Established outdoors & competition climber, Tiffany Soi is the creator of ClimbFlow, the original dynamic yoga + functional fitness method for climbers. In this exclusive series of articles for The Arch Magazine, Tiffany shares routines & insights into the Climbflow approach to cross training & movement. Follow Tiffany on Instagram @climbflow / @tiffany_soi or get in contact email@example.com with your feedback, questions, and ClimbFlow requests.
This comes long overdue, but finally another video for you! It’s undeniable how strong we need to be in our upper body for climbing. As discussed in the previous write up, we also know how fundamental our core is to a strong and healthy body overall. With those aspects in mind, the key area that often get overlooked in our training are the mighty legs! By legs I am referring to our limbs, our hips and our glutes which - as a half South East Asian - I affectionately call the Bao! (an Asian word for “bun”). Your lower half is comprised of huge muscle groups: all the gluteals, the quadriceps & hamstrings as well as the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that make up the calves. When actively recruited, you can up the ante of your climbing capability through not only strength & power, but better range of motion and technique.
This ClimbFlow Strong & Flexy Legs yoga + fitness sequence for climbers looks at developing strength, power and stability alongside flexibility and mobility.
/// Youtube Link https://youtu.be/v4I5Jbs4tA4 ///
Leg manoeuvres come in handy in a variety of climbing actions: Think of dynos and jumps, foot-to-hand and high foot steps or heel-hook rock overs. Think of pressing up from deep lunge positions or, reaching your foot out for a split-like stretch and then engaging through that leg to move. Think of heavy-duty slab teetering. All these actions are lower body oriented! The stronger and more capable your legs and hips are, the easier these sorts of movements are to perform.
It is interesting to compare men and women in very general terms (we all know there are exceptions across the board!): Men naturally hold more muscle mass in their upper body, and tend to learn to climb based on upper body strength. They also tend to be stiffer in the lower body and are more likely to find a way to muscle their way up rather than, say, placing a foot high up to do the same movement. Women, who tend to be less strong in their upper body to begin with, actually make up for this by using their legs and footwork to get themselves to places they can’t initially burl their way up to, which is really useful for technique development and efficient climbing. Climbers across the board benefit by developing stronger legs.
Many women and men are actually very flexible and open in their hips and legs: For some people this is natural, for others its the result of other sports training, or joint degradation from a life of intensive activity etc. Being flexible, however, doesn't always mean being strong. Flexibility or hyper-mobility without strength can be problematic: it can either lead to injury or exacerbate current strains and pains. Flexible ladies and gents also need to have strong muscles that actively engage through range of motion to support joints.
This ClimbFlow video comprises both a “workout” and “stretch section”:
The workout section combines dynamic stretching segments with active strengthening postures and sequences. Dynamic stretching is an excellent way to switch on muscles for more intensive movement, combining both elongation and contraction of the muscle fibres. It develops the elasticity and resiliency that we need to develop bodies that are more likely to bend than break. The additional strength and power builders come from lunges, jumps, squats as well as static (isometric) holds that provide excellent muscle conditioning. There are some twists that will work on your balance and control, and challenging moves to improve your overall stability - the workout is all about making full use of your muscles!
I call this a “leg workout”, but core engagement is the intrinsic element of ALL your movements - make sure you switch on your core belt to support your body. I cannot think of a movement or posture where tucking the tailbone to protect the lower spine, or engaging and lifting through your core muscles, does not apply - that’s on the mat, on the wall, or going for a walk. The tailbone tuck also causes you to engage your bao - your glutes - which is exactly what you want to do to drive your movement and stabilise your hips.
The stretch segment is great to do after you complete all of your workout activities: This section starts with some initial dynamic movement to ease off the muscles before moving into deeper, slow and static stretches to embed long term flexibility benefits. Importantly, you want to be warm before you go into any deep stretching. Attempting deep stretching on cold muscles can lead to strain and injury.
For both the workout and stretch, your breath is pivotal (hence the constant reminders on screen!) Breath gives you the fuel you need to engage the body with strength as well as focus. It’s also hugely important for helping your body release into stretches. When things are starting to feel tough, breathing makes the difference! Do your best to maintain a breathing rhythm that goes all the way into your belly space.
There are lots of postural notes in the video to help you get the most out of each movement. But it is really important to listen to your body. We are all in different states and we want to work to strengthen and progress in our bodies, not hinder ourselves. Work to your limits of strength and range of motion such that you can still actively engage your muscles in the workout. In the stretches, pay attention to your body’ signals so you understand the difference between healthy challenge and explicit pain - never push through pain.
Throughout the video you have the option to take less intense movements - whether that is step lunging instead of jumping, softening the knees instead of having straight legs, or less deep lunges/squats ( less than 90 degree knee bend) that means you stay engaged and don’t strain through your joints. You can also use props like blocks for extra elevation and to provide more suitable support. I always say, do what is right for your body on any given day as this constantly changes. Drop the ego of trying to push into something you aren’t ready for yet or doesn’t feel right on that day.
I hope you find this video both challenging as well as fun. Ideally, make time to practice this 2 - 3 times a week, though the stretching is great after any form of intense activity or being stuck in a chair all working day (just warm up first!). Even with a little bit of regular practice, your can vastly improve the condition and capability of your lower body: The goal is to build a body that is more more resilient, injury resistant, mobile and strong (a perkier bao and leaner legs are only secondary benefits!)
Onwards and upwards everyone!
Head to the website to learn more about ClimbFlow, the yoga and fitness movement method for climbers, subscribe to Tiffany’s YouTube channel so you don’t miss any upcoming videos, and follow her adventures on Instagram
Photo credits Nick Menniss & Lisa Bennett