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Core Training – Part 3

This is the third in a 4-part series on developing greater, more complete core strength. Simply doing ordinary Crunches isn’t going to get the job done. The key to developing core stiffness that won’t “leak” precious energy while you climb is working all the muscles that surround your torso. This month you will learn the extremely specific and beneficial Steep-Wall Traverses and the difficult Front Lever.

Steep-Wall Traversing

Steep Wall Traversing.

Steep Wall Traversing.

Climbing overhanging walls is the ultimate core-training exercise, and it’s obviously the most specific. The best training strategy is to traverse sideways across a long overhanging wall, or back and forth across a shorter one. The only drawback to this exercise is that lack of finger strength and climbing ability will prevent some climbers from traversing long enough to adequately work the core muscles.

  1. Select a section of wall that overhangs 30 to 50 degrees past vertical.
  2. Using medium-size handholds and small footholds, traverse across the wall at a steady pace. Avoid extremely technical or strenuous moves.
  3. Try to make long sideways reaches and stretches with your hands and feet, respectively—the longer the horizontal reaches, the more your core muscles will need to work to maintain balance and stability. Allow your body to twist and turn as needed to execute the moves, and concentrate on  contracting your core muscles to prevent body sag, sway, or swing.
  4. Continue traversing for at least one minute. Alternate leading with your hands and feet.
  5. Rest  for three to five minutes before performing a second or third set. Adjust the difficulty of the traverse by using holds that are closer (easier) or  farther apart.

Front Lever

Front Lever with bent leg (easier).

Front Lever with bent leg (easier).

Introduced to climbing by the legendary boulderer John Gill, the Front Lever is the gold standard of core muscle strength. It is a very difficult gymnastics move, so expect this exercise to feel hard—or even impossible! Fortunately, you can make it a bit easier by simply bending one leg or having a spotter hold your feet.

  1. Begin by hanging straight-armed from a bar or a set of rock rings (ideal).
  2. Pull up halfway, then push your hands forward, drop your head backward, and lift your legs. Do all this in a single quick motion while attempting to position your entire body—head to toe—parallel to the ground. Squeeze tightly throughout your shoulders, torso, buttocks, and legs to hold this position for three seconds (if you can). It helps to think about pushing your hands towards your hips, even though you’ll be in a stationary position.
  3. The goal is to hold the lever for three seconds before lowering yourself slowly to the starting position.
  4. Immediately pull up into a Front Lever again and hold for three seconds.
  5. Perform three to five (hard) total Front Levers.
  6. Rest for three to five minutes before performing a second set.
  7. Safety note: The Front Lever places a great deal of stress on your shoulders and elbows (just like steep climbing), so it is inappropriate for novice or out-of-shape climbers or anyone with ongoing elbow or shoulder problems.