Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Pregnancy Workouts for Rock Climbers

Getting started on The General Lee (5.11a) at 35 weeks.

Getting started on The General Lee (5.11a) at 35 weeks.

Although many women are capable of climbing all the way through their pregnancy, I’ll give a million dollars to the one who didn’t have to change her routine in at least some way (that was an exaggeration by the way…there’s not a giveaway widget at the end of this post ūüėČ ). ¬†

Climbing while pregnant takes on a totally different mindset and end goal than pre-preggo crushing. ¬†The following is a list of workout ideas geared toward climbers that will hopefully keep not just a mama-to-be strong, happy, and healthy, but also increase the likelihood that the bun in her oven will be also! ¬†(For benefits of maternal exercise on an unborn child, I’d recommend “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy”, by Dr. James Clapp.)

1. ¬†TOP-ROPING PYRAMIDS:¬†¬†Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you are automatically relegated to beginner level difficulty grades (unless of course, you were relatively new to the sport when you got knocked up…) ¬†Having a baby inside of you doesn’t mean you can’t try hard within reason, if you feel up for it. ¬†While tying in to that sexy-looking line with the big dyno on it that all the boys are working on may be ill-advised, working out a short sequence of crux moves on a challenging face climb in a controlled and methodical fashion can be perfectly acceptable. ¬†My strategy as a pregnant climber has always been to “pick and choose my battles.” ¬†And by that, I mean that I focus on only attempting one or two “hard” routes per session, sandwiched in between a gradual warm-up and cool-down. ¬†For example, a typical gym session for the majority of my pregnancy has looked like this: 5.10a/b (1-2 routes), 5.10c/d (1 route), 5.11a/b (2 routes), 5.11c-5.12a project (1-2 routes), 5.10 (2-3 routes).¬†¬†On an outdoor day, I get in far less pitches, but routes are much longer and there’s often a substantial two-way hike to factor in. ¬†¬†
Cautions:¬†I put the word “hard” in quotes up there because the definition of that word will likely change as your pregnancy progresses – go by how you feel more than what the grade says. ¬†That 5.11 that you’ve done 100 times may actually be a better warm-up for your body than that burly 5.10 you’ve never been on before. ¬†Once I hit the 3rd trimester, I rarely tied in to anything harder than 5.11c/d. ¬†Also, when you are climbing outdoors, you may not have the luxury of climbs at each grade at your disposal, and the area you are climbing in may dictate your order of operations more than actual grades. ¬†Rest on the rope whenever you need to. ¬†(And don’t feel bad about having to “sit out” something everyone else is doing if if doesn’t seem to suit you.)


ARC-ing around the gym in the 2nd trimester

2. ¬†CLIMBING “ARC” WORKOUTS: ARC-ing, short for Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity Training, is a type of sustained endurance training. ¬†In basic terms, it involves climbing for a long time without stopping (usually a few sets of 10-30 minutes.) ¬†In slightly more complex terms, it means climbing as close to your anaerobic threshold as possible without crossing over it – ie, you should have that “almost, but not quite pumped” feeling throughout the workout. ¬†This type of training raises the level at which one can climb without pumping out. ¬†For the preggo folk, it’s a gentle and methodical way to maintain endurance and technique without overtaxing your body. ¬†The easiest way to ARC is with an auto-belay or low traversing in a gym. ¬†The good part about this one is that you don’t need a partner – just grab shoes, chalkbag, and a stopwatch and hit the wall! ¬†The bad part about this one is that it can get pretty monotonous.

3.  ANTAGONIST/STABILIZER TRAINING:  Every climber should be doing some extracurricular work on their pushing muscles (chest triceps, and pressing movements with the shoulders) Рthis helps balance out our often overly worked pulling muscles (back and shoulders.)  Additionally, every climber should be doing some time with little dumbbells (or bands) to ensure that all of those little stabilizer muscles in the shoulders stay strong.  It is equally important for a pregnant climber to keep the push/pull balance and stabilizer muscles in check, and probably even more so due to the influx of relaxin, a hormone designed to loosen up the ligaments in the body in preparation for childbirth.  Climbing with an imbalance leaves the body vulnerable to injuries such as rotator cuff tears, tendonitis and overall joint instability.  Posts about the importance of these exercises are found here and here.
Cautions: ¬†Once you hit the 2nd trimester and beyond, you should not do any exercises lying flat on your back (so for a chest press, use an incline bench rather than a flat bench.) ¬†Exercises that put outward pressure on the abdominal wall, such as push-ups, are also not recommended, as they can lead to a diastasis (ab separation.) ¬†Here’s some exercises you can do instead. ¬†


