Rock climbing is undoubtedly one of the most intense and physically-demanding activities one can engage in. You’re going to rely heavily on your strength to hoist your body up a wall or a crag, and you can be sure that every move will require every bit of power that your rock climbing muscles can muster. But exactly what are the muscles used in rock climbing? The following paragraphs list the answers so you can start targeting them in your next workout routine.
When you’re climbing up a rock or a wall, most of your body weight will be carried by your hands and fingers. This is especially true when you’re gripping and clambering up one climbing hold after another, or while executing a roof climbing technique called “campusing” where your feet and the rest of your body are dangling freely in the air.
Because of the role they play many climbers, from novice to advance, devote a significant amount of time to developing their forearm muscles and grip strength. This is why experienced and professional climbers can easily grab some awkward climbing holds well even if they don’t use that much climbing chalk.
The forearm muscles are composed of different individual muscles like the flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor carpi radialis, and others. All of these individual muscles work in harmony to allow you to flex your fingers and give them the strength to grab and grip climbing holds.
Needless to say, underdeveloped forearm muscles are prone to quickly fatigued. Long and strenuous climbs will leave them feeling tight and weak, and it will only be a matter of time before you either take a break to rest your forearms or stop climbing.
There are plenty of forearms and finger strengthening exercises that you can do to develop and strengthen these very important rock climbing muscles like farmer’s carry, forearm flexions, and using grip strengtheners. You’re going to need to do such exercises because you normally wouldn’t be able to target them while doing conventional exercises.
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
The latissimus dorsi (or ‘lats’ for short) are one of the main muscles used in rock climbing. These large, wing-shaped muscles are located on the sides of the back and stretch to the humerus. The lats are engaged every time you extend your shoulders and pull your upraised arms down towards your body. So basically, every time you pull yourself up you rely on your lats as one of the main muscles to hoist your body up. While your lats are doing the majority of the work, the other muscles in your back like the trapezius, rhomboids, and others are also engaged.
Climbers can do a lot of exercises to develop their back muscles. For instance, doing pull-ups or chin-ups is a surefire way to train and develop the lats and other back muscles. These exercises can also be done with various grips and hand positions during resistance training. Keep in mind that a strong and well-developed latissimus dorsi is important for rock climbing and deserve just as much training as the forearm muscles.
The biceps brachii or simply ‘biceps’ are also used extensively while rock climbing. Located on the front of your upper arms just between your shoulders and your elbows, the biceps are responsible for flexing or bending the forearms at the elbow. That said, they work in coordination with your lats when pulling your body upwards while climbing.
While rock climbing your biceps will be put under a significant amount of stress as you use them to pull yourself up. They are especially important when tackling steep routes and overhangs or other similar types of climbing holds. Because of their relatively small size, they will start to fatigue rather quickly compared to other rock climbing muscles. This is why you’ll need to add exercises that will develop strength and endurance in your biceps on your workout routine. Otherwise, your biceps will be prone to early fatigue and soreness while climbing.
Your abdominal muscles play an important role in rock climbing since they work to stabilize your body and weight to maintain body tension. Body tension is essential especially when you start climbing steeper routes and walls.
The abdominal muscles consist of several individual muscles namely, Musculus rectus abdominis, Obligus externus abdominis, Musculus transversus abdominis, and others. All of these work in harmony with each other and with the rest of the muscles in your body while climbing.
Your quadriceps (the muscles in front of your thighs) and inner thighs also play an important role in rock climbing. They become even more crucial when dealing with longer routes where you’ll probably be on your feet for a while. Plus, you’re going to need your leg muscles while executing certain moves like bicycles, heel-hooks, and others.
Because of their importance, it is imperative to train and develop their leg muscles. Although climbing itself provides a good exercise for the legs, climbers are advised to do leg workouts with resistance and weight training. Basic leg exercises like squats, lunges, and others will help a lot in improving the strength and endurance of your legs. These exercises also improve flexibility and workout the hips, which you’re going to rely on when throwing moves that involve the legs.
The calf muscles are vital to rock climbing since they are flexor muscles and are mostly responsible for the bending of the foot. While walking, running, or jumping the calf muscles are responsible for pulling the heel up. There are two major calf muscles namely the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The gastrocnemius is the larger muscle and the one that you see bulging underneath the skin. It is composed of two parts or ‘heads’ and gives the muscles its diamond shape. On the other hand, the soleus is the smaller muscle. Unlike the gastrocnemius which has a bulging shape, the soleus is a flat muscle. Also, you won’t be able to see them because they lie underneath the gastrocnemius muscle. Both gastrocnemius and soleus taper and merge at the base of the whole calf muscle.
Climbers will be using their calf muscles a lot while climbing, probably just as much as their other rock climbing muscles in their upper body. They will be spending a lot of time balancing on footholds. Most of the time, they will be using their toes while doing so, especially when it comes to really small footholds. Needless to say, if you have weak calves you will begin to shake with fatigue rather easily.
There is an exercise you can do to strengthen your calf muscles as calf raises, jump squats, and others. Conventional exercises like walking and running also work. Having strong calves paired with the right rock climbing shoes will allow you to toe-in and stay balanced on even the trickiest footholds.
Lesser Used Muscles
By simply looking at climbers making their ways up a wall or a crag, you’d immediately see that rock climbing is a whole-body exercise. And although it does require every fiber of muscle in your body to work, there are some muscles used in rock climbing that gets worked out more (such as the ones listed above) than others.
For example, the chest muscles are one of the largest muscles in the body and one would normally think that they would be used a lot in rock climbing. However, that is not the case. They are one of the least used muscles in the said sport. This is because the chest muscles are generally used for pushing. Very rarely do climbers use the pushing motion while climbing, as opposed to the pulling motion which is utilized most and sometimes all of the time.
Other muscles used in rock climbing that receive less strain are the triceps and the rhomboids. The triceps are responsible for extending or straightening the arm and provides power for pushing. Although arm movements in rock climbing involve a lot of straightening, it isn’t as strenuous as when you’re bending and pulling your arms towards your body as you go up.
The rhomboids, although associated with pulling are generally for pulling up or lifting things. They become insignificant in rock climbing where climbers will be pulling the climbing down to hoist themselves up.
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Knowing which muscles are used in rock climbing can help you to better plan your workout routines. Armed with this knowledge you can target specific muscle groups when training for rock climbing and lifting weights at the gym. Just don’t forget to add some antagonistic training for climbers in your routine. You still need to exercise those lesser-used rock climbing muscles for your overall physical development.