Core strength is vital for all-around athletic performance and remains one of the most important aspects to improving your climbing ability. A weak core can leave you susceptible to lower back pain and muscle injuries. Despite an emphasis on grip strength, improving your core strength remains equally as important. In our post on ‘5 Key Core Exercises’, we went over things that you can do practically anywhere. This time we’d like to go into more detail about your core, how to incorporate core strength exercises into your workouts, and what this means for your climbing practice.
What comprises your core?
Contrary to popular belief, your core doesn’t just mean your abs; it’s your entire support system. Speaking to Shape Magazine, regional clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy, and physical therapist Meredith McHale notes that the core muscles support your entire body. Therefore, they play a huge role in your everyday activities, from getting out of bed to walking, and more importantly, keeping you upright.
Your core connects your upper and lower body, essentially transferring forces from one to the other. The major muscles in your core include your abdominals, obliques, and muscles that run along your spine and lower back. This grouping means that core exercises do more than just define your abs and build your endurance. Working your core also improves your balance and posture, which in turn stabilizes all the other exercises you perform.
What does this mean for climbers? For starters, this means that your body gains both strength and endurance. A good example is 20-year-old American climber Margo Hayes, who became the first woman to climb to the top of the 5.15a graded La Rambla in Spain back in 2017, one of the toughest-graded climbing routes in the world. Hayes’s training includes climbing and strength and conditioning exercises six times a week. Having a strong core allows her body to work in harmony, which means she has greater endurance and is able to perform difficult climbs more efficiently.
Core strength in other athletic disciplines
As previously mentioned, a strong core benefits a whole range of exercises at any level and is great for regaining strength after a long hiatus from working out. This means that athletes swear by core exercises as a way to maintain their form even during the offseason. Tennis superstar Serena Williams works her core by doing bicycle and leg crunches, which she then supplements with cardio and other targeted strength exercises. Her dedication to her exercise routines has made Williams one of the sport’s biggest stars, with 23 grand slam titles under her belt.
On the other side of the pond, Olympic cyclist Laura Kenny talked about the time she had to regain her fitness level after pregnancy. Just three weeks after she gave birth Kenny shared a picture of herself on Instagram working on her core strength already looking toned and trim. These exercises were key in helping her gain her strength and endurance back, enabling her to become the successful athlete that she is today. Kenny is considered Britain’s most successful female Olympian of all time after she won four gold medals in London and Rio. The best part about working your core, as Kenny demonstrated, is that a lot of the exercises don’t require much more than your own body-weight. This means that most core workouts can be done at home.
Whether you climb competitively or for leisure, you should look to supplement your climbing routine with functional strength and core work. Mixing up your exercise routine also ensures that your muscles are constantly growing, thus, preventing you from plateauing. Targeted, functional exercises also let you put all your focus on your core since this is the muscle group you’re using the most when climbing.
Your core and climbing
So, the secret to a better climbing technique isn’t always grip strength; sometimes it’s about your core strength. UK Climbing emphasises that your core strength is what gives you the power to push through steep walls and rock overs, and provides much-needed stability that helps you drive power from your legs and hips. Therefore, anyone, at any level can achieve a better climbing grade if their core is strong.
A weak core is an easy way to get injured because you’re putting most of the strain on your limbs rather than on the centre of your body. A good core helps you control your movements and prevents you from swinging wildly. By doing this, you will run the risk of damaging your knees, as you’re putting your entire body weight on one joint (versus having the support of entire muscle groups when you engage your core).
Aside from your climbing routine, you should look to participate in strength and conditioning training anywhere from two to three times a week. Include a quick cardio warm up and a stretching out period beforehand, and over time you’ll be able to see how much your endurance has improved. Adding extra cardio routines (about 30 minutes per session, also two to three times a week), on top of the core strengthening exercises we mentioned in our 5 key core exercises post, is recommended for those who are about to embark on intense bouldering and climbing routes
Written by Aleah Christine
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