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Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury

Is your lower half suffering? Learn how to stay in shape for climbing with this training guide.

If you’re in any way like me – you took a massive digger while routesetting and broke your ankle to pieces – you may be wondering how you can stay in shape for climbing. I’ve been surprised by how many climbers have approached me with their own lower body injury stories since my fall, which leads me to believe this topic is actually relevant (and I thought I was the only one riding around on a knee scooter...psh).

There are plenty of ways to stay in shape while you recover from your latest life-altering catastrophe – read on to learn about a few simple workouts you can adopt to ensure you maintain your climbing fitness while non-weight bearing.

Hangboard Routines

The hangboard should be in your training regimen whether you’re injured or not...although that’s easier said than done. When I was blissfully injury-free, I usually skipped the hangboard in favor of simply climbing. Now I don’t have much else to do except train my finger strength.

Simple hangs

Frictionlabs Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury – simple hangboard hangs

Find your hangboard of choice and do your thing. If your gym does not have any boards available, consider purchasing one for home use – we recommend the Moon Fingerboard or either Beastmaker board. For something a bit more new-school, try the portable Tension Flash Board.

If you’re new to hangboarding, start by hanging from a jug hold or a large edge (there’s no point in piling on a finger injury to whatever else ails you). Develop a simple interval routine – I personally like a 5-5-5-5 repeater set:

  • 5 second hangs with
  • 5 seconds of rest between hangs.
  • 5 reps per set.
  • 5 sets total.

Repeaters like this are easy to remember and easily modifiable to increase or decrease difficulty. For more of a challenge, try hanging from smaller edges at shorter intervals, or add weight (with either a weight vest or weight belt) to your 5-5-5-5 routine.

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Knee raises

FrictionLabs Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury – knee raises from hangboard

Doing knee raises from a hangboard will greatly increase your finger strength, core strength, and balance all at once. Start on the largest edge available to gauge how comfortable you are with this exercise, then progress to smaller edges over the course of a few weeks. Be sure to engage your shoulders and keep a bend in your elbows (see photo above) throughout the workout to avoid straining your rotator cuffs.

Core Workouts

Some purists might argue that climbing itself is the best core workout for climbing – don’t listen! While climbing is an excellent core workout, there are countless supplemental exercises you can incorporate into your regimen to get a beastly upper body.

Floor work

Sometimes the simplest exercises are the best. Grab a mat and get on the floor!

Push-ups

FrictionLabs Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury – push-ups

There’s a reason push-ups are ubiquitous in the fitness realm. With proper form – hands at chest level, elbows tucked in, back straight – you’ll get an all-around workout of your triceps, chest, shoulders, and midsection. Next time you have to push yourself through a mantle, you’ll thank yourself. If you’re crippled and wearing a boot, like myself, rest it atop the back of your good foot to avoid bearing weight.

Sit-ups

FrictionLabs Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury – sit-ups

Get rid of the ab flab. Try variations of the traditional sit-up – like the bicycle sit-up pictured above – to diversify your workout. Maintaining strong abdominal muscles will keep you tight on overhangs and compression aretes when you finally get back to climbing.

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Bar work

Besides the standard pull-up, there are many ways to develop strength using a simple pull-up bar. Before you try any of the following exercises, please take heed of your ability to keep your grip on the bar – slipping off and further injuring a foot or leg is a real danger.

Knee raises

FrictionLabs Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury – knee raises from pull-up bar

A less advanced version of the same exercise on the hangboard, doing knee raises on a bar still works your core and shoulders. Keep your shoulders engaged and your spine straight as you lift your knees to your chest. For those in the more advanced category, try straight leg raises instead, keeping your knees locked and raising your legs to be parallel with the floor.

Windshield wipers

FrictionLabs Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury – windshield wipers

A more advanced exercise for those with a strong core, upper back, and grip strength. Engage your shoulders and pull your legs straight up above your head, pointed at the ceiling. Keeping your legs together, rotate them down across your body until they’re parallel with the floor. Swing them in a 180-degree arc to the other side of your body to complete one rep. Try to get six perfect reps in!

Other bar exercises

  • Weighted pull-ups: Strap on a weight belt or vest and go for it. Adding weight is an easy and very effective way to build massive power in your pulls.
  • Pull-up hangs: Train lock-off strength by pulling yourself into the apex of a pull-up and holding the position as long as you can. You can also incorporate this technique into the final rep of any pull-up set. For an extreme challenge, try one-arm hangs: pull up with both arms, but release one and try to maintain position.

Campus Board Exercises

If you’re rocking a lower body injury, DO NOT campus all the way up to the top of the board (see Disclaimer below)! Risking further injury to your lower body from a fall is not worth it. Make sure you’re able to safely reach the ground with your good foot at all times.

Hangs

Treat the campus board as a hangboard! The traditional three-sized campus rungs are comfortable and effective alternatives to the grips on a hangboard, and also offer you the opportunity to incorporate hanging and campusing into a single routine.

Easy intervals

FrictionLabs Training Guide: Staying fit for climbing with a lower body injury – easy campus board intervals

The traditional campusing motion. First, choose your desired interval – do you want to go rung-by-rung? Skip one rung per rep? (see photo above) Whatever you choose, start matched on a rung at head-height, then complete two reps. Now come back down by reversing the motion. This method will keep you at a relatively safe distance above the ground while still getting plenty of work done. If you’re new to campusing, try keeping your toes matched on the support rung at the bottom of the board (assuming your local board offers this option).

Easy bumps

Start matched on a rung at head-height, then bump up the rungs with one hand at single-rung intervals. Each bump should get successively harder as the distance between your hands increases. Reverse this motion to end in a matched position, then switch your lead hand.

If you’re one of those fortunate souls with a clean bill of health and you’re seeking some campusing knowledge, check out our Introduction to Campus Board Training article from a while back.

Hopefully your lower-body injury isn’t too crippling to your everyday life – not to mention your everyday climbing. It’s easy to see the negative aspects of situations like these, but remember that this will pass. Just stay positive and keep training your upper body. Soon you’ll be back on the walls, climbing stronger than ever.

Let us know about your favorite exercises to do while injured in the comments!

Disclaimer:

FrictionLabs does not endorse any activity that goes against the recommendation of your doctor, nor do we accept responsibility for any injuries you may incur while performing the above exercises. Check with your doctor before doing any physical activity while injured, especially if you are listed as non weight bearing. Train at your own risk.

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