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Climb Your Way to Fitness

  • Written by  Ash Phelps
Climb Your Way to Fitness Climb Your Way to Fitness

The view and a sense of accomplishment from a successful climb can be well worth the sweat and tears endured during that climb. These feelings of satisfaction will surpass your typical humdrum workout. But, before you can master the crags, you will need to prepare yourself to do so with the right exercises and equipment.

The Benefits of the Rock

Rock climbing puts your muscles under constant tension. This is unlike the resistance that lifting weights offers. Climbing both builds muscle and tones muscle, it also provides major cardiovascular conditioning. In addition, climbing helps increase your flexibility and nimbleness. As the weeks progress, you’ll find yourself able to reach handholds that were seemingly impossible the prior week. The perfect foot position will become a less daunting chore as you find comfort while your hip-flexors rotate and pivot with ease. Virtually every muscle will be stretched during a climb. The more you climb, the better you will become and the more confident you will feel. You will find that these healthful benefits to climbing can transition into any other sport or activity in your life.
Prepare to Climb

Make sure you have allowed your muscles to heal and repair from any previous weight training sessions. This takes about 72 hours. A great place to start is in an indoor Bouldering room. Many climbing centers have such rooms and the floor is covered in crash mats. Harnesses are not usually required in Bouldering rooms. Always call the climbing center beforehand for the center’s rules, regulations and qualifications. If it interests you, talk to a staff member about completing basic qualifications. Prices can be very reasonable and the qualification times will vary.

Here are a few quick and simple exercises to loosen the muscles and open up mobility before you climb.

Alternate Sided Chin-Up

Rarely are all climbing routes directly straight overhead. Perform this exercise to mimic climbing across to one side. Hold the chin-up bar with palms facing forward with a wide grip. Hang from the bar and then pull yourself up towards your right hand. Pause, and then lower yourself back down to the starting position. Then pull yourself up towards your left hand, and again after a pause, lower yourself back down to the starting position. Aim for 3 sets of 6 reps to begin with and work yourself up from there.

Weighted Squat

Your arms naturally play an important role in climbing, but your legs will take the brunt of the strain. Understand that your arms will tire well before your legs do, so having strong legs is vital for when energy levels are running low. With feet a shoulder’s width apart and grasping a 20lb weight to your chest, bend your knees so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Make sure that your feet stay firmly planted at all times. Pause at the bottom of the movement and then push yourself up extending your legs to the starting position. Aim for 4 sets of 8 and increase the weight upward as strength increases.

Narrow Grip Pull-down

In climbing you’ll find that just one handhold may be your only option. This exercise mimics this by having your hands close together (on the rock or wall your hands may need to be overlap). From a high pulley, grasp a narrow grip handle and slide your thighs under the supports. Pull down the handle to your upper chest until your elbows are at your sides. Do not lean back. Pause, then return to the starting position. Aim for 3 sets of 10 and allow yourself a moment to rest before attempting another set.


The rowing machine is actually the most beneficial way to get your heart pumping before the climb. To correctly perform the perfect row, have your feet secured on the footplate with your knees up to your chest. Have your arms straight out in front of you whilst holding the oar bar. Push back firmly with your legs whilst keeping your arms straight until your legs are fully extended. Only then should you pull in with your arms, bringing the oar in to your chest. Begin to bend your knees to return back to the starting position. Make sure that your arms have already extended themselves over your knees. Aim for 500 feet and increase this to 1000 feet once you feel comfortable. Keep a track record of your times and at the end of each week, calculate your average time and use that as a benchmark for the following week.

Necessary equipment

1. Climbing shoes
A decent pair of climbing shoes is vital to staying on the rock or wall. They should fit snug on your feet to prevent slippage. A good rule of thumb is to buy a size down from your actual shoe size. At first you may experience foot shock but the shoes will quickly soften and become more comfortable. Opt for Velcro fastened shoes rather than laces. Velcro allows for quick and easy relief or security adjustments mid-climb.

2. Chalk
Properly chalking your hands before and during a climb helps your grip on the handholds. Having a chalk bag attached to your back allows you to chalk up during the middle of a climb. Chalk is cheap so make sure you have plenty.

3. Harness
For safety reasons, you will need a harness if you plan to tackle any crags or high indoor climbing walls. Most climbing centers will allow you to rent a harness for the session but it’s best to have your own equipment. A basic harness will be more than satisfactory while you find your own groove on the wall.

With these simple exercises, you will prepare your body for what is ahead. Climbing offers a total mind and body workout that will challenge your regular gym routine. It is great with friends or it can be the perfect individual sport. Each climb can bring a sense of accomplishment and every climb can offer a new and exciting route – crags or indoor rock walls. To challenge yourself when climbing indoors, try completing a route using just two color handholds (i.e. yellow and green). For the ultimate challenge, attempt using just one color (red usually is the most challenging).


Article By: Ash Phelps 

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Last modified on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 22:07

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