Rock Climbing Conditioning: Injury Prevention and Core Function

IT is know by many names and various guises, but what is the Core and how can you condition it to enhance climbing performance?

IT is know by many names and various guises, but what is the Core and how can you condition it to enhance climbing performance? The six-pack, abdominals, the deep core, TVA, inner unit, pelvic floor muscles.

Lets make sense of it, get some answers and make a difference on the rock.

What is the Core?

Let me be clear, my thoughts on the core are not to establish it as something separate in the body. Paradigms are shifting and those making progress in health today are looking at the body as an integrated whole. Where it begins and ends is a debatable and interesting point. The purpose of the article is not to add to the unfortunate accumulation of poor advice based on fad, gimmick and sensationalism in the industry. Each individual is different and the relevance of core training will range from getting right back to basics, all the way to maybe non whatsoever. This goes for elite performance and rehabilitation alike.

The core can be thought of as the head and torso – pretty much what is left if you chopped off your arms and legs. Sounds a bit odd, but embryology determines that we were at this stage once…….and then we grew arms and legs. Makes it a bit easier for us to move. (Side note – not sure that sitting down tapping keys at desks 40hrs a week is really getting the most out of our evolutionary development!) In the name of simplicity, we can think of having a central core that provides some stability from which we can be powerful and make no mistake it isn’t just the athletes among us who need power. We all do and in essence that makes us all athletes to some degree. Catching a Grandchild as they pelt full speed at you and twirling them round whilst keeping on your feet and executing a safe landing is quite a skill requiring, strength, stability and power.

The Inner Unit

An interesting distinction has been made by Paul Chek (Holistic Health Practitioner), that the core has two slightly different functions. The ‘Inner Unit’ is deeper and fires to subtly stabilise joints and structures such as the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle. It has been shown to do this milliseconds before we actually produce movement, for example just before we throw a ball or bend down to pick something up. The ‘Outer Unit’ (including ‘six-pack’ abdominals we can see) is then primed to provide greater stability, movement and power. A great partnership that provides safety, a solid base and allows required movement with strength and success.

Human Function – It’s all by Design

The ‘Whole’ Approach

Due to the fact that the body is an integrated system of systems and each one influences the other (think spiders web), when considering the best way to assess the Core and then deciding on the best ways to strengthen it, the top results are achieved when you look at the person as a whole. If you consider it important to yourself to enhance the function of the core, all you have to do is find out what is preventing or blocking it’s optimal strength and performance.

As with many things in the health and fitness industry, we have the choice of making this complex or simple. Maybe it’s as simple as having a sedentary job and you have limited ideas on the most appropriate exercises and techniques to fire up the core and movement patterns ready to climb or train. You might be of the opinion that you want to work on the one area that will give you good results and quickly – the biggest bang for your buck. If so, that’s great and there are ways of doing it (to be discussed later).

Arguably, for the most impressive, long-term results that take your health or performance to the next level, it might be reasonable to assume that there may be a few factors that you need to work on over time.

Causes of Core Dysfunction

It is beyond the scope of today’s article to discuss in-depth reasons why your core may not be working as well as you would like and why your climbing potential is not being reached. However, you can be sure that the following factors are among the reasons for below par performance:

· Sedentary job/lifestyle

· Poor program design and exercise technique

· Muscle imbalance

· Overtraining and high load

· Inflamed Gut from drugs, processed food, toxins etc……

· Pain causing faulty motor recruitment

· Injury creating compensatory movement patterns

Sound familiar? These are what I see on a daily basis in the clinic and in the gym, with people looking to get stronger, reduce symptoms and improve performance. Send me an email or give me a call to discuss any of these in more depth.

How will it impact on Climbing Performance

Go to your local bouldering centre, climbing wall or crag, watch the climbers who make it look easy and observe the way they move. In fact, watch children climb. It flows, is smooth, coordinated and integrated as all the parts ‘talk’ to each other. The strength that integrates the little finger of the right hand to the big toe of the left foot is communicated through the body efficiently and effectively.

Yes we all know and can see the work that the ‘slave joints’, our arms and legs, do to accomplish vertical progress, but what links these prime movers? What provides a Foundation and allows the movement to be initiated from a stable base? The Core of course.

Would you build a house on a weak foundation? Of course not, you’d build it strong and stable so that you could add a home on top of it.

When climbing, if the core is weak or dysfunctional it will take more effort to integrate movement and be strong and powerful. You can do all the finger strength, forearm work and pull up work you want, but without a foundation of a super strong core you are unlikely to reach your potential. Unfortunately you’ve gone and created the ceiling of your performance too low. Children move so efficiently because usually the above factors such as sedentary jobs and inflamed visceral organs are not usually such an issue at this stage.

Remember, human movement development provided us with a core first and then added our slave joints.

Next article: Core Function continued ....

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:

· Assessing Core Function

· Core Conditioning Exercises

Climbers Core Conditioning - Resources
Climbing Conditioning Workshop videos at
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Future Articles and Workshops to help Prevent Injury

Stay tuned for more resources, videos and articles on ways to prevent injury for climbers, including;

· Holistic Approach to Prevention

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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