3 Climbing Movement Drills for Balance

Rock Climbing Requires Balance and Equilibrium

Ian Spencer-Green working up the sheer arête of Bullet the Blue Sky (5.12d) at Penitente Canyon.
Use your arms and legs to maintain balance with your body's core when you climb arêtes and faces. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Rock climbing requires a lot of complex movements. You need to keep in balance and constantly find equilibrium from your torso and maintain proper body tension. You need to effectively use your hands and arms to pull, push, and keep that essential balance and not get so pumped that your arms give out and you fall off. You need to haveproper footwork to push and propel your body up a rock face as well as use feet and legs to help stay in balance.

Finding Balance is Essential for Climbing

Notice that I keep repeating the word "balance." Finding balance is essential to becoming a smooth, polished, graceful, and efficient climber and boulderer. If you don't have balance, you will flail on harder routes and tire yourself out. That is why climbers that come from a background in sports and activities that require lots of balance for success, like gymnastics, dance, and skating, do well and progress quickly. Those climbers know about finding and maintaining balance.

Three Balance Training Drills

Efficient climbers also know that one of the keys to success on the rock is by training for balance, by improving your body's immediate response to situations encountered when you are climbing. Here are three training drills that will help you improve your balance. They are easily practiced in your indoor climbing gym as well as outside on real rock. Preferably you should practice the drills both inside and outside for maximum improvement. Try to do the drills at least once a week to improve balance. Twice a week is, of course, better. Just remember that the best climbers like any great athletes know that practice is the key to performing at your best.

Climb with One Hand

Back in the 1970s when I was a climbing bum and went rock climbing every day, I did a lot of training and practiced working on my balance. Jimmie Dunn, my usual climbing buddy, and I had our training routines, one of which was climbing one-handed. We had long bouldering traverses in the Garden of the Gods that we would do with one hand. Our usual practice required climbing the 175-foot-long traverse from right to left with the right hand only and then reversing it using only the left hand.

How to Climb One-Handed

To practice with one hand, find a slabby wall either at your local gym or outside. It can be difficult to practice one-handed climbing in a rock gym since many of the walls are too steep. If your gym has a slab, pick an easy route and climb it up and down, alternating hands. Find your center of gravity and move with your feet, always finding equilibrium before moving your one hand upward to the next hold. Use your free hand to keep in balance. Pay attention to your hip positions. Keep aware of your feet and where they are. Watch your center of gravity in your torso and feel how your movement affects that and your balance.

Look Ma! No Hands!!

After climbing and practicing with one hand, you can make it harder by climbing with no hands. Again, Jimmie Dunn and I had a series of no-hand boulder problems that required extreme balance, careful movement, and lots of attention to foot placement since every movement required pushing with a leg. Again find a slabby under-vertical wall outside or in the rock gym. Use only your feet to move upward. Try to keep your hands by your sides or behind your back so you don't cheat. Don't even let your arms or elbows push against the wall surface. Climbing with no hands really forces you to stay in balance and to always move to and from a position of strength and stability. Pay attention to how movement shifts your center of gravity.

Climb with Tennis Balls

Okay, you climb using your hands to grip and grab holds. Now make the moves harder by climbing easy routes with a tennis ball in each hand. Find a juggy easy route. Then hold a tennis ball or other similar sized rubber ball in the palm of each hand. Now start climbing, using the surface of the ball and sometimes the heel of your palm to press and smear against each handhold. Again, pay attention to your footwork since your hands are basically only there for balance. This drill is great practice and pays huge performance dividends, especially for intermediate climbers.