Climbing has played an invaluable role in human survival since the dawn of man. Climbing can be used as a form of transportation, a means to gather food, or an efficient way to escape danger. While climbing is a simple, natural human movement and an important skill, it is no longer practiced widely in our modern society. For modern day not-so-hunter/gatherers, how can we improve this skill?
You are in a time before civilization. An age where your proficiency with everyday skills such as running, jumping, lifting, throwing, fighting, and climbing means the difference between seeing another day, or becoming a hungry animal’s next meal. It’s a warm, sunny morning in a clearing just outside the bush where you and your tribe have set up camp. You’re gathering some wild berries from a small bush that you’ve stumbled upon, a rare treat that your young children will enjoy. Just as you’re about to finishing filling your hand-woven basket, you hear a twig snap. It turns out, you’ve come too close to a wild boar that was resting with her piglets, and she thinks you’re a threat. The boar charges at you wildly, you drop your basket and flee as fast as you can. As you sprint you feel your heart pounding, a cold burn in back of your throat, and the dirt flicking up behind you with every stride. The boar is gaining on you; you’re coming closer to the safety of the bush when you notice some low hanging tree branches. The boar is now right on your tail, closing in for the kill when you leap, grabbing a low hanging tree branch and pull yourself up the tree to safety. Now pause, would your climbing skills be up to this task right now? Or would you be a sad excuse for a survivor?
Climbing, whether it’s up a rock wall, tree, fence, or anything else requires a few key physical attributes: strong/flexible legs, powerful upper body pulling strength, and a solid grip. Most people mistakenly believe that climbing is only an upper body pulling activity. This could not be further from the truth! In reality, climbing requires the legs just as much as the upper body. By using both your upper and lower body as a team and distributing the work between the two evenly, you’ll be able to climb faster, longer, and more efficiently. As with any activity, improving requires practice; actively climbing on a regular basis is necessary. However, there are supplementary exercises that can help you gain the upper hand when looking into improving your climbing skills.
Climbing Exercises: Lower Body Training
When climbing, you’ll often be switching weight from leg to leg, meaning that you’ll usually be using one leg to do the majority of the work at any given moment. For this reason, I have found it incredibly beneficial to focus on lower body exercises that work one leg at a time. Here are a few of my favorites:
Stand with your feet a slightly closer than shoulder-width apart. Lift one foot off the ground a few inches and keep your knee straight. Keeping the weight on your heel, draw in from your belly button, push your butt back and sit all the way down until your butt touches your heel. Think of pulling yourself down to the ground with your hips and hamstrings. Once at the bottom, press through the ground with your heel, breath out with force, and extend your knee and hips allowing yourself to stand back up until you reach the start position and repeat.
Deck Squat Pistols:
Start as you would a regular pistol squat and lower yourself down on one leg all the way to the ground, only this time you’ll roll back wards onto your back as you would in a deck squat. Once you have rolled back onto your shoulders/neck tense up your abs/butt , reverse the momentum, and whip yourself forward catching your foot back under you and use that momentum to help you stand back up out of the pistol squat.
Plyometric Step Ups:
Stand in front of a bench, plyo box, or any other sturdy platform and place one foot flat on top of it. The platform should be high high enough that when you place your foot on top of it, your knee will be bent at a 90 degree angle. Now, press through your heel, and without allowing your knee to pass your toe, stand straight up using only the leg that’s on the object by extending from the knee and hips. Press through with enough force that you propel your body up into the air. Land softly back onto the platform with the same leg and lower back down with a bent knee, and repeat another rep.
Climbing Exercises: Upper Body Pulling
Simple pull ups and chin ups will help you build the upper body strength required to climb with efficiency, however, we’re looking to improve and gain an edge in the climbing field. When climbing, you’ll often be shifting weight from one hand to another or reaching with one hand for higher grip while the other holds you in place. With these factors taken into consideration, here are some exercises that will improve these aspects of climbing:
Around The World Pull Ups:
Grip the bar as you would for a regular pull up and allow yourself to hang there. Start pulling your self up towards your left hand , once you have reached that hand stay in the fully flexed position and shift across the bar by pulling yourself towards your right hand. Once you reach your right hand slowly lower yourself down by extending your elbows. Repeat, only this time pull up towards your right hand so that continue to alternate sides to ensure both get worked equally.
Climbing Pull Ups:
Set up a pair of gym rings on a pull up bar so that they hang about 1-2 feet below the bar. Now grip your rings as you would for a regular dead hang chin pull up. Proceed to pull yourself up as hard as you can, at the apex of the pull quickly release one hand from the ring and grab the pull up bar. Once you have a firm grip, release the ring from the other hand and grab the pull up bar. You should now be hanging from the pull up bar with both hands. You’ll now perform a full pull up, lower yourself slowly, reach down with one hand and grab one ring, get a firm grip on the ring and then release the pull up bar with the other hand and grip the other ring with that hand. Now lower yourself to a dead hang position and repeat the whole movement.
Rock Climbing Exercise Workout #1
A1: Climbing Pull Up - 3-5 x 40 sec
A2: Pistol Deck Squats - 3-5 x 40 sec
A3: Hindu Push Ups - 3-5 x 40 sec
A4: Alt Plyo Step Ups - 3-5 x 40 sec
A5: Hanging Leg Raises - 3-5 x 40 sec
Perform each exercise for 40 seconds each, one after without rest. Once all exercises are complete, rest 1 min. Repeat 3-5 times.
Rock Climbing Exercise Workout #2
A: Pistol Squats - 5 x 5 reps ES (NOTE: If not challenging enough, add weight)
B: Around the World Pull Ups - 5 x 5 ES n total, if not challenging add weight)
C: Dips - 5 x 5 reps (NOTE: If not challenging, add weight)
D: Weighted Step Ups - 5 x 5
Perform each exercise for it’s prescribed number of sets and reps before moving onto the next exercise. Rest 30sec-1min between sets.
While climbing may have played a much larger role in our survival thousands of years ago, and you may never need to climb for your survival in your entire life time today, wouldn’t you like to be confident in your ability to do so should a time ever arise? Here are some sample workouts for you to try that will help boost your strength and stamina for any climbing situation, because you never know when you might need it!
This article was featured in the Dec/Jan 2011 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. “Improving the Primal Art of Climbing" was written by the Timothy Bell. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine by Clicking Here
Timothy Bell is the founder and head trainer for Jungle Fit - Personal Training based out of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He is a certified personal training, certified kettlebell trainer, certified macebell trainer, and a 1st degree black belt in Genbukan Karate. His Jungle Fit training is based in functional body weight training and also involves the use of equipment such as kettlebells, gym rings, macebells, giant tires, sledge hammers etc. He runs Jungle Fit Outdoor Boot Camps from May-Oct as well as year round personal training and small group training.Find out more.
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