10 Best Indoor Leg Exercises for Rock Climbing Beginners

(Reading Time: 10 min)

Leg exercises are critical if you want to get good at rock climbing fast. If you are a beginner, you will often hear your climb mates tell you to “Use your legs!”, “Use your toes!”, “You are depending too much on your arms!”, etc.

While it is common that you receive advise to “use your legs more”, you might be wondering what exactly do your climb friends mean? In this article, we will explore leg exercises to help you improve your rock climbing skills.

Why do leg exercises for rock climbing?

As a newbie, you might be asking “What is wrong with depending on my arms for climbing? Isn’t climbing dependent on the use of a strong upper body? What is the use of my arms if I don’t use it for climbing?”.

Too much upper body muscles and not enough leg exercises
“I can climb using only my arms”

Yes, your upper body strength is indeed important for climbing and you can climb with just your upper body strength. But using mostly your upper body for climbing will under use your legs and give you less climbing mileage. Your upper body will get tired faster. And your climbing endurance will be low compared to more efficient climbers. Efficient climbers use their arms and legs in a more balanced manner.

You need to strengthen and improve your legs to increase your body’s efficiency in distributing weight while climbing. Your legs have around twice the muscle mass of your arms and if you distribute your weight more to your legs, then you will increase your climbing mileage.


Home Exercises

These exercises are designed to fully use the range of motion of your legs when rock climbing. The best part is that you can do any of these leg exercises without any gym equipment. All you need is yourself and a wall (or anything you can lean your weight on).

Each leg exercise is intended to be more difficult than the previous one. It is advised that you are able to do at least 10 repetitions per exercise before moving on to the next one.

If you feel that an exercise is too easy for you then, go ahead and move on to the next. The idea is to challenge your leg muscles and your balance so that you can use your legs more efficiently for climbing.


1. Heel Raises

Difficulty: Very Easy (1 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Calves (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)

This leg exercise strengthens your calf muscles and balance. You use your calf muscles to lift your heels. Being able to comfortably extend your legs to a few centimeters longer can be a huge difference in climbing walls that are more challenging.

How to do the exercise:

  • Start by standing straight. Toes should be pointing forward and feet are shoulder width apart.
  • Slowly lift your heels off the ground while pressing the ground with your toes and ball of your feet.
  • Lift your heels as high as you can (better if you can have your foot instep as perpendicular to the ground as possible).
  • Hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly land your heels back to the ground.
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 30 times.

2. Deep Squats

Difficulty: Very Easy (1 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Thighs (Quadriceps and Hamstrings), hips and buttocks

The squat is a compound leg exercise that strengthens your lower body in a stable position. This will help you develop muscle memory for more complex movements that you will do later on when rock climbing. It is important that you get comfortable with the deep squat before moving on to the next exercise.

How to do the exercise:

  • Start by standing straight. Feet are shoulder width apart and toes are pointing at the same direction as your knees. Put your hands on your neck to help center your balance.
  • Keep your back straight. Make sure that you plant your feet properly (sole and heel touching the ground). Slowly lower your butt to as low as you can. (your butt should only be a few inches above the ground)
  • Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly stand back up.
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 30 times.

3. Heel Raised Deep Squats

Difficulty: Easy (1.5 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Calves, Thighs (Quadriceps and Hamstrings), Hips, Buttocks and Core

The main difference between this leg exercise and the previous one is stability. Raising your heels while doing squats greatly reduce your lower body balance. This will train your legs and core to make adjustments when faced with unstable footing. It is important to point out that rock climbing walls with intermediate difficulty and above have small and unstable footing. Getting your legs used to unstable footing will pay off greatly in the end!

How to do the exercise:

  • Start by standing straight. Feet are shoulder width apart and toes should be pointing at the same direction as your knees (just like in regular deep squats). Raise your heels. Make sure that your toes and ball of your feet are planted properly on the ground. Maintain your balance.
  • Keep your back straight. Slowly lower your butt to as low as you can without your heels touching the ground.
  • Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly stand back up without your heels touching the ground.
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 30 times.

4. Wall Facing Heel Raised Squats

Difficulty: Moderate (2.5 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Calves, Thighs (Quadriceps and Hamstrings), Hips, Buttocks and Core

In this exercise, you’ll be emulating a rock climbing wall. In reality, the style of squats you do in rock climbing is restricted by the wall in front of you and the foot holds that are available. This means that the environment can be both constricted and unstable. Improve your legs for these conditions and get better at rock climbing.

