Build Functional Strength With Rock Climbing!
Rock climbing isn’t only for those adrenaline junkies with a death wish.
Sometimes looking outside the gym for unconventional forms of exercise such as rock climbing, bouldering and ice climbing can assist in overcoming both your physical and mental plateaus inside the gym!
I’ve spent the last few months rock climbing and bouldering once or twice per week and decided it’s time to share my observations and benefits of getting outside of the gym into a more functional style of strength training.
Whether you’re struggling to bust out bodyweight pull-ups, are mentally fatigued from staring at a blank wall as you unenthusiastically bound away on the elliptical each day or are failing to see any further fat loss rock climbing may be just what your routine needs…
Benefits Of Rock Climbing
As I mentioned above, regardless of whether you’re a strength based athlete, an endurance runner or a weekend warrior a handful of the benefits below will be of great value to you.
It’s worth noting different forms of rock climbing (such as bouldering which involves not wearing a harness of any kind) will place more emphasis on certain benefits and less emphasis on others in comparison to traditional harnessed rock climbing.
If you’re new to rock climbing and decide you want to give it a try make sure you start on an indoor wall! As there’s a big difference in both safety and the technical aspects of the climb when you’re taking it outdoors.
Increased Grip Strength
Without a doubt the biggest noticeable benefit I’ve seen from my time spent indoor rock climbing is an increase in my grip strength.
Unlike hanging from a pull-up bar or grasping onto an olympic barbell before ripping it off the floor when you’re rock climbing your hands don’t have the luxury of a perfect round, fully grip-able surface to hold onto.
The grade of the wall you’re climbing (from 8 – 26) determines the angles, sizes and positioning of the handles you’ve got to work with. From holding on via 3 fingers to utilizing different angles to gain maximum leverage on the rocks – if you’re able to navigate a medium to high grade rock climbing wall you’ll find yourself encountering no issues when it comes time to grip that pull-up bar for high rep pull-ups and your grip strength sure as hell won’t be the first to give out as you rack up the barbell for some heavy deadlifts.
Increased Core Stability
The movements required to scale a rock climbing wall are far from linear. You must maneveur yourself and at times only have one, two or three points of contact with the wall as you contort your physique to make your next move. These unconventional movements demand a great deal of core strength to hold your body in place.
Particularly when bouldering (rock climbing without a harness) your core strength is your greatest ally provided it’s strong… allowing you to isometrically hold yourself against the wall while you plan your route to the top. On the other hand, poor core strength will see you tacking a tumble early on as your body is not used to using the stabilizing and core muscles required for these unconventional positions and movement patterns.
The only way to build this core strength is through regular practise on the wall! Rock climbing will enhance your core strength to a level unseen by those who are only performing basic static movements such as the plank and sit-up.
Works Your Mobility, Flexibility & Agility
The best path to the top is often questionable and challenging to find, let alone reach!
Reaching for holding, stretching for the grab and swinging your way up the wall to reach your next proverbial checkpoint will challenge your flexibility regardless of how mobile and immobile you currently are.
From my own personal experience in my training inside the gym and while helping others it seems shoulder mobility, tight hip flexors and poor ankle dorsiflexion are the reason why many gym-goers hit plateaus, injure themselves and fail to perform full range of motion on many exercises – through regular rock climbing the body can be loosened and mobility and flexibility can be gained.
Burns More Calories Than You’d Think
500 – 900 calories can be expended per hour rock climbing.
This comes down to how hard you push yourself, how fast you climb and the number of attempts at the walls you make.
That said, whether it’s 500 calories or 900 calories that’s more than enough to help induce sufficient fat loss.
As I’ve mentioned time and time again – the key to fat loss is a caloric deficit, this is achieved by expending more calories than you consume on a 24 hour basis.
Instead of crash dieting and forcing yourself to eat next to nothing (which is extremely bad for your body and unsustainable in terms of results) eating a reasonable amount of calories and then offsetting yourself into a deficit via your rock climbing workouts is a fantastic and enjoyable way to go.
Face Your Fears & Build Mental Toughness
Walking on a treadmill, riding your bike around a lake or doing a set or two of bodyweight pull-ups at the gym will not help you build an unbreakable mindset.
The fatigue of grip strength, the uncertainty of your next move, the distance to the ground and the ‘fish out of water’ feeling all experienced at the same time while rock climbing, or especially bouldering is character building.
As you reach the top of a wall, your forearms are throbbing and your grip begins to fail your mind takes over and depending on how mentally conditioned you are it can go one of two ways…
Your mind tells your body you can’t do it, you won’t make it and you expend the last of your energy lowering yourself safely back down the wall.
The other scenario is the way of the winner, the winners mindset takes over and forces you to prevail…
Your mind tells your body to tell with the fatigue, because you’re going to continue to forge your path onwards and upwards. Your blank out the temporary feeling of pain and you focus on selecting the right grabs and holds as you reach the top of the wall, victorious.
If you play out that second scenario while you’re on the wall you’ll find yourself building character, discipline and confidence in other aspects of your training and life too.
A Pleasant Change of Scenery
Day in day out in the same old gym can get stale, I get it.
Taking your training to a different environment, be it outdoors or another gym can give you the motivation you need to get training, to keep pushing and to make the results come.
Benefits Translate Into Increased Performance In The Gym
Rock climbing is a functional form of training, the strength, endurance, mobility and enhanced grip you build isn’t just exclusive to rock climbing…
Your workouts in the gym will benefit from your rock climbing and your rock climbing abilities will benefit from your workouts in the gym – they’re mutually beneficial.
In particular I’ve noticed my grip strength on weighted pull-ups, ankle mobility on squats and isometric hold strength on L-sits to have increased the most since I’ve been throwing some regular rock climbing into my workout regime.