Strength Training to Improve Your Climbing: Lifts I Love (5) – Cable One-Arm Triceps Extension

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo Photography.

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo Photography.

Are you shorter than the average climber?

Struggle with mantling?

Have difficulty taking holds down past your shoulders?

If you answered yes to one or all of the above, consider adding this exercise or something similar to your (complete!) sport-specific strength-training program.

I love this lift because it has helped me tremendously in situations where I can’t quite make the reach in my pull-up range of motion, meaning I can bring the hold in question down to shoulder level, but I am still short of reaching the next hold. Having an increased ability to turn the pull into a press can be all the difference in the world in making or not making a move.

And while it’s indisputably true that it’s nice to have more reach much of the time in climbing, being stronger in this “turnover area” from pulling to pressing can help mitigate shorter climbers’ reach issues in many circumstances. In other words, the shorter you are (and the harder you climb), the more likely it is that you will see results from this lift in your climbing.

Case in point – a few years ago, I was walking some other climbers through a bunch of strength exercises, this one included. My 6’4” friend was horrified to discover how relatively “weak” he was in this motion, but it made complete sense to me – he hadn’t really needed to develop this ability for where he was in his climbing at the time. In other words, being able to press holds out wasn’t really holding him back yet.

As anyone improves their climbing ability up to a higher level, this strength development will become more and more helpful, no matter how tall the climber. There will be times when pressing a hold down farther will be key, even if you’re tall. Since one of the big ways in which climbs get harder is that the holds get farther apart, it’s a useful sport-specific strength to develop, even if you are 6’4”.

But if you’re 5’0” (or even 5’6”, like me), you’ll probably find it much more useful much earlier in your climbing development, enabling you to surmount more and more “reachy” moves with greater ease than those climbers of a similar stature who chose not to work on putting some strength work into their triceps.

Learn how to do it here: Cable One Arm Tricep Extension. For climbers, I recommend doing this with your palm facing down (pronated). This replicates the movement used in climbing more accurately.

The Fitness of Playing: Making Exercise (More) Fun May Be a Key to Keeping Yourself Doing It

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Too many people find it difficult to exercise often enough to stay fit and healthy. The reasons for this are complex, for sure. But I’ve come to believe that one big barrier to exercising regularly for many people is the fact that they simply haven’t found any physical activity that resonates with them enough to make it fun, or at least fun enough to want to continue.

We, as humans, love to have fun. Laughter and playfulness can help make physical activity fun and engaging, drawing a person to return to the activity in question again and again – not because they think they “should” in order to stay fit, but because they actually enjoy the activity and look forward to doing it…or look forward to how great they feel after doing it, as the case may be.

This is one of the lost concepts in fitness plans and programs and ideas for too many people, creating an obstacle to health and fitness. There’s a sense of exercising being a blah, icky, necessary evil that people have to endure if they don’t want to end up overweight or out of shape or both.

It’s true – exercise plans can indeed be boring and distasteful. Also true is that what one person loves and savors and find works wonders for them and lights their inner fire may draw an exactly opposite response from another person.

It’s so common for each of us as individuals to assume that everyone else wants what we want and thinks how we think and will experience what we experience in the same way with the same reaction. We also take comfort in numbers, so having others affirm that our choice is indeed the route to fun and enjoyment makes us feel happy and secure, and there’s nothing wrong with that – unless we find ourselves pressuring those who maybe don’t have the same response or reaction even harder to do what we do, making them feel bad or guilty that they’re not having the same enjoyable experience (which almost inevitably will push them even farther away from trying that particular form of exercise, or possibly any form of exercise).

One of the most important things for each person to work out for him or herself is to find a way to bring playfulness, joy and fun into his or her exercise plan or program. I’m not saying that this will be easy; it can take time to find a physical activity that is actually enjoyable. If a person is really out of shape, almost any activity may be uncomfortable, but still – figuring out a way to make it fun and to involve some laughter and lightheartedness can help make it seem less repugnant.

How do you make exercise fun? Try the following approaches:

  • When kids play, they don’t necessarily have to have a “point” to the play – nor do they have to have a time limit that makes it valid and worthwhile. Remember that 5 minutes of walking is better than doing nothing at all – or a few cat-cows, or pushups, or crunches, etc. It all adds up. Make it a game to see how many small chunks of time you can exercise throughout the day, if that helps you get more movement in;
  • Keep it lighthearted and don’t take it too seriously – if you don’t reach your goal for a particular workout on a particular day (in terms of time, distance, length, weight lifted, skill learned/mastered, etc.), let it go, and just be happy and pleased that you made the time for yourself to play at all;
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new, to look uncoordinated and silly doing it, and to laugh when you don’t – or do – succeed. When I teach yoga, it fills me with joy when students get caught up in the moment of trying a challenging pose or sequence, whether they giggle at not quite getting it or beam with joy when they finally do get it. This is exactly what I’m talking about – forgetting all of the “stuff” that awaits outside of the yoga practice, and just being present and playful in the moment;
  • Exercise with others, and make it an enjoyable social occasion as well as a chance to improve your fitness. You can have an exercise buddy (or two or three) with whom you meet up to exercise a few times a week; you can work out at a gym or sign up for a class; you can join a dance or yoga or martial arts class; you can get involved in an outdoor activity that is inherently social (rock climbing and bouldering certainly are!); whatever you choose, having other people involved can help add an element of fun and joy, even if you’re working your body hard;
  • Add some music that makes you happy, lively, and focused – music makes us move and can add pep and vigor, helping you kickstart and potentially prolong your efforts at moving;
  • Don’t give up right away if you can’t find something that you enjoy; take your time and try lots of exercises and approaches – perhaps you’ll cycle through a whole variety of different activities in search of something that motivates and inspires you, and perhaps something that doesn’t light your fire at first will gradually come to be something you feel you can’t live without. Whatever the case, don’t give up – and again, remember that doing something active, even for 5 minutes at a time, is better than no exercise at all.

