I love yoga for two main reasons. One, because it makes me feel great and two, because it’s really helped to improve my climbing. I started climbing in 2006 and didn’t start yoga until a few years after that. It started as just a 10 week class that I took over the summer and just from that alone I could feel a difference in the way that I felt. It was just an hour a week, but it definitely made a mark.
My love for yoga grew and I found myself practicing 1 to 4 times a week all year round. This is when I began to notice the difference it made to my climbing. I felt stronger, more stable, more connected with every movement, and confident. I began to develop an awareness of my body like I had never experienced before. This kind of focus allowed me to experience climbing in a completely different state. It’s a zen-like feeling that can’t be beat. A feeling of perfect harmony as you flow through each movement is something I think every climber is looking to achieve.
I believe that yoga compliments climbing perfectly. It helps you improve your flexibility, balance, core, strength, endurance, breathing and focus. Every single climber can benefit from these skills. Plus, yoga helps you develop these skills in a way that is gentle and healing to your body while developing or maintaining lean muscles which are ideal for climbing.
Lets break it down and see exactly how you can start using yoga to not just improve your climbing, but improve your overall climbing experience.
Yoga helps to improve your flexibility using a variety of static, passive, active and dynamic stretches.
- Static stretching is when you stretch to a point where you feel resistance and then hold. These positions work best if held for at least 3 minutes.
- Passive stretching means you are completely relaxing into a pose and use an external force (gravity) to gently do the work for you. These poses can generally be held for a longer period of time.
- Active stretching is when you use the assistance of your muscles to hold you in a position. These poses are usually held for just a couple breaths.
- Dynamic stretching involves using controlled and gentle movements that you take to the limit of your range of motion. These poses are not held, but instead move with the rhythm of your breath.
By improving your flexibility you are improving your range of motion. This is great in climbing because it opens up the options to what moves and holds are available to you. It can get frustrating when you are limited on a climb just because you can’t reach that high step. Improving the flexibility of your shoulders, hips and hamstrings can make many climbing holds and movements more accessible, safer and easier on your body.
Balance & Core
There are many poses in yoga that require good balance. Yoga consists of many standing and arm balances, that with practice help increase your core strength and stability, which is what helps you balance. Having good balance helps you feel secure, confident and strong.
Balance is a great asset in climbing, as is core. Together these skills can allow you to make moves easier and with less effort. Achieving proper balance while on the wall means that you are fully aware of your center of gravity and are positioning it in a way that makes each move easier. Plus, good balance and core can increase the accuracy of your moves. Every climber wants to feel solid as they climb. You’ll notice less flailing and more control. You’ll also notice that this results in an improved mindset, which is a HUGE bonus.
Yoga is not just stretching. There is more strength involved in yoga than most people think. Yoga is similar to climbing in the sense that you use your strength to lift the weight of your body as you work against gravity. Unfortunately, yoga doesn’t help you develop finger strength, but, it does help to strengthen your muscular and skeletal systems, two things that should peak every climbers interest. Even the simplest poses become challenging as you hold them for longer durations. You’ll work your legs, back, shoulders, arms, core and everything in between. Also, as you gain strength you’ll develop lean muscles which is ideal for any climber.
You don’t need an intense yoga class to develop strength. Whichever intensity level or style you choose there are always modifications you can add to a pose to increase or decrease the level of difficulty. Just like climbing, you can always continue to challenge yourself with yoga. Feeling strong is always a confidence booster. It sets the tone and mindset of the climb ahead of you. Just feeling solid on the first moves or even holds of a climb is enough to give you confidence you need to pull through.
Yoga is usually about one hour of your muscles bearing and holding your weight. This is a great way to increase your overall muscle endurance. Holding poses and repeating them several times during a class conditions them to carry your weight for longer periods of time before exhaustion sets in.
Climbers use many muscles when they climb, and it’s the forearm that usually gets exhausted first. Forearm endurance is especially important for climbing and is best achieved through climbing, not yoga. However, by no means does that mean that the rest of your muscles don’t need any endurance. What good is forearm endurance if you don’t have endurance in your other muscles to help you keep pushing. Climbing is very demanding on your body and you want to push that limit of exhaustion farther and farther away. It’s inevitable that your forearms will be the first to fail you, but you shouldn’t have to deal with the exhaustion of your other muscles as well.
Breathing is the core of yoga. It takes a bit to get used to, but eventually you learn how much your breathing affects your performance. During static and passive poses it allows you push through resistance barriers and move deeper into the pose. Whereas during active and dynamic poses or movements it gives you the strength and energy you need to carry on. It is a great tool that both calms your mind and gives you strength.
As you continue to practice yoga, your body will learn how to properly match your movement with breath. Many climbers don’t focus on the importance of breathing and develop habits like holding their breath during a climb, which just deprives your muscles of the oxygen they need to continue working for you. Your inhales should be matched with preparing for a move and your exhales should be matched with the execution of a move. But, it’s not just about when your breath, it’s also about how you breath. Yoga will teach you how to perform a proper breath using your diaphragm, which allows you to take advantage of your lungs full capacity. Like I said, it can take a bit to get used to, but once it sinks in you’ll notice changes beyond your improvements in climbing.
Focus is essential in both yoga and climbing. Any distraction in your mind or from the world around you can make you fall off a climb or out of a pose. I find that poses that require a lot of balance or that you have to hold for a longer period of time are great for developing focus. Balancing poses require a great deal of focus and body awareness in order for you to maintain the pose, whereas static poses or even active poses require focus on your breath so you continue to hold and benefit from the pose. Focus in yoga is what helps you deepen your practice. You learn to ignore the voice in your mind that’s telling you can’t hold the pose any longer, or ignore the drop of sweat that’s dripping down your face, or the person beside you that’s just fallen out of a pose. You become completely present in what you are doing, which translates sublimely to climbing.
The feeling of complete presence while you climb is priceless. Climbing no longer becomes a competition with your ego. It’s just you as you flow up the rock in perfect harmony. Your awareness allows you to place each hand and foot perfectly while maintaining the right amount of body tension. I can’t always achieve this feeling when I climb, but the moments that I have were indescribable. This is what I strive for when I climb. Not grades or difficulty. Just the experience.
Do you think yoga could help YOU improve climbing? Share your comments below!