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Rock Climbing Exercises to Build Core Strength

by Christopher Schafenacker

getting the most out of your home climbing wall

Sonnie Trotter, 9a (5.14d) sport climber—and maybe the best trad climber of all time—argues that our sport’s modern fixation with one-arm pullups, mono-pocket hangs, and other party tricks is a waste of time. In support, he points out that Dave Graham had crushed most of the USA’s hardest sport routes while having worse lock-off strength than your average gym rat, and that Adam Ondra had sent 9b (5.15b) sport routes and 8C+ (V16) boulders before ever being able to do a one-arm pull-up. Instead of focusing on such Instagram-worthy (but functionally questionable) feats, Trotter suggests three simple rock climbing exercises (or exercise categories) to gain sport-specific strength: focus on your core; stress your fingers; climb as much as you can, as often as you can.

Admittedly, Trotter wrote those words in 2012, and, since then, our understanding of the best workouts for rock climbing has come a long way. Present-day coaches are not so dismissive of general body conditioning, and yet the Canadian crusher has a point. Core, finger strength, and actual climbing are cornerstones of improvement. Without ample amounts of each, all the one-arm pull-ups in the world won’t make a difference to your progression. With this in mind, we’ve prepared the following two rock climbing workouts.

1. Training Core Off the Wall

Properly training core for climbing means understanding that core strength’s primary purpose in our sport is to keep your butt close to the wall and your feet glued to the footholds. Achieving this requires a lot more than just abs of steel, which is why your core exercises need to be holistic. Front levers—or any of the progressions that help you build up to doing a full front lever—are a great example. Each exercise of this type has you holding tension from your fingertips to your toes. Progress to doing a front lever by executing the following. Perform each of the below exercises three times per week, after your regular climbing sessions. Move onto the next stage only when fully adept at the previous.

3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 second holds

3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 second holds

III. One Leg Front Lever (alternating legs)

3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 second holds

3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 second holds

V. Full Front Lever

3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 second holds

2. Training Core on the Wall

The advantage of training your core on the wall is that you train climbing-specific movement at the same time. The disadvantage is that you spend time training core that could be used to work on other climbing skills (and you annoy onlookers who might want to climb the boulder on which you’re training). If you have a home wall, this is no problem, as you have unlimited access to facilities and no need to share! One of the best rock climbing exercises for core strength is what we call “cut-foot bouldering.”

I. Set a series of boulders that require dynamic moves on good handholds and bad feet.

II. Practice executing each move without cutting feet (letting your feet swing off the board).

III. When you’ve stuck the handhold of a given move deliberately, let your feet cut and then reposition them on the appropriate footholds.

IV. Execute the next move and repeat.

V. If a single foot-cut isn’t hard enough, add two or three in between moves.


Featured Climbing Training Gear

*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.


The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.


The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…


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