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Lock Off – Strength Training for Climbing

a climber performs a lock off while climbing

What is a Lock Off?

A lock off is a static climbing move.  A static move means there is no jumping or dynamic movement involved. You start off by grabbing a handhold with one hand. Then pull that hold down as far as necessary to reach the next hold with your free hand. Generally the hand you are holding on becomes level with your shoulder as you reach for the next handhold. A lock off is most commonly called for when you have to reach an arms-length (or slightly longer) to the next hand hold. Lock offs are most common on steep sport climbs, boulder problems and even crack climbs. Lock-offs are also very important for ice and mixed climbing.
Lock offs require a certain amount of strength. Since most lock-off strength is generated from your shoulder and latisimus dorsi, training these muscles is a good idea. You need to build strength both to perform a lock off and to prevent injury while performing a lock off.
A common issue women often face is lack of lock-off strength.
Typically, women rely on technique and foot work to climb well. But so often I hear, “Carolyn, I need to be stronger. Steep climbing is so hard for me.”
Just going climbing will make us better and stronger but at some point we have to train weaknesses.  That’s where specific training can really help you.

How do you Lock Off?

1. No matter what level of climber you are, establish good footholds and make sure you are balanced over your feet as best as possible.
2. Pick two good starting holds and identify the target hold you will reach to. Typically this target hold will be a full arms-length away.
3. Grab onto your two starting holds and stand up on your feet until your arm is in a bent position with your hand level with your shoulder.
4. Reach with your free hand and grab the target hold identified in step two, keeping eye contact with the target hold.
Now that you have an understanding of why, what and how you lock off, it’s time to do some practice drills. Here’s a fun way to break through the lock off strength barrier.

Three-Second Climbing-Strength Drill: aka The Hover

You can do this inside at the climbing gym or outside at the crag. Top rope or bouldering is usually the most effective.
Find a route or boulder problem that is comfortable for you and slightly overhanging. Instead of climbing the route as you normally would, here’s your challenge: For every hand movement on the climb, as you reach to the next hold, stop with your hand just hovering over the hold you want to grab next. Then count to three before you grab it. And I mean a real one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, three second count. Repeat this for every hand movement up the entire climb or boulder problem.

This will require you to lock off with the arm/hand holding on as well as focus on foot placement and complex core strength. The route that used to be reasonable for you just got hard. Possibly really hard.
Try this drill at least once a week when you climb after a warm up. Use it as what it is, training, its a drill designed specifically to train lock off strength for climbing. 
We can train lock offs in the gym too. But since lock off strength tends to be fairly linear, this lock off strength training tip will help you transition that strength to the complex, multi-planar sport of climbing- icing on the cake!
One to two times a week for 4 – 6 weeks, try this on multiple routes or boulder problems each session, and not always the same route. 
2 – 3 routes/4- 6 boulder problems per session. 
Until next time!
Carolyn Parker,

Training Tips for Chicks: Pulling Strength & Ski Legs

If you are new to the Chicks Training Tips take a few minutes to read the previous posts, there’s a lot of great information in there.

Winter is on its way! For some of you snow has already fallen, puffy jackets, hats and gloves are out and skis are being dusted off with excitement for the winter! And if skiing isn’t your number one, I know ice climbing must be, so sharpen those tools and lace up those boots the ice is forming!

This installment will round off a few pulling strength movements for climbers the last of a three part series for climbing. Even though rock season is ending, ice is just around the corner. In addition, we will begin to introduce leg/ski specific training for winter fun – back or front country!

Once again gals, all the techniques and movements discussed in Chicks Training Tips are beneficial for all mountain athletes of all ages. The number one goal for fun is outdoor play, let’s enhance that fun, injury proof you and keep you stronger longer!

Let’s talk pulling!
We can pull in quite a few ranges of motion:

  • The Pull Up
  • The Row
  • The High Pull
  • The Pull Over

If you remember from previous newsletters we want to target, more sets x fewer more demanding reps. If you can easily perform 10 reps of any of these exercises it’s time to make it harder gals! 5 x 5, 5 x 3, 6 x 2. Review the Stronger Not Bigger post for more information.

Pull Ups
Rings or Bar, If you can’t yet do pull ups on your own grab a band (jumpstretch) for assistance and avoid machines that push on your feet or knees. Your body needs to learn and master stabilizing itself through the range of motion (ROM) of the pull up.

