Core Training for Climbers

Most climbers have heard that core muscles are a significant contributor to climbing performance, but what are core muscles? Why are they essential for climbing? And how do we train them?

A few words about Core training..

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

1. Hanging leg raises (single leg)

A very climbing-specific core exercise, beneficial for overhang climbing

  1. Grab the bar with an overhand grip
  2. Lift a straight leg in front of you as high as possible
  3. Change legs and the angles at which you lift your leg
  4. Avoid swinging by moving slowly and with control

Progression; 2 straight legs at the same time

Regression; bend the knees and raise them

Repetitions; 3 to 5/side

2. Side plank with front leg raise

A challenging plank that targets the obliques, your hip flexors, and deeper hip muscles. This exercise may also reveal how tight your hamstrings are!

  1. Side plank; straight body line, with joints stacked
  2. Raise your top leg and kick in front of you, aiming to get your foot in line with your face (eventually) with a straight leg

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

3. High plank with a knee to opposite elbow

A coordinated movement that focuses on the high knee raises is often involved when climbing, particularly on slabs and vertical walls.

  • High plank position; hands underneath shoulders, straight body line, neutral spine
  • Tuck and cross your knee to your opposite elbow without the foot touching the ground at the top. Return and swap sides.

Regression; bring your knee to the elbow on the same side

Progression; bring your toe to your opposite forearm

4. High plank with the opposite arm and leg raise

A challenging version of a plank that tests your ability to maintain your posture in a high tension position

  • High plank position; hands underneath shoulders, straight body line, neutral spine
  • Reach and raise one straight arm and the leg on the opposite side.
  • Pause for a moment at the top, ensure you have control of your body before lowering your arm and leg.

Regression; move to a low plank

Progression; Hold for 3 to 5s at the top of each extension

Repetitions; 2 to 5/side

5. Extended Plank

Body Tension. That is all.

  • Plant your feet and walk your hands out along the ground until you reach the point where you’re on the verge of collapse… knuckle down and hold for 10 to 15s

Regression; don’t walk your hands out as far.

Progression; walk your hands out further…

6. Side crunch with raised leg slide

Oblique focus and involves some deeper core muscles in your hip

  • Lie on your side and raise your top leg so that it points out at ≈ 45deg from your body
  • Hug yourself with your bottom arm and slide your top hand up from your knee to ankle. Feel your obliques squeeze at the top and return to the start position.
  • Make the movement smooth with no jerking

Regression/progression; decrease or increase the range of motion of the sliding hand

Repetitions; 10+/side

7. Deadbug

A great exercise to improve core coordination and body tension

  • Lie on your back w/ arms reaching to the sky, and knees at right angles and stacked on hips
  • Slowly lower one leg and reach back with the opposite arm
  • Keep your lower back flat against the floor

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

Home Core Workout for Climbers

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.

 
 

SAM HIGHAM

PERSONAL TRAINER AND EDUCATOR

EDUCATION

  • PhD Candidate

  • Honours in Sport and Exercise Science

  • Accredited Exercise Scientist

  • Certificate III and IV in Fitness

  • Research publications:

    • 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.

EXPERIENCE

  • Founder of Contrast Fitness

  • Over 7 years as a personal and group trainer

  • Over 2 years as tertiary level Exercise Physiology teacher

  • Over 2 years as an AFL and Touch Football coach

CONTACT SAM TODAY

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