Strengthening and stretching exercises to beat upper-body tendonitis
Editor’s Note: This issue, we present the final of three Training Tech Tips in conjunction with the nonprofit ProHealth Lab (nutriex.com), in Park City, Utah.
TENDONITIS — LIKE IT OR NOT, if you’re an avid climber, at some point you’ll feel that deep, dull ache in your elbows or shoulders, a sign of inflamed tendons. The constant tugging is what does us in — using loads of pulling muscles (lats, shoulders, biceps, forearms) while neglecting the pushing muscles (pectorals, anterior deltoids, triceps), thus placing unidirectional strain on your tendons. If you mostly climb steep stuff, you’re especially susceptible — think of the hunchbacked, grapefruitshouldered cave monsters at Rifle and the Red.
As with all things in life, the key is balance. With these few simple stretches and weight routines, done two to three times a week on rest (non-climbing) days, you’ll balance the pushing and pulling muscles and increase mobility, thus enhancing your abilities and preventing injury.
Forearm Pronation/Supination: Overusing the forearm’s finger flexors and pronators often causes elbow pain (epicondylitis). The following exercise builds strength, as well as range of motion (i.e., let the weight stretch your forearms). Hold one end of a three-to-eightpound dumbbell vertically, with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and your upper arm by your side. Let your forearm rotate clockwise so that the weight drops outward and your palm faces the ceiling; hold for five seconds. Now reverse the rotation so your palm faces the ground; hold for five seconds. Complete two sets of 15 reps, cultivating a comfortable fatigue by the final few repetitions.
Finger/Wrist Flexor Stretch: Place your palms fl at on the ground, a tabletop, or even against a wall, fingers facing toward you. Lean back to fl ex your wrists until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold 30 seconds or longer, repeating two to three times.
Pec Fly, with Shoulders on Physioball: This exercise strengthens pectoral (chest) muscles, as well as the core and stabilizing muscles in your shoulder. Assume a bridge position, head and shoulders relaxed on the ball. Begin with a mid-weight dumbbell (10 to 20 pounds), arms fairly straight, palms facing each other. Slowly drop your hands groundward until they stop at or below shoulder height. Smoothly return them to their starting position; aim for three sets of 12 reps.
Latissimus Dorsi Stretch: Lats, the prime climbing muscle, can get tight, creating hunched shoulders and back pain. To loosen them, stand in a doorway and hook the fingers of your right hand on the frame; now step back two to three feet with your right foot and bend forward. Look under your right armpit until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold 30 seconds or longer, doing two to three stretches on each side.
Reverse Butterfly: To support the often-overtaxed shoulder joint, you need strong rotator-cuff muscles. This exercise will get you there, while also promoting good posture — crucial to shoulder health, since it reduces subacromial impingement, of the tendons under your AC joint. The prime muscles worked here are those in the backs of your shoulders: the rear deltoids, external rotators, and rhomboids.
Begin with light dumbbells (five to 10 pounds), hands together in front of your hips, elbows slightly bent. Draw your “butterfl y wing” by bringing your hands up and diagonally outward, to finish with your elbows at shoulder height, hands facing forward. Now set your shoulders back and down, and bring your hands back to rotate your arms externally and complete the motion. Finally, with good control, reverse the motion by bringing your hands forward, down, and in — back to their starting position. Keep your torso stable and your shoulders pulled away from your ears at all times; aim for three sets of 15 reps.
Stacy McCooey, a member of the ProHealth Lab Science Advisory Panel, has a doctorate in physical therapy. She works as an outpatient integrative physical therapist in Park City, Utah, focussing on manual therapy, patient biomechanics, and wellness.
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