How to do the exercise:

  • Face a wall. Bring your chest, big toes, knees and thighs as close as possible to the wall (having them in contact with the wall is better). Either put your hands behind your back or spread it out on the wall.
  • Raise your heels and adjust the distance of your toes from the wall. Distance of your toes from the wall should not be too far (too easy) and not too hard (not to the point that you won’t be able to stand). Rule of thumb is that its better if your toes are closer to the wall.
  • Slowly lower your butt as low as you can while maintaining contact with the wall. (Notice that your thighs, butt and core are activated to keep you balanced)
  • Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly stand back up without your heels touching the ground.
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 30 times.

5. Asymmetrical Heel Raises

Difficulty: Easy (2 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Calves

In this leg exercise, you will be adding instability to your calves. More often than not, the foot holds we encounter in rock climbing are not symmetrical enough for us to distribute our body weight evenly. Prepare your legs for asymmetrical weight distribution.

How to do the exercise:

  • Start by standing straight with feet around shoulder width apart. Point one foot forward. For the other foot, use the heel and rotate it 90 degrees outward.
  • Focus more weight on your foot that is pointing forward (around 70% of your weight) and less on the angled foot.
  • Raise your heels slowly off the ground while maintaining the asymmetrical weight distribution.
  • Hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly lower your heels back to a few centimeters off the ground.
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 20 times per leg.

6. Single Leg Heel Raises

Difficulty: Moderate (2.5 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Calves, Hamstrings and Core

In this leg exercise, you will be concentrating 100% of your weight on a single leg. This will train your leg for power moves that require balance at the same time. You can also hold weights on your arms to increase the difficulty.

How to do the exercise:

  • Stand on one leg.
  • Using your standing leg, slowly raise your heel as high as you can.
  • Hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly lower your heel back to a few centimeters off the ground.
  • Repeat the process for 5 to 15 times per leg.

7. Wall Facing Single Leg Heel Raises

Difficulty: Moderate (3 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Calves, Buttocks and Core

In this leg exercise, you’ll be emulating a rock climbing wall again. This time around, you will be restricted by the wall and you will have to fight for balance. It may look simple but it can be tricky. Finding your balance when you only have one leg for standing and your body is facing the wall can be both fun and frustrating at the same time.

How to do the exercise:

  • Face the wall. Spread your arms on the wall. The toes of your standing leg should be in contact with the wall. Stand on one leg and position your toes 30 – 45 degrees inward. Rest your hanging leg on the wall (make sure that your toes are touching the wall because the skin-wall friction will add stability).
  • Using your standing leg, slowly raise your heel as high as you can while maintaining balance.
  • Hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly lower your heel back to a few centimeters off the ground.
  • Repeat the process for 5 to 15 times per leg.

8. Cat Stance Squats

Difficulty: Moderate (2.5 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Thighs, Buttocks and Core

In this leg exercise, you’ll again be distributing your body weight unevenly to your legs. Leg exercises 5, 6 and 7 concentrated on giving asymmetrical body weight training for your calves. Exercises 8, 9 and 10 will focus on asymmetrical body weight training for your thighs. The cat stance (or nekodachi) is a fundamental stance in different martial art styles. The concept is to concentrate 90% of your body weight to your supporting leg so that your other leg will be nimble or free enough to move. In rock climbing, there are instances when the next foot hold is far and you need one of your legs to act as a stable base. You would want your legs to be prepared for the scenario I just mentioned.

How to do the exercise:

  • Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than your shoulder width. Twist your left foot so that it is pointing to your left and your right foot should be pointing forward. Adjust your right foot so that it is pointing 45 degrees inward. Lean on your right leg so that most of your weight is concentrated on it. Lift the heel of your left foot so that more weight is distributed to your right leg.
  • Slowly lower your butt while maintaining alignment with your right leg. Lower your butt until your right leg forms a right angle (90 degrees)
  • Hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly lift your butt by pushing with the right leg. Make sure that you maintain the uneven weight distribution.
  • Repeat the process for 5 to 15 times before shifting to your other leg.

9. Half Pistol Squats #1: One shoulder leaning on wall

Difficulty: Moderate (3 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Thighs (Quadriceps and Hamstrings), Hips, Buttocks and Core

Your progress will be better if your thighs are able to handle weight load while under movement restriction due to a wall. This leg exercise will help train your thighs to handle your body weight better.

How to do the exercise: (start with right side)

  • Lean your right shoulder on the wall. Lift your right leg up as high as you can. Plant your left foot properly on the ground (use your toes and heel to grab the ground).
  • Slowly lower your butt by bending your standing leg. Lower your until your standing leg bends to a 90 degree angle. Use your right shoulder to reduce the weight load on your left leg (via skin and wall friction).
  • Hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly lift your body using your left leg. Use your right shoulder to assist your left leg in handling your body weight.
  • Repeat the process for 5 to 15 times before shifting to your other leg.

