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Climbing Fitness #7: Happy Hips and High Steps

This is the seventh installment of a series on how to stretch and strengthen those climbing muscles. It is brought to you by Ashley Edwards and Kate Evans, co-founders of City Yogis in Toronto.

To enhance climbing performance and prevent injury, it is important that our joints have full range of motion. Range of motion is defined as the full movement potential of a joint. When you move, your joints act like fixed points in your body and your bones act like levers. Your muscles move your bones and body. In order to achieve full range of motion, your muscles need to be in top shape.

Catherine Destivelle on the hip-stretching El Matador on Devil's Tower. Strong and flexible hips are a must for hard stemming routes.  Photo Catherine Destivelle Collection
Catherine Destivelle on the hip-stretching El Matador on Devil’s Tower. Strong and flexible hips are a must for hard stemming routes. Photo Catherine Destivelle Collection

As a climber, your muscles move you up the wall as you do a series of movements, some easy and some very difficult. The very tricky but very crucial high-step is a familiar move to most climbers. Particularly when our reach is limited, we rely on high steps to move our bodies up the wall. The trick of the high-step is keeping our centre body as close to the wall as possible, and therefore requires lengthened hamstrings, flexible groin muscles and the ultimate hip turn out.

Unfortunately, flexibility doesn’t come easy to most of us. We spend hours at our desks, drive or bike to work, sit on transit buses or subways, all the while making our groin and hip muscles tighter. Cross training and strengthening exercises may be adding to hip tightness and stress.

Try these stretches to target key muscle areas to open your hips and help with your high step.

Hamstring Stretch

The hamstring muscles and tendons runs along the back of your legs, connecting your knee to your hips. Tight hamstrings will definitely hinder your ability to high step, making stepping your foot anywhere near your hips seem impossible. To get a great hamstring stretch, and also strengthens your quads, arms and core, try this pose:

Crescent lunge

Begin in downward dog, with your hands shoulder width apart, and feet hip distance apart. As you inhale, lift your right foot and as you exhale, step through your hands, placing your right foot on the inside of your right hand. Ensure your right knee is over your right ankle and not farther. You can lower your left knee here.

Crescent Lunge
Crescent Lunge

On your inhale lift your arms and torso, sweeping your arms overhead, leaving them shoulder distance apart. Exhale, square of your hips forward. Lengthen your lower back and be sure not to over-arch. On your next inhale lift your left leg, and as you exhale push your left heel towards the mat, enjoying a full hamstring stretch. Hold this for five to 10 seconds before moving back to downward dog and repeating on the other side.

Hip Stretch

To accomplish a wide step as a climber, you must be able to outwardly rotate your foot. This movement can be especially hard as the external rotation comes from the muscles in your hip. Along with your gluteal muscles, your deep hip muscles are often tight, and difficult to open. Side angle pose is a great way to gently begin opening your hips. This pose stretches your hips, groin and shoulders and is also a great way to increase balance. It is also a great way to increase your balance and stamina.

Side angle pose

Begin this pose standing at the front of your mat with your feet hip distance apart. Take a deep breath in and on an exhale step your left foot back about a metre and a bit. Inhale and lift your arms out to your sides so they are parallel to the floor, palms facing down. As you exhale turn your right foot out to 90 degrees.

The heel of your right foot should line up with the arch of your left. Inhale and ground your left heel and as you exhale bend your right knee so that it sits over your right ankle. If you are able, attempt to bring your right thigh parallel to the floor; you can work towards this as you build strength and flexibility. Inhale deeply and as you exhale bring the right side of your torso towards your right thigh, bringing your right fingertips to your mat on the outside of your right foot.

Side Angle Pose
Side Angle Pose

Pull your abs in to avoid arching your back. Inhale reaching your arm towards the ceiling, then exhale turning your palm towards your face/floor, reaching your arm overhead. Remember to keep space between your shoulder and ear. If it feels good turn your neck upwards to look at your left arm.

The goal is to lengthen through the entire side of the left body while grounding your left heel and keeping your right hip forward; stretching the groin and hip. Try holding this pose for 20 to 30 seconds before switching to the other side.

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #1: Avoid the Dreaded Hunchback.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #2: Climber’s Elbow.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #3: Rotator Cuff Care.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #4: Love Thy Ankles.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #5: Healthy Fingers.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #6: Pain in the Neck’

– Ashley and Kate will be bringing us regular ‘Climbing Fitness’ pieces. Until the next one, follow them on Instagram @CityYogis.