single leg box squat.
Single-leg Romanian dead lift (RDL)- This exercise helps build the strength for a heel hook.
4. Building pull strength
You can absolutely rock climb without being able to do a pull-up; I’m sure there are far better climbers than me who can’t do one. That being said, if you climb for long enough, at some point you are going to have to pull yourself up. This exercise is great for building the endurance and strength required for climbing.
Chin-up + flex hang: Hold a flex armed hang for 20 seconds at the top of a chin-up, followed by as a many chin-ups as you can do.
Lastly, if you are like me and have a bit of an addictive personality, rock climbing could start to consume your workouts. You’ll neglect serious weight training in the pursuit of sending that particular route or completing that problem. That is totally OK—rock climbing is an awesome workout that will keep you in great shape. But, there are a few muscle groups that rock climbing doesn’t cover, and if you neglect them for too long, your posture will suffer. Look around climbing gyms and you’ll find a lot of shoulders rounded forward. Let's work to avoid that!
Push-ups- A great body weight exercise that can be done anywhere. It targets a large number of the muscles neglected while climbing.
Christ Stretch- Constant climbing can cause your shoulders to round forward, and all that hunched-over back work can shorten your chest muscles. This stretch will keep them loose and long.
Incline Press- This is another great way to target your chest and shoulders in a way climbing cannot. I like to think of the incline press as the inverse of climbing because of the way the downward force acts on your body.
And there you have it. You know everything you need to ready yourself for the climbing gym. Let’s put it all together for a total body strength workout:
Warm up with two times through these exercises:
· Band pull-aparts: 20 reps
· Active to passive shoulder: 10 reps
· Push-ups: 10 reps
Once you’re warm, make three badass rounds of this circuit:
· Farmers walks: 1 minute
· Pistol squats: 15 reps
· Incline press: 10 reps
· Single-leg RDLs: 12 reps
· Chin-up + flex hang: 1 rep/as many chin-ups as possible
Cooldown: Christ stretch