4. ¬†YOGA: Seems like everyone, from climbers to couch potatoes, extols the benefits of yoga during pregnancy. ¬†And for good reason, as it can work wonders for all those kinks that build up after a long day of bad posture and inefficient gait due to that bulging bowling ball you’ve got in front of you! ¬†Not to mention that yoga is a great cross-training activity for climbers – it loosens up tight areas, strengthens the legs and core, as well as improve balance/coordination. ¬†As a pregnant climber, a couple of gentle sessions per week might be the difference between pleasurable climbing in the latter stages of pregnancy and having to throw in the towel due to bodily discomforts. ¬†That being said, inexperienced yoginis should proceed with extra caution, as its very easy to overstretch your already loosened up joints. ¬†Definitely go to a class specifically designed for prenatal participants, and don’t be afraid to speak up if something feels weird. ¬†
DVD: ¬†I’m generally not a fan of workout videos, but there are a few decent pregnancy yoga videos out there. ¬†(I use this one.)
Stretching: ¬†If yoga seems too structured for you, try doing just a few simple stretches each day. ¬†(Here’s a helpful list.)

Family selfie taken on a holiday hike

Family selfie taken on a holiday hike

5. ¬†HIKING/WALKING: ¬†Or really any cardiovascular activity that feels good.¬†¬†It might sound elementary, but this very basic form of movement actually does a lot. ¬†Besides the obvious general fitness benefits, from a climbing standpoint, it will help keep your endurance up during approach hikes to and from the cliff. ¬†If you’re feeling spry, throw in some hills, especially if most of the crags near you involve long, uphill approaches. ¬†It may not seem like a lot, especially if you are accustomed to much harder workout routines, but your post-partum body will thank you if you stick with it! ¬†It’s also worth noting, that¬†in the later stages, you’ll probably have to plan your walking route around bathroom stops… ¬†¬†
Running: In both my pregnancies, I ran as long as I comfortably could, then walking and the elliptical were my best friends.  
Elliptical:¬†¬†If the impact (or bathroom annoyances) get to be too much, try something easier on your loosened joints, like an elliptical trainer. ¬†You’ll still get all the cardiovascular benefits, minus all the impact.
Biking:¬†In both of my pregnancies I stopped biking once the weather turned cold, but I know several mamas-to-be that used biking as their cardiovascular activity of choice. ¬†(One of which, Velo Mom, is currently pregnant again, and writing about her family’s biking adventures on her¬†blog.)

What other go-to fitness activities did all the other climbing mamas out there rely on to maintain a reasonable fitness level during pregnancy?



6 Responses to “Pregnancy Workouts for Rock Climbers”

  1. Angel

    Not a climber, but definitely an outdoor & fitness enthusiast, and I swam a lot during both of my pregnancies. I was a swimmer for 21 years, so this form of exercise was a natural for me, but it’s really great for any expecting mamas. The buoyancy of the water is great for relieving the pressure of gravity on your expanding belly.


    • Erica

      Angel – Thanks for the comment. I have heard so many women recommend swimming during pregnancy, especially during the third tri! Long about this point (18 days out from my due date!) I’d love the option to just “float” somewhere! Unfortunately for me, we only have pool access during the summer, and during both of my pregnancies summer hit during the first trimester (although the good part of that was that I never had to be huge during all the heat and humidity!)

  2. Paige

    Love this post. Just returned from my doctors appointment where she approved (within reason) sit-ups, push-ups, cardio ballet, yoga, hiking and flying for work but seriously questioned climbing :). I didn’t even ask about climbing but she knew about it from earlier conversations and I ended up having to describe the full body harness and top-roping experience in detail. Compared to the older generation of female climbers, I feel lucky to have resources like this blog talking about these issues. It wasn’t exactly the scientific research my doc was hoping for but it comforts me!


    • Erica

      Paige – Congrats on your pregnancy and kudos to you for wanting to stay active and opening the dialogue with your doctor. I think the majority of fear with climbing and pregnancy is the fear of the unknown. At the end of the day, it’s your body. ūüôā Best wishes for a happy/healthy pregnancy!

  3. bouldergirl

    I NEED HELP!!! Everywhere I read about climbing and pregnancy is all about rope climbing. What about us boulders. Do you know any advice? Where to find advice on bouldering while pregnant? HELP HELP


    • Erica

      Bouldergirl – My guess is that you are finding more info on roped climbing is b/c most women toprope much farther into their pregnancies than bouldering, just due to the risk factors from impact. For me personally I stopped bouldering once I hit the 2nd trimester…but was toproping comfortably all the way through both of my pregnancies. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN