Can I do tree climbing for fitness if I can’t climb a tree yet?
In a word, yes!
Tree climbing can be intimidating. Even though tree climbing is part of your DNA, you might be scared of heights or worried about getting hurt. Maybe there just aren’t that many suitable climbing trees near you.
Here are eight natural movement exercises you can do instead that mimic important aspects of tree climbing for fitness.
First of all, why tree climbing?
Tree climbing for fitness builds strength in your hands, arms, shoulders, back and core. It’s fun and liberating and, to top it off, spending time under the canopy of trees has proven relaxation benefits.
OK, here are the exercises:
1. Balancing on a log
Find a fallen log and walk along its length. The uneven surface will challenge your balance. If it’s safe, try with your shoes off to give your feet a strength and mobility workout. The bark helps toughen your foot skin, too!
2. Crouching on a log
While balancing, squat down and up several times as you walk. This is great for hip mobility and strength in deep hip flexion.
3. Crawling on a log
In this picture, I’m crawling on a man-made beam, but the idea is the same. You want your hands and feet to be in contact with the beam, with your knees floating above the surface. Move contralaterally (i.e. opposite hand, opposite foot). Try it, it’s surprisingly hard work!
Hanging from a low tree branch would be ideal as the uneven surface will train different types of grip strength. I only had access to a bar here, despite being in a forest (coniferous trees aren’t the easiest to climb!), but if that’s all your got its fine – this is still a great exercise for training the muscles involved in tree climbing for fitness.
Make sure you keep, your shoulders active – your shoulders should be down away from your ears. Take deep breaths.
Try swinging forwards to backwards and side to side. This is a great core exercise.
6. Side-swinging traverse
Start by swinging side to side and gradually “walk” your hands in one direction along the branch or bar. Come back the other way.
6. Hanging from one arm.
If you can hang with two arms, and can swing from one arm to the other easily, try hanging from just one arm. If it feels like too much, you can always prop a leg up on a log or chair to take some of the weight up while you build up your strength.
7. Forwards traverse
This move requires a bit more upper body strength. Facing forwards, go hand over hand to move along the branch or bar. Bicycle your legs to help with forward momentum.
8. Leg hook
This is an amazing full body exercise. The aim is to go from a hang to, having your leg hooked over the bar or branch. In tree climbing, this is often how you would get up onto a branch above you, so it’s a really functional movement.
What, no pull-ups?
I have not included pull-ups, because pull-ups are a very isolated part of tree-climbing movements. It’s the same as how a single leg step-up is an isolated part of standing up onto each new branch. We could train each of these movements but it’s far better in my opinion (and more fun) to train skills that use a combination of these movements, for a more holistic approach to tree climbing for fitness.