Climber’s Guide: A Gymnastics Cross-Training Toolkit
If you’re serious about training for climbing then this quick guide is for you. Hell, even John Gill, the father of modern bouldering, credits his inspiration and incredible climbing strength to his gymnastics background, and we could all use more strength and power. In 4 easy steps, we’re about to turn the average train-for-climbing gumby into a gymnastics machine!
All too often, we pop into climbing gyms only to see bastardized gymnastics training going on. And why? Climbers are absolute bodyweight animals, so let’s quit with all the monkeying around. You want to send your project, don’t you? Rock gyms all over the globe are already equipped with all the Gymnastic Strength Training equipment climbers need to boost their bodyweight strength, so we at GymnasticBodies thought we’d offer a little guidance on how to properly use it all.
Enjoy these 4 circuits as separate mini-sessions or altogether as a single full-body GST workout. Either way, perform each section as a circuit, performing each of the 4 exercises in every section, resting 1-2 minutes, and repeating for 4 total rounds. You essentially have 4 gymnastic-style 4x4s. Enjoy!
WARNING: If you can’t PROPERLY perform any of the exercises in these sequences, DO NOT DO IT. As Coach Sommer would say, do it right or don’t do it at all. GB Training is all about safe, methodical progressions. If you can’t do it just yet, we have a scaling option for you either in our courses or in our forums.
Step 1: Fix Your Posture, Quasimodo
Try this quick test: can you scratch between your shoulder blades or are you too tight? That’s what we thought and we’re going to help you fix that. Correcting some of that classic climber's hunchback is in your best interest, trust us. Don't worry, you won't lose strength. Watch any gymnastic ring routine and then tell us those guys aren't the perfect blend of mobility and strength. Stretching will help you prevent injury, increase your range of motion, and, most importantly, give you that edge you've been looking to send your project. So, with further delay, here are some essential mobility drills all climbers should be doing regularly:
Stretch 1: Letter A
4x30s per arm
Lay on your stomach, and place your arms out into “letter T”. Before rolling to the side as shown in the image, be sure your shoulder, elbow pit, and palm are all in contact with the floor. Feel free to use a partner assist as you stretch each arm.
Stretch 2: Lateral Line Stretch
4x30s per side
Grab the top of a PVC pipe, and take a giant step backward with the same side leg as you are holding the pipe. If you are holding the top of the pipe in your right hand, your right leg steps backward (for example). Gently bring your knee to the floor. Now for those of you that are already feeling this stretch all the way into your lower back and your lat muscle insertion, stay here and hang out holding your PVC in a lateral line. Feel free to follow along with this video and enjoy how open your shoulders and side-body feel after this one.
Stretch 3: Elevated Thoracic Bridge
To start, place your feet up on a stable surface at least 2 feet high. The goal here is to open up the shoulders and upper back, so if you find that the majority of the work is being done by the low back, then reset and elevate your feet even more. As soon as you lift your hips, before even begin pressing your head off of the ground, focus on squeezing your glutes. Nice work.
Now, keep pressing up until your arms are extended and then shrug your shoulders all the way up to your ears. To intensify the stretch, press your chest away from your feet, working to completely straighten your knees. Find a position that you can hold for the entire 30 seconds without excessive discomfort or fidgeting.
Stretch 4: Vertical Lunge
4x30s per side
Climbers need healthy hips and legs and this stretch will target the quads, hip flexors, and hamstrings all in one! To start, place your shin against the wall, ensuring your lower leg is vertical. Now, get into a lunge position. From here, you have two options: keep the front leg bent (easier) or straighten the front leg (harder). Keep your torso upright, slowly scoot your front foot forward as you attempt to bring your rear glute off of your heel AT THE SAME RATE.
Step 2: Crush Your Core
Now that you’re loose and limber, we’re going to get after some climbing specific core work. The front lever is the iconic climbing training core exercise, and for a great reason, but there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. This is why non-gymnasts need a little extra guidance. Use these progressions to start mastering the components of the front lever while filling in the gaps with other essential core exercises for the hip flexors and more.
The hollow body is the first step in developing gymnastic-like core control. The key here is to keep your lower back pressed firmly into the floor. Also during the hold, you want to work on straddling your legs as far apart as possible. Keep your shoulder blades and feet just off the floor, as shown in the image. The wider you straddle, the more your hips will benefit.
Core Drill 2: Seated Pike Pulses
Hip flexor strength development is key to core strength training. The key points here are to keep the knees straight (quads engaged strongly), hands flat, and to embrace the cramps. Your goal is to lift and pulse, your legs up and down. Move your hands as far forward as you can while still getting some lift-off and aim to continue pulsing for the entire 30 seconds.
Core Drill 3: Inverted Hangs
The closest we’ll get to a front lever in these workouts. We’re revisiting the hollow body shape, only this time feet will be together and we’re doing it while hanging. Be sure to keep your shins close to – but not resting on – the bar, your glutes tight, and elbows totally locked. Your lats are your best friend here: drawing your shoulders down, away from your ears, will help you engage them and make your inverted hang worlds stronger.
Core Drill 4: Straddle-ups
Back to the hips and hip flexors again. Begin laying on your back in an extended position with legs engaged and knees straight. As you begin to sit up, straddle your legs wide, sit up tall, and reach through. Pause momentarily before descending back down with control.
Step 3: Bulletproof Your Upper Body
Proper physical preparation should be addressed first in any sport to prevent injury and ultimately increase performance. Coach Christopher Sommer’s philosophy is to first build the physical structure capable of handling the pressures and demands of gymnastics.
