Rock Climbing Conditioning: Injury Prevention and Core Function Pt 2

NOW we have a better idea of what the core is, how it works and its impact on climbing performance we can progress and investigate the next important steps; Assessing Core Function and Core Conditioning Exercises.

NOW we have a better idea of what the core is, how it works and its impact on climbing performance we can progress and investigate the next important steps; Assessing Core Function and Core Conditioning Exercises.

…continued from Part 1.
Before you start the conditioning exercises and really begin to make changes to your performance on the rock, you must investigate your needs to some degree at least. This can be done through many methods and even just by your awareness of your body and your own needs analysis of your climbing performance. Which areas need working on; flexibility, strength, endurance, pushing or pulling strength, stability, pain, recovery rates?

Assessments Kept Simple
With the virtues of keeping it simple in mind, lets look at a method that enables you to assess your own levels of function fit for climbing. Even a little help from friends, fellow climbers and coaches might be helpful. You can adapt the following table to your own needs and ideas to find out your strengths and weaknesses. Feel free to add things in and be more specific like ‘shoulder flexibility’, ‘hip flexibility’ or ‘upper body strength’ etc. Simply start by considering a high performance, elite level climber and score them (out of 10high) for each of the characteristics. Do this quickly and do not worry about getting it exactly right. I suppose this represents the ideal, given that this climber fits the desired characteristics to excel at the sport.

Climbing table

Next rate yourself out of 10. Now you can highlight the areas that you need to work on to progress your climbing performance or even take you to an elite level. This may seem very simple, but it is effective. If your performance has hit a plateau or you are suffering from re-occurring injury, then you haven’t been doing this effectively enough so far.

You might find that it is your flexibility, or coordination that requires some work, and if so, that is not quite the job of this article to go into. Today we maintain our focus on Assessing the Core.

Assessing Core Function for Climbers
Yes you are a climber and that is your passion, but you are also a human being. I know you haven’t forgotten that and this sounds obvious, but here is where many conditioning mistakes are made and crucial steps missed. In the clinic and in the Gym, I witness across all sports and athletes, the idea of sport-specificity taken too far and too early. What I mean by this is that people are training for the specifics of the sport way before they have conditioned the body for human function. Here, we are back to thinking about building on a solid foundation and the fact that it is impossible to reach your potential as a climbing athlete without the base conditioning and foundation.

Hence, the following core function assessments are ones that I would typically carry out whether you are an elite climber, recreational climber, someone who has chronic knee pain or even for weight management. You can try this one out yourself although there are many more ways to assess:

Inner Unit Activation
1. Lie on your front
2. Take a deep breath in.
3. As you breathe out your aim is to draw your belly button up off the ground, towards your spine.
4. Ensure that the movement and your effort is only coming from the muscles around your belly button.
5. You should be aware of any unwanted movement and tension in the jaw, neck, shoulders, upper abdominals, hips and thighs.
6. Sounds easy and should be, but 50% of my assessments identify the inability to isolate this movement.

Lower Abdominal Coordination: Try this exercise to see how your lower abdominals are functioning:
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
2. Place your hands under your lower back. They should be under the natural curve of your lower back, directly under your belly button. Position your spine so that it fits snug over your hands. This is ‘neutral spine’.
3. Lightly, draw in your belly button to your spine. This engages the core. Ensure you lightly draw in from the pelvic floor as well.
4. Now you have stabilised your neutral spine.
5. Maintaining your right knee bent at 90degrees lift it up until your thigh is vertical. This is the start point of the movement.
6. As you lower the leg breathe in.
7. As you raise the leg breathe out.
8. You should be able to maintain the pressure on your hands all the way through the movement.
9. The knee should be kept at 90degrees all the way through the movement and you should be breathing with the abdominals.

Successful completion of these tests indicates that your inner unit can fire to stabilise certain joints. This is essential in order for other muscle groups to provide movement, strength and power from. It might not feel like climbing yet, but this is just a start point. By doing this test we have posed the question as to whether the body has the ability to stabilise structures like the pelvis and spine just when lying on our back with very limited movement. If the answer is that the body struggles to do this…………..then the next question is to what degree is your strength and movement compensated in order to do what you do when you are on the rock? When you dramatically load through one hip and the opposite shoulder, where is the force going and what keeps you from being injured? During a ‘dyno’, what provides a stable base from which you explode off from?

“You cannot shoot a Cannon from a Canoe” – Paul Chek

If you are unable to complete these tests then it is important that we find out why. Everybody is different, but what it may be indicating is that in order for your body to complete such dynamic and strong movements, the stabilising job must be done by something else…….another muscle group, whose job it would not usually be. This is known as compensation and in the long-term invariably leads to injury or falling short of your potential.

Raise the ceiling of your potential by building a foundation

The above tests are not necessarily strenuous. They are not concerned with how apparently ‘strong’ you are, but more relevant to how coordinated the different parts of your core are (Please refer back to the discussion on the Inner and Outer Unit in Part 1).

Assessment Specifics
These tests are not necessarily that easy to administer accurately by yourself. If you are interested in a more in-depth analysis and assessment of your Core Function, as a Corrective Exercise Coach I can accurately assess the following:

:: Posture

:: Breathing Pattern and Diaphragm Function.

:: Core Strength

:: Core – Inner vs Outer Unit Activation

:: Movement Screening

:: Flexibility

:: Muscle Strength Balance

Part 3 in Core Conditioning for Climbers will focus on Core Conditioning Exercises and a program to follow. The key to success is finding the right start point following your assessments and progressing as quickly as possible through the steps.

Climbers Core Conditioning - Resources

Climbing Conditioning Workshop videos at
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Next Climbing Conditioning Workshop – 23rd March 2011

You are invited to attend the Climbing Conditioning Workshop – ‘A Holistic Approach to Climbing Conditioning’ on 23rd March 2011 at the Durham Climbing Centre. Book Your Place:
£10 Entry (includes evening’s climbing) | 7.00pm to 8.30pm
Durham Climbing Centre: Unit 2 St John’s Rd | Meadowfield Industrial Estate | Durham | DH7 8TZ
info (at) | 0191 3789555 |

‘Functional Trainer’ provides Climbing Conditioning Workshops, Corrective Exercise Coaching, The Bowen Technique and Metabolic Typing ® Nutrition. Contact 07792761324 jack (at)


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