Strength Training to Improve Your Climbing: Lifts I Love (4) – Medicine Ball Leg Lifts


You can start out using an exercise ball as pictured here for these leg lifts, and then switch to a heavier medicine ball as you progress. (Image courtesy of stockimages at

You can start out using a lighter exercise ball as pictured here for these leg lifts, and then switch to a heavier medicine ball as you progress. (Image courtesy of stockimages at

Doing hundreds of crunches isn’t the most effective way to strengthen your core or to get a ripped six-pack – not for climbing, and not in general.

As I mentioned in an earlier Lifts I Love entry, most climbers (and probably most people in general who work out) focus too much attention on the abdominal region and not enough attention on strengthening their lower back concurrently. That being said, it is a good idea to develop and maintain strong abdominal muscles, not just for climbing but for life in general. Balancing opposing muscle groups is always a sound plan for a healthy and functional body.

My favorite abdominal exercise these days is medicine ball leg lifts, performed with the medicine ball clasped between the feet. Check out Medicine Ball Leg Raises – Abs Exercise Guide with Photos for detailed instructions on how to perform this exercise. I generally do not include the switching of the ball to my hands and overhead, as I work these upper body muscles in other exercises using similar motions. Whether you do this portion of the lift is up to you, taking the rest of your lifting program into consideration. Be careful not to drop the ball on your face!

There are lots of other effective abdominal and core-strengthening exercises out there besides this one, including certain yoga poses, in addition to more standard crunches and hanging abs exercises (using a bar and doing knee lifts, for example). I suggest that whatever abdominal strengthening work you decide to include in your training program, perform the exercises at a level of intensity that isn’t aimed at endurance (i.e. hundreds of repetitions), but at a more strength-training level of repetitions, so that you’re working hard to do 10 or fewer reps per set. Complement every ab-focused exercise that you do with a lower-back (opposing-muscle) exercise. Strive for balance in your core-strengthening efforts.

Strength Training to Improve Your Climbing: Lifts I Love (3) – Bench Press

Stay balanced and help prevent injuries by keeping opposing muscle groups strong.

Stay balanced and help prevent injuries by keeping opposing muscle groups strong.

What does bench pressing have to do with rock climbing movements?

Like all opposition lifts, bench presses and related exercises (like push-ups and Chaturangas), can play a balancing and supportive role in a climber’s training program. Weak opposition muscles are a common occurrence in climbers, contributing to the classic climber hunchback posture and a concurrent decrease in ape index (reach). By strengthening these often overlooked and undertrained muscles, climbers can potentially regain lost inches of reach, as well as possibly improving their ability to develop more strength in the prime movers used in climbing. Weak opposition muscles can potentially inhibit strength gains in prime movers. Training opposition muscle groups (while also stretching tight areas routinely) can also help correct muscle imbalances, reducing the risk of injury to both prime movers and opposition muscles.

Don’t believe me?

Check out Training Opposing Muscles Groups and Opposing Muscles: What Are They?

The bench press is a fantastic compound lift for climbers, targeting several different opposing muscles – the pectorals (chest muscles), the anterior deltoids (muscles on the front of the shoulders), and the triceps (muscles on the backs of the arms). None of these muscles get used to the same extent in climbing as their opposition muscles (lats, biceps, trapezius/rhomboids), which is why it’s so important to strengthen them, and then to maintain that strength and balance via training efforts.

Unless you can only do eight or fewer push-ups per set (or Chaturangas, for that matter), consider adding in bench presses to your training regimen. The rules of strength training apply to opposition exercises too, meaning that you want to work your opposition muscles similarly to your prime movers for an ideal body in balance. Ripping off sets of 20 or 30 push-ups is better than nothing, but you’d be better off doing two or three sets of bench presses with heavier weights to try to develop and maintain some actual strength in these muscles. One nice thing about true strength training is that you don’t have to do tens or hundreds of repetitions per set to make or keep gains – two to four sets of four to eight reps (depending on time of year and where you are in your overall time spent training) once or twice a week (or even every other week) usually suffices.

Learn how to bench press: Dumbbell Bench Press


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

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