Firstly, it’s important to highlight that core muscles are not just your abdominals, and they are not trained by simply doing thousands of sit-ups… Core muscles also include those in the back half of your torso (e.g. erector spinae) and hip (e.g. glutes and hip flexors). Climbing involves regular recruitment of all these central or “core” muscles, as well as the “peripheral” muscles (e.g. biceps) surrounding your limbs.
When thinking about core training, it’s essential to consider the role of core muscles in both moving and staying still during climbing… These muscles are used to bend and twist your torso and hips to help direct your feet and hands toward holds. Core muscles are vital during moves that require an outstretched leg and pointed toe, high knee or heel hook.
Core muscles are also used to maintain body tension when climbing, which refers to your ability to maintain your posture/body position in a high load position, limiting unnecessary movements that can waste energy—for example, keeping your hips close to the wall whilst performing a long reach on an overhang.
Core training can increase the strength and endurance of these muscles, enabling more efficient movement and improved climbing performance. Below are some excellent core exercises that focus on engaging and coordinating the chain of muscles that run from your abs to hip flexors to quads. Aim to complete 2 to 3 sets of each of these exercises twice per week
A very climbing-specific core exercise, beneficial for overhang climbing
Progression; 2 straight legs at the same time
Regression; bend the knees and raise them
Repetitions; 3 to 5/side
A challenging plank that targets the obliques, your hip flexors, and deeper hip muscles. This exercise may also reveal how tight your hamstrings are!
Regression; keep your legs together and do side plank hip lifts instead
Progression; add a 3 to 5s pause at the end of your kick
Repetitions; 5 to 10/side
A coordinated movement that focuses on the high knee raises is often involved when climbing, particularly on slabs and vertical walls.
Regression; bring your knee to the elbow on the same side
Progression; bring your toe to your opposite forearm
A challenging version of a plank that tests your ability to maintain your posture in a high tension position
Regression; move to a low plank
Progression; Hold for 3 to 5s at the top of each extension
Repetitions; 2 to 5/side
Body Tension. That is all.
Regression; don’t walk your hands out as far.
Progression; walk your hands out further…
Oblique focus and involves some deeper core muscles in your hip
Regression/progression; decrease or increase the range of motion of the sliding hand
A great exercise to improve core coordination and body tension
Regression; Lower only one leg, or only one arm, not both at the same time
Progression; hold a weight in either arm
Repetitions; 3 to 7/side
Give these a rip, and please reach out if you have any questions
Here are some variations of basic core exercises to add to your home workout routine. Specifically suited to movements climbers do on the wall. No equipment needed.
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Allen, N. G., Higham, S. M., Mendham, A. E., Kastelein, T. E., Larsen, P. S., & Duffield, R. (2017). The effect of high-intensity aerobic interval training on markers of systemic inflammation in sedentary populations. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(6), 1249-1256.
Allen, N. G., Higham, S. M., & Duffield, R. (2019). Recovery Strategies to Optimise Adaptations to Concurrent Aerobic and Strength Training. Concurrent Aerobic and Strength Training (pp. 213-227): Springer.
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