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Climbing / School / Core Body - The Missing Link

Core Body – The Missing Link

Core body – the missing link;

Your core body, not just your tummy muscles, the whole area from below your shoulders to your hips, is vital in climbing. The ability to activate these muscles not just on steep climbing but on off vertical too can make all the difference.

Your legs need to be able to operate as a separate system to your upper body. Some women who have had children and come back to climbing often exclaim at the feeling of having no middle! We are not talking about flexibility here. Flexibility will enable you to get your body into useful climbing positions, but it’s often your core which will maintain the position. When you get tired and you want to get your leg up high, if your core isn’t good, a natural reaction is to pull even more on your arms, just what you don’t want to do. It needn’t only be on steep ground when these types of problems kick in.

Having a good core will mean you will cut loose less and if you do you will be able to get your feet back on first time, not 4th or never. Steve McClure achieves his famous bat hang, not just by having strong ankles and feet, but an amazing core, which allows him to not just get his feet up there in the first place but also extract himself from awkward positions.

The ultimate demonstration of core body strength is the front lever, where you hang from a bar with your hands and your body is held out straight, horizontally to the ground. I sometimes imagine a parallel climbing universe if I could do a front lever. It requires all the stablising muscles to kick in, in your shoulders as well as your stomach area.

Doing sit ups every day just isn’t going to cut it. It’s working only one set of muscles and your legs are doing very little. In climbing it’s the weight of your legs that is half of the problem when your feet swing off.

Here is a basic guideline of the type of exercises you can do to improve your core body.

Bar work

1. Dangle from the bar with your hands – lift your legs out horizontally and hold

2. The clock. Work each leg separately – bringing the leg back to the centre each time, lift the leg up to each imaginary number of the clock (don’t let it fall to the ground). To make things much harder work both legs together. Even harder do this locked off on the bar.

3. Basic front lever practice – hold onto a bar, pull up your knees to your chest and roll backwards so that you knees are parallel to the ground and you are looking upwards. Try and bring each leg out separately horizontally and hold. This is very strenuous and you will feel it in your upper back and shoulders – attempt with care.

Fit ball ;

The fit ball is an amazing tool to help improve your core. There are many, many exercises, here are just two examples. Your local gym or books will give you many more ideas.

1. The plank – with the ball in front of you, and your feet and knees on the ground, roll the ball out in front of you so your knees leave the ground and your body is out horizontal. Go from the ball on your forearms to wrists. Roll in and out of position without your knees touching the floor.

2. Lie back on the ball – your upper back and shoulders should rest on the ball. Hold your body out straight, bend 90 degrees at the knees with your feet on the floor. Raise each leg separately.

Floor work ;

1. Press-ups. Basic but to the point

2. Superman. Get into a pressed out press-up position. Raise opposite legs and arms. Hold

3. Spiderman. Get into a pressed out press-up position, but spread your arms and legs out into a star shape. Hold. The further out your limbs, the harder it is.


1. Free weights are the best way to help your core, as opposed to machines. However, proper technique is required for the exercises to have any benefit.

2. Incorporate instability into your weights. Stand on a wobble board or sit on a fit ball when doing weights. Ensure movements are slow and with good technique.