Rock climbing is one of the few activities we do that comes as close to a full-body workout as you can get. The muscles you use to power yourself up – and stay on – the wall can really take a pounding, making yoga for rock climbing a much-needed addition to your routine.
Yoga and rock climbing actually have a lot in common: they both help you develop agility and encourage a broader range of motion in your hips and shoulders through dynamic movement, and both require a great degree of mental focus and balance. Many rock climbers swear by yoga and practise it on their rest days while some devotees of yoga argue its focus on balance and flexibility can only make you a stronger climber.
In truth, the best way to get better at and train for climbing is to do more climbing (this is called the principle of specificity). But the more climbing you do, the more likely you are to feel sore and stiff in your wrists and lats from all that pulling, your glutes, quads and calves from pushing yourself up, not to mention your feet from being jammed in your climbing shoes all day long.
To help you recover faster and get back on the wall quicker, we’ve put together this short sequence that you can practice after a day of climbing or on a rest day to relieve sore muscles and wind down – the degree of focus climbing requires can tire your mind out too. You might also be interested in our yoga for hiking sequence for when you’ve spent the day on the hill and our yoga stretches for runners sequence.
This yoga for rock climbing sequence doesn’t require any props, but it’s always helpful to have a blanket or a towel nearby for padding.
1. Prone pose (1 - 5 minutes)
It doesn’t look like much, but starting out in Prone Pose is a great way to unwind your mind and rest your body in a neutral position after your gymnastics on the wall. Come to lying on your abdomen, make a pillow by stacking your hands one on top of the other, and rest your forehead on your hands. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, letting your whole body – especially your jaw, abdominals and glutes – relax completely.
2. Starfish (1-2 minutes each side)
Your biceps get a particularly good workout pulling yourself up the wall and they’re not particularly easy muscles to stretch, but this pose gets pretty close and also targets your chest by stretching your pectoral muscles which connect your upper arm to your chest.
Stretch your right arm straight out to the side, palm facing down, so your hand is more or less in line with your shoulder. Keep your arm there, place your right cheek on the floor, then press into your left hand to roll gently onto your right side. Don't worry if you won’t get very far. Try to relax your jaw here and don’t hold your breath. Rest on your abdomen again for a couple of breaths before changing sides.
3. Wrist stretch (1 minute)
All that clinging to tiny holds as you keep your weight pinned against the wall can leave your wrists aching at the end of the day and this intense stretch can be just what you need.
Press yourself up to your hands and knees then spin your hands around so that your palms are still down, but your finger tips are pointing back towards your knees (your thumbs will be pointing out towards three and nine o’clock in this position). Lean backwards a little to increase the sensation and forwards to lessen it. Try not to grit your teeth or hold your breath here.
4. Toes pose (1-2 minutes)
This is another intense stretch that does a climber’s feet good after being stuffed into tight-fitting climbing shoes and gripping to tiny footholds, and you can shake your wrists out while you do it.
Tuck your toes under and slowly sit back on your heels. If your knees object, you can keep your weight a little forward and your hands on the ground, gently pushing into your hands to stretch your feet. If you’re able to, you can sit back on your heels and let your weight descend down to increase the stretch. Your feet probably won’t thank you at the time but they will afterwards. Don’t forget to breathe!
5. Thunderbolt (1-2 minutes)
After toes pose, the best thing you can do is stretch your ankles in the opposite direction, and this pose has the added benefit of stretching your quads a little too. Untuck your toes and sit back on your heels. If your knees need help, place a folded blanket or towel in between your hamstrings and calves to create a little more space for your knee joints. To increase the stretch on the front of your ankles, you can lean back a little and even lift your knees up slightly.
6. Downward dog (1-2 minutes)
It's the quintessential yoga pose, but we’re including downward dog because it’s a fantastic way to stretch your calves. Climbing makes you spend a lot of time balancing up on your tiptoes which is a mighty calf workout.
Come on to your hands and knees again but instead of starting with your hands under your shoulders, move them about one hand print forward. Curl your toes under then lift your knees up and start to lift your hips up toward the ceiling making an upside down V shape with your body. Push your hands forward and down and lift your sitting bones up and back in the opposite direction from your hands. Bend your right knee a little and straighten your left leg, sinking your heel down towards the ground (it doesn't have to touch!). After a couple of breaths here, change sides, then alternate a few more times.
7. Hand to foot pose (1-2 minutes)
This pose gives your wrists another good stretch, in the opposite direction this time, and also stretches out your back muscles which work the hardest when you’re climbing.
From downward dog, walk your feet to your hands to move into a standing forward bend. You can bend your knees any amount here. Carefully slide your hands, palms facing up, underneath your feet so that your toes are on the heels of your hands. Relax your neck and use your toes to apply gentle pressure to your hands here, kind of like you're playing piano with your toes. You can also pin your hand down with your foot and gently try to pull your hand up to increase the stretch.
8. Side bend (30 seconds each side)
Your lats are the big muscles that connect your arms to your spine and they do a lot of work as you pull yourself up which is why you might feel sore under your armpits after climbing.
We’re not often great about stretching these muscles but a simple standing side bend can go a long way. Release your hands from under your feet and inhale as you stand up and reach your arms up overhead. Clasp your hands together, push your feet down and reach up and over to the right side until you feel a nice stretch down the left side of your body. Hold for a few breaths without straining your spine, then change sides.
9. Low lunge (1-2 minutes each side)
The quads on the front of your thighs can be quivering by the end of a multi-pitch climb while your hip flexor muscles at the front of your hips take a lot of the work of find good foot holds and refining your heel hooks.
After your side bend, bend your knees any amount and bow forward again to bring your fingertips to the ground. Step your left foot back to a lunge and bring your left knee down. Slide your left knee back so you have room for your hips to sink forward and down and little and you start to feel a stretch on the front of your left hip and thigh. You can keep your fingertips down on the ground or bring your palms up to your low back to aid the stretch. When you feel ready, step your left foot forward to your hands and step your right foot back to change sides.
10. Reclining pigeon (2-3 minutes each side)
Many climbers love this pose for its juicy stretch of the glute muscles on your outer hips which do a lot of work to push you up and are somewhat difficult to stretch.
Come down onto your back and bend both knees. Cross your right ankle over your left knee then draw your legs in towards you a bit, reaching your hands through to clasp the back of your left thigh. Use your hands and your left leg to draw your right shin a bit closer to your chest, then gently rock your right shin side to side to spread the sensation in your right hip out across a wider area. When you feel ready, change sides then rest on your back for a few minutes to complete your practice.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.