A couple weeks ago, I got to check out the Momentum climbing gym in Salt Lake City. It was glorious. They had an entire room dedicated to training, and I never wanted to leave. If you live there, you are a lucky duck!
I am fortunate enough to have access to a climbing gym, but the training equipment leaves a lot to be desired. And for many climbers, climbing gyms may not be accessible or even affordable, so this week’s post is for those of you who don’t have the luxury of a climbing gym. Of course, these exercises may not be as effective as climbing-specific training with special equipment, but it’s better than nothing!
1. Planks (Mind, Core & Arms)
A plank, or pillar hold, is an isometric (stationary) resistance exercise. It’s also one of the few exercises that works all of your core muscles, including the rectus abdominus (six-pack muscles), transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, hips and back. As indicated in the photo, forearm planks also work your deltoids, pectorals, serratus anterior (muscles surrounding your rib cage), and quadriceps.
The muscle groups not highlighted in the photo include the erector spinae (long muscles surrounding your spine), trapezius and rhomboids in your upper back, glutes, and grastrocnemius (the largest calf muscle). If you have shoulder issues, you might want to shy away from these and talk to a physical therapist about exercises that are safe for you.
This is an exercise that many trainers, including Kris Peters, include in their programs, and one of the exercises that Alex Honnold swears by. It’s also one of my favorites, and I’ve found it to be a very effective mental tool. I like to do these with a stopwatch in front of me because I can motivate myself to hold out for certain times.
I literally just wait until I start to feel shaky and then challenge myself to hold it for 30 more seconds. Once I reach that milestone, hold it for 30 more seconds. I keep doing this until I’m just vibrating all over and can barely hold myself up, and then I hold it for 15 more seconds. I like to stop on nice, even 15-second intervals… because that’s not OCD or anything. So far, my record is 5 minutes (you should try to beat it).
If you’ve never done these before, you can start out in a plank on your hands with straight arms. Once those get easier, you can progress to the forearm plank. For more plank variations delivered to you in a lovely accent, check out this video here. To spice things up, you can also do side planks, from either the hands or the forearms. Form is very important, so try to do these in front of a mirror, or have a friend take a picture of you so that you can check your form.
You want your shoulders directly above your elbows or wrists (depending on the variation), and your back straight. Try not to stick your butt too high in the air or let your lower back sink too far down. It’s easy for your form to suffer as you get tired, so try to imagine making a slight C-curve with your abs. You should feel your abs engage more intensely and your pelvis rotate slightly inwards, like a string is pulling your belly button toward your face.
You can try to do just 1 or 2 of your longest planks in a day, or you can add it to an interval workout (i.e. 2 min planks in between other ab exercises in a 10 min workout).
2. Rice Bucket (Forearms)
Forearm strength and endurance is obviously important for climbing, so if you don’t have access to a gym, get a large bucket and about 20-30 pounds of rice. Working your flexors in your forearms (the ones we use for climbing) is just as important as working the extensors (the antagonist muscles located on top of the forearm). Strengthening your forearm extensors can help prevent tendonitis, forearm tightness, and wrist injuries. Watch the video below for some useful forearm exercises for climbing.
3. Woodchop (Core, Legs & Arms)
I discovered this core exercise from my friend Kym Nonstop. Watch the video below to see a demonstration.
4. Burpees (Arms, Chest, Core & Legs)
Though legs may be somewhat overlooked in climbing, they’re definitely important. Stronger legs can help you out with dynos, heel hooks, high steps, and more. Watch the video to see the proper form for burpees.
5. Hang Board (Fingers & Arms)
There are tons of exercises that you can do at home to get stronger and leaner, but in order to be a strong climber, you have to be able to pull, and pull HARD. This is pretty difficult to accomplish with typical household items, so for this exercise, I do suggest investing in some equipment (if you can). If you can only afford to buy one climbing toy for your home, I would highly recommend a hang board.
It doesn’t really matter which one you get, just get one and start hanging on it. You can do pull ups on it, hang with just body weight, or put on a heavy backpack for added weight. This one from Metolius (about $55) is the cheapest one I’ve found online. If you’re looking to splurge, the new Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center ($120) is fully customizable with a wider variety of holds, including pinches.
If you live in an apartment or home where you can’t put holes in the wall, you should consider a door-frame pull-up bar ($30). Be sure to place a towel or old t-shirt between the wall and the foam bars if you need your place to look spotless when you move out. Sometimes the foam will rub onto the door frame and leave black marks. If you really, really want finger strength, you can mount a hang board onto a pull-up bar yourself like this guy, or you can buy this Blank Slate Climbing Trainer ($120) and mount a hang board onto it.
For hang board exercises, check out the workouts below:
Training for climbing is considerably more difficult without access to an amazing climbing gym, but it’s still possible. If you’re on a tight budget, stick with these free, body weight exercises to keep you in climbing shape. However, if you can afford to invest in a hang board, your climbing will thank you.
What exercises have helped you when you were unable to climb in a gym? Share your experience in the comments below.