Rock climbers are often accused of having chicken legs. The typical built of a rock climber consists of wide latissimus dorsi, strong forearms and juicy biceps. The quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes are usually quite undeveloped compared to the torso. Slim legs are a requirement of the sport. When you are rock climbing you constantly have to lift your bodyweight and having a pair of tree trunk legs will limit your flexibility as well as fatigue you much faster.
However, as a rock climber you should still train your legs because they are an important muscle group even for you – try rock climbing without using your legs.
Should rock climbers squat?
As a rock climber you are not required to squat obviously but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Squatting does not equal tree trunk legs despite what the uninformed people think. The fact that you squat does not mean that you will need a new pair of jeans every two months.
In general, the best way to control the hypertrophy of your legs is to perform lower reps per set – 3 to 5 with lots of rest in between sets. That will develop strength without unnecessary bulk.
However, even if you were to perform crazy volume squat routines such as Smolov or the 20-rep squat program, your legs will not grow as much as you think unless you are eating a lot and taking steroids.
It’s all about diet, isn’t it?
The best way to keep your size in check is to have a good diet and low body fat which is a must for a rock climber. Many people falsely assume that once they start doing a certain exercise they will become a bodybuilder. Don’t worry! There are Olympic gymnasts who can squat two times their bodyweight while their sport also requires somewhat slimmer and more “functional” lower body. Form should always follow function.
What about bodyweight exercises for the lower body?
Bodyweight exercises could be very beneficial for rock climbers with chicken legs since the movements develop not only strength but also balance, coordination and skill – something that could be quite beneficial to a rock climber.
For example a rock climber may enjoy more benefits and develop more skill by doing pistol squats rather than regular barbell squats. The pistol squat develops unilateral strength while putting your coordination system to test too. What’s not to like?
What about calves?
The muscle around the ankle joint seem to be particularly important for rock climbing. Your calves and shins are under constant tension during climbing. You should strengthen those muscle groups by doing exercises such as calves and shin raises.
Conclusion: Rock climbers benefit from having non bulky slim legs. However, completely neglecting leg training will hinder your performance. That’s why you should incorporate some sort of lower body training. Having strong legs equals endurance during longer rock climbing sessions. Do the effort and spend more time training your calves, shins, quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. The time you invest will be well worth it.