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Training: stability, core and flexibility

To begin any kind of training phase it's important to have a strong and stable body.  Whether your aim is routes or bouldering, or endurance or strength, it's important that your body is ready in the first place in order to be able to properly respond to training.

It's easy to pick up injuries if your body isn't balanced and diving in with training that's too intense will also be a sure fire recipe for injury.  If you are concerned that you are at risk of injury I suggest you see a specialist professional such as a physio.  I would also say that all of the exercises I've included links for below are better explained in person - so maybe it's time to sign up to a yoga or pilates class!

The following kinds of exercises are good to do alongside other climbing specific training, but it's useful to pay big attention to them at the start of a training phase (like at the beginning of winter before you charge into a full on winter's training regime).

Stability

A stable body is necessary and in climbers, this is particularly important in our upper body. Climbers are good at pulling, but not pushing.  This means the front of our bodies are strong (abs, biceps, pecs etc) but our posterior is weak (triceps, rotator cuff, gluts etc).  If we do not address these antagonist muscles we are again at risk of INJURY.  Shoulders are especially at risk.  Here are some links to useful articles and videos.

The following links give a selection of exercises, which work on the smaller stablising muscles and the antagonist muscles.

Theraband exercises for opposing muscles 

Shoulder stability

Antagonists

Narrow push ups

Narrow push ups are a good antagonist exercise and different to the 'normal' push ups people do.  Try them!  If they are hard, good!

Core

The basis of a body that works efficiently is a strong core. Your core is not just your tummy muscles. In essence a strong core is the full connection of your fingers right down through the whole body to the toes. If you have strong abs these can be virtually useless if it is disconnected from the legs or shoulders. Climbers need the whole body to work in unision and learning not just to strengthen specific parts, but rather learning how to connect it all up is key.

Personally I am quite uncomfortable with many of the common core exercises such as supermans and leg lifts dangling from a bar. I actually feel these are second or third stage exercises after some basic pilates exercises which are described well in this articleIt’s really easy to do the common 'climber' exercises (supermans, dish, leg lifts) poorly, which means you use the wrong muscles or in fact they may have no effect whatsoever. These exercises can often work the bigger muscles, where a strong core relies on all the smaller muscles working and supporting the bigger muscles. Just learning to activate all the muscles correctly is a challenge in itself. Climbing is not just an upper body activity, we need the whole body to work properly together.

I am a huge pilates fan and if you are interested this video really shows some of the mat pilates exercises, however pilates also uses lots of equipment. For example here are some lower body and leg exercises using what's called the wunder chair. In climbing we stand a lot of the time on the wall and we train the upper body, but not the lower body. The legs are so important for climbing! 

In case you are wondering what pilates is really about - here's Sylvester Stallone (!) on the reformer (that's what this machine he's on is called).  I really recommend taking pilates onto the equipment and off the mat - it's a full body workout.


Once you have mastered some of these basic exercises and strengthened your core in the first place, you may be then strong enough to do some of the ‘climber’ core exercises.  The key in core exercises is to maintain good neck positions (neck has to be in line with the body rather than arched up) and to engage your core before completing an exercise rather than throwing yourself into a position.  Core workouts are often subtle engagements rather than dramatic positions. This article explains the transition well.  Note the traditional 'climber' bar work is right at the end. I suggest that at the beginning of your training phase doing the gentler core exercises and building up over a longer period of time to the harder exercises.

Flexibility

Often forgotten and sometimes dismissed as impossible to get, flexibility is so important in climbing. Some people are certainly born with joints more flexible than other people's. I can see that looking at my young daughter and her friends. What ever we started with, we were ALL born a lot more flexible than we are now. At some point we lost it. Even the most flexible people have to keep a hold of it.  Yoga is the obvious activity for flexibility. 

Here is a video of two very famous climbers.  Edlinger is clearly more flexible and it works to his advantage.


There are two key areas to focus on for climbers:

Hips 

Shoulders OFTEN neglected, but vital for increased reach and injury prevention

My suggestion is even 2 exercises of each after climbing is better than nothing. Make sure you are warmed up before you stretch. Try to keep stretching, if you stop, you will lose it. SOMETHING is better than nothing! Incorporate stretching as a matter of course into your training.

Pay attention to all these areas and they will stand you in good stead for a body that is fully prepared to start training. Don't leave them out, or deal with them last minute, make them an important part of your life.