In addition to being a complex mental and physical discipline in its own right, yoga is a valuable tool for complementary training.
Arguably, rock climbers were some of the earliest athletes to realize the benefits yoga could bring to their training regimen. Whether you climb outdoors or spend all of your free time in a climbing gym, yoga could take your training to the next level.
As a result, many climbers like to incorporate yoga into their schedule, whether they use it as a warm-up, cross-training activity, or recovery.
In fact, even professional climbers including Olympic athletes Shauna Coxsey, Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, and outdoor climbing legend Chris Sharma advocate for yoga to be included as a tool to improve flexibility and overall mobility.
In this article we will explore:
- Yoga as Supplemental Training
- How Yoga Affects Climbing Performance
- Other Benefits of Yoga for Climbers
- Top 5 Yoga Poses & Climbing Stretches
Yoga as Supplemental Training
Due to its versatile nature, yoga can be applied in a wide variety of ways:
- Strength training
- Flexibility training
- Opposition training
- Endurance training
- Tension relief
- Injury prevention
- Injury recovery
- Rest and relaxation
Strength and flexibility training focus on improving the range of motion and functional strength of the muscles most relevant in rock climbing.
Opposition training involves using the relevant muscles in the opposing direction.
In climbing, the most notable example of opposition training are push-ups that target the same chest and back muscles as pull-ups. As any yogi will attest, yoga practice involves a lot of pushing in all directions.
Furthermore, yoga is makes a wonderful dynamic warm up and an effective cool down after a climbing session.
How Yoga Affects Climbing Performance
In order to determine how yoga can help you improve your climbing performance, let’s take a closer look at the major muscle groups and other areas of the body affected by climbing.
1. Fingers and palms
The primary instruments of any climber, fingers and palms need maintenance to avoid injury. Yoga features plenty of kneeling, prone, and inverted asanas that stretch your hands.
No climber wants their wrists to be the weakest link! Yoga is great for improving wrist mobility, as well as as strengthening the muscles and ligaments supporting the wrists.
Do you remember the very first time you went climbing? Were you surprised to discover all the previously unused muscles in your forearms?
A post-climbing yoga session can do wonders for releasing the tension in your forearms, and you can even insert elements of yoga in the middle your climbing training to avoid getting too pumped.
Your shoulder girdle, which consists of the shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle) is responsible for the end range of movement you can perform with your arms.
Yoga can be helpful in strengthening the muscles attached to your shoulder girdle and improving your shoulders’ mobility.
5. Back and chest
When it comes to the pulling motion, so prevalent in rock climbing, the back and chest play the key role, whether you are performing a strong static move or a powerful dynamic move.
Thanks to its wide range of asanas, yoga can target select muscles in your back and chest to help you stay strong and injury-free.
Any climber will attest to the fact that having strong core muscles is integral in climbing, especially on steep overhangs or slab routes that require balance.
Not only can yoga help you strengthen different group muscles that make up your core, it can also improve core stability and balance that stems from it.
7. Hip flexors and quadriceps
While having a strong upper body is undoubtedly important in rock climbing, a lot of power actually stems from the climber’s legs.
If you want to work on the precise placement of your feet and the driving force of your legs, yoga can help strengthen your hip flexors and quads and teach you to exercise better control of your lower body.
8. Abductors and glutes
Another important element in lower body movement is your ability to rotate through your hip and leverage the position of your leg to progress through the climb.
Hip mobility and glute strength are highly valued in the yoga world, which is another reason why yoga and climbing are a match made in heaven.
9. Ankles and feet
Strong and flexible ankles can help you avoid getting the “Elvis leg” on the wall, as well as make the landing safer for boulderers.
In addition to bolstering your ankles, yoga is a great way to stretch out your feet after being encased in tight climbing shoes.
Other Benefits of Yoga for Climbers
1. Mental Focus
Rock climbing is a sport that requires strategy and focus. Yoga has been linked to improved cognitive function in healthy adults, which includes focus, memory, and decision-making.
Whether you are trying to extend your training sessions, attempt longer routes, or increase your power endurance, yoga is an excellent tool for improving your mental and physical endurance.
3. Injury Prevention
In climbing, as well as other sports, strength and opposition training are closely linked with injury prevention.
Increasing the strength and elasticity of your muscles can reduce the risk of muscle strain or tears.
Furthermore, you can reduce the risk or joint injuries (e.g. dislocation or sprain) if you strengthen the muscles and ligaments that support your joints.
In climbing context, this is especially relevant since many injuries occur upon landing.
4. Physical Reset
Your body can only take a certain amount of climbing. Yoga can provide the much-needed “shake-up” your body needs.
If you are faced with a plateau, adding yoga can also act as a “reset”, helping your mind and body get past this temporary block.
5. Longer Reach
As yoga improves mobility of your ankles, hips, and shoulders, it enables your body to reach further and spread wider.
Additionally, yoga includes many twists and spine-lengthening asanas, further contributing to your reaching ability.
Rock climbing is a sport where confidence is crucial. As a climber, you regularly have literally and figuratively take the leap of faith.
Yoga is a great tool that can teach you appreciate your body and all the incredible things it is capable of. As a result, it can help you feel more in control and be more confident in your own ability on and off the wall.
Top 5 Yoga Poses & Climbing Stretches
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is great for strengthening wrists, arms, and shoulders, while also stretching your chest, back, hamstrings and ankles.
- Reverse Tabletop (Ardha Purvottanasana) stretches hip flexors, wrists and forearms, while strengthening your glutes and back.
- Tree Pose (Vrksasana) challenges the climber’s balance, while simultaneously training their abductor and glute muscles, mimicking a common climbing move.
- Boat Pose (Navasana) is powerhouse pose that engages the core, hip flexors, and quadriceps, in addition to opening the chest and improving the person’s balance.
Yoga For Climbers: FAQs
What type of yoga is best for climbers?
The type of practice you select depends on your goals. For instance, a quick-paced practice like Vinyasa Flow can help you work on your power endurance and cardio.
A steady style like Hatha Yoga, on the other hand, is great for working on strength and flexibility.
Finally, a slow, grounded class like Yin or Restorative Yoga can help you recover from climbing and calm your mind.
Of course, the best option is a yoga class designed especially for rock climbers, with a yoga teacher who knows what they’re doing.
In general, any yoga is better than no yoga at all!
Where can I find yoga classes for climbers?
The first place to check are your local climbing gyms. Climbing venues often offer yoga classes onsite with a teacher who has climbing experience.
The other option is to seek private tuition tailored not only to rock climbing but to your individual needs.
How to incorporate yoga into your training plan?
If you have a training plan, there are a few ways to add yoga to your schedule.
If you climb almost every day, you could “stack” yoga sessions with your climbing sessions. If your climbing gym offers yoga classes for their patrons, this option is ideal.
The slower, restorative classes can be aligned with your rest days. Alternatively, if you’re using yoga as a cross-training activity, you could practice on the day (or days) dedicated to cross-training.
How often should I practice yoga as a climber?
For yoga to be effective, you should strive to practice at least 1-2 times a week. As long as you are playing it safe, you can practice almost every day.
Using this article for guidance, you could build a yoga routine that corresponds with your needs, experience, availability, and preference.
Whether you use yoga for a quick warm-up, or commit to full-length practice several times a week, you will quickly notice your performance improve!
Not sure where to begin? Try this 20-minute yoga flow for climbers: