(illustration: Patrick Leger)

Build Do-It-All Fitness at the Climbing Gym

Most gyms have more to offer than a big wall


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Indoor climbing is enjoying a boom—in the past five years, more than 150 new gyms have opened across the U.S. While pulling plastic is a solid workout, most of these new facilities have more to offer than just a big wall. “Even if you’re not going to climb, any athlete can find ways to move and improve at the climbing gym,” says Justin Andrews, a personal trainer at Mission Cliffs in San Francisco. With a little creativity, you can use the space for a full-body session. Here are three maneuvers to get you started.

#1. Pegboard Pull-ups

(Patrick Leger)

Why: A pegboard is more fun and effective than a pull-up bar for strengthening your back and arms. “Working out in a ­traditional gym, you lift a weight and set it down,” Andrews says. “A pegboard makes you slow down and control your body position and movements.”

How: Insert both pegs into the board about a foot above your head and, with one hand on each peg, do a pull-up. Take one arm, remove the peg, and insert it into a higher hole. Now pull up on that arm, remove the opposite peg, and place it in an even higher hole. Continue until fatigued. For an added challenge, skip holes or move laterally instead of vertically. 

#2. Deadhang Leg Lifts

(Patrick Leger)

Why: This works your core but also your forearms, which are impor­tant for more than just climbing, Andrews notes. Strong forearms and hands benefit mountain bikers, paddlers, and even ultrarunners. (Try holding a water bottle for 12 hours.)

How: On an overhung section of wall, find two good jug holds, ideally about two feet above your head. Reach up and dangle from them, facing the wall. Now pick a hold in front of you about waist high as a target, and slowly raise one leg until your toe touches it. Lower and repeat with the opposite leg. Pick another target and go again. Repeat five to ten times. 

#3. Slackline Squats

(Patrick Leger)

Why: Almost everything you do outdoors—from running to biking to climbing—is improved by sturdy stabilizer muscles. Enter the slackline, a staple of most climbing gyms. “Anything as unstable as a slackline is going to work your entire body,” Andrews says.

How: Balance one foot on the line and slowly bend your other leg at the knee. Squat down until your bent knee touches the line, then stand up slowly. Do ten to fifteen reps on each leg.