Conditioning and agility are the foundations of a successful climb. Whether you're heading up a wall in the gym or a rock face in your local mountain range, you'll need equal measures of balance, speed, strength and coordination to reach the summit. That adds up to agility for moves in multiple directions at a variable pace using different muscles for lifting, pushing, stabilizing and braking. Focus your fitness routine on agility to elevate your climbing performance.
Climbing requires upper-body strength for clinging to handholds and pulling yourself up steep inclines. But the uneven terrain of a cliff or mountain and the random placement of toeholds on climbing walls call for quick, sure moves. Frequent weight shifts and changes in direction mean lots of lower-body work. Develop speed with sprinting and explosiveness with plyometrics. Build balance with kicks and yoga, and fast reaction time with open agility drills in which you respond to unexpected commands to shift direction or activities.
Up to Speed
Speed drills improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance while they increase fast-twitch muscle fiber. Sprinting works on fast start times for quick acceleration. Boosting stride length and rate increases pace. Longer sprints train you to exert maximum effort for challenging climbs. Try sprints every other day in your fitness program and extend their length to build power and speed. Use intervals and circuits for intense agility training. Intervals are a mix of slow and fast running -- sprints alternating with moderate-pace jogs. Circuits are a continuous stretch of changing exercises -- squats, leg presses, seated rows, calf presses, V situps and other moves -- to target different muscles while keeping your heart rate up.
Explode Up and Ease Down
Plyometrics, cones and ladder drills boost agility by maximizing power and speed. Plyometric exercises use rapid muscle lengthening and shortening contractions to condition for explosive power. Leg plyometrics include hopping, bounding, hurdles and jumping on and off boxes. Use a flat-on-the-ground agility ladder for stepping in and out of rungs; jumping up and turning as you land between rungs; and high-stepping rapidly up and down the length of the ladder. Place cones at intervals and zig-zag through them at a sprint to practice quick direction change and weight shifting. Yoga poses improve muscle performance so you last to the end of the climb. Warrior 1 strengthens hip flexors, quads and hamstrings for high step-ups and wide side-steps. Bridge builds strong glutes, spine and hip flexors to help you lift your legs, bend your torso and dig your heels in. Mountain pose is a steadying and stabilizing postural alignment that prepares you to launch into more active twists and turns in your ascents and descents.
Move your feet for nimble climbing. You don't need special equipment to improve agility, but you do need focus. Practice side shuffling and backpedaling in your spare moments to train muscles for multidirectional quick response. Add cariocas for complexity -- coordinate high-stepping crossovers and synchronized arm movements as you travel to one side without stopping and then reverse. Jump rope, increasing the challenge with tricky variations such as running in place, one-leg double-unders and crisscross as you gain competence. Try a timed obstacle course to engage your whole body in fast, unrehearsed moves. And include mountain climbers in your workouts. Mountain climbers work your upper and lower body in a climbing simulation as you balance on extended arms with legs in lunge position and "hop" both feet off the ground, switching them in midair for nonstop repetitions.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .