In climbing training, exercise routines are typically focused on improving some concrete aspect of strength, flexibility, mobility, or endurance as it relates to progression in climbing. Oftentimes not as much thought goes into exercises that are tangentially beneficial to climbing, exercises which simply promote increased overall flexibility or circulation, for example.
However, particularly if you’re sidelined due to injury or a health issue at some point, it can be extremely helpful to have a few mellower, full-body exercises in your back pocket, ones that almost anyone can do at any time. Here are three solid exercises to incorporate into your warm-up or cool-down routine.
As a climber, you won’t find yourself upside down very often (hopefully). That said, a headstand is an extremely easy exercise and one with myriad benefits throughout the body. Despite what you might think, almost anyone can do a headstand (although caution is warranted if you have a previous neck or head injury). No strength or skill required! Simply place a blanket or thin pillow on the ground next to the wall and flip yourself up, resting your heels against the wall for balance.
Headstands are excellent when it comes to promoting increased circulation, which leads to a host of other benefits, including increased blood flow to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands (which play a role in hormone production, thyroid and adrenal function, etc.) and blood flow to the head and scalp, which is great if you’re suffering from hair loss. They’re also helpful when it comes to relieving back pain and can aid in digestion, since you’re flipping your digestive tract upside down, thus stirring clogs and blockages into motion.
Naturally, if you move away from the wall and can hold an unsupported handstand, you’ll also be giving your core an excellent workout. Headstands may not beef up your arms or improve your grip, but they’re an extremely low impact exercise, and the effects of a few minutes of inversion per day can be felt in almost every part of the body.
Holding Deep Squats
As climbers, bulking up our legs isn’t optimal, unless we’re really focusing on slab climbing, for example. But, simply holding a good deep squat pose with your heels flat and bottom just a couple of inches off the ground provides an excellent stretch and is a great balance-building exercise. It also promotes good posture, in addition to overall quad, glute, and calf strength.
To deep squat properly, get your feet into a shoulder-width position and drop your butt as low as it can go, then hold that position. The key thing here is that your feet should remain completely on the floor, and don’t let your heels come up at all.
If you’re finding it impossible to keep your heels down, don’t sweat it. We’re all born with the ability to squat like this (just look at any baby), but particularly in the Western world, we lose this ankle flexibility over time due to lack of use. Many folks need to practice a fair bit before they can successfully hold a deep squat with their feet flat on the ground. Once you get it down, try resting in your deep squat pose for a few minutes a day!
The jumping jack is a stellar full-body cardio exercise, but many people leave it behind once they get out of 5th grade P.E. As far as impact goes, these are a bit more intense than a headstand or holding a squat, but they’re still incredibly easy to perform (most likely all of you know how to do one already) and jumping jacks can be modified to fit your unique situation.
Jumping jacks are excellent ways to work on your cardiovascular health and muscle tone. Essentially every major muscle group in your body, from your core to your arms to your legs, will be activated in some capacity when performing a jumping jack. A simple 100-jumping jack session at the start and end of your workout is something just about anyone can perform, and the benefits may surprise you. Jumping rope also provides many of the same benefits as jumping jacks, but it can be a bit dangerous to swing a jump rope around in a crowded climbing gym, so stick to jacks unless you have adequate space.
Owen Clarke is a writer currently based in Tennessee. He is a Contributing Digital Editor at Rock and Ice and Gym Climber. He enjoys Southern sandstone and fish tacos, and is afraid of heights.
Follow him on Instagram at @opops13.