Work It Out: 9 yoga postures for better rock climbing
Special to the Daily
Climb all winter
Looking for a place to climb when local walls ice over? The Summit Climbing Gym (SCG), found near Sears in Silverthorne, is the only non-profit climbing gym in Summit County. SCG is a member’s only, member-run facility that operates as a co-op, with six-month solo memberships starting at $330 and annual solo memberships starting at $600 (plus a one-time initiation fee of $50). Monthly and family memberships are also available. To join or find out more, see the SCG website at www.summitclimbing.org.
Yoga skills are a rock climber’s best friend.
A regular yoga practice increases flexibility, core strength and balance. Not only does this help you stay on your feet (or on one foot), but it also strikes a balance between strength and flexibility on your frontside and backside, as well as the upper and lower body.
“Climbing is a full-body sport, which puts particular stress on forearms, upper back, biceps and calves,” said Mark Miller, member of the Summit Climbing Gym in Silverthorne. “Climbers develop lean, strong muscles, but they also need flexibility and full range of motion, as well as balance. Balance and the ability to stay over your feet is so critical to climbing, and yoga will help develop that.”
Climbers are constantly using their back, forearms, biceps and calves. Try the postures below to find greater range of motion in these key areas, and don’t underestimate the balance benefits of a regular yoga practice.
Forward fold with a blanket
The two muscles that comprise the calf, the soleus and gastrocnemius, raise the heel. You use them when you stand on your toes to reach for a higher hold or to balance on a thin ledge.
This posture lengthens the calf muscles, while also providing the benefits of any forward fold: It stretches the back body and releases the neck and shoulders.
Roll a towel or a blanket and place it under your toes with heels on the floor.
Fold forward at the hips (not the waist).
Bend the knees until the torso and the upper thighs connect.
Relax the head and hold for 5-10 breaths.
Toe pose with forearm stretch
Climbers are used to having sore toes and feet from holds, crags and shoes. Climbers also get muscle fatigue in the forearms, especially on moves that rely only on forearms.
This stretch is designed to open fingers and toes, releasing tension in muscles and connective tissue. It’s also great to combat carpal tunnel and plantar fasciitis.
Note: Toe pose can be intense, but coming out of this pose is often the best part of it, so move slowly. Lean forward onto your hands, lift the hips away from the heels and release the feet. If it becomes too challenging, relieve the pressure on the feet by standing on your knees before sitting back down.
Sit on your heels with feet together.
Tuck the toes under so that you’re on the balls of your feet (you might need to reach down with your hand to get the little toes to tuck under).
Reach your right arm forward, palm facing up, and bend at the wrist so that the palm faces away from you and thumb faces out
With your left hand, pull back on the fingers of the extended arm until you feel a mild stretch in the forearm.
Hold for about 5 breaths.
Repeat on opposite side.
Modified pendant pose
When climbing, upper back muscles are responsible for holding the torso against the rock face. The abdominal muscles are stabilizers when climbing — until you start climbing overhangs. This is when the abs and hip flexors work to keep your legs attached to the rock face. Modified pendant pose works all of these muscle groups at once.
Sit cross-legged on the floor.
Place a block (or cinder blocks or bricks) under each hand.
With legs crossed, keep your toes on the floor and use your core to lift your hips up and swing them back behind the blocks.
Engage the muscles of the upper back (as if you’re The Hulk), abs and hip flexors to lift feet off the floor. (You have to option to straighten the legs, but keep your feet crossed.)
Hold for 3-5 breaths and release.
Perhaps the most important skill climbers can learn from yoga isn’t building or lengthening muscle, but rather the combined awareness of breath, mind and body.
“I think that I’m a better rock climber because of yoga,” said Lauren Brand, longtime Summit County yogi and climber. “When you’re rock climbing, you’re getting yourself in crazy positions and you’re hanging off a rock face and thinking to yourself, ‘I am going to fall’, and that’s when being able to control your breath, focus your mind and stay present is super helpful.”
