Yoga for Rock Climbers

One of the reasons that I love yoga is the fully immersive experience you can have, I find myself swept up in a marriage of body and breath.  It truly is a unifying activity.

Pretty much every major and stabilising muscle is strengthened and lengthened in equal measure, the body is taken through all planes of movement and a meditative state of mind is cultured.

When I discovered rock climbing I felt I had uncovered the perfect pairing, the two disciplines not only compliment each other, they also help to balance out and fill in the gaps left by the natural bias each one creates.

Yoga mainly works with contracting the chest and arm muscles through repeated Chaturanga Dandasana in sun salutations and vinyasa, whereas rock climbing tends to work more on the opposing muscles in the back which are required for holding and lifting the body weight in vertical and overhanging routes.

Rock climbing often shortens the hip flexors and shoulder muscles, however yoga works to open these areas.

Both yoga and rock climbing encourage a feeling of being connected to yourself at a deeper level, through breathing exercises, the mental focus needed to perform the practice and an affinity towards nature.

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How Can Yoga Help Climbers?

Self-Efficacy

Being able to believe in your ability to achieve is at the heart of climbing and through yoga you can let the superficial layers of ego fall away and perceive each challenge that faces us with a calm outlook, enabling smart planning and execution.

Flexibility and Freedom

Having a healthy range of movement opens so many more route options whilst climbing, improving reach of arms and legs, reducing injury risk and helps with efficient technique.

Fear and Focus

When you’re suspended above the ground by only your finger tips, having a crisis of faith can mean game over.  Yoga breathing exercises and meditation build single pointed focus and inversions and arm balances teach overcoming fear.

Habitual Movements

How many climbers only stick to what they are best at and become stagnant?  In yoga, especially in flowing styles such as vinyasa flow, each sequence will be greatly varied and you will learn to be comfortable with discomfort and to challenge your habitual movement patterns and preferences.

Strength and Endurance

If you spend an hour doing rock climbing training, most likely a large part of that time will be spent recovering and resting between routes.  Most yoga classes are at least an hour-long, during which time you will continuously be holding or flowing between poses, building stamina and strength in the body and mind.

Hand and Foot Mastery

Great emphasis is given in yoga to grounding through and the alignment and placement of the hands and feet, which is a skill that’s directly transferable to rock climbing.

Momentum and Flight

I often hear people at my local climbing wall The Climbing Hangar talking about having a “high gravity day”.  We all have those moments when climbing a route that seemed easy days before suddenly feels like you’re dragging a 10 tonne weight behind you.  By properly engaging the core and stabilising muscles and finding a sense of lightness during flowing transitions, yoga has the key to proving that in climbing, gravity is a myth.


Yoga Poses for Climbers

Every yoga pose will have huge benefits for a rock climber, but here are a few to get you started and to see how helpful combining these two practises can be.

I would always recommend you learn yoga with an experienced yoga teacher as poor technique can lead to injury and remember to approach each pose with a non-competitive attitude.

 

Downward Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Strengthens and stretches shoulder and back muscles, helping develop a longer reach ability, upper body endurance and release for over worked latissimus dorsi.
  • Stretches hamstrings, calf muscles and ankle tendons aiding with clean footwork, heel hooks and routes that require lower body flexibility.
  • Feet and hands are grounded and a deeper awareness of hand span, finger strength and ankle alignment is cultivated.
  • This is an excellent pose to focus on the breath and find a calm and strong attitude.

Dolphin Pose

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Building shoulder strength whilst also calling for openness at the front of the shoulder, this is also a great pose for upper body endurance.
  • Lengthening hamstrings, at the start most practitioners will be doing this pose with bent legs as a modification.
  • Prepares the body for balancing upside down.
  • Core strength is key here.

Eagle Pose

Garudasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Developing single leg balance and single leg squat strength.
  • Strengthen knee and ankle deep stabilising muscles.
  • Release for muscles of back, shoulder and neck, which are commonly over worked in regular climbers.
  • This pose combines balance, co-ordination, core and whole body strength, mobility and focus, much like climbing as a whole.

Warrior 2

Virabhadrasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • This pose begins to open the hips, to help with reaching foot holds and accessing more route options.
  • Strengthens the arms whilst opening the chest and releasing the shoulders.
  • Builds endurance in the legs.
  • Teaches postural awareness and length of the torso.

Yogi Squat

Malasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Great preparation for sit starts and dynos.
  • A deep stretch for the hips.
  • In this pose, the mind is often screaming at you to stand up and release, so it’s  great place to learn to be comfortable with discomfort and to stay strong.
  • The spine is encouraged to be long in this pose, helping to strengthen the spinal extensors and correct posture.

Half Moon

Ardha Chandrasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Develop length throughout one entire side of the body at a time, for better reach whilst balancing.
  • Chest and shoulder muscles are opened.
  • This is quite an advanced balance, ankle stabilisers and core muscles alongside mental focus are really challenged here.
  • Through holding steady and balancing on one leg, strength is built to make shaky Elvis legs a thing of the past.

High Plank

Kumbhakasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Wrist and forearm strengthening.
  • Teaches great posture and alignment, it’s really easy to let the back of the body collapse here.
  • Shoulder stabilisers are challenged if done correctly.
  • This pose works on the entire body and mind.  Core, arms, legs and glutes are all put through their paces and keeping a steady breath and focus will enable you to hold it for longer.

Four Limbed Staff Pose

Chaturanga Dandasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • The whole body is being challenged here, so we learn to work the body as one, strong unit.
  • Shoulder, back and chest muscles contract in harmony during this pose, especially when it is used as a flowing transition.
  • The breath often gets held here, however learning to breathe through the pose is great for keeping a strong, calm mind.
  • The trunk is kept in a neutral position by strong core muscles.

Side Plank

Vasisthasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Develop length throughout one entire side of the body at a time, for better reach whilst balancing.
  • Chest and shoulder muscles are opened.
  • This pose works on the entire body and mind.  Core, arms, legs and glutes are all put through their paces and keeping a steady breath and focus will enable you to hold it for longer.
  • Wrist and forearm strength is built.

Upward Bow Pose

Urdhva Dhanurasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • Opens the muscles on the front of the body; shoulders, chest, abdomen, hip flexors, quads and the front of the ankle, all of which get constantly contracted during climbing.
  • Helps to conquer fear by placing the body outside of its comfort zone and literally flipping your perspective upside down.
  • Strengthens upper body, glutes and hamstrings.
  • Promotes a strong spine and even extensibility throughout the whole torso.

Side Crow

Parsva Bakasana

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Benefits for Climbers:

  • When balancing only on the hands, a great awareness of the need to use the fingers to steady the body is developed.
  • Fear is often a barrier in arm balances, conquering the pose will conquer the fear.
  • Arm, shoulder and core strength is built.
  • Balancing the body through slow, mindful movements and a steady mind.

 

 

 

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