For many, one of the most alluring parts of climbing is the endless pursuit of improvement. As climbers we are always looking to crush the next goal, grade, or adventure. But after we achieve those goals, we don’t often linger on that sweet feeling of accomplishment. So quickly we are thinking about what’s next. A lot of times, we already have our next goal lined up.
So that new futuristic boulder proj, sport climb, or big wall is in your cross hairs, now what? Sometimes the answer is to just go for it! Get psyched and try HARD! Other times you just need to be a little bit stronger. But how? Peak performance requires us to fire on all cylinders in mind, body, and spirit. As for the body portion, I bring to you calisthenics.
gymnastic exercises to achieve bodily fitness and grace of movement.
That’s right, we can do something other than just torture our poor finger joints on a hangboard to get stronger. Calisthenics doesn’t require much equipment at all and can always be found at your local climbing gym or any fitness center. You won’t be lifting those awkward, heavy weights, only your body. Just like climbing. For that reason alone, calisthenics is much more conducive to your climbing goals than lifting.
Before you get started, make sure to warm up properly. We only have one body and we’re not getting any younger. Check out these tips on Warming up for Climbing.
This is a circuit workout and can technically be done as many times as you’d like. If you’re just starting out, two times through will probably be plenty for a few weeks. Take as much or little time in between exercises as you need.
Here are the 5 essential movements to calisthenics that can improve your climbing ability and overall fitness.
1. Pull Ups
Aright, here’s something we’re all pretty familiar with. A good old fashioned pull up. So this isn’t anything new but the way in which you perform these will be. Quality over quantity. There will be an emphasis on locking off up top and lowering slowly to a more relaxed position. Think about locking off and reaching for that next hold on a sport route. Or taking the time to get your fingers just right on that next tiny crimp while bouldering.
– Use a pronated grip (palms facing away) with hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
– Now start pulling! From the bottom pull with static power, making an effort to pull the bar down to your hip.
– Lock off at the top for a just a second.
– Now slowly lower yourself down until your arms are almost straight. Remember to keep your shoulders and scapula engaged to avoid injury!
-Repeat until failure or near failure.
-Keep your core engaged to negate any swing.
Bonus workout! Australian Pull ups.
– These can be great to supplement into this circuit after your pull ups to really feel the burn! Inversely, Australians can also be used to build strength for those who are working towards their first pull up.
It’s happened to the best of us. We scratch, claw, and fight our way to the top of some horrendous boulder problem that our buddy has shown us only to punt off the top because of that stupid slopey mantle move that we just didn’t have the gas for. HP40 coming to anyone’s mind? Yeah, me too. Dips are a great way to help build the power to press out the mantle and put us over the top of our projects so that we never have to come back to them again.
– Dips are best performed on a (surprise surprise) dip bar . If you’d like to try a more advanced version, try it on the gymnastic rings. It’s hard.
– Get set up on the bars with a slight forward lean to incorporate your chest. Make sure to line up your forearms directly over the bar to keep from tweaking your wrists.
– From the top, lower your body until you hit about 90 degrees. You don’t need to go any lower, this will keep you from a shoulder injury.
– At the bottom of the dip, press upward until you’ve pushed your body as high as you can go. Perform until failure.
– When you’ve reached your limit and are unable to perform unassisted dips, it’s time to get some help. Either put one of your feet down to help press yourself up or have a partner hold your feet to spot you.
– Optionally, you can use box or bench to perform dips with your feet out in front of you.
– If you’re still working towards dips, you can perform these steps in the reverse order until you are able to complete them.
Climbers can never have too much core power. A strong core gives our body stability while moving so that gravity doesn’t just yank us off the wall. Everything from holding that foot swing after a huge deadpoint to reaching way up high to that tiny crimp, it all starts with your core. If you want a dedicated core workout that you can fit in after a sesh or during study breaks, check out our 10-Minute Ab workout.
– Hang from an even bar or hangboard with a pronated grip.
– Start by bringing up your legs parallel to the ground forming a perfect L. Point those toes. Stay tight and hold it for as long as you can!
– As you fatigue, regress into only holding up one leg. Then drop both legs and only hold up your knees. Then one knee at a time. Switch legs as needed.
– If you really want to push it, rep out some leg lifts at the end forming the original L shape.
– If you’re still working on being able perform L sits, reverse the order of this exercise and work up to it.
4. Push Ups
A great movement for overall strength and fitness. As climbers we spend so much of our time utilizing our pulling muscles. Push ups are a good way to strengthen our chest, shoulders, and triceps. By developing these muscles, we can help correct any posture issues we have from overdeveloped pulling muscles in comparison to pushing muscles.
– Nothing too crazy here. Set your feet together while in the push up position. Your arms and elbows should be set at about a 45 degree angle in comparison to your body. Too narrow or wide of a grip will cause the push up to mostly target your shoulders (specifically your front delts) and triceps.
– Keep your core tight as if you’re in a plank position.
-Lower your body until your chest is almost at the ground.
– Push with quality reps and full range of motion until you reach the top.
– Repeat until failure
– For extra credit, get a few extra reps in with modified push ups to really burn out.
– You can start with modified push ups and work your way to full push ups.
5. Pistol Squats
You know that stupid purple slab route in the back part of the gym? You know, the one with the annoyingly high foot that setters think you’re supposed to step up on. This little exercise will help with the power, balance, and stability to crush those problems that you hate! Or love. No judgement here.
– Standing, shoulder-width apart and stick one leg straight out in front of you.
– Start the squat movement and come down as low as you can in a controlled manner. If your butt is near or touching your Achilles then you’re doing a great job and have awesome ankle mobility. You’ll probably have to stick your arms out for balance.
– Press yourself up. Push through your heels. Easy peasy. Sometimes.
– Alternate with each leg to make sure you get an equal amount of reps in. Again, this is until failure.
– If you’re not able to do an assisted pistol squat yet, use something to help you keep balance like a column on a power rack.
– If that’s still too difficult, that’s okay. A normal air squat with no weight will help get you there.
– Now if you really want to hate yourself while you’re walking up that next flight of stairs, finish this segment with some squat jumps. It’s a great cardiovascular workout good for burning fat and it’ll make your butt look great!