10. Half Pistol Squats #2: Opposite hand on wall

Difficulty: Moderate (3.5 out of 5)

Activated Muscles: Thighs (Quadriceps and Hamstrings), Hips, Buttocks, Back and Core

This compound leg exercise is moving closer and closer to how you are expected to do rock climbing. There will be times when one leg and one arm are supporting your weight so that your free arm can reach for the next hold. And this exercise will be emulating a technique called “twist and reach”.

How to do the exercise: (start with right side)

  • Position your body so that your right side is facing the wall. Press the wall with your left hand. Stretch your right hand up. Lift your left leg up as high as you can. Plant your right foot properly on the ground (use your toes and heel).
  • Slowly lower your butt by bending your standing leg. Lower your butt until your standing leg bends to a 90 degree angle. Use your left hand to reduce the weight load on your right leg. Right hand should still be held up high.
  • Hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly lift your body up using your right leg. Use your left hand to assist your right leg in carrying your body weight. Right hand should still be held up high.
  • Repeat the process for 5 to 15 times before shifting to your other leg.

Conclusion

In this article, we have covered why it is important to improve your legs for rock climbing. Improving your legs for climbing isn’t as simple as doing just any leg exercise. We’ve learned that rock climbing specific leg exercises also have to consider asymmetrical strengthening and balancing.

Now you know 10 simple yet effective leg exercises for rock climbing that you can do at home! If these exercises are too easy for you then, you might be interested in working your way up to the holy grail of leg exercises which is the pistol squat. You might also be interested in leg exercises you can do in an indoor rock climbing gym or upper body exercises.

I hope this article was helpful to you! You can also read how I spent my 20 hours of active rock climbing time and use it as a guide. If you enjoyed reading this, then share it to your friends! And if you enjoy reading more content like this, then subscribe to my mailing list. Have fun rock climbing! Be good at anything fast and be a rad rookie!

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28 thoughts on “10 Best Indoor Leg Exercises for Rock Climbing Beginners”

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  2. I’m not a sporty type of person and I rarely do exercise but this blog article is well-written and great for beginners πŸ™‚ I’d definitely recommend this to my friends who love outdoor adventures!!

  3. I can see some of the exercises I usually do to tone my muscles. I would love to try the β€œon-the-wall” exercises which looks like a good routine at the comforts of my home. Thanks for this!

    1. Hi Kath!

      Ohhh, so you do some of the leg exercises here already? Nice!
      Do try the “on-the-wall” exercises and let me know how it goes for you. πŸ˜€

  4. The Half Pistol Squat looks challenging. But I think with fully prepared legs and feet, climbing would be a lot easier. Thanks for this comprehensive article!

    1. Hi Camille! Glad you enjoyed reading my comprehensive article. πŸ˜€

      Yes, it can be challenging! But you can build your strength by doing the lower difficulty leg exercises in the article. πŸ˜‰

    1. Hi Danica!

      Yes, these are very applicable to strengthening and toning your legs! You can share this link to BOTH climber and non-climber friends. πŸ˜‰

  5. I’ll show these exercises to my eldest. He’s tried climbing once, but I think he can make this one of this more regular activities. He’s a dancer (ballet), so I think he understands the importance of strengthening the legs as much as the upper body for certain activities such as this.

    1. I agree that leg work-outs are important and should be paid equal amount of attention to. I’ll try follwing along these excercises when I eventually try rock-climibing. I wish we had some space in the house tho. Huhuhu.

      1. Hi Christian!

        You can always start with the easier exercises on the list. As long as you can stand in the space, then you can perform the exercise, haha

    2. Ahhh, yes, ballet dancers use a lot of their leg strength for balance. This will be beneficial for your son too. (dunno if boy ballet dancers do tip toes too, haha) πŸ™‚

  6. Blair villanueva

    Who needs a gym membership if you can do exercise at the comfort of your home, for free and no fuss.
    You doing great!

    1. Thanks, Blair!

      Yes, the only membership you’ll need is for a climbing gym, haha. All other body weight exercises is very accessible in your own house. You only need your body and will to do these exercises. πŸ˜‰

    1. Yes, it is essential for a person to regularly prepare his/her body for strenuous activities. You are only as strong as your weakest link. πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Jan! Yes, you can practically do these exercises anywhere! πŸ˜€

      It is also good to note that these exercises won’t give you the “body builder’s massive look”. But doing this regularly will make your legs lean and functionally strong. You’ll develop a better “pound-for-pound” power ratio. πŸ˜‰

  7. These exercises are beneficial not just only for those who climb, as a mom I can’t afford to go out run and go to the gym to exercise that is why indoor exercises like this is very beneficial for me. And I would love to try it.

    1. Hi Jean! Yes, these exercises are good and functional even for your everyday mommy activities.

      Do let me know about what happens after you try it! πŸ˜€

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