In the next three-part Yoga for Climbers series, our focus is to not only strengthen your core but to also help you intentionally activate and connect with it. Integrating and connecting with the core on our yoga mats allows us to practice this essential mind-body connection and then use that intuitive ability on the climbing wall. The necessary deep activation of your core to perform advanced climbing movements is not always performed naturally. We need to consciously practice this, and as we do so, the necessary engagement becomes more and more automatic.
The core consists of the muscle groups throughout the front, back, and sides of the torso. The abdominal muscles are one component, but our core is not limited to these. The posterior chain – the back muscles that support and connect the spine, hips, and femur – is also a huge part of your core. While practicing integration on the mat and on the wall, don't forget about these critical muscle groups.
Every movement in yoga and climbing integrates the core. While climbing, the core enhances static stability and brings control into dynamically based movements. As climbers, practicing a deep connection to the core through active and intentional engagement allows us to excel and advance movement technique.
On the climbing wall, actively practice core engagement. While you perform a back flag, try to limit movement in your body by engaging your core before moving your hand. If there is a forced “barn door” (i.e. a pronounced swinging motion of our body around a foothold) decide beforehand that you’ll push into your foot and intentionally engage your entire midline. During dynamic motion, tense up your core as you catch the target hold to bring your body into a stable and controlled position. The simple act of intentionally weighting your feet and practicing pulling in with your big toe as you move allows you to activate deeper into your core. The possibilities of engaging and strengthening your core on the wall are endless.
In the poses below, don’t quit too early! The real strength comes in the last five to ten seconds of the pose after you have mentally given in. Push through your threshold for a few more breaths!
During each pose, practice a steady breathing pattern alongside the intense core engagement. This connection and conscious practice are integral to enhancing advanced movement on the climbing wall. Staying connected and steady with your breath is just as important as the physical strength practice.
The first series of poses are very simple and straightforward. However, some of the alignment and additional internal engagement cues will hopefully make them more complex and challenging. If performed with a focus on active internal engagements as well as correct timing with your personal strength ability, you will both get a great workout and feel a deeper sense of connection. Using the intention of connecting and understanding is also more powerful a tool when used with simple exercises. This is the same as, say, practicing back flagging while warming up. You gain more information when the movements are easy.
To hit all muscle groups, perform all four variations: full, forearm, side, and reverse.
For proper arm alignment, first, distribute the majority of your weight onto your pointer finger knuckle. This portion of your hand is structurally the strongest, and this distribution takes the weight off your vulnerable wrist joints. Spiral your biceps forward and triceps backward, bringing the elbow crease forward and externally rotating in your shoulder joint. Ensure your shoulder blades are firm on your back body; not melting in, not pushing too far out.
To fire up your internal core engagement, magnetize your arms toward each other, actively drawing energy toward your midline. You have a ton of strength in your fingers––spider your fingers and actively grip the floor. Bring your attention now to your lower body. Squeeze your leg muscles, especially the quadriceps. Now, squeeze your glute muscles and feel the muscles in your hip joint activate. Magnetize the very end of your spine, your tailbone, toward your sternum. This last cue fully activates your rectus abdominis.
After you have engaged these big muscle groups, continue to draw and squeeze all your energy in toward your midline. While keeping a straight line from your shoulders out through your heels and crown of the head, squeeze your hands and feet into the center.
Finally, check in with yourself. Am I in proper arm alignment? Can I squeeze or engage more here? Don’t compromise your form, it’s the most important piece!
In full boat, try to close the gap between your chest and your legs while keeping your spine straight and your chest lifted high. Boat strengthens your deep psoas muscles, so the muscular engagement in this pose feels less superficial. To engage your abdominal obliques, add a twist by bringing both arms to the side, keeping your arms parallel and your lower body still. Keep trying to close the gap and activate into the obliques on the opposite side of the twist. The obliques on the opposite side you are twisting are the obliques that contract to engage the twist. Notice this, and contract them more to internally enhance that engagement and twist a bit deeper.
Half boat is an excellent strengthener for overhung climbing. In half boat, lie on your back, lift your feet and shoulders up just enough to get your low back flush to the ground. You should feel your tailbone drawing up toward your sternum and vice versa. This internal activation fires up the core. Keep your feet and shoulders barely off the ground and squeeze everything like you did in plank, almost all the same cues that apply there apply here also. Squeeze your legs together and squeeze your butt muscles. If your arms reach above your head you are in the full expression of the pose. Spiral your pinky fingers in toward each other.
In half boat go until you can’t keep your low back in full contact with the ground. Fight those last five to ten seconds to keep the gap closed! Stay steady with your breath––breathing through the tension is excellent to train your nervous system to stay calm during moments of struggle.
This pose rounds out your core, as a complete core workout necessitates activation of your posterior chain. Lie on your back and lift your legs and arms, but not just from the ground. It’s important to originate the lift from your kidneys! This cue will bring full back and body activation.
Personally, my lower back feels most engaged with my feet at the hip distance and my legs magnetized toward each other. You will hear plenty of leg variations. Squeeze your legs and glutes just as you did in plank. Do three rounds of these, arms back, out to a T, and up by your ears. To increase the intensity you can add ankle weights and/or dumbbells. Remember to breathe!
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!