Since the beginning of the pandemic, many of us have had our routine climbing and training schedules impacted with many of our rock climbing and bouldering gyms closed. Whether this is due to gym closures or restrictions on international travel, a large portion of the climbing community is feeling a little lost when it comes to maintaining their fitness and climbing skills.
Even with the travel restrictions loosening up and the gyms are reopening, there is still a lot of uncertainty if things will stabilize, so climbers are starting to see the value in investing more on personal and home workouts to keep up the physique and routine.
Climbers who typically go to the boulder gyms or climb outdoors at least a few times a week would now have some restrictions due to safe distancing rules imposed. These rules have been met with resistance in the form of distancing regulations, gym closures, localized travel restrictions, and even peer pressure from the community not to risk filling up a hospital bed due to a climbing accident that could otherwise be used for a covid patient
We are being forced to get creative in order to stay in shape and stay sane. As a result, climbers have taken to the likes of Instagram to share their creative and unique home workouts which we’ve put together some information about complementing home trainings and workouts for rock climbers to get you through your ‘quarantine’ until we can resume back to our usual frequent climbing gym schedules and visits.
How Home Training and Gym Climbing Work Well Together
Though many of us are accustomed to doing all of our climbing training and workouts at the climbing gym, there are many ways for you to keep up your climbing training at home that will help you maintain and even improve your climbing abilities. While certain methods require specific equipment, like a hangboard, peg boards, pull-up bar, finger grip strengthener, there are also plenty of rock climbing exercises that require no equipment at all.
Home training goes hand in hand with gym climbing because, even though you’re not climbing, you can still strengthen the muscle groups that are commonly used in climbing. Finger strength, pull strength, and lock-off strength, for example, are climbing-specific skills that can be trained at home, and training these will have a huge impact on your climbing ability when you finally get back to the crag.
For some, a simple home workout is not enough to satisfy their cravings for climbing, and have installed climbing holds around their household to somewhat replicate a small amount of climbing and to work on their finger strength. For many, this is a tad extreme, however it is a great way to work on your climbing skills, providing you do this safely.
Climbing Training at Home for your Fingers
If you happen to have a fingerboard or portable hangboard at home, you’re in luck. For those who are unaware, a hangboard usually consists of a wooden or plastic structure, often hung above doorways, with lengths and depths of finger holds on which a climber can suspend themselves, working on upper body, finger strength, and grip. Some climbers try to replicate this by hanging on a door frame, but please do be aware that door frames were not built to hold the entire weight of a human, and these can inevitably break and injure you in the process.
There are so many finger training regimes that can be simply done with a hangboard or rock rings, and not all of them are just focused on max strength. You can also follow a plan that focuses on hangboarding for endurance, which will help you to maintain your finger endurance while you’re stuck at home and unable to climb.
Finger training without a hangboard
IfHowever, if you don’t happen to have a hangboard at home, there are some exercises that you can do to try and maintain your tendon strength. It’s important to keep your fingers moving, so even if you just have a rubber stress ball lying around, squeeze it periodically throughout the day, keeping your tendons active and engaged. There are specific training materials for climbers training their tendon muscles, however a stiff stress ball has exactly the same effect and saves you a little money.
Additionally, if you have a sturdy kitchen table, you can lay under it and prop your legs on a chair, hanging off of the edge in a half-crimp or full-crimp position. There are numerous videos of climbers attempting to climb their chairs, tables, and kitchen counters, all for some essential finger training and suspended fun. It’s time to get creative with your finger training!
If you are feeling like taking things to the next level, why not consider setting up your own home climbing wall?
Exploring the different Rock Climbing Exercises
Bodyweight Training and Weight Training
There is one big distinction to make between the two types of climbing specific workouts that you can do at home: bodyweight training and weight training.
Bodyweight training relies on exercises that require no weighted equipment but uses instead the weight of your body. This, for example, includes pullups and using a hangboard.
Bodyweight training is something that everyone can do at home, and it is especially useful for targeting core strength and body tension. Exercises like planks and plank variations are essential for climbers. You can perform planks either in the top of a pushup position or on your forearms. Lift up an arm or a leg to increase difficulty. Marching planks are a great way to make these more interesting.
To further work on your core, consider doing sit-ups, dishes, and dish variations. A dish is when you lie on your back and lift your arms and legs off the ground, the lower, the more intense. This sounds quite simple on paper, but try it, and you will quickly notice the burn in your core muscles.
Lastly, don’t forget about your legs! Squats, especially pistol squats, can help to reinforce the strong lower body that climbers need, yet so often neglect. When doing a squat, keep your feet hip-distance apart and your back straight while bending at the knees and lowering until your legs are fully bent. Pistol squats, a more difficult squat variation, are performed with just one leg, so they are especially helpful for climbing movements like high-steps.
Weight training requires additional weight, which makes specific targeted movements more intense. This can include weighted pullups as well as standard weight lifting gym exercises.
If you do have weights at home, such as a pair of dumbbells or a barbell and plates, it is a great idea to incorporate weight training into your at-home fitness routine. Weight training can help target max strength, something that comes in handy especially when you are bouldering. Weights can naturally be professional training weights, but if you do not have these, you can use heavy books, filled water bottles, or anything that is comfortable and safe to hold while working out.
Some useful circuits for rock climbers are the bench press (typical weight lifting from a lying position on a bench), dumbbell bicep curl (holding a dumbbell in an upwards facing hand, keeping your upper arm still and lifting it towards your shoulder), and deadlift (lifting a weight from the floor in both hands up to a standing position but not above your head), as these exercises target arm, chest, and back strength, which will all help you immensely in your climbing.