Should you also be doing things like deadlifting and specific climbing training for your back and grip development? Absolutely, but our expertise is GST and we know it’ll give you a major boost on the wall. Here are some pulling specific drills for climbers:
Bulletproofing Drill 1: Ring Rows
You decide the body angle that allows you to complete all of the reps. Keep your core and glutes engaged and row until your palms reach your chest. As you row, use your entire back to pull by imaging getting your shoulders down and back. Think shoulder blades to back pocket here. There's no better way to ensure your pulling strength is up to par than with bodyweight ring rows. Remember, the best do the basics better.
Bulletproofing Drill 2: Side Lever Block Twists
4x3 reps per side
This drill takes some getting used to but will give your upper back a solid challenge. Conveniently, a couple of jugs low down on the wall tend to work great for these (or the Grandma Peabody Boulder). From the start, it’s important to get your elbows straight and keep them that way. The twist is initiated by pushing through the bottom arm and pulling through the top. Enjoy! These take some getting used to but are well worth the time spent.
Bulletproofing Drill 3: TOPs Pull
Hint: Don’t rush through the inverted hangs. Hang low and enjoy the excellent trap stretch as you hang between the rings.
Going back to the hollow body – yes, again – your goal is to not allow any bending at the hips as you transition between an inverted hang and chin hang. If getting back from chin hang to inverted hang requires bending at the hips, then skip that direction. This is usually a pretty intuitive progression for rock climbers, but if it feels a little shaky, working the first half at a slower tempo will help.
Bulletproofing Drill 4: Muscle-ups and/or Ring Dips
You have some options here. We want you to build to muscle-ups, but they need to be progressed toward in a patient fashion. No kipping. No swinging. No throwing one shoulder over at a time. If a smooth muscle-up is out of the question for you, then just work ring dips and ring pull-ups separately for now. As your Foundational Strength increases, you’ll find that muscle-ups, even the dreaded transition point, naturally gets better.
Step 4: Train for that Sick Summit Handstand
Climbers are always flexing their wrists, which often creates large imbalances in the forearm. Handstand training is a healthy and fun way to spend some time extending your wrists, which will strengthen your forearm extensors and help prevent nagging elbow and wrist injuries common to rock climbers.
These handstand progressions are designed to protect and prepare your wrists and forearms for the demands of training. Because climbers must have strong, balanced forearms and wrists, the handstand progressions provided in the GymnasticBodies Freestanding Handstand Course, are a perfect way to add some joint prehab into your training regimen. We’ve found these are best done during or after a hangboard session.
Handstand Drill 1: Shoulder Dislocates
4x3 SLOW reps
“Hold a belt in front of you at waist height (note: you may also use a dowel and more advanced athletes should use a weighted bar ranging anywhere from 5-20 lbs). As you lift the belt up and then backward over your head, rather than thinking of moving your hands back, first "inlocate" or, in other words, think of rolling your shoulders forward. This will rotate the shoulder joint in the socket, making the backward movement much smoother.
As you bring the belt back forward, first “dislocate” or roll the shoulders backward, then bring the arms around. This drill may be done with either a regular pull-up grip or a dorsal grip. To perform the dorsal grip, simply grip the belt behind your glutes with your hands turned thumbs out, as though you were going to do a curl. As you move your shoulders over the top, your forearms will rotate outward and place you in a dorsal grip.”
Be sure to keep a firm grip and shrug your shoulders up to your ears strongly as you pass the bar overhead.
Handstand Drill 2: First Knuckle Walks
GymnasticBodies Training is all about physical prep throughout the entire body. First knuckle drills are great for opening up the hands in ways that climbers and desk workers alike don’t do often.
From a plank position (or kneeling) lift one palm up off the ground, keeping the entirety of each finger pressed firmly to the floor. Do the same with the other palm, hold the stretch for a moment, and reverse the walk down.
Handstand Drill 3: Cast Wall Walks
Cast wall walks are incredible for climbers. These will target your entire shoulder and upper back while giving your wrists a nice change of direction. As they sound, start from a plank and walk as close to the wall as you feel comfortable with a rigid body. Oh, and be sure to save the strength to walk back out 😉
Handstand Drill 4: Prone Floor Handstand Flex+½ Arch
Grab a dowel or weighted bar and lay down on your stomach with it extended overhead. We’re going to break this drill into two parts:
- First, lengthen through the body. Shrug your shoulders to your ears and lift only your arms. NOTE: Your chin, and not your forehead, should be on the floor to maximize results. This is going to maximize trap engagement which is critical for maximizing back strength.
- Once you have successfully lifted your arms and paused, squeeze your glutes, tuck your tail, and then begin to lift your chest. If you primarily feel the arch in your lower back, reset and work on creating more tail tuck before initiating the arch. This arch serves as a mobility and strength combo, giving your posture a boost while strengthing your back.
Whether you completed these gymnastic 4x4s all in one or spread them out, congratulations! You’ve taken a big step toward creating a stronger, more balanced body. We’d love to see clips of you training these sequences so send us your footage or tag us #gymnasticbodies #christophersommer.
Gymnastic Strength TrainingTM and rock climbing are a perfect match as the demands of both sports require a functional body capable of producing and controlling incredible strength and power through complex movements. GSTTM will safely develop your basic strength and mobility through GymnasticBodies climbing training progressions, making you a stronger athlete capable of moving through greater ranges of motion.