Turning physical activity into something that you look forward to, that isn’t a tummy-turning chore that you must endure, can help make for a much more healthy and happy relationship with exercise and fitness. You may find yourself actually looking forward to your workouts instead of finding excuses as to why you’re too busy or too tired after work to make it happen.

For more tips on how to incorporate exercise into your life as a mainstay, check out How to Kick Start Your Workouts & Recommit to Fitness and The Long & The Short of It: How Little Time You Really Need to Make Improved Fitness Your Reality.

Move of the Month 14: Dynamic Movement and Momentum

Using dynamic movement to swing out to hit a hold on this steep boulder problem.

Using dynamic movement to swing out to hit a hold on this steep boulder problem.

I used to hate dynos.

I liked the feeling of static control in my climbing – letting go of the rock was not something that was fun for me, and I just didn’t get the delight some other climbers took in leaping for the next hold, feet flying.

Now, I’d say that I like dynos, though I’m certainly not very good at them and probably never will be. That is okay – the fact that I actually enjoy them suffices.

Learning to utilize dynamic movement and momentum to your advantage in climbing can help you make moves easier, even if dynoing or moving dynamically seems harder to you right now. Taking the time to try to train yourself in this area might make a huge difference in your climbing ability. Rather than try to pick your way through an energy-sapping, strength-draining sequence using a whole bunch of moves and holds that other climbers bypass, what if you could just do the bigger move and be done with it?

That realization exactly is what pushed me into working to improve my ability to move dynamically (hint: getting stronger throughout my whole body via strength training helped me here, too; a few years back I also actually just worked on jumping straight up in the air off one foot and both feet for a few months to get myself used to jumping again, since it wasn’t something I did much of anymore). The result is that now, I always try to make the “standard dynamic beta” work for me (in other words, what I see most climbers do for a certain move or sequence), rather than try desperately to find a way through without using dynamic movement/momentum.

One of the best ways to visualize how to use momentum in climbing is to picture how kids swing across monkey bars – each time they want to move a hand forward, they’ll swing the body backward to generate momentum, and then use this momentum to propel the leading hand forward to the next bar. In climbing, though the movements tend to be more complex, the general concept is the same. If you’re moving dynamically toward a hold, it’s often smartest and most efficient to swing your body weight down and away from the hold you’re wishing to get to, generating propulsion toward the hold as your body swings in the exact opposite direction from the hold you’re headed toward.

Even more complex for many of us to learn, but just as effective, is linking a series of movements together with momentum, instead of stopping each climbing move before starting the next. Think about how uncoordinated and jerky a gymnast’s floor routine or a prima ballerina’s solo performance would appear if she did not link the movements and use the momentum from each previous movement to help propel the next movement. Similarly in climbing, it’s often more efficient and less sapping to harness the momentum generated from the previous move to drive you into the next move, and the next move, and the next move – until you hit a resting point, or a place where you do need to stop and set up for a specific move that doesn’t benefit from being driven by momentum from previous moves.

For specific dynos, one of the biggest things that helped me and still helps me to this day is to remember to push with my feet (and obviously my legs) – to remind myself that my legs are the coiled springs of energy that are driving me to the next holds, leaping off of the take-off holds with enough force to get my hand or hands to the target hold. Taking the attention away from my upper body and learning to really use my legs to drive this movement may seem obvious, but consciously reminding myself to do this over and over again definitely assisted me in learning to dyno more effectively.

For linked momentum-type movements, I have found that learning to be more relaxed through my body and letting the swings carry me just as I did as a little girl on the monkey bars – channeling that same sense of fluid movement – helped me get more comfortable with being less static. Note that being less static doesn’t necessary mean less in control – you can be very controlled with dynos and momentum, both. They’re not necessarily sloppy climbing techniques at all, though they certainly can be if you don’t use them with precision.

The sooner you can embrace dynamic movement and momentum as options in your sport climbing and bouldering repertoire, the better. Developing a higher level of comfort with this type of movement opens up a world of awesome climbing and bouldering moves that will otherwise remain partially or even totally unavailable.

Climber. Writer. Climbing Coach/Trainer. Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200). ACTION Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Avid Lifelong Learner.

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