Look around the crag or climbing gym and you’ll notice all the people with forward-rolling shoulders, like those of the hunch-backed gargoyles atop Paris’ Cathedral of Notre Dame. Over-developed pectoral muscles and deltoids create this look in climbers. Gravity, compression, and improper postural alignment also cause people to hunch over as they age — 90 percent of my over-age-65 clients walk into my office with this less-than-optimal posture.
As climbers, we tend to speed up this process by pulling, causing the pectoralis minor muscles to tip the shoulder blades forward, giving us the unhealthy posture of an older person. We also put our shoulders at risk with moves like the Gaston. To correct unhealthy posture and protect your shoulders from dislocation, try the following exercises.
Lats have feelings, too. Climbing sets you up for kyphosis (or “hunch back” — Figure 1), so familiarize yourself with the muscles that facilitate pulling the shoulders down and back — the latissimus dorsi, or lats. Lats are large muscles that start under your armpits and wrap down your back on both sides, attaching to the lumbar fascia that supports the low back. The easiest way to engage the lats is to squeeze an object (paper or ball) between your arms and the back of your rib cage, or simply envision stretching your elbows toward your back pockets (Figure 2). Thus engaged, the lats draw the shoulders down and back, giving you a solid, confident, upright posture, instead of “hunched,” rolled-forward shoulders.
Pilates push-ups. This exercise strengthens the “rotator cuff,” the group of four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) that form a cuff around the humerus (upper arm bone) and hold it in the socket at your shoulder. The exercise also strengthens the abdominal muscles, and, unlike traditional push-ups, incorporates a spine and hamstring stretch.
Start standing with your arms straight above your head, fingers to the sky (Figure 3a). Now, engage your abs and curl forward over an imaginary ball toward the ground, leading with your fingertips and the crown of your head (Figure 3b). When your fingertips touch the ground (Figure 3c — bend your knees if necessary), “walk” your hands away from your feet until you’re in a push-up position (Figure 3d). Do three to five push-ups (or just hold the position), then walk your hands back to your toes, engage your abdominal muscles, and curl yourself back up to a standing position. Make sure your back stays broad throughout the exercise, and that your shoulder blades aren’t protruding.
Single-leg knee drops. This exercise also strengthens the rotator cuff, with the added benefit of an intense abdominal workout. Start in the classic push-up position, with your hands on the ground directly under your shoulders, arms straight, and back in a “plank” position with your legs straight out behind you, toes curled under on the ground. (I often use a mirror to self-monitor, ensuring that my lower back doesn’t sink toward the ground, my arms stay straight, and that my shoulder blades don’t protrude.) Now, drop your left knee (Figure 4) toward the ground without moving your spine or hips. Bring the left knee back up, and drop the right knee. Alternating knees, repeat the exercise six to ten times with each leg.
You can also drop both knees toward the ground together — a greater challenge for your abs due to the greater difficulty of keeping your spine and pelvis stable.
For more information on Pilates, visit Griffith’s website at www.fitlifepilates.com