Tree climbing workout

Unconventional Workout Series: 1. Tree Climbing

Are you bored of the same, tired gym routines? Are you looking for a different physical challenge? Try tree climbing! This post is the first in my unconventional workout series and will focus on the benefits of tree climbing for fitness and how to get started safely.

[convertkit form=709318]

Tree climbing is a branch (pun intended!) of natural movement fitness. Natural movement fitness aims to replicate the movements that our ancestors would have used regularly in their daily lives. If we don’t practice these movements, we lose the ability to do them.

The unconventional workout described below is just one of many ways that you can use natural movement fitness to build the strength and mobility you need to move through your environment with ease.

The benefits of tree climbing for fitness

Hanging, swinging, climbing and balancing are all fundamental natural movements involved in tree climbing. These movements have a number of health and fitness benefits:

  • Increased shoulder mobility
  • Improved blood flow and lymph flow due to better movement of the shoulder
  • Increased upper body strength and muscle mass
  • Increased bone density in the arms in response to tensile loads
  • Increased core strength
  • Improved grip strength

It is possible to replicate these movements using man-made equipment such as monkey bars, jungle gyms, pull-up bars, and rigs.

However, when we use man-made equipment, certain aspects of true tree-climbing movement are lost:

  • tree branches come in all different sizes, training grip strength across a range of hand positions
  • the rough texture of bark builds an even layer of tough skin across the hand, as opposed to small, painful calluses.
  • Tree branches grow at different angles (i.e. not parallel to the floor) which challenges our body in more varied ways when compared with a horizontal bar.
  • There is a proven psychological benefit to spending time under the canopy of trees. ‘Forest bathing’ is commonly prescribed in Japan as a treatment for stress-related issues.

How to climb trees safely

Any kind of climbing has the potential to be dangerous. Only attempt to climb a tree if you are happy to take responsibility for the risks. A few things that can reduce the risk of tree climbing are:

  • Check each branch before you weight it.
  • Only weight living branches that are sufficiently thick to support you.
  • Check above for any dead branches that could fall on you.
  • Use three points of contact when climbing at height.
  • Does someone else know where you are in the event of an accident?

If you are still unsure, check out this article: Eight Tree Climbing Exercises You Can Do Without Leaving the Ground.

How to turn tree climbing into an unconventional workout

You may be surprised by how much of a workout it is simply to climb a tree, however, if you are looking for something more structured, try this…

First, find a tree with a lower branch that you can reach and hang onto.

The exercises you will be using are:

Forward Crawl

Forward crawl unconventional workout

Crawling on your hands and toes, with shins parallel to the ground. It looks like a baby crawl, but the knees are not in contact with the ground.

Inverted Crawl

crawling unconventional workout

Side-swinging traverse

Hanging from the branch, swing side to side and shuffle your hands to move along the branch.

Foot grab

Hanging from the branch, facing down the length of the branch, tuck your legs up and grab the branch with your feet. This movement makes me think of a sloth.

Forwards traverse

Forward Traverse on a bar is a great natural movement for a paleo exercise program

Hanging from the branch with your arms bent at right angles, facing down the length of the branch, walk your hands along the branch, bicycling your legs for momentum. This one is tough!

Ok, so now you know the exercises, here is the workout:

The Wild and Strong Tree Climbing Workout


  • Run for 5 minutes.
  • Mobilise shoulders by rolling them forwards and backward and circling arms slowly in their full range of movement.
  • Run for 5 minutes.
  • Hang by your arms from the branch for 30 seconds, keep active shoulders. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

The Unconventional Workout

  • OPTIONAL: Climb as high as you can in the tree and back down ONLY IF YOU ARE HAPPY TO DO SO. If not just start with the sprints
  • Sprint about 20m away from the tree.
  • Crawl back using the forward crawl and inverted crawl (half and half.)
  • Using the low branch:
    • Side-swinging traverse in both directions.
    • Foot grab x 3
    • Forwards traverse in both directions.

REST and repeat the sequence three times.

Cool down

  • Hang by your arms from the branch for 30 seconds, keep active shoulders. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
  • Run for 5 minutes
  • Walk for 5 minutes.

For more unconventional workouts and to receive a free copy of the Natural Movement Fitness Starter Guide, subscribe to my newsletter using the form at the top of the page.

Happy climbing!


Other posts in the Unconventional Workout Series:

Unconventional Workout Series: 2. Playing with Boulders

One thought on “Unconventional Workout Series: 1. Tree Climbing

Leave a Reply