Fit to climb

Want to develop a crazy power-to-weight ratio? Try rock climbing, one of the most challenging and fun indoor/outdoor activities. Top rock climberMattias Braach-Maksvytis reveals the exercises that will give you a heard start in the sport.

It was inevitable that Mattias Braach-Maksvytis would end up climbing competitively. As a child he climbed obsessively, going well beyond the occasional tree most of us have tried as kids. 

If you went looking for young Mattias, you’d usually find him high up on a drainpipe or a roof somewhere, even at school. When he was 11 his school gave in and let him climb up to the roofs of the buildings under teacher supervision, after his parents gave him a note saying he was allowed.

“I’ve never had a problem with heights,” reveals Mattias, stating the obvious. “I think it’s just a need to get high. Like, even now, I like being on tall buildings, mountains, that kind of thing. It just works for me.”

As a teenager, Mattias entered a climbing competition in North Sydney on the spur of the moment, and came third. Realising he had a gift for the sport, he began training seriously and eventually worked his way up into the Australian indoor rock climbing team.

The physique of rock climbers is shaped very much by their sport and Mattias is a classic example, with his strong and lean frame and enormously powerful shoulders, core and back. He needs to be light and extremely strong to climb up vertical faces, leap from one ledge to another, and often hang solely by his fingers.

As with many sports, you train for indoor rock climbing in the gym as much as the playing field, or climbing wall in this case. Mattias says that to be a climber, you need a strong abdominal core, shoulders and arms, so the exercises he’s chosen for this workout will get you started in building these areas.

Some of the exercises look challenging, but are more doable than they appear. For example, one he’s chosen for Fitness First members to try is the bodyweight fly on rings, which is brilliant for developing your core strength.

You get into push-up position, push down on a set of gymnastic rings and then widen the arms. “It’s good for keeping tension. Climbing is a lot of moving from hold to hold and then pausing in that position while you think about going to the next one, so you need that tension the whole time,” he explains.

But Mattias does dispel one myth: that the training by itself is responsible for those lean and strong climber physiques. Mattias finds he has to stick to around 9000 kilojoules per day to ensure he doesn’t suddenly bulk up due to the strength component of his exercising. He says his diet is protein-heavy from foods such Danone YoPro yoghurt as well as fish.

 1  Bodyweight fly on rings

This is a brilliant exercise for climbing, as it builds strength in the chest, shoulders, core and biceps. Set up a platform in front of the rings to put your feet on as you assume a push-up position, holding onto a set of rings (alternatively, keep your feet on the floor if this is too difficult). In the starting position, you need to be at the top of the ring push-up, with your arms straight down in front of you. Then lower yourself towards the rings by widening your arms out to the side until you’re bending the elbows at 45 degrees. Hold and then squeeze your arms together again to return to the start. As you get better, take your arms wider until your elbows form a 90-degree angle while holding onto the rings.

 2  Hanging leg raises

Dead hang from a pull-up bar with your feet off the ground, and arms and legs straight. Raise your knees until they’re at least at right angles to your chest (as you get better at the exercise, raise them even higher). Hold your legs at the most acute angle you can manage for a second and then return to the starting position. These are more specific for your core than planking or sit-ups because they work more on the lower abdominals. 

 3  Box jumps – use one box only

WARNING: Mattias is using two stacked plyometric boxes because of his extreme fitness. Please only use one for this exercise to avoid the risk of injury. Jumping on one box builds explosive leg power and coordination, necessary for those times when you’re leaping from
hold to hold on the wall. Stand in front of a single box and assume a comfortable crouching position. Keep your back straight as you jump explosively onto the box, swinging your arms for momentum and balance. Land on the box and stand. Repeat.

 4  Pull-ups on rings

Stand under the rings and grab them with an overhand grip. Lower your body and bend your knees back so your legs don’t touch the ground and you’re dead hanging. Pull yourself up toward the rings, keeping the movement deliberate so that you retain control of the straps as you move up to avoid swaying or rocking. Keep your legs together. Pause for a second at the top and lower yourself again to repeat the exercise.