Last week the lovely folk at the Swiss Cottage Climbing Centre invited me to try out their newest class – a military-style fitness session aimed at improving strength for climbers. After an hour of non-stop pushing, pulling and jumping up and down holds I ached all over, had ‘Bring Sally Up’ on repeat in my head, and was (dare I say it?) feeling pumped and having a great time.
Despite the initial aches and pains a few days later I was back on the climbing wall and noticed a definite improvement in my endurance and strength!
The instructor, Jack, designed the class to focus on core strength and muscles in the forearms and legs, which help you climb over ledges and build strength for small holds and awkward angles, without losing any flexibility or technical ability vital for climbing.
While few of us have our our climbing wall at home (I’m still dreaming of the day I have climbing Twister in my imaginary backyard), many of the exercises practiced in the class can easily be done at home. Below I’ve given a selection of the ones I found the most beneficial to improving my climbing ability.
Quite possibly the most difficult of exercises for anyone, find a sturdy bar (or perhaps door frame?) that can withstand your weight, and practice pulling your chin above the bar. When doing this exercise, the main muscles you should be using are your forearms, to help build muscle that can easily pull you up to holds. If you find you are unable to pull yourself up, just try dead hanging for as long as possible.
#2 Leg Lifts
Laying straight on your side, lift your leg straight as high as it can go, hold it for 20 seconds. Then bring it down, careful to ensure that you continue holding it just above your resting leg. Do this for approximately five minutes. At first I thought this exercise was easy, but by the end my legs wouldn’t stop shaking! This exercise helps build strength in your legs, which means more power to push for holds and less reliance on your arms.
photo credit: Kathryn Wirsing/Hearst
Keeping your forearms rested shoulder-length on the ground as well as your toes, hold your weight for 30-second increments, with 30-second rests in between. This exercise works your core muscles, which are essential for helping you push yourself over ledges or give you strength on steep-rock overhangs.
Most importantly however, is to remember to push yourself. It is easy to stop when your muscles feel a little tired and you have no-one to motivate you, but your muscles will only benefit from the exercise if you give them something to work with.
Interested in the classes? Then head to the Swiss Cottage Climbing Centre on Thursdays for an 8pm start (classes cost £8 a session).