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leg strength training for rock climbing

Leg Strength Training For Rock Climbing

Footwork is easily the most important aspect of improving a climbers technique and having strong legs is absolutely crucial to converting this technique to power the upper body.

It is beneficial to focus on single leg strength to allow each leg to develop individually to replicate real climbing situations this will also allow you to develop any imbalances between your legs and will prevent one leg relying on the other.

Here we will list some exercises to help you build the strength in your legs. Most of these can be performed either at home or in the gym.

Upper Leg Exercises

Exercise 1 – Step ups – Novice/Intermediate

The step up is an excellent way to improve your single leg strength and is easy for beginners to do.

Face the step/box/sandbag and place one of your feet on the top. Then step up with a slow, controlled movement until your other foot is on the step. Then slowly step back down keeping the original foot planted on the top of the step. This is one rep.

You should aim to do 3 reps for each leg for 3 sets.

You can do this exercise with any height you feel comfortable at, but make sure that the exercise is challenging.  If you would like to add intensity either find a higher platform or you can hold weights whilst doing the exercise.

Exercise 2 – Split squats – Intermediate

Split squats are difficult as you are trying to stabilize your body from left to right as well as manage the up and down movements.

To do this exercise put your rear foot behind you on a raised platform between 6-12 inches high. Then perform a one-legged squat. Your rear foot should be on tip-toes and your knee should almost touch the ground. Then stand back to the starting position.

Aim to do 5 reps for 3 sets. You can increase the intensity by loading up with weights as with a regular squat.

Exercise 3 – Pistol/One legged Squats – Intermediate/Expert

Pistol squats are a very difficult exercise and you will probably struggle with these in the beginning. That’s fine because as you build strength with the above exercises, you will get closer and closer to the end result.

There are three phases to learning to pistol squat:

Phase 1.

Begin by sitting on a bench/seat with one foot flat on the ground and the other foot extended out in front of you. Try to stand up using your body weight to rock forward as you push up.

Phase 2.

Once you can confidently stand up on one leg then you can move onto the next step which is to stand on the bench/seat with one foot over the edge. Then with the leg on the bench, squat down into the position and let your other leg hang directly down. This will be more challenging than the previous step as you are practicing the up and down movements as you would in the proper pistol squat except that you are not having to worry about the added strain of keeping your foot out in front of you.

Phase 3.

The final phase is to perfect the extension of the leg and to perfect your balance whilst in the full pistol squat position. Get down in the position with both feet then slowly extend your leg out in front of you. Once you can do this confidently for about 5 seconds, then you are ready to practice doing full pistol squats.

Aim to do 3 reps for each exercise for 3 sets. You can increase intensity by increasing the reps per set or by adding weight using a kettlebell or dumbbell.

Lower Leg Exercises

Lower leg exercises focus on the calves, feet and the hamstrings which don’t see a huge amount of individual movement in climbing, but they are still important none the less.

This group is constructed not only of muscles but also with tendons that are better worked with slow controlled movements and static hangs as opposed to high reps with heavy weight, much like the exercises for improving finger strength. Again, we are aiming to do these exercises with one leg at a time.

Exercise 1 – Calf Raises

This exercise is better done barefoot as this will strengthen the toes and the feet more than with shoes on.

Stand on a step or a box with the balls of your foot just on the edge and let our heel drop until you feel a comfortable stretch in your calf muscle. Then raise your heel and extend upwards. Hold this position for 5 seconds and lower back down. This is one rep.

Do this for 3-5 reps on each leg for 3 sets. If you would like to increase the intensity you can hold a dumbbell but make sure to build strength with a lower weight and get confident with this exercise before you do this.

Exercise 2 – Leg Curls (suspended)

You can either do this exercise with a suspension trainer or with a stability ball. You may find it difficult to do with one leg so try with both legs until you are confident to move onto one leg at a time

Place your feet on the ball/in the trainer and raise your hips of the ground, using your hands to support yourself. Then slowly bring your knees towards your head, pivoting from the hip until your thighs are about 90 degrees to your torso then extend your legs fully and repeat.

Aim to do about 3-5 reps for 3 sets. You can increase the intensity by using one leg at a time for this exercise and doing 3-5 reps for each leg.

Exercise 3 – Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts are an excellent exercise for the hamstring. If you are not comfortable with this exercise, then please practice with lower weight, remember technique is more important than weight. You can either use a kettlebell or a bar with your weight.

Start by facing the bar or kettlebell. Bend your knees, keep a straight back and push your shoulders back. Then, keeping a straight back, pivot from the hip and lift the weight and stand up, straightening your legs. This is the starting position.

To do one rep, slowly lower the weight with straight legs and a straight back until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Then return to the starting position. This is one rep.

Aim to do 3-5 reps for 3 sets. Adjust your weight so that you can reach this. If you need added intensity, increase the weight but be careful to keep correct technique otherwise you will risk injury.

Remember, if you are unsure of the techniques outlined in this article, seek professional advice from an expert at your local gym.

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