Yoga for Climbers

By Jessica Malloy | Photos by Danny Alexander

Photos of Jessica Malloy taken at Climb Nulu, 1000 E. Market St. in Louisville 

Whether you’ve been climbing since the 70s or just started yesterday, there is something addictive about the ascent. It is a sport that calls upon muscles in the body you might not have known you had. A solid core, strong upper body, flexibility, and good footwork are key to being a competent climber.

Being a Yogi gives the athlete an edge when it comes to climbing. Body awareness learned on the mat translates well to a vertical plane. Yoga is more than stretching, and climbing is more than pull-ups; the two complement each other and fill in gaps. For example, climbing lacks pushing movements, whereas yoga uses mostly push muscle groups (think pectorals and triceps). In reverse, yoga lacks pulling movements while climbing relies heavily on pull muscle groups (think forearms and lats). Keeping the balance between push and pull muscles maintains posture and prevents long-term injury.

Lean, mobile, and functional muscles are important to conserving energy and climbing smart. The book Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete, by Scott Johnston and Steve House, says it best: “Climbers do not view strength gains as an end in themselves. We don’t get stronger just to be stronger. We gain strength so that we can climb longer, harder routes.”

Below is a list of five yoga poses that can be used to help your practice on the wall or prepare you for the first time you walk into a gym.


Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana) 

Begin standing. Step your right foot forward into a wide lunge. Lift your left heel high so it is ystacked over your left toes. Bend your right knee directly over your right ankle to stack your joints. Sink your hips to the floor and reach your arms up. Hold for 10-20 breaths. Modify by dropping left knee to floor. Repeat on other side.

Benefits: Stabilizes hips, quads, hip flexors,
and hamstrings.

Why: Strong quads and hips prevent “Elvis Leg.” Flexible and strong hip flexors and hamstrings allow for making high steps and reachy leg moves.

Goddess (Utkata Konasana) 

y2From Crescent Lunge, pivot both feet so they are parallel. Take a wide squat and sit low so hips are level with knees. Press your hips forward and knees back. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths. To add more, lift both heels off your mat. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.

Benefits: Opens hips, legs, chest. Strengthens legs, calves, knees.

Why: Strong calves and quads help straighten the leg from a bent position. Stronger legs help conserve upper body energy. Flexible and open hips help keep climber’s center of gravity on the wall.

Chair Pose with Heel Lifts

Begin from standing. Set your feet hip-width apart. Bring hips down low like you are about to sity3 in a chair. Reach your arms up. Tuck your tailbone down and in. Draw your belly in and up. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths. To add more, life both heels off your mat and bring hips lower. Hold 5 to 10 breaths.

Benefits: Strengthens glutes and quads. Chair with heel-lifts strengthen ankles, calves, and feet.

Why: Helps with heels hooks, precise foot placement, high steps, and balancing on small holds. Helps legs have endurance for longer sport climbs and stemming moves.

Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana) 

This pose is a forearm variation of “Downward Facing Dog” (Adho Mukha Svanasana).

y4Begin in forearm plank. Walk your feet in and lift your hips up and back to create an upside-down V. Create space in your shoulders by pressing your forearms down firmly into your mat. Draw your belly button in and up. Soften your knees. Hold for 10-20 breaths.

Benefits: Strengthens arms, shoulder girdle, core.

Why: Climbing with a strong core helps conserve energy and helps keep hips in line with the chest when climbing overhangs. This also stabilizes and isolates the shoulders, and is a strong alternative to Down Dog that gives sensitive hands and wrists a break.

Gorilla (Padahastasana) 

Begin from standing. Set feet hip-width distance. Fold forward. Slide hands underneath feet with palms facing up. Bend your knees as much as needed. Bring hands all the way under youry5 feet so your toes touch your wrist creases. Tilt sits bones up toward the ceiling. To add more, shift your weight into the balls of your feet so you are standing on your hands.

Benefits: Flexible leg muscles help endurance on slab and face climbs. Stretches wrists, forearms, and upper back.

Why: Wrists, forearms, and hands often get worked in climbing. This is a counter-pose for forearm flexors. This also stretches hamstrings and upper back to relieve any tightness. Perfect post-climb stretch.

Interested in climbing or yoga? Try these great places in Kentuckiana:

Climb Nulu, Louisville’s newest bouldering gym. They also have a growing yoga program and yoga studio with various teachers. Climb Nulu, 1000 E. Market St. in Louisville
www.climbnulu.com | 502.540.0072

Inner Spring Yoga, which offers instruction in Hatha, Yin, and Vinyasa for all levels and abilities, as well as an incredible yoga community. Inner Spring Yoga, 137 E. Market St. in New Albany and 335 Spring St. in Jeffersonville | www.isyoga. me | 812.207.2070 (New Albany) and 812.207.2070 (Jeffersonville)

Hoosier Heights, the older sister to Climb Nulu, based in Bloomington. Find quality yoga classes here as well. (There is also a location in Carmel). 5100 S. Rogers St. in Bloomington
www.hoosierheights.com | 812.824.6414 502

Power Yoga, where you can meet a thriving yoga community and incorporate a strong and addictive practice to your off days. 502 Power Yoga, 2210 Dundee Road in Louisville www.502poweryoga.com| 502.208.1012

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