Every climber excels in some skills and lacks in others. With a little discipline and motivation, you can work hard on your weaknesses and become not just a powerful climber, but a stronger person.
Endurance training away from the wall
While training strength at home is quite straightforward, training endurance can be a bit more complicated. It’s difficult to target the specific muscle group, such as your forearms, that climbing requires. However, training general cardio endurance and lung capacity can be helpful for preparing for those long and pumpy sports routes, and there are numerous exercises that you can complete at home to do so.
To maintain general fitness, traditional cardio workouts, such as long slow jogging, interval sprints and biking are certainly suitable to regulate your heart rate and also improve your stamina. You can also do some simple climbing-specific HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) home workouts. Get your heart rate up by doing sets of burpees and mountain climbers while also targeting arm and core strength.
When doing burpees, start by doing a pushup, then jump your feet forward and jump into the air with your hands up. Lower and repeat for a high-intensity exercise. Mountain climbers are performed at the top of a pushup position, driving alternating knees towards your chest.
What About Antagonist Training?
Another key component to a complete climbing training regime is antagonist muscle training. This targets the muscle groups that we don’t directly use when climbing, but are nevertheless very important for injury prevention and general body strength. Antagonist training is something that you certainly can, and should, include in your home workouts and training routine.
A simple, no-equipment antagonist exercise that any rock climber should be training is pushups.These are key to preventing elbow injuries. If you have a heavy dumbbell at home (or even a full 5 liter water jug), the farmer’s carry is an excellent exercise for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helps strengthen your core and build shoulder stability. Simply grab the dumbbell or water jug in one hand and walk 20-30 paces, ensuring that you are keeping your shoulders rolled back and your core tight and locked.
The Importance of Yoga and Stretching for Climbers
Benefits of yoga
We may be stuck at home, unable to climb, but all of us are certainly able to up our yoga and stretching game! Many climbers, and typically male climbers, think that they can overcome difficult bouldering problems with sheer power, grip strength, and determination, however, flexibility, mobility and careful control of your breathing will help you climb more controlled and statically, which preserves your energy for much longer.
Yoga can have endless benefits for the mind and body, and climbers can definitely take a lot from youtube and personal yoga routines to improve mobility, flexibility, and mental capacity. . Yoga breathing techniques, if properly employed, can be extremely useful when rock climbing and tackling the crux of a difficult rock climbing route indoors or outdoors. Breath control can help to “slow down time” while balancing in precarious positions on the rock, helping you to focus and control your movement despite being at height and at risk of falling.
Yoga is also extremely helpful for gaining body awareness, which is another essential component of any good climber. Through some yoga poses and stretches, you will experience how your body is changing with the shifts of your weight from your arms to your hips to one calf and back to your forearm will help you to use it more efficiently while doing a climbing route.
But perhaps the most valuable thing that you can gain from yoga is flexibility and mobility. These are important for climbers, and a regular yoga routine will have you expanding the boundaries that restrict your body movement. Incorporating a daily yoga and/or stretching practice into your routine will have huge benefits when you can finally return to the crag.
Finally, yoga and stretching are key components in injury prevention. Making sure that your muscles are loose and supple is a great way to avoid strains or tears. Focus on back, shoulder, hip and hamstring flexibility with yoga moves like downward-facing dog, seated twist, bridge pose or eagle pose, which are especially important muscle groups for climbers and boulderers. There are numerous, targeted yoga routines on youtube for climbers, and training yoga and stretches is a staple in professionally catered climbing routines, such as Catalyst Climbing and Lattice Training.
It is worth considering a decent 10 – 15 minute stretching session at the end of each climbing or training session. Not only does it help to cool down your adrenaline, but will relax the tension in your muscles and help to prevent injury. The following video demonstrates a great post-climbing cool down yoga session, although you can easily pick and choose from the entire playlist to create a unique and targeted yoga session to do at home.
So what are you waiting for? Buy a yoga mat or ask for it as a present from your loved one (a perfect climbing gift amongst many others)!
Mental Training into Your Home Training Plan
Our last, but nonetheless crucial, training component that you should incorporate into your home routine is mental training. As we know, climbing is a sport that requires high concentration and determination. Mastering control of your fear, and overcoming mental blocks will help you to concentrate in the most difficult of situations on the wall. Regular yoga and meditation are both great ways to start on this.
Visualisation as mental training
One especially useful mental training tool for climbers is visualization. Sit down on the floor in a quiet area with little distractions and noise pollution, close your eyes and imagine your project, whichever route or boulder problem that may be. In your head, visualize sending your project, where you pause to rest, to shake off the ache and then proceed to execute every move to perfection. This exercise will come in handy when you get back on the wall, as it conditions your mind to expect and believe in a successful outcome. Many high-performing professional climbers, such as Margo Hayes and Adam Ondra, implement visualization in their mental training routines daily.
You should aim to have an overall high level of fitness in all of the above categories. It helps to identify and target your weaknesses, particularly if you do not enjoy them – after all, when, if not in lockdown, will you have the time and patience to work on them? A carefully curated and well calculated training plan will work miracles for you when you can finally return to regularly doing the sport you love.
Just because we’re stuck at home doesn’t mean that our climbing training has to take a back seat! There are plenty of DIY home rock climbing exercises, both mental and physical, that we can incorporate with little or no equipment. From hang boards to yoga to pilates to HIIT,get training and stay in form during your periods away from the wall!
Are there any interesting workouts for climbers that we have missed? Let us know.