BALANCE TRAINING 
for CLIMBING
"Forward lame foot!ÖWhat are you doing between the towers? The tower is where you belong. You ought to be locked up; you block the way for one better than yourself" Ė Said the dwarf to the tightrope artist ĖThus Spoke Zarathustra - Nietzsche

For climbers, an unusually high sense of balance is necessary to climb efficiently. Not all climbers have optimized their ability to be in balance. For instance, balance can decline for people over the age of 25. Balance can be restored or trained to a higher level with a minimal amount of work.

A number of years ago, it was common for climbers to incorporate balance exercises into their routine. These exercises included walking on slack chains and balancing on wobble boards. More recently, I have not seen much many climbers practice these skills. The climbers that I talk to feel that they train balance by climbing and through other sports such as skateboarding and snow boarding. I believe that optimizing balance through specific exercises can help many climbers to improve their climbing. These exercises are not time-consuming nor are they very tiring and they can be scheduled between power sets or climbs without adding time onto the overall workout. They can also be done most anywhere if you have a few minutes. They donít make you sweat and they donít require a change of clothes. However they do look kind of stupid so if you are around others, you may want to do them later when no one is around.

Balance is controlled through the interplay of three systems; vision, inner ear and proprioceptors. Proprioceptors are sensory receptors found in the muscle that are sensitive to stretching, tension and pressure in the muscle. Balance exercises work largely the proprioceptors. In climbing movement, proprioceptors in the lower leg, ankles and feet need to be trained. It is important to make the exercises specific to climbing. They should mimic the movements in real climbing situations. At first you will feel wobbly, especially in the feet and ankles and possibly will feel fatigue in the small muscles of the ankles and feet as these muscles are not used that much.

Exercises:

For these exercises, the abdomen should be flexed a little. This is where your Center of Gravity is. Good posture is important, as you will not hold balance without it. Be sure to breathe regularly. Look ahead. Keep your mind quiet, concentrate, no self-talk. Try visualizing different images such as a rigid pole through your body that is supporting you.

Stand on one leg with your hands behind your back or by your side. Try not to use your arms to balance your self. With slow movements, reach out in all directions (laterally, forward, and backward) with your other leg. Also try making rotational movements with the leg. Try squatting down slowly balanced on one leg. Slowly stand on your toes with you planted foot. Stop movement occasionally and pose in different stances, particularly climbing stances. Slowly rock back and forth from heel to toe while in stances. Try swaying your body gently while in these positions. Later when you feel more stable, incorporate hand movements. Be creative and try different positions and movement.

In a normal standing position, make various head movements; look up and down, side to side and forward and back. Focus on an object at end of each movement. If you feel dizzy, donít worry, it will go away after a little continued training. These movements will help to train the visual and inner ear systems.

At first these exercises will probably feel difficult but improvement should be quick. Do the exercises that you are able to do and when they feel easier move onto another. Be imaginative, these exercises are only a base from which to start. Vary them and make a session more of an exploration than a regimen.

In my own session, I take on the frontal frog position common to face climbing and move slowly through common climbing positions. I try to focus my weight over my toes, particularly my dominant toe, just like on a climb.

After a while, try doing some of the exercises with your eyes closed. This is an important step since closing the eyes effectively shuts off one of the bodies balance systems, the visual system. The other two systems will develop to a higher degree so as to compensate for the turned off system.

Repeat these exercises wearing a back pack. Climbing with a pack is difficult, partially because our balance is thrown off and also because it is heavy.

Signs of improvement will probably be seen in about 4 weeks of 20-minute sessions done about 3 times per week. Later when improvement is made, props such as a basketball, wobble board and/or a slack chain can be used to do the same exercises. This is not essential but can make the sessions more interesting.

Disciplines such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Martial Arts emphasize slow body movements and are excellent for improving balance. Piliates exercises are useful to improve balance. Slab climbing can also help to develop balance.

Donít expect to jump from 5.10 to 5.13 after trying these exercises. However some improvement should occur. More stability will be felt when standing on footholds on face routes. If you cannot stand on the ground in climbing position without wobbling, you are not doing it on a climb effectively. To compensate, you are probably gripping handholds harder than necessary to solidify your position and fatiguing prematurely. With better balance you should be able to ease back on the handholds that climbers with poor balance grip tighter to maintain their balance. This should serve to conserve energy.

Bob Bennell
May 10, 2000

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