Essential Shoulder Strengthening Exercises for Climbers

Your shoulders are crucial to climbing—they are the axles around which all upper-body climbing movement rotates. We ask a lot of them and their fragile ligaments and tendons. Strengthening them is imperative to progressing.
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The following is an excerpt from the online course 4 Weeks to Sending Fitness, taught by professional climber Madaleine Sorkin.

Shoulder Strengthening for Climbers

Madaleine Sorkin demonstrates shoulder-strengthening band exercises in Climbing's online course 4 Weeks to Sending Fitness

Climbers rely heavily on the small stabilizing muscles around the shoulders, but rarely do we train to strengthen them, especially after time off, when we often rush headlong back into training. But given how much our arms are raised above our heads when we climb, we need to pay closer attention to shoulder-injury prevention. 

Here are several shoulder strengthening exercises to help you make powerful moves while minimizing your risk for injury.

I's, Y's, T's

This routine is about strengthening your upper, inner back. Choose a light weight (or use no weight at all) and transition from Is to Ys to Ts; you can do them either on a weight bench or a medicine ball, and with or without dumbbells.

Do 1–2 sets of 10–15 reps each, with your goal being an even burn on an "easy" difficulty. If it feels hard, then the weights are too heavy.

I's

Madaleine Sorkin Is

While maintaining straight arms, raise the weights vertically over your head.

Y's

Madaleine Sorkin Ys

For the Y exercise, the weights are raised diagonally.

T's

Madaleine Sorkin Ts

For T's the hands are turned so that the thumbs are pointing down, and the weight is raised straight out to the side.

Band exercises

There are three variations to focus on: external, internal, and elevated rotations. They're all designed to keep your shoulders strong and happy.

Start with an easy band and slowly work up.* You're aiming for an even burn in your shoulders after the last set.

*If your band is too heavy, you're targeting the wrong muscles.

Do 1–2 sets of 10–15 reps each of the external rotation, internal rotation, and elevated shoulder rotation, with your goal being an even burn on an "easy" difficulty. If it feels hard, then use a less resistant band (or no band at all).

External Rotation

Stand sideways to the wall and grasp the band with your "outer" arm (the one away from the wall). Keep your elbow close to your body, and bring the band across your body, rotating the shoulder outward.

Internal Rotation

Stand sideways to the wall and grasp the band with your "inner" arm (the one closest to the wall). Keep your elbow close to your body, and bring the band across your stomach, rotating the shoulder inward.

Elevated Shoulder Rotation

No band

Stand in place and raise both arms into a goalpost formation alongside your head. Bring the arms forward parallel to the floor, rotating at the shoulder joints, and then return them to goalposts.

With a band

Do one arm at a time, facing the wall and grasping the band in your hand. Do 5–7 reps on each arm, keeping the other arm by your side.

For more essential exercises for injury prevention and strengthening, check out 4 Weeks to Sending Fitness on AIM Adventure U. For access to all of our online courses, see our all-inclusive pass.

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