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Why Climbers Need Mobility (And How To Get It)

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As rock climbing has gained popularity, more people have tried it, gotten hooked, and set off on their climbing journey. However, we hit a wall pretty fast that stops our progression. Most climbers either enlist help via technique clinics, a personal trainer for gaining fitness, or purchase a hangboard. What most people of all levels tend to skip is mobility. 

Sometimes the intended movement feels hard not just due to lack of strength, but we lack the ability to move our body in that way and apply force or hold weight. Here are some basic mobilities a climber needs:

  • Mobility in the wrist to utilize mantels.
  • Mobility in the ankles to allow rest on a slab wall, activate a heel hook, aggressive toe-downs on an incline, and step on volumes.
  • Mobility in the hips to stay close to the wall, step on and use high feet, sit in drop knees, activate heel hooks, and shift weight from one foot to the next.
  • Ability to do a forward fold for hand-foot matches in a toe hook, bat hang, or low feet on a slab wall.
  • Mobility in the shoulders because they dictate your ability to do most movements that require rotation; the same can be said for hips. You must be able to push, pull, and keep tension in multi-directional rotation. 

Gaining Wrist Mobility

  • Wrist roll: Make a loose fist and roll your wrists in a circle.

Practice your prayer position, and get better at mantels!
  • Prayer position: Place your palms together with fingers facing up, keep shoulders down, and move hands between your belly and collarbone.
  • Reverse prayer position: Place back of hands together with fingers pointing to the ground, keep shoulders down, and move hands between belly and collarbone. 
  • Surfer salutation: Bring the middle three fingers to your palm, stick out the pinky and thumb like a surfer, rotate wrist in an ulnar and radial direction.
  • Wrist extensions: While sitting, place a forearm on a flat surface at chest height, hold a five-pound weight with your wrist hanging off edge, turn inner wrist to the sky, and flex the wrist towards your body.
  • Wrist flexions: Same position but twist back of wrist to the sky and your wrist towards your body.

Gaining Ankle Mobility

  • Calf lifts and lowers: Stand on a ledge close to the ground (a thick book or yoga block will do). The ball of your feet should be on the edge. Lift up onto your toes then lower your heel as close to the ground as possible. 
  • Ankle circles: Rotate your ankle in a circle in each direction.
  • Ankle flexion: While sitting on the ground, flex your foot toward you and put a band under the ball of your foot to flex further. 
  • Ankle dorsiflexion: Same position, but put the band against the top of your foot to create some resistance (you’ll need to tie it off somewhere opposite of where you’re sitting). 
  • Penguins (ankle jumps): Stand up straight and jump without bending your knees. The goal is to touch the ground as little as possible by pushing off the ground with just the ball of your feet. 

Gaining Hip Mobility

  • Hip circles: Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and rotate hips in a wide circle. Try to keep your shoulders in one place. 
  • Forward leg swings: Swing one leg forward and backward dynamically.
  • Side-to-Side leg swings: Swing one leg side to side across your body while using a wall or pole for balance. 
  • Up and Overs: Stand up straight and lift knee as high as hip, open hip out and bring foot to the ground with control. Lift foot back up and bring knee to front of body and lower foot to the ground. 
  • Forward lunges: Start standing up straight with hands on hips, then lunge forward with control so that the front knee is stacked above the ankle and the leg is bent at 90 degrees. Pull the front hip back and bend the back leg so that the knee can tap the ground. Straighten both legs and push back into a standing position simultaneously. 
  • Frog pose: Start on your hands and knees and spread knees apart. Lower onto your forearms and push hips back until they are parallel to your knees. Keep spreading knees apart until you feel a stretch. The goal over months is to bring your pelvis to the ground in this position. 
  • Knee taps: Sit on the ground with knees bent and feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Rotate one hip so that the inner knee can touch the ground without lifting your foot. Rotate one knee back out and bring the other to the ground. 
  • 90-90 flow: Start in the same position but rotate hips to one side so that both knees touch the ground without lifting your foot. Both legs should be bent at 90 degrees. Slowly rotate the hips the other way so that the other side of the knees touch the ground.

Knee taps help with hip mobility, which in turns helps you with things like keeping your hips close to the wall (crucial for slab climbing).

The Forward Fold

Forward folds are generally tough because of tight hamstrings and glutes, so the best way to reach your toes is by loosening these muscles. Start by rolling out as much tension as you can using a foam roller for at least 10 minutes. 

  • Leg flex: Stand straight and place your foot on a surface knee height. Flex your foot towards you and tighten your quad for eight seconds.

The forward fold is a classic. Do it, and perhaps bat hanging will get easier for you.
  • Leg lifts: In the same position, flex your foot and quad, then lift the leg as high as you can without bending your knee or tilting your pelvis.  
  • Assisted lunges: Stand in front of a workout bench facing away from it and place the top of your foot on it. Stand far enough away so that when you kneel the front knee is stacked over the ankle. Shift your hips back so that the back knee is perpendicular to the floor. Try to hold this position for 30 seconds on each side. 
  • Toe touch progressions: Sit on a yoga block with your legs straight. Keep your back straight while you reach for your toes and lead with your chest.

Gaining Shoulder Mobility

Hanging shoulder shrugs are great for shoulder mobility and warming up.
  • Arm circles: Slowly swing your arms in a circle by focusing on rotating your shoulders and not shrugging your shoulders. 
  • Arm circles with a bar: Repeat the same motion while holding a long brush or broom stick with both hands. The further apart your hands are, the easier the rotation.
  • Single scapular pulls: Attach a band to a pullup bar and pull the end with a bit of resistance using one arm. Align your shoulder exactly in front of the band, twist your inner elbow up to the sky, and pull just the shoulder down toward the ground without bending your elbow. This movement is the opposite of a shoulder shrug and should activate your lat muscle.
  • Double scapular pull: Repeat this motion with both arms, you can loop the band over the bar and pull each end with one arm. Be sure to keep your back straight and core active. Both lats should turn on and pecs should lift as a secondary reaction. 
  • Hanging shoulder shrugs: Hang from a bar and repeat the same motion: twist elbows in and pull shoulders toward the ground by activating the lats. The further down your lats you can activate, the higher you can lift yourself for maximum space between head and shoulders. 

I’s, Y’s, and T’s will not only improve mobility, but also help you strengthen stabilizing muscles.
  • I’s Y’s & T’s: Attach a TRX band to a pull up bar and hold the handles while facing away from it. Keep your lat and core activated. Lift your arms straight up while leaning forward and pull back into a standing position; this is the “I” position. Repeat the same motion but lift your arms out to the side above your head; this is the “Y” position. Repeat the motion one more time but lift your arms out the sides; this is the “T” position. 


Check out Adeline Wright’s IG (@adyclimbs) for mobility challenges. Warning: they’re super hard…


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