Try to pull from full extension, leading with the chest/sternum raised to completion of elbows back and looking over the bar. Let’s say you can do a ton of pull ups already…try adding weight to your body to make it harder, you can hang a kettle ball (KB) from your harness.

Rows
Body Row or Bent Over Row
The Body Row is done using a bar in a squat rack and a bench. The movement must be performed in the full ROM for full benefit. This means chest to the bar for each rep. Begin with the easiest movement with both feet on the ground, advance to one foot on the ground and one on the bench and then both heels on the bench. Stabilize the body, activate the glutes and core and pull your chest up rather than thrusting the hips.

The Bent Over Row is another great movement that also establishes good connection with the posterior chain: glutes, low back, hamstrings. Tools you can are DBs, KBs, or a barbell the movement is the same. Begin standing, creating a slight bend in the knees then activate hamstrings and glutes. Hinge forward, keeping the back flat and spine neutral. Stabilize and protect the low back. Once leaning forward to a point where the torso is almost parallel with the floor, pull or row the hands toward the chest. Drive the elbows back and remember to stop the movement for a second once hands reach your chest before lowering and repeating!

High Pull
I do this movement with a lighter barbell, DBs or KBs just to keep the movement and the strength balanced in the shoulders.

Pull Over
I usually use KBs for this movement, you can use a barbell as well. Laying on the floor, place the weight above your head only far enough away that you can grab the KB with bent elbows, do not try this with straight arms! The spine should be neutral and the core stabilized. Raise the KB off the floor till just above the chest then lower to the ground and repeat. As you lower the KB it is critical that you stabilize your spine and do not let the low back arch.

Ok gals! Previous posts have given a host of core and upper body strength movements for climbing and all mountain sports, let’s get strong!

And now to check in with the foundation of leg strength. The first thing I check with all incoming athletes is single leg movements.

Lunge
In your warm up add the Walking Lunge and OH walking Lunge to prepare the body neuro-muscularly. The stride should be such that the legs end up at 90 degree angles, your torso should stay erect and the head, shoulder, hip, knee (posterior) should remain in alignment through out the movement. Stride should be a hip width stance, do not walk as though you are on a balance beam, take at least 10 steps forward then reverse the movement, going backward is quite hard. Then add weight (light) in one hand overhead, try forward and backward with each arm. 10 steps.

Now you are ready to begin testing both the SLSLDL – Single Leg Straight Leg Dead Lift and the BSSU – Back Squat Step Up. Try these two movements on different days. It can take a bit of time to work through both. You will likely discover that you have an imbalance between your legs. It may be minimal or profound. All sports, skiing, climbing, trail running, cycling utilize our legs in a single leg fashion. We are limited by our weaker limb so let’s train that leg to be stronger!

Single Leg Straight Leg Dead Lift
Single leg movements take a great deal of focus and attention to do properly, continue to practice and pay attention to the details.

Squat down and pick up the barbell or KB you are going to use with proper form. Begin in an upright position, take a single step forward and activate that leg. Retract the shoulder blades, engage the entire posterior chain, keep your hips and shoulders square and level through out the movement then raise the non-standing leg to initiate the movement. Keep both glutes active, hinge forward till BB or KB touches the floor stand back up, re-stabilize and repeat.

Back Squat Step Up
On a 14 – 18” box, depending on your height. Begin by placing a PVC or broom stick, or light bar on the back as if in back squat position. Place one leg on the box as if you are going to do a step up, come up on your tip toe on the foot on the floor then press with the leg on the box to step up, do not push off the floor. This is a difficult movement to master, we usually want to push off the floor but try and activate the working leg and isolate it.

Ok gals! Test out your leg strength, see which leg is stronger, start using more weight for both movements.

If you remember from previous newsletters we want to target, more sets x fewer more demanding reps. If you can easily perform 10 reps of any of these exercises it’s time to make it harder gals! 5 x 5, 5 x 3, 6 x 2. Review the Stronger Not Bigger post for more information.

Balance the body but remember do not train the stronger leg more than the weaker, catch the weak leg up.

Next few installments we will visit two leg strength movements, stabilize our shoulders, talk about power production and more advanced core stability! We are just scratching the surface of strength training. There are many many elements to cover, frequency of workouts, what type of workout to do when, strength vs. power, what is power endurance.

We will continue to cover these topics in the Chicks Blog or you can have them delivered to your inbox by signing up for the Chicks Newsletter.  For more detailed information regarding programming of this nature you can contact me at  www.rippleffectraining.com or via e-mail.

Signing off for now,
Carolyn Parker