In my opinion, a flexible climber can “get away” with being weaker. If you are very flexible, you’ll be able to make climbing easier for yourself. For example, if you could climb with your hips closer to the wall, you’ll be more likely to find heel hooks and toe hooks, and you could fit into more complicated positions that could potentially help you recover on the wall.
For competition climbers, a lack of flexibility can be deadly! As comp climbing evolves, boulders require athletes (especially men) to fit into more complicated positions. I predict that in the near future, being able to do splits (left, right, middle) will be just as important for World Cup climbers, as is doing a one arm pull-up. Also, most competition slab boulders already require an adequate level of hip flexibility. This demand for flexibility will only increase as time goes on.
If you are reading this, I assume you are already familiar with the climber in the photo above. Ashima Shiraishi is notorious for breaking beta with her lower body flexibility. It would have been much harder (and lower-percentage) for her to jump to that feature. However, she was able to skip that move because of her splits!
I understand that most climbers are not interested in competing. Most climbers are interested in pushing their limits, and achieving higher grades. That said, flexibility is not only important for comp climbers. Huge gains would be made if you could improve your flexibility. I’m specifically talking about hip flexibility/mobility.
A very interesting study done by Tom Randall and Ollie Torr showed that women needed less overall strength to send the same grades as men. One of the potential reasons for this was that women could climb with their hips closer to the wall than men. Climbing with your hips close is simply a more efficient way to climb, and makes difficult movements more attainable for weaker climbers. Read more about that study here
Tips From Sasha Digiulian
Sasha Digiulian is a former world champion, with various notable FFAs (First Female Ascents). I asked her some questions about the importance of flexibility in climbing.
Me: Does stretching make you less prone to injury? Isn’t your time spent stretching better spent just climbing more?
Sasha: Stretching is really important for anyone who follows regimented training or just exercises. It’s important for injury prevention and mobility.
Me: How does flexibility/stretching improve one’s climbing performance?
Sasha: While climbing, it’s important to be flexible because that enables more movement options. Look at Ondra. He couldn’t get his foot up on some of those gnarly moves if he wasn’t flexible!