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Stretching for Climbing: A Beginner’s Guide

Stretching to improve flexibility in new climbers.

Flexibility is essential to the indoor climber. Though strength and conditioning are always important, flexibility is necessary for climbing hard. For shorter climbers, flexibility is even more important, as it is frequently the thing that most greatly improves a climber’s reach. Whether you are training for crags, competitions, or indoor projects, these are three invaluable stretching techniques.

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Foot @ head . IMG @crossroadstudios

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The Hamstring:

As indoor climbing becomes more involved, flexibility only becomes more important. The mobility derived from flexibility gives the climber more options than they’re less flexible peers. What might have been an exceptionally challenging power-move, can quickly become a foot-first sequence that is unlocked by the climber’s stretchy hamstrings. To ensure that your hamstrings are getting stretched, sit on the floor and extend your hand as far down the length of your legs as possible. Bend at the waist, and ensure that your legs are flat against the ground as you stretch. Hold the position for 15-30 seconds and then slowly release. Repeat this process twice more.

Ashley Galvin stretching the hamstrings with an alternative method

The Hip-flexor:

The hip-flexor is often forgotten until the climber needs to high-step. Though a strong core will also help with high-steps, stretching will reduce the amount of strength required to lift the foot by reducing the muscle’s at-rest tension. There are many stretches that can target the hip-flexor, the kneeling lunge is a good place to begin. Though there is no replacing the front-split, the kneeling lunge is much more accessible. Kneel on your left leg and step forward with your right. Push the hip forward and hold for 15 seconds, rest, and repeat twice more. Do this on both sides.

Straddle splits:

The straddle split is perhaps the most useful stretch for climbing. This due to the nature of regular climbing movement. A climber’s footwork is frequently limited to high-steps and lateral foot-movements. Whether you are bouldering in a 60-degree overhang or leading a vertical wall, being able to use far away feet for stabilization can make the crux of a route significantly easier. The splits are challenging primarily due to the high degree of flexibility required to complete them. Where the hamstring stretch might only take a week or two of dedicated effort before the toes are reached, the splits will likely take more time. Patience is key. To reach the point where saddle splits are easy, begin by splitting your stance so that your legs make an inverted “V”. Bend over and place your hands on the ground. Allow your feet to slide out on either side until you reach your maximum. It is important to push yourself when you stretch, but be careful to avoid overstretching. This stretch should be approached tentatively.

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ONE-TWO YEAR PROGRESS – Skills take time to “master”. Whether it’s strength, flexibility, or body control, it will require consistency, persistence, and patience. In 1-2 years, you can see small progress and changes in your form and ease of movement. You’ll have to work hard and be patient, no doubt – so avoid shortcuts! I know from experience that skipping ahead only takes longer. It’s important to be positive and mindful through this process so you can actually enjoy your training – if you don’t, chances are that you’ll hate it and stop trying. And that doesn’t necessarily mean quitting, it might mean showing up but mindlessly going through the motions. Most skills you’re working up to will be hard for a VERY long time. – Something I tell myself always when I pursue a goal is, “will I want this skill in a year and am I willing to sacrifice a year of effort for this goal?” It’s important to say an outrageous number like 1 year because it might actually take an outrageously long amount of time…1 year actually isn’t that outrageous btw. Fooling yourself to the contrary will only lead to frustration and possibly injury for trying to rush the process. Setting yourself free from unrealistic timelines will slow your rushing process and would probably help you see faster results. – 1. Stay consistent – Skills, whether its strength, flexibility, or body awareness require consistency, persistence, and patience 2. Be mindful – I can tell you by experience that skipping ahead just takes longer 3. Be OK with where you’re at today. Skills will be hard as hell for a VERY long time. – . . . . . #gmbfitness #gmbtrainer #strongfirst #flexiblesteel #bodyweighttraining #bodyweightexercises #martialarts #bodyweightworkout #homeworkout #exerciseathome #calesthenics #crossfit #crossfitgymmastics #flexibility #sidesplits #mobility #mobilitytraining #middlesplits #flexible #stretching #stretches #yoga #notyoga #handstandpushup #handbalancing #onearmpullup #onearmchinup #physicalautonomy #allaroundfitness #physicalfreedom

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Featured photo thanks to Brooke Raboutou