You’ll find yourself in all sorts of strange positions with yoga and climbing. Here, the practice of connecting with your breath and controlling your mind become powerful tools. Compass pose challenges mental focus and breath, while also giving a deep stretch to the back and obliques.
Sit cross-legged and grasp the bottom of your right foot with your left hand.
Bring the right knee toward the right shoulder and lift the right leg until the shin is parallel with the floor.
Reach the right arm under the right leg and place the right fingertips on the floor.
Use the left hand on the right foot to lift the right leg as high up onto the right shoulder as possible.
Squeeze your shoulder with your leg.
Release the hold on the right foot and use your left hand to place a strap around the ball of the right foot. Take the strap in the left hand. Now it gets interesting…
Begin to straighten the right leg, reaching the left arm over the head. Keep the external rotation on the right leg. (The goal here is to create a deep stretch through the left side of the body, so allow as much length in the strap as you want to keep the chest open.)
Keep the left hip on the ground and breathe slowly, letting the side body expand on the inhales and lengthen on the exhales. Stay focused on your breath.
Hold for 5 breaths and release.
Repeat opposite side.
Cow Face pose
This pose is a deep stretch for the ankles, hips, thighs, shoulders, armpit, chest and arms — everything you use when climbing. It opens muscles and connective tissue, returning these joints to a greater range of motion. If it’s difficult to get your hips to relax to the floor, sit on a cushion or a block.
From Downward-Facing Dog:
Bring the right knee between and behind your hands. Tuck the left knee behind the right.
Sit back and tuck your feet on either sides of your hips. Try to stack the knees.
Take a strap in your right hand, lift the right arm up and bend the right elbow so that your hand (and the strap) hang between your shoulders.
Reach your left hand out to the side, thumb facing down.
Bend the left elbow and bring your left hand behind you, hold onto the strap in your left hand.
Try to walk your hands closer together while balancing the weight on both sitting bones. Lift your heart and pull your ribs in.
Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Repeat on opposite side.
Rock climbers are plagued by hunched shoulders and jutting necks. To combat front-side compression, this simple posture opens the chest, shoulders and biceps while creating a gentle twist in the mid-back.
Lie on your stomach with arms at sides.
Extend your left arm so that it’s 90 degrees from your torso, with the palm facing the floor.
Roll onto your left shoulder and left hip.
Rest the side of your head on the floor, facing to the right. Try to keep all five fingers of your left hand touching the floor.
Let your right foot rest on the floor behind the left leg.
Hold for 5-10 breaths and roll out of the posture slowly.
Repeat on opposite side.
Like forward fold with a blanket, this is another posture that opens the back body, hamstrings and calves.
Stand with feet parallel to each other (about hip-width apart).
Fold forward from the hips (not the waist) and bend your knees a lot.
Rest your torso on your thighs and relax the head and neck.
Slide your hands under your feet, palms facing up, and bend your elbows out to the sides.
Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Half upward-facing plank
This posture strengthens the back body and opens the chest and shoulders.
Sit on the floor with legs extended in front of you.
Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor.
Place hands several inches behind your hips, fingers pointing forward, and activate the back by pulling your elbows toward each other.
Press your feet and hands into the floor and lift your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Lift your hips without hardening your glutes (use your abs and back).
Press your shoulder blades against your ribcage to lift your chest and slowly drop your head back without compressing the back of your neck.
Hold for 5 breaths.
This is a variation on half upward-facing plank with extended legs.
From half upward-facing plank:
Extend your legs forward and press your heels and your big toes into the floor.
Hold for 5 breaths.
Pinna Gallant is the owner of Peak Yoga, Dillon’s only dedicated yoga studio. Designed to challenge both the body and the mind, Peak Yoga classes build muscular strength, physical endurance and emotional resilience. Find out more at http://www.peakyogastudio.com.
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