Yoga for Climbing
Flexibility – Not to be Overlooked
Climbers that I have spoken to have all told me the same thing – flexibility is key. Strength is built up through the physical practice of climbing itself. What is needed is stretching and lengthening the muscles that are used the most, in order to enhance flexibility to help maintain stability on the rock surface whilst making that far reach. The yoga programme I have created here focuses mainly on stretching and lengthening the appropriate muscles used for climbing, whilst encouraging balance, concentration and a calm and steady mind to help overcome mental hurdles.
Of course, wrists, elbows, shoulders and forearms are very important in climbing, however, in this article I’m not going to focus on them, instead suggesting that doing plank pose, side plank pose, Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose) and Kakasana (crow pose) are very useful for strengthening these parts of the body and focusing the mind. This is especially true for beginners who need to gain these skills at a faster rate than intermediate climbers. All climbing levels will strengthen naturally through hours of climbing practice.
Caring for the forearms
For all levels, I would strongly suggest as part of your warm-up and down to incorporate massage of the forearms on both the flexor and extensor muscle groups. Kneading of the muscles with the thumb, pressing into medial and lateral side of the elbow joint into the insertion points of the muscles and also using a sweeping action from the hand upwards to the elbow will help to release the build up of tension that is produced during intense physical exercise and concentration, when you become unaware of your body positioning during climbing, resulting in tensing so causing extra tight flexor muscles.
Balance is the key to climbing
Asana means comfortable, steady pose. Yoga poses are graceful and elegant yet create strength, flexibility, steadiness and discipline to the body and mind, which are also the benefits of climbing. A climber must be powerful and strong yet fluid, the balance of effort and surrender. BKS Iyengar translates a particular sutra as “perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform becomes effortless.” Practicing or climbing with effort does not mean with tension. Be aware of how you are using your body in every move, which muscles you are engaging and don’t do it in a tense way, otherwise you will cause injury to yourself. Balance is essential in climbing, maintaining tiny holds with the feet whilst reaching with the arms for a new hold. Great asanas for the practice of this is surya namaskar B moving into warrior 2 and 3 as demonstrated in the photos. This aids balance, concentration and strength.
Footwork is key in the tiny holds on the rock surface, so when practicing yoga try focusing on your feet for correct alignment. You will notice how important foot placement is in your practice in order to achieve the correct posture throughout the body in each asana. This observation will help prevent injury through informing the body of the correct alignment. Correct footwork also produces stability yet lightness in the hold which will aid skill and grace.
The importance of the legs
Strong yet flexible legs play an important role in climbing for pushing the body up in the climb and also allowing more reach in the arms by having more flexibility in the legs to cover more surface area. Leg muscle groups are the primary focus of stretching and lengthening; gluteal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors (inner thigh) and psoas (hip flexor) muscles need concentrated stretching as do gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) for ankle and foot flexibility.
Mind over matter
Other limitations in climbing are mind related. Fear of falling is the biggest psychological fear for climbers, and also for yogis and yoginis when attempting potures such as headstand, a great asana for overcoming fear. In order to help your mind stay focused and calm when leading routes, you need to be aware of how your mind works. By practicing mindfulness meditation every day you learn to understand yourself better, your emotions, perceptions, desires, thoughts and intentions. Climbing brings out the adventure side of a person, the not knowing what’s happening next yet not worrying, trusting that everything will work out, will
flow. Climbing, like meditation, teaches us to be present in this very moment. This awareness of thought patterns creates calmness of mind because it allows us the space to learn not to react to our thoughts and to let them go with non-attachment. By doing this the mind becomes more focused and relaxed and able to surpass new challenges. You will also learn more about yourself as a person, such as how you cope with things, negotiate situations, be present with who you are and learning to trust yourself. The moment the mind begins controlling you, the fear sets in. For meditation techniques see a professional practitioner in your area.
This following sequence of postures are good for a warm-up or cool down practice that can last between 30 minutes to 1 hour. Start or end with 10 – 20 minutes meditation.
1. Begin with Suryanamaskar (sun salutations) to warm up the body, leading to Virabhadrasana (warrior) 2 and 3. 2 rounds of Suryanamaskar A and 4 of series B with 2 of warrior 2 and 3.
Benefits: Strengthens the legs, groin, chest, lungs and shoulders. They increase stamina, balance and concentration. Warrior 3 strengthens the ankles and legs, improves balance, concentration and tones the abdomen.
2. Trikonasana (Triangle pose) moving into Ardha Chandrasana (half moon pose):
Benefits: Strengthens and stretches the groins, hamstrings, hips, the deep low back stabilising muscle Quadratus Lumborum, Latissimus Dorsi and Teres minor (climbing muscles). Movement between the 2 poses increases balance and concentration.
3. Gomukhasana (Cow face pose):
Benefits: Opens up the shoulders; pectoralis major and minor, rotator cuff muscles, biceps and triceps. This posture also opens the gluteus muscles, piriformis and TFL in the lower body.
4. Supta Padangusthasna (reclining big toe pose) Hamstrings stretch. Lying down, press the lower back into the floor engaging the mulha bandha. Lifting up the left leg, put a strap around the foot and keep the foot flexed. Keep the leg as straight as possible and bring it towards your chest. For a stretch to the inner thigh (adductor muscles) lower your left leg gently to the left side and hold for 5 breaths. For a stretch on the glutes, hold the strap with your right hand and bring the left leg to your right side. This is also a good twist in the lower back. Repeat on the other leg. For more of a stretch to the adductors roll into the splits (Hanumanasana) only if you are an experienced yogi/ini.
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors and stretches the calves and IT band.
5. Uttkatasana (Chair Pose) Place the right foot in front of the left and bend into a stretch, maintaining the centre of gravity along the plumb line.
Benefits: Calf and ankle openers, strengthens the back, thighs, shoulders and opens the shoulders.
6. Vipassana (Mindfulness meditation) Meditate starting at 5 minutes and leading onto 30 minutes a day.
We hope you found this blog helpful and it will take your yoga (and climbing) practice to the next level. Want to discover our yoga for climbing more in depth? Take a trip on one of our Hiking and Yoga Retreats, in the French Alps, Lake District or Wales!