Wilderness Sports Conditioning
Train Today for
Core Conditioning 2: Climbing Training
by Courtenay Schurman, modified from her article for Seattle Mountaineers' Cliff Notes, February 2002
One of the questions I hear most often from climbers is "What’s the best way to strengthen the core for overhangs?" Included are 4 exercises that combine the tension and twisting that you’d typically experience on an overhanging route. Two involve hanging from a bar and raising the knees or legs, simultaneously or one at a time; another involves statically pressing against the floor in a 1-arm plank position, as you'd need if you were stemming in a chimney; and a fourth is a good one for climbing up under a roof and pulling yourself over it.
Note that these exercises do not require that you lie on the ground performing countless crunches. Instead, these will actually have tremendous carry-over to your climbing, as they put you in the same position you'd be in for your activity. As you progress, you can add weight to your ankles (for the leg raises), increase the time you hold the static position (for the planks) or add a weighted vest for the horizontal pullups.
To perform the side plank, turn onto one hip and extend both legs, with the foot of the bottom leg on the floor and the foot of the top leg just in front of it for more stability. The first level is propping yourself onto your elbow and then, with support from the other hand on the floor, slowly exhale and use arms and obliques to raise your hips off the ground. Hold as long as possible. To make this applicable to climbing, do the same thing, but this time have your hand on the floor and arm straight. It's okay to start with feet a little wider!
Another variation is to lift your legs straight out in front of you, or even harder still, try bringing your feet all the way up to touch the bar!
If it’s too difficult to lift both knees at the same time, try alternating one knee at a time. Work up to alternating one straight leg at a time, as high as you can lift it. For those who have access to a home gym, try putting small nubbins in the wall to simulate keeping foot contact on the "rock" while walking feet upward.
Another good variation for those who want core strength, or even for those who cannot yet do bodyweight pullups. You can start with feet on the floor and quite close to your body, then move them out so the body is nearly straight. For extra challenge, place feet up on a bench. Position a barbell across pins on a squat rack and be sure you can fully extend arms when you lower your torso toward the floor. Exhale as you pull, pause a second, then inhale as you lower.
Hanging Leg Raises
To perform (right), grasp a pull up bar or finger board apparatus with palms forward and lift your knees as high to your chest as possible. As you lower, make sure your body does not swing excessively. If you can touch your feet to the floor, just still your body before lifting again. To increase difficulty, try to prevent your knees from dropping below the levels of your hips.
See also Core Training for Sport for additional exercise suggestions.