Progressing Core Workouts Part 5: Climbing Exercises

What good are core exercises if they don’t help your climbing? While normal exercises can go a long way towards making your core stronger, I’m a fan of using climbing drills to incorporate that strength core into your regular climbing.

Let’s look at the 4 progression methods that we’ve covered in this series and see how they can also be applied to the two climbing drills I’ve chosen as examples.

If you haven’t seen the 4 progressions yet, you can check them out here:

Part 1: Correct Form

Part 2: Breathing

Part 3: Using the Correct Effort

Part 4: Points of Contact

Swing around

This one has been mentioned by many people before me.  And for good reason, when done well, it’s a great exercise.

Pick a boulder, and climb 3-5 moves of it. For each move, stick the move keeping your foot on, and then brace your core and intentionally cut your feet, and then put them back on the wall before doing the next move.

Now let’s look at how we can apply our principles to it.

  1. Correct Form: When cutting your feet, keep your elbows bent, shoulders engaged, and your core braced.

  2. Breathing: To add an extra level of difficulty, cut your feet, and while keeping your shoulders and core engaged, cycle a full inhale and exhale before putting your feet back on the wall.

  3. Correct Effort: If you want to get the most out of this exercise, be sure to use a problem that is hard enough that completing the 3-5 moves with good form is challenging.

  4. Points of Contact: This exercise will be easiest when your hands are both on down-pulling holds near shoulder width apart. The more you stray from this stable position, the more challenging it will be. Try using holds that are vertically or horizontally far apart, and with orientations other than just down-pulling. As you move into these less stable positions, be sure to keep a stable midsection and engaged shoulders while you hold the swing.

In this video, Kris and I will demonstrate this drill and explain how the earlier progressions can be used to add value to it.

One Size Fits All

While Swing Around is a great drill for teaching how to engage the core after your feet come off the wall, One Size Fits All can be used to practice core tension while climbing in both extended and bunched positions. With bunchy climbing, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is flexibility. While being flexible enough to get into a position is needed, without the ability to create tension in a bunched up position you can’t put that flexibility to good use.

To do this exercise, select a boulder problem and, while using open feet, climb it twice with your feet as high as you can get them, and then twice again with your feet as low as you can keep them while keeping your feet on.

Now let’s look at how we can apply our principles to it.

  1. Correct Form: When you climb extended, aim to be close to your full extension from your fingertip to your toes for each move. As you get extended, stay as close to the wall as you can while maintaining tension through your entire body. When you get bunched up, don’t allow yourself to lazily sag away from the wall. Instead, when you place a high foot, maintain tension through your entire leg and midsection to help remain powerful through the move.

  2. Breathing: One way to increase the difficulty of this exercise is to cycle a full inhale and exhale after doing each large move, and before moving your feet up for the next move. Practice getting comfortable breathing while under that stretched out tension.

    While climbing with high feet, cycle a breath in the bunched up position while still maintaining tension. This will help to build more strength and familiarity with these uncomfortably bunched up positions.

  3. Correct Effort: This should challenge you. If climbing at full span on a low angled wall is easy for you, move to a steeper wall. Some people find steeper or low angled walls easier for each version of this exercise, find which one is hardest for you and work on that. If this drill feels mindless then you aren’t on a hard enough climb.

  4. Stable Base: You can progress this exercise by move towards climbs that don’t climb straight up and down. Use feet that are far out to the side. Do moves that are either wide or long, or crossovers. You can also use only one foot while generating for each move. It is much harder to maintain tension while spanned out using only one foot versus both.

In this video we will cover this drill as well as the adjustments you can make to get more out of it.

Just a few small adjustments can make a big difference in how much value you get from your workouts. Hopefully these tips help to point you in the right direction.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop core strength to improve your climbing, next week we will be putting out a resource to share the methods that we use and have seen results with as climbing coaches.

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