Mountaineering Training | Body Awareness: Balance & Agility

Posted by: | July 23, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Body awareness is the combination of balance and agility that allows you to move comfortably and confidently through difficult and challenging terrain. 

Balance in mountaineering allows you to climb through challenging conditions - such as uneven and firm snow, steep slopes, or rocky terrain - while keeping your equilibrium and avoiding using excess energy or concentration to stay centered. Simply put, it’s being comfortable on your feet even when you’re traveling through uncomfortable terrain. 

Agility is being able to move quickly and easily - to be nimble and reactive. Agility is the ability to react to the unexpected when in the mountains, catching your own stumble or slip or that of a fellow rope team member, navigating through loose rocks, or stepping over a crevasse. 

The good news is that both balance and agility are motor skills and can be improved over time. 

BALANCE: Practice a combination of static (stationary) and dynamic (moving) balance exercises to develop your balance skills. 

Static exercises can be as simple as standing on one leg. Try it at the gym between strength routines, at home while doing the dishes, or while waiting for the bus or elevator. Too easy? Close your eyes, rock onto your toes or onto your heel and try and hold it. Once you’ve mastered that, try standing on one leg on a small rubber balance disk, then balancing on a your knees on a balance ball. If that is going well, have a friend toss you a tennis ball and catch it without falling off the ball. As you improve, remember that you can always find new ways to challenge and improve your balance. 

Dynamic exercises incorporate a bit of movement. Try to walk heel-to-toe along a straight marked line, such as crease in the carpet or sidewalk crack. Once you’ve mastered that, try it again but with your eyes closed. You can incorporate dynamic balance exercises into everyday life by constantly finding little balance challenges throughout the day: walk along the edge of the curb when strolling through town or pause to balance along a fallen tree or rail when out for a run. 

AGILITY: Agility exercises help you focus and boost your coordination, speed, and power. Examples of agility exercises include skipping rope, high knee skips, plyometric jumps, or laying a rope ladder flat on the ground to run or hop through (much like hopscotch). Many of the drills practiced in team field sports are examples of agility exercises. 

Many avid climbers are also talented at “slacklining”, the feat of walking along a taut piece of webbing strung several inches to feet above the ground (like tightrope walking). This is one of the ultimate challenges of body awareness, requiring a delicate combination of balance, agility, core strength, and composure. Yoga is another great activity to incorporate into your training to develop balance and agility in addition to flexibility, core strength, and focus.

You can begin improving your body awareness at any point in your training process. No matter if your climb is days or months away, every little improvement helps. There is no finish line with these skills. You can always find ways to challenge and increase your balance and agility, regardless of your fitness level or age.  The rewards of good body awareness in mountaineering are subtle yet profound: you are more at ease in challenging terrain or difficult climbing conditions, have confidence in your movements in intimidating situations, move more efficiently, and maintain your energy and focus throughout the day.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Descending into the Khumbu Icefall, Mt. Everest (Linden Mallory).

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