Training the shoulder in climbers

Annelies Maenhout, From Practice / Friday, November 22nd, 2019

In recent years, climbing has experienced a large increase in popularity as a sport. As more people have started climbing, so have injury rates grown. Shoulder injuries make up about 17% of all rock climbing injuries, and chronic pain has been reported in 33% of elite climbers. Interesting enough to think about how to prevent this and keep the shoulder healthy. A preventive program should counterbalance adaptations of the shoulder to climbing. Mainly the internal rotators of the shoulder (subscapularis, pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi and teres major) will gain strength so the first preventive exercise category is “posterior cuff strengthening”. Some examples incorporating posterior cuff activation in a climbing specific context (in a squat position, combined with hip flexion and abduction, at the wall, …) below:

Posterior cuff strenghtening

Next, it is obvious that climbers favour their protractors pulling them onto the wall. Interscapular retractors are equally important to maintain good posture in climbing and support the shoulder from behind. This justifies interscapular strengthening to neutralize the protractors and reinforce their use in climbing.

Interscapular muscle strengthening

Climbing occurs mainly within an anterior flexion chain of the body (hip flexors, abdominals, shoulder flexors and internal rotators, elbow, wrist and finger flexors). Posterior extension chain training has the double benefit of strengthening posterior extension chain stability while dynamically stretching the anterior flexion chain. Two examples below for climbers:

Posterior extension chain

The fourth goal of a climbers shoulder training program originates from the fact that it is highly challenging for a human shoulder to sustain traction while climbing. It requires the proficiency to contract scapular depressors together with rotator cuff stabilizers to suck the ball into the socket. Exercises below will elicit a pull between the trunk, scapula, glenoid and humeral head:

Scapulothoracic pull ups

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