Training for Climbing Part 2: Core Development
When you hear “core muscle development,” what comes to mind? Six-pack abs? That’s a perk, but it’s not the only thing one gain from it. One component climbers focus on developing is their core. It's from the shoulders to the lower torso. Why is this important to have?
Good core development improves movement for:
- Overhanging problems or routes
- Creating body tension and sticking to holds better
- Better efficiency in climbing
These are the reasons why I want to improve my core. It’s another weak area I want to change. To recap Training for Climbing Part 1, the main goal of my training is becoming a better climber overall, not just a better boulderer. Building my core and practicing better footwork are ways to achieve it.
When and Where
For part 2 of my training, I’m engaging in core-specific exercises at home and the gym. I’ll practice at home first then at the gym and finish the rest. Plus, I can work on footwork afterward. I’ll exercise twice a week, in-between climbing days. I could do these on my climbing days, but I don’t want to tire out beforehand.
Getting a Workout
Because I don’t have core muscles, I’ve been researching which workouts are best for building core strength. These listed below are what I’ve found so far. I might modify them to be a little easier since I’m just starting out.
To start off, I’m doing five different types for now. As I improve, I might add more in the future.
- Hanging Leg Lifts
- Oblique Knee Raise Planks
- A-Frame Arm Drop
- Turkish Get-ups
Oblique Knee Raise Planks
Start in a high plank. (Picture starting a push-up, but your arms are right underneath you.) Bend one leg and bring your knee to just outside the matching elbow. The movement opens your groin up to the ground as you move your knee up. Return to starting position and repeat with the other leg. Keep a controlled and steady pace.
I’m supposed to do this for one minute, but I might shorten the time. Staying in high plank for a while hurts my hands even when I’m on my yoga mat. I guess I’ll need to build up some resistance for them.
Hanging Leg Lifts
This exercise requires a pull-up bar or rock rings to complete. To begin, keep the arms straight, shoulders engaged (squeeze shoulder blades together), and legs straight down.
Lift legs up, so your hips are at 90 degrees without bending the knees. When you lower back down, keep your body as still as possible (you might swing). Raise your legs again without using momentum. I’ll see if I can do 10 in a set then add more sets as I go.
A-Frame Arm Drop
Begin in a C-sit position, knees bent at 90° degrees, abs engaged (squeezed in) so the upper body is off the floor, and heels on the ground. (Think of someone doing crunches or sit-ups.) Put both arms straight above your head, holding palms together.
Slowly lower your arms down to the right of your hip while keeping your upper and lower body still. Tap the floor and bring them back up overhead. Now lower to the left side. Do 30 total, 15 per side. These aren’t too bad to do.
I’ve never heard of this exercise until I started looking at workouts. Apparently, this drill is a favorite among climbers. The basic concept is to control an external object and get up off the floor.
The gist of the movement is to lie on your back with one leg bent and one straight. Hold a kettlebell in your hand on the same side as the bent leg, with the arm extending straight up. Sit up, pressing the kettle ball toward the ceiling, keeping your arm positioned over the shoulder.
Create a bridge between the bent leg and the opposite arm, then pull the extended leg underneath you and place the knee on the ground under your hip. Raise your hand off the floor and come to a lunge position with the kettlebell still pressed toward the ceiling. Stand. Now reverse all movements to the start.
The full extent of this exercise is more detailed than the description above. I’ll be lucky to be able to do one of these correctly. I can see this one taking longer to master.
Start in a high plank, keep the hips low and level with the shoulders but don’t let the back sag. Reach out with the opposite hand and foot as you lift. Then switch hand and foot. If this is challenging, only raise the hand/foot a few inches off the ground while stretching out through the fingers/toes until you find your stability and strength improving.
I’ve seen this exercise done in the high plank position or while lying stomach-down on a mat. I’m not sure which one I’ll do. I’ll try both and see which one works better for me.
Working the Shoulders
In addition to these exercises, I’m working on refining my shoulders. If I continue to climb more lead routes and overhanging problems, I need them in better shape.
To do so, these are what I have in mind:
Surprisingly, women avoid push-ups in their training because they’re hard. However, they’re good for the shoulders. I can do four right now. My goal is to do ten at least. Maybe add alternatives to them in the future such as elevated push-ups or superman push-ups.
Pullovers are great for learning how to connect the strength of your back and shoulders to your core, a critical concept in climbing. Using a kettlebell, lie on your back, knees bent. Stabilize your spine. Create “body tension” that keeps the spine, hips, rib cage from moving while lifting and lowering the kettlebell.
Tighten core muscles so that the hips stay in place, the lower back doesn't overarch, and the rib cage remains on the floor. Then, with kettlebell placed just above your head, grasp the handle with both hands and pull it off the floor until it's directly over your chest. Lower the kettlebell back to the floor without allowing the core to move.
There are many methods to pull-ups that I didn’t know until researching them. The crucial part is to gain strength and control throughout the movement. The control forces smaller stabilizing muscles to do work and get stronger. There’s no need to blast off and use momentum to complete one. Then make sure to lower carefully back to starting position, so you don’t injure your shoulders.
Find Your Center to Climb
You would think that with all the training I’m doing, it’s enough. But there’s one more part I’d like to add. In my final training piece, I’m looking for yoga to help excel at stretching for climbing. Yoga is useful for climbers to gain balance. It’s especially helpful on tricky problems and routes.
Until next time, happy bouldering!