Picture this, you’re at the gym or your favorite crag. You’ve been there for most of the day and you’re starting to get tired. You decide to just finish up this last climb and then call it a day, but the crux of the climb is a short overhanging section that you just can’t get past. Your friend tells you that you need to work on your core to get the moves. You think that climbing is much more about your arms and legs, but when you think more about it, it does make some sense. In this post, we’ll detail fifteen climbing core workout tips to help you climb stronger.
Is Climbing a Good Core Workout?
Overall, climbing is a pretty good core workout, if you’re using good technique. Different styles of climbing require differing amounts of core strength and tension, but all do require some. Contrary to popular belief, climbing is about way more than arm strength. Although arms are certainly helpful, they are not the end all be all of climbing. Your strength in climbing comes significantly more from your legs and core. Since your legs are simply a larger size than your arms, they tire slower, but none of that matters is you don’t have a good core.
One of the key concepts in climbing is body tension.
Body tension is keeping your body tight so you don’t swing off of moves. This is super helpful on overhanging climbs, but is used on all kinds of climbs, just some to a lesser degree. Body tension is maintained by a good core, so more climbing will help you improve your core.
Your body’s natural tendency may be to rely on your arms, so you may have to actively think about engaging your core to feel any workout in that area from climbing.
How Can I Strengthen My Core for Climbing?
The easiest answer in climb. Some people swear by training, but others simply climb more. Many climbers attend regular Pilates or yoga classes to improve core strength and balance. This is by no means necessary and lots of climbers do simple core workouts. Any core workout will be helpful, but some core workouts focus on endurance over pure strength, which is often favorable for climbing.
Can You Get Abs from Rock Climbing?
The answer may be a little more complicated than you think. Yes, you can get a stronger core from climbing, but climbing doesn’t only utilize your abs. Your whole core is engaged on climbs, not just your abs. Climbing requires core tension in order to stay on the wall and while core tension does help your abs, climbing is not an immediate way to a 6-pack.
How Many Times a Week Should I Train My Core for Climbing?
The general rule of thumb when it comes to any type of training is a few days on, one day off. Over the course of a week, this shakes out to mean four to five days of working out and one or two days off. Days on don’t necessarily have to be only core training, you could do climbing for two or three days and then use the other two to three days for more core or other focused muscle group training.
7 Key Exercises for Building Climbing Core Tension
1. Hanging leg lift
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One of the most common climbing gym core workouts is the hanging leg lift. To do this exercise, hang from either a straight bar, a hangboard, a set of rings, or any other mechanism to hang from that gives you a good range of motion in front of you.
Your goal here is to lift your legs up in front of you while keeping your back straight, your shoulders engaged, and your legs together. You can do this either with bent or straight legs, but you should try to get your thighs to be parallel to the ground.
2. Climb on the overhanging wall
Some climbers swear by workouts off the wall, but if you can’t apply what you work on off the wall to the wall, then it’s not really helping you. One of the best workouts to add to your plan to help with this is to do a series of climbs on a steep wall (45-55) each time you go to the gym. Aim for completing at least a few overhanging routes each time you climb. To make this harder, try to use only the smallest footholds so you have to rely on your core to keep you in close to the wall more.
3. Front lever progression
This is typically used as a challenge that follows the hanging leg lift. The front lever progression uses a lower bar than the hanging leg lift and is more about engaging the core, shoulders, and back to keep the body hanging with your abdomen parallel to the ground.
To make the workout harder, you can straighten your legs so your whole body is parallel to the ground, but this will be a challenge that you’ll have to work up to.
4. Ab wheel rollouts
Many climbing gyms have a wheel that you can use to roll forward with. To use these, you start in a typical plank position except that your hands will be holding the handles of the wheel. You can do this either on your knees or your feet, depending on the difficulty that you’re going for. Slowly bend at the core, pushing your butt into the air and rolling the wheel in towards your legs. Hold for a second before slowly rolling back down. Only go back to a plank position. Make sure you don’t lower past the straight line of a plank position.
5. L sits
Start L sits by sitting on the floor with your body in an “L” shape. Your legs should be flat on the ground in front of you and you should be sitting up straight. To begin, place your hands palms down beside you and slightly in front of your butt. Slowly push down into the floor and raise your butt up. You can either leave your feet on the floor or lift them up as well. Make sure you keep your shoulders engaged and not shrugged up to your ears.
6. Core press
To do a core press you will need an anchor point and a band to attach to it. Stretch the band from the anchor point and stand holding the band square in front of you at chest height. The anchor point should be to your side, not directly in front of you. Slowly push your arms away from you and pull back in towards your body. To make the workout harder, just take another step away from the anchor point to increase the pressure on the band.
7. Oblique knee raise plank
This workout focuses more on the obliques, located on the side of the core. This is a good addition to any core workout routine as it focuses on the sides as opposed to the center of your core. Start in a high plank up on your hands. Begin by lifting first one leg and bringing the knee up to the elbow. Replace your leg on the ground and repeat with the other side. Set a timer for one minute and repeat as many as you can during that time at a slow and steady pace.
5 Core Exercises for Climbers to do at Home
So maybe you can’t get to a gym or don’t have access to the equipment commonly present at gyms, but you still want to work on your core at home, here are some exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home. At home, you can either buy a small set of weights to use, or you could fill up water bottles or jugs with water and use those as home weights. In general, a liter of water is about 2.2 pounds, so you can adjust the amount of water you are holding to adjust the weight you use in your workouts.
