Did I mention that I work at an indoor rock climbing wall, in addition to teaching group fitness and coaching triathlon? Well I do. Which is great. I love climbing, I haven't been able to do it for a while, and it gives me a way to stay active in the off-season. And I recently found out that climbing might improve my multisport performance, as well.
I was reading an article on NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) about dry-land training for swimmers. It noted that the main muscles used for swimming are the rhomboids, the obliques (both internal and external), and serratus anterior. These muscles wrap around the shoulders and diagonally across the chest and abs. They produce diagonal force when they work together; this is called the Serape Effect. That's why it's so important to have a strong core, because strengthening the muscles between your shoulders and knees enables you to better use the diagonal, rotational force of the Serape Effect. The article also offers a few land-based exercises to train this effect, namely the stability ball log roll and diagonal cable chops.
The very next day, I was reading a training article about rock climbing. It also noted the necessity of a strong core in climbing, mostly for body tension and stability, especially in the obliques. The more I thought about this, the more it made sense. I always tell folks at the wall that skill in climbing comes not from upper body strength but from technique. And climbing technique involves using your arms and legs together in coordinated motion, finger strength, and body rotation (there are other trainable aspects such as confidence in your holds/rself to hold on, keeping a stable body, flexibility, keeping your center of gravity close to the wall, etc.). What I'm trying to say is that climbing engages some of those same muscles that are so crucial in swimming.
This leads me to believe that climbing is a perfect off-season activity for triathletes, for several reasons. First of all, there's the aforementioned advantage of training the Serape Effect by strengthening the obliques and rhomboids (I need to look up the serratus anterior before I can tell whether or not climbing can train it). There's also the improved arm strength and an increased awareness of the forearms, which will help with the catch phase of your swim stroke. The legs get some good training, too, as they do most of the work, and climbing can be as much an endurance activity as a power activity, so it will increase your muscles' tolerance of lactic acid. Furthermore, it helps to improve flexibility, particularly in the hips and knees, which will aid in injury prevention later in the season. Oh, and did I mention that climbing is hella fun?
I've finally finished my senior thesis, so I'm ready to start working on something new. I think I'll do a little more research on climbing as off-season training for multisport athletes, then I'll try to get it out there to other triathletes.
And if you're interested in climbing, here are some links to get you started: