When I originally came up with the idea for this article, out of curiosity I asked my husband what poses he thought would make the cut. His response was essentially poses that promoted core strength and pull strength. Basically anything that could make you a stronger climber.
I found his answer really interesting and it made me wonder how many others would anticipate to see those same types of poses on this list (spoiler alert: none of those types of poses are on this list).
Don’t let that scare you away.
Climbing and climbing specific training are the best way to DIRECTLY get strong for climbing. Yoga on the other hand, is a great way to help you to INDIRECTLY get strong for climbing. By this I mean that yoga helps put your body in a better state to develop strength, use your strength, and manage the demands of climbing.
Yoga really provides the perfect balance to climbing. While climbing creates and requires a lot of tension and strength, yoga balances that out by dissolving tension, promoting length, and developing overall body strength, which helps to minimize any muscular imbalances that can commonly occur in a climbers body.
That is the intention of the poses included in the list below. Not necessarily to directly promote climbing strength, but to optimize your body for climbing. Essentially, getting your body to where it needs to be so that you can increase your strength and climbing potential while reducing your risk for injury.
Alright, here are the mighty five.
Garudanasa (Eagle Pose)
This pose works the legs and the core, but I specifically picked this pose for the benefits it brings to the shoulders and ankles.
Working into this pose can both stretch out and strengthen the muscles that lay across the backs of the shoulders. This includes the less dominant external rotators of your rotator cuff, which when strengthened, improve the stability of your shoulder (i.e. decreased occurrence of those nagging overuse injuries and increased strength potential because you now have stronger stabilizers to withstand a greater load).
As for the ankles, unfortunately ankle injuries are a little too common, especially for boulderers. The balancing nature of this pose strives to bring more stability and strength to the vulnerable ankle, because no one want’s to go out because of a damn rolled ankle…
- From standing, begin to shift your weight into your right foot as you slowly lift your left foot off the ground.
- Cross the left leg over the right leg, letting your left toes rest on the ground to the right of your right foot, somewhat acting as a kickstand.
- Extend both arms out in front of you, palms face up and cross the right arm over the left, above the elbow.
- Bend both elbows so that your fingertips are pointing up and wrap the left finger tips around the thumb side of the right hand so that they come to the palm of the right hand
- If your fingers can’t reach your palm, grab onto the right thumb instead or grip a strap or towel between your hands.
- On an exhale sink your hips down and see if you can lift your left toes off the ground, and if available, wrapping the toes behind the right calf.
- Squeeze everything toward the centre, keep the spine long, draw the shoulder blades down, and maintain a soft gaze on the floor or wall ahead of you.
- To get a nice stretch across the backs of the shoulders, draw the scapula away from the spine as you reach your elbows away from you.
- To strengthen the backs of the shoulders, draw the scapula towards the spine as you squeeze your elbows in.
- Hold for about 30 seconds then repeat for the opposite side.
- Use a strap/towel between your hands.
- Have a wall behind you for support.
- Hinge forward and bring your forearms towards your thighs.
- Move your elbows away (scapula away from your spine) on each inhale, and squeeze your elbows in (scapula towards your spine) on each exhale.
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
In general, this pose helps to strengthen the core, chest, arms, and shoulders. However, of specific interest to climbers is the strength you gain in the wrists, triceps (when performing the variation described below), and lower back. All other areas worked in this pose are a bonus and already effectively targeted during a climbing session.
The wrists are pretty complex joints that climbers rely on as they bear down on holds of all different shapes and sizes. Since there are virtually no muscles in the wrists, strengthening of the wrist is achieved by strengthening the surrounding muscles in the hand and forearm, which in turn provides stability to the wrist joint.
In climbers, the triceps are often overshadowed by the biceps, leading to a muscular imbalance in this pair of opposing muscles. Many climbing movements require the contraction of the biceps, and rarely require tricep contraction. This leads to a strong biceps and unfortunately significantly weaker triceps. To avoid injury, it’s important to bring these muscle back into balance.
The lower back is part of our core, but doesn’t seem to get as much attention as the abdominals on the opposing side. Just like the biceps and triceps, the abdominals and lower back need to be in balance in order to maintain muscular and structural integrity.
- Come into a plank position/top of a push up. Hands are about shoulder width apart, shoulder blades are firm against your back, and tailbone gently tucks and reaches towards your heels.
- Engage your lower belly to prevent any sagging in the lower back and create a nice straight line from your heels to the crown of your head.
- On an inhale, rock your weight forward, sending your shoulders in front of your fingertips.
