Can Climbing Build Abs and Make You Look Chiseled?

Chiseled abs are something that most of us crave. If you are considering adding climbing to your exercise regimen (or replacing it) then you may be wondering if you can build abs from climbing.

You absolutely can build abs from climbing. If you want them to show, however, you also need to make sure that you are eating what you need to eat to keep your body fat percentage down.

Climbing Level Affects Core Engagement

When you are a beginner climber, most of the routes are straight up and down and are more like stairmaster-type movements, which are somewhat targeting your abs but they aren’t an effective core workout.

It isn’t until you are doing inverted routes or intermediate-advanced climbs that you really start to see your core muscles get a workout.

Because of this, if you are a beginner climber, building your abs and core will help you level up in your climbing. Once you level up in your climbing, then you will be able to use climbing as a great ab workout.

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Movements In Climbing That Builds Abs

Rock climbing, especially bouldering, has a lot of movements that help you build abs. When you go to the gym, most ab workouts are on the ground or with a machine so they look a little different. 

However, the general movement and muscle engagement is the same. 

In most cases, as you will see below, the movement is usually slow compared to the HITT version you find on the floor at your local gym. 

However, it also requires more effort because you are either lifting the entire body instead of a dumbbell or weighted plate or you are adding the need to balance as an additional challenge. 

These adjustments often make the movement more taxing on the muscles than the traditional movement and make up for the lower reps. 

Mountain Climbers

As you already know, mountain climbers are a great exercise for building your abs. Rock climbing requires constant mountain climbers. It’s like mountain climbers were made with mountain climbing (a.k.a. Roc climbing) in mind.

In climbing, you hold onto the handholds and then raise your legs up to the next holds, just like in the mountain climbing movement. One difference, however, is that you are also moving your arms, so it would be like a moving mountain climber, which has been known to be even more beneficial than the mountain climber where your arms stay still.

Of course, you aren’t moving your legs as quickly as you would during a quick HITT mountain climber workout, but you usually move more and for a longer period of time, which meets the same benefits of a short and intense mountain climber workout.

Hollow-Ab Hold / Banana Hold / Dead Bug

A common climbing movement is holding your legs up while you are hanging off the edge of a climb. This body position is really similar to the common ab exercise, the hollow-ab body hold,  also known as the banana hold. 

A variation of this hold, the dead bug is a similar body position in climbing with the exception that your arms and legs are moving separately.

Unlike the hollow-ab hold, however, you are also moving the direction of your center of gravity while you move from position to position, making it even more dynamic than the basic hollow-ab hold.

Reverse Situps

Revers situps have replaced the standard situp in the most popular ab workouts. They are known for engaging your abs without the negative effects related to your lower back that are common in the situps. 

Coincidentally, reverse situp movements are super common in climbing. Especially if you are climbing an inverted wall (a wall that is angled so your body is more horizontal).

In order to keep your legs and core in control, you have to continuously lift them up, just like you would in a reverse situp. 

There is a difference in that you are also changing the incline of your body, and thus the intensity of the movement but this is to the climbers benefit in that you get a longer ab exercise than you would if you just pumped out a rep of revers situps at home.

Side Bend

A side bend is usually done standing with a weight in one hand and the muscle engagement is when you lean to one side, lowering the weight, and then straightening up again. In climbing, instead of standing up and holding a weight, you are more sideways and pulling your bodyweight up.

This is a more difficult movement in climbing and is most commonly found in intermediate and advance climbs. Because of this, it takes some time for climbers to get to the point where they are making this movement. 

Since you are lifting the weight of your entire body instead of the weight of a little dumbbell, one movement in a climb can equate to a full rep or workout with lighter weight.


The T-Stabilization move on the ground is when you do a high plank on your side with one arm touching the ground and the other arm straight up in the air. One of the things that makes this move so difficult and thus so effective, is that you need to balance your entire body while maintaining a tight core.

In climbing, you are constantly pushing or pulling your body while in a similar t-stabilization position. However, the risk of falling off the wall by moving your hips or but side to side can result in a fall, which may make this movement more intense than if you are just holding it on the ground.

This doesn’t make it more exhausting or effective, however, because you aren’t staying in the position for very long before pulling your body into a new climbing position.

Will You Get A Six-Pack Abs?

If you go to a climbing gym and watch climbers that do intermediate or advance climbs, you will find it is common for them to have six-packs. However, climbing alone doesn’t get you a six-pack.

You also need to eat right and be at the right body-fat percentage to have a visible six-pack.

Since climbing is easier when you have less body fat, it is common for climbers to eat nutritiously and cut body-fat to reach their climbing goals, which in turn also gets them that six-pack you are wanting.

In addition, it is common for climbers in the intermediate and advance climbing skill to weightlift or do additional strength training so that they can climb more core intensive routes, which also helps get that six-pack.

All of this is to say that climbing is a great workout, but a lot of times climbers are working to get the functionality of a six-pack so that they can climb better. 

This separation between goals, getting a six-pack vs climbing harder climbs makes it so that climbers training sessions are different from those looking for a six-pack.

If you are looking for a six-pack, you will probably hold your body in the ab-intense formations longer compared to a climber that is just trying to finish the climb.

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