Talk of core conditioning is in vogue these days, and the six-pack-ab look is indeed highly coveted by climbers and nonclimbers alike. But there’s more to the core than meets the eye. Think of your core as the area between your shoulders and hips, a region that serves as the foundation for all physical movement. Given this understanding, we realize that while stunning abs may be the hallmark of the core, they are but one of many different muscle groups that contribute to a strong, stable core.
In rock climbing the core muscles play a key role in enabling your arms and legs to maximize leverage and transfer torque from hand to foot and vice versa. Furthermore, the core muscles are what provide body tension when you’re trying to make a long reach or twisting body movement. In fact, every full-body climbing movement calls the core muscles into action. Consequently, a lack of core conditioning makes executing climbing moves harder—a performance overcharge—especially when venturing onto steep terrain. So if you frequently struggle on vertical to overhanging routes, it’s a safe conclusion that your difficulties are due to a combination of poor technique and insufficient upper-body and core conditioning.
So what’s the best method of training these muscles? Sit-ups or abdominal crunches are the obvious choices; however, these exercises target only a small portion of your core muscles. Other popular options are yoga and Pilates classes, which bring all the muscles of the torso into play. Despite the rigors of these classes—which are excellent for developing body awareness, flexibility, and general conditioning—they may fail to develop a high level of climbing-specific core strength. So while participating in yoga or Pilates classes is a worthwhile endeavor, there remains a need to engage in supplemental core training that activates the core muscles in more strenuous and climbing-specific ways.
Frequently climbing on steep terrain is an excellent way to strengthen core muscles, though some climbers may be in a catch-22 situation of not having enough strength to adequately train on steep terrain. If this sounds familiar or if you are new to climbing, then a commitment to regular core training will be time well invested. More advanced climbers can similarly benefit from supplemental core conditioning—in particular, the total core exercises described late in this chapter may prove challenging and advantageous.
This is the first in a series of four articles that will present you with numerous core exercises to add to your training-for-climbing program this winter. Use these exercises three to five days per week, and you will build a solid foundation from which you can climb your best in 2014!
The Superman is a great core exercise that activates all the muscles between your shoulders and hips.
The 1-Arm, 1-Leg Bridge is a surprisingly strenuous exercise–it calls into play almost every muscle from your hands to your feet.