1. Planks (with modification)
While a plank might seem a little obvious, it is worth talking about since there are so many ways that you can modify a plank to work specific muscles. You can do a regular plank on your hands, a regular plank on your elbows, or any of the modifications, but the general structure should remain the same. Over all, you should try to maintain a straight line along your back, taking care not to bow towards the ground at the hips. If you can’t keep a straight line with your body, it is better to bow up, away from the ground, with your hips as opposed to down.
Some of the most common modifications include side planks, one arm planks, one leg plank, or even a one leg and one arm plank. All of these variations work different muscles around the core area, so it is best to use a variety of types of planks to get the best workout for your core.
2. Russian Twist (with or without weights)
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To do a Russian Twist you will need to sit on the ground and lean your torso back. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the ground high enough that your thighs and back are at similar angles to the ground. This is where you can add in weights if you want, or just hold your hands together without weights.
Either way, with your hands together in front of the center of your chest, slowly rotate your torso first one way and then the other. Make sure to keep your arms in front of you and don’t just let them drop to the ground. The purpose of this exercise is to be rotating from your core, so just moving your arms defeats the purpose.
Generally, people do about 15-20 twists (full rotation, right to left, is one twist) and repeat for 3-5 sets. As with any workout, the amount of reps per set and the amount of sets is determined by what your focus is. In climbing workouts, the focus is usually on endurance so aim for a higher number of reps or sets with a lower weight. Using a larger weight for high numbers of sets or reps has high potential for injury.
3. Arm dip (with or without weights)
To do an arm dip stand with your shoulders square above your hips and your feet about shoulder distance apart. If you want to use weights, hold the weight in the arm you want to start with. Slowly lower the weight, or your hand if you’re not using weights, by bending at the core and lowering your shoulder as far down as you can. Make sure you keep the opposite hip in line with the rest of your body and don’t let it pop out to the side.
Rise back up to a standing position and repeat 8-10 times on each side. As with most of these workouts, doing three or four reps is probably enough for you to get a good workout. You should be using a weight that you can feel the strain, but not so much that you are hurting your side. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself working out so much that you can’t climb.
4. Leg sway
Start this workout by laying on your back on the ground. Make sure that you’re on comfortable ground, so it’s not uncomfortable to be on your back. Spread your arms out to the sides and place your palms flat on the ground. Extend your legs straight up to the sky and glue your legs together.
Starting on one side and then going to the other, slowly lower your legs down towards the ground as far as you can, without having your back arched up off the ground. The opposite hip will come off the ground, but make sure you keep your shoulders squarely on the ground.
5. Wheelbarrow walk
Do you remember when you were a kid and you used to have wheelbarrow races in gym class? This is the same exact workout as then. Having a partner life your legs, while you keep your body straight, and walk your hands across a distance is actually a really good core workout. This generally works best if you pick a distance, say 30 feet, and go back and forth switching who holds the other’s feet each turn. This is also a great workout because many people find that they are more motivated when working out with a partner.
3 Example Climbing Workout Circuits
In general, workout circuits for climbing should be done with lower weights and higher reps to work on endurance. While strength is also an important factor, endurance is much more useful in the long run. These example workout circuits that we’ve put together for you include exercises that will work a variety of muscles and should be done 3-5 times per week.
1. At home, no to minimal gear
This first workout circuit is designed to be able to be done at home with very little equipment and is highly adjustable and personalizable to your level of fitness.
1 minute plank of choice + 30 second break (repeated with 3-5 different plank variations)
Arm dips: 10/side x 3-5 reps
Russian twist: 1 minute, as many as you can at a slow and steady pace
2. At home or in the gym, some gear
This workout circuit can be done at home or in the gym, but requires some slight gear, such as workout bands.
Core press: 10 x 3-5 reps at a comfortable difficulty
L sit: 1 minute hold + 30 second break, repeat 1-3 times depending on your level
Hanging leg lift: 10 x 3-5 reps, either curled legs or straight legs, depending on your level
3. At the climbing gym, gear needed
This workout circuit includes more gear and incorporates some climbing on a steep wall, so you will need to be at the climbing wall to do this one.
Climbing on a steep wall: (45-55 degree overhang) do a progression of climbing on an overhanging wall. This can be making up your own routes or climbing set routes. To do this pick three levels of difficulty and do three climbs at the easiest, two at the medium, and one at the hardest before working your way back down the levels. This can just be easier or harder routes of the same rating or different grades entirely.
Hanging leg lift: 10 x 3-5 reps, either curled legs or straight legs, depending on your level
Ab wheel rollout: 10 x 3-5 reps, either on knees or feet, depending on your level
Wrapping Things Up: 15 Climbing Core Workout Training Tips
Overall, climbing can greatly improve your core, but if you plan to train your core for climbing, you should emphasize endurance over strength. So if you want to push your climbing game to the next level, implementing some core training may prove to be useful. Don’t forget to apply your workouts to the climbing wall though!
Did you enjoy this post? Then you’ll love our other climbing tips:
> How to Start Doing Pull-ups for Climbing: 3 Tips
> 50 Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners and Intermediates