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The Green Life: Tips From the Pros: Top 4 Climbing Exercises

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June 11, 2013

Tips From the Pros: Top 4 Climbing Exercises

Dawn MillerThis week's tips from professional athletes and trainers will help you make this summer's workouts your best ever.

Four Exercises for Climbers

We asked trainer Dawn Miller of Berkeley Ironworks Climbing and Fitness to help us take our rock climbing skills to the next level.

A certified strength and conditioning coach with NSCA for over a decade, Miller has battled some of the toughest peaks in the United States. She joined Ironworks in 2000 and set a priority to conquer peaks like Yosemite's El Cap and Half Dome. She even met her husband through rock-climbing at Ironworks, which is recognized as part of the largest indoor climbing company in the world. Was it a match made to be? With Miller's top four exercises, climbers can take their rock romance to the next level.

1. Pull-Ups / Lat Pull-Downs

While these might seem like the most obvious exercises, they also prove that you can sometimes have too much of a good thing; Miller warns against doing pull-ups or lat pull-downs so frequently that you over-fatigue your back muscles.

"If you do a lot of climbing, I wouldn't do a lot of pull-ups," Miller says. You're doing movements so similar to pull-ups anyway. I think it's okay to do them periodically — just not too much."

Can't do a single pull-up? Miller suggests heading to the lat pull-down machine at your local gym so you can slowly increase your resistance until you can pull your own body weight. Focus on proper technique by bringing the bar all they way down to your chest. A full range of movement will add both strength and flexibility to your upper body.

2. Planks / Hanging Leg Raises

Miller cites having a strong core as one of the most important components of good climbing. Planks are one of the best exercises around, and they're great for those training on a budget — all you need is your body weight and the ground beneath your feet. To execute the move, lie face down on the floor. Raise your body up in a straight line using your elbows and your toes to keep contact with the floor. Miller emphasizes keeping your head, hips, and shoulders as rigidly in-line as possible. She also suggests sucking in your belly button to keep your midsection tight. Hold the position for sets of 10 to 60 seconds. If you want a challenge, do some side planks. Lie with a straight body on your left side and prop up your upper body on your left elbow and forearm. Squeeze those abs! Keep your body straight! Hold these for sets of 10 to 60 seconds.

Switch up your routine to keep making big strength gains.

"I like hanging from a bar when I do these. Lift either your knees up to your hips or your feet up to your hips," she says. "As you get stronger, lift them up to your nose, then your head. Try not to KIP — the combination of a hip drive, a kick, and an arm pull, which are unnecessary motions for this exercise. Don't use extra momentum. Do them in a controlled, fluid movement."

3. Weighted Step-Ups

Strong upper body, strong core, what's next? Coincidently, a solid foundation in your legs is what Carabiner really can make or break your tough climb. They are both much stronger than your arms, which you should use more for balance than anything else. Focus on pushing yourself up with your legs — you won't fatigue nearly as quickly.

Be forewarned: Step-ups are a little tougher than a short climb up a flight of stairs. Miller writes that the step you use should be as high as your knee in order to properly activate your hamstrings and glutes. Make sure that your knee is directly in line with your heel. Try to not lean your knee forward too much, as this can cause knee problems down the road. When you step up, concentrate on driving through your heels and not your toes. After that, the move is pretty simple. Put your right leg on the step. Step up. Step down. Do it again. Switch to your left leg after 8 to 12 repetitions.

"As you get stronger," Miller writes, "try using some extra weight to make the lift more challenging. The form of weight just depends on the equipment you have available. For climbers, it's good to be holding something rather than putting weight across your back [like a barbell] because our grip is so important."

Use whatever you have around your house. Backpacks with handles, phonebooks, and full grocery bags are all great low-cost options.

4. Push-Ups

"Push-ups are great as long as they're done correctly," Miller says. "If you have to start on your knees in order to keep good form, do it. I like doing push-ups with my hands in line with my shoulders and my elbows close to my body so I can activate the triceps, which are really important for climbing. Pushing is so good because of how much pulling we do. You need to keep your body balanced."

If you can't do a push-up on your knees, try doing the same movement with your hands on an elevated surface like a countertop and slowly work your way down to the floor. You can also make the push-up more difficult by putting your feet on an elevated surface.

Now that your climbing routine is set and your paddling workout is established, you can look forward to future Green Life posts for hikers and surfers.


--Image by DawnMiller

--Image by RynioProductions

Davis Jones is an editorial intern at Sierra. His love for the outdoors began when he stepped on a fish hook as a 12-year-old and cried, in a burst of epiphanic clarity, "I'm too young to die." He attends the University of San Diego and enjoys camping, hiking, backpacking, and other activities that more or less benefit the mosquito population.


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