- On an exhale, lower yourself down with control while maintaining that nice straight line. Elbows stay tucked in to the sides of your body and you lower until you’ve created a 90 degree angle with your elbow (i.e. your shoulders come in line with your elbows.) Legs are engaged and shoulder blades stay firm and broad on your back.
- Hold for at least 3 breaths.
- To strengthen the triceps, from Chaturanga Dandasana, strongly press yourself back up to a plank position. You can lower into Chaturanga on each exhale, and press back up on each inhale. This is essentially a tricep push up.
- Drop the knees down and maintain a straight line from knees to crown of head.
- Press the soles of your feet up against a wall.
- Lower the shoulders onto blocks for assistance or to gage the appropriate depth.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
This is a great pose for opening up the hips and the shoulders. As you know, climbing consists of a ton of contracting and compressing, leading to muscular tension and tightness, if not addressed. Seeing as common tight areas in climbers are the shoulders and the hips, makes this pose the perfect prescription. When we dissolve tension we can restore our natural range of motion, giving us the opportunity to move with greater ease, which increases the availability of movements when we climb.
- Start in a tabletop position and slide your right knee forward as you cross your right leg in front of your left.
- Create some space between your feet and mindfully sit down between your feet.
- Keep your knees as close to stacked as possible and make sure that both hips are evenly anchored down into the ground. If one hip is hiked up higher than the other (even if just a bit), then place a folded blanket or block beneath your seat.
- Inhale as you create a nice long spine and raise your left hand up in the air. The back of your right hand can rest on your lower back.
- Exhale as you bend your left elbow, bringing the palm of the hand to the base of the neck, then continue reaching the left fingertips down and sliding the right fingertips up until they meet (or place a strap between your hands).
- Notice if you’ve collapsed into the chest. Keep the chest open and broad as you work to point the left elbow straight up and the right elbow straight down.
- Keep the spine tall and long as you hold for at least 5 breaths.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Hold a strap between your hands.
- Elevate your seat onto a folded blanket or a block.
- It is easiest on your hips to keep your feet right by your sides and becomes increasingly more difficult as you move your feet away.
- Support yourself with blocks and blankets wherever you feel like you need some extra support (for example, between your knees).
- Fold the upper body forward so that your torso rests on your thigh.
Toe Squat with Chest Opener
As climbers, we really beat the heck out of our feet. We compress them into crazy looking shoes. They suffer through the aches and pains of breaking said shoes in. And, we give them the responsibility of bearing the weight of our body while perched on microscopic jibs. This pose helps to counter all that extreme compression by opening up the tissues at the bottom of the feet. Plus, adding a gentle chest opener helps to relieve the tension that climbers can often experience across their chest and in the fronts of their shoulders.
- From a table top position, bring the knees and the big toes together. Toes are tucked under.
- Exhale as you sit yourself back onto your heels.
- To open up across the chest, clasp your hands behind you, gently lift the chest, and straighten your arms as you reach your knuckles down. Try keeping the palms pressed together. Use a strap between your hands if necessary.
- Hold for 10 seconds or up to a couple minutes. This pose can become intense fairly fast if you’re not used to stretching the bottoms of your feet. With practice you will be able to increase the holding time.
- To release, slowly rock forward into a table top position and roll out your ankles. Sigh with relief.
- If the pose feels too intense to completely sit your weight back onto your heels, then skip the chest opener and lean yourself forward, with your hands on the floor or on blocks. Slowly work towards increasing the weight on your heels.
- If you feel any pain in your knees, place a blanket under your knees or in the crease of your knees (between your calf and quad).
Plank Pose with Protractions and Retractions
Plank is a great overall core strengthener, as is climbing, but with the added benefit of improved wrist strength and stability. Then adding in some protractions and retractions provides additional benefits to the rotator cuff and shoulder girdle.
Both the wrists and the shoulders are complex joints that need adequate amounts of strength and stability when you consider all the variations of movements they move through, all while withstanding extraordinary loads.
- Come into a plank/top of a push up position.
- Place your hands about shoulder width apart, spread your fingers wide, and allow the weight to pour down into the thumb and first finger mounds of your hands.
- Press back through your heels and forward through the crown of your head as you gently reach your tailbone towards your heels, creating a straight line from heels to crown of head. Don’t allow the lower back to sag.
- On an exhale, retract the shoulders by squeezing the shoulder blades together. You will feel yourself sink slightly.
- On an inhale, protract the shoulders by sending the shoulder blades away from each other. You will feel yourself lift as you press up through the space between your shoulder blades.
- Allow the movement to come completely from the movement of your shoulder blades.
- Complete for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Drop your knees down, coming into half plank.
- Press the soles of your feet up against a wall.