A Stronger Climber’s Core in 20 Minutes

sahsa core

You better believe she’s got a core of steel (Photo from Sasha’s Facebook page)

Sure, a strong upper body and all-around flexibility will make you a better climber, but what ties all of that strength and flexibility together is a strong core. To be clear, I’m not just talking about having strong abs. In climbing, we really don’t use our abs in isolation, so while doing crunches might give you a sweet beach-bod, it won’t do a whole lot for your climbing. Your abdominal muscles are part of your core, but as a climber it’s best to strengthen your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen simultaneously. That’s why each Thursday at our weekly ladies climbing night we do a core circuit that leaves us feeling totally spent and satisfied knowing that we’re becoming stronger climbers because of it. We’ve taken our cues from climbing coaches and trainers (especially Steve Bechtel) and other core-intensive sports (read: several of us are ex-gymnasts) to create a 20-minute circuit that can be done with a group of friends or when you’re flying solo. We recommend doing the circuit twice a week, and if you’re on a periodized training program work it into your power or power endurance phase. Now let’s get to the details:

Each of the 4 exercises below is done for 1 minute, then you will have 1 minute of rest (5 minutes total so far). You repeat the circuit four times, for a total of just 20 minutes.

1. Knees to Elbows – Hang with legs extended straight down from a pull-up bar, hangboard, rock rings, etc. Lift your knees to your elbows. Control yourself as you lower back into an extended position. Modification to decrease difficulty: Bring your knees to your chest or stomach instead of elbows.

2. Resist the Twist – Attach a resistance tube or band to the wall or door handle. Stand sideways relative to the band, feet hips-width apart. Pull the band in front of you with straight arms, and keep your hips squared. Your hands should be centered relative to your body. To increase the difficulty move further from the wall or door. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.

cate resist

3. Ball Jackknife – Begin in a straight-arm push-up position with your shins on an exercise ball. Keeping your back straight, pull the ball toward you by bending your knees toward your chest. Straighten your legs back to a push-up position. Repeat. Modification to increase or decrease difficulty: Moving the ball toward your feet will make it more difficult and moving it toward your knees will make it less difficult.

knife1 knife2

4. Russian Twist – Sit on the ground with knees bent and lean back so that your feet come about six inches off the ground. Twist side-to-side quickly, touching the ground on either side of you. As you do this motion, don’t round or arc the spine, try to keep it relatively straight so you don’t hurt your low back. Modification to increase difficulty: Hold a weight or medicine ball as you twist. Modification to decrease difficulty: Put your feet down on the floor (knees still bent).

twist1 twist2

What if you don’t have a pull-up bar or an injury prevents you from doing one of the exercises in the circuit? Well, you’re not getting off the hook that easily. Here are a few alternatives that you can mix into your circuit:

Side Plank – Start lying on your side and prop yourself up on one arm with your hand in line with your shoulder. Extend your legs stacking your feet on top of one another. Hold for 30 seconds on each side or if you want to get 2 rounds out of this exercise hold for 1 minute on each side. Modification for sensitive shoulders or wrists: Stabilize yourself on your forearm instead of your hand.


Plank Hold – Essentially hold a push-up position on your forearms. Modification to target oblique muscles: Twist hips from side-to-side, almost touching the side of your hip to the ground each time.


There you have it – A stronger climber core in just 20 minutes… done at least twice a week consistently, of course! Try it out and let us know what you think!

Climb on!

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7 thoughts on “A Stronger Climber’s Core in 20 Minutes

  1. Woo, strong and fit, ladies! This was a great reminder to put in the extra effort….you can’t improve your climbing skills without a little sweat. Thanks!

  2. Josh says:

    Core strength came so natural to me in years past. And I have been able to maintain most of my six-pack… visually. But it amazes me how easy it is to lose the functional strength. Just today I humbled my self with how weak I felt on the little bit of abs I did.

    Great post. Message received!

    (sorry, I’m a dude, but I still get a ton from your site)

    • Mary says:

      Hey Josh!
      Glad we inspired you to workout your core. And no apologies necessary – We’re psyched that guys read our site too!

  3. Bennett says:

    I’ve recently been trying to get back into climbing and I’m amazed at how much harder it is in general since I haven’t been doing core exercises. Good regimen.

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