Yoga for Climbers

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I picked up my medieval torture devices, a foam block and a strap, and flopped into the corner of the Berkeley Ironworks yoga room. The next 75 minutes could kill me.

“Do you think yoga helps with climbing?” I asked a few of my friends. In the past week, I attended five different yoga classes in an effort to become a better climber. My friends bounced back and forth about the worthiness of yoga. 

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Nelly high steps through the redpoint crux on Beerrun (5.13a) at Rifle

“I kind of doubt it,” replied professional climber Alex Honnold. “Maybe for you it might help since your flexibility isn’t so good. Of course no amount of yoga is going to bend the rod in your back.” Honnold believes that only climbing will make you a better climber. 

 Katie Lambert, an Eddie Bauer climbing athlete, seemed to have a more positive approach towards it. “I will say it helps by 1) increasing flexibility 2) helps focus on the breath while in hard to hold positions- super helpful for climbing 3)helps balance the body 4) helps with small stabilizing muscles. ” 

“Only if the things that yoga improves are a weakness of yours,” replied Kris Hampton, a professional climbing trainer.

“Only if the style of yoga you choose makes use of a finger board,” quipped Smith Rock master climber Bruce Adams.

Over the course of 15 years of climbing, fellow rock jocks have asked me if I wanted to perform some sun salutations at the crag, hit up the local yoga studio or enjoy some Saturday night Bikram. When asked to joing these yoga adventures, I’ve always responded, “Nah, I’mma stay.” Yoga scared me. It seemed so difficult and intimidating. I knew if I wanted to grow as a climber, I would need to branch out. What was the worst that could happen?

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Lil Ben shows his flexibility on the Egg (v11) in the forest of Squamish.

On my first class, my eyes darted across the room, searching for how to put my left leg over my right arm while standing on my fingers. The instructor went through pidgeon pose, warrior 2 and other stretches. Across from me, a tank top clad yogi with pushed from a handstand into a split. The instructor put her hands on my, twisted my arm, swiveled my ankle and straightened my hips. The stretch felt brutal. I wanted to leave the class immediately. I could be shoveling the pig pens out at the farm in Sonora. I could be free soloing El Cap. I could be doing anything easier and less terrifying than these yoga moves.

The Touchstone gyms offer a variety of Vinyasa, flow, power and acro classes. The morning classes, afternoon and evening classes made it easy to work into my constantly changing schedule. After a few classes, I learned the different teachers styles and who some of the regular students were. 

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Coping a stem rest and splaying the feet out on the crux pitch of the Vortex (5.12+). Gabe Mange photo.The second class felt easier. The third class felt even better. By the fourth class, I knew the basic poses. I felt slightly less rigid. My climbing seemed to be improving a little. It’s difficult to tell if the yoga caused this or if it was because I was climbing more in the gym and being more specific about my training. The classes certainly made me feel better. My body felt a lot more limber and I was breathing better while climbing. While these may not translate directly to climbing, they help with my overall health and being healthy means being able to climb harder.

At the end of class, the instructor demonstrated savasana pose. Translated to English this position means “nap time.” I decided Yoga wasn’t so bad.