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Six Easy Injury-Prevention Exercises for Climbers

Climbers must build strength, encourage flexibility, and practice proper movement patterns—throughout the body—to prevent injury.

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Want even more injury-prevention exercises? Dr. Jared Vagy has created an online course that will take you through world-class warmups, workouts, and techniques to strengthen your entire body. Increase your strength and boost your resilience, so you can climb as long and as hard as you want, without fearing the evil specter of injury. Learn more here.


Rock climbing is a complex sport that relies on the entire body to work in unison. Each muscle in the body needs to contract or relax to allow for fluid climbing movement. To best reduce the risk of rock climbing injuries occurring it is important for climbers to build strength, flexibility, and proper movement patterns throughout the body. This article will focus on six supplemental exercises to improve muscle strength to help make the body more resilient. It will cover exercises in the lower leg, thigh, core, shoulder, wrists, and fingers.

Lower Leg Strength: Climber Calf Raises

Instructions

  • Start standing with your feet hips distance apart. You can use a wall to help maintain your balance. 
  • Push your heel off the ground while keeping you weight on your big toe.
  • Raise your arms overhead to simulate a climbing-specific position.

What It Does

  • Strengthens your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles: the prime movers when you are edging. 

Thigh Strength: Squatting Wall Angel

Instructions

  • Stand with your back against a wall and perform a squat. Hold this position. 
  • Bring your elbows to shoulder height so that the back of your hands are on the wall and your palms are facing forward. 
  • Slowly raise your arms towards the ceiling while keeping the back of your hands against the wall. 
  • Avoid low-back hyperextension and do not allow your ribs to flare up. 

What It Does

  • The squat position combined with the overhead reaching trains a movement pattern that mimics when you are on the wall. 
  • The wall sit trains your ability to sustain an isometric contraction with your legs, an important ability for climbing. 
  • The wall angel works on shoulder mobility stretching muscles such as the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and subscapularis.

Tips

  • Engage your abdominals and attempt to keep your low back against the wall throughout the movement.
  • This will help you avoid any movement compensations and make the wall angel more effective. 

Core Strength: Swiss Ball Pike

Instructions

  • Begin with your feet on a large exercise ball in a push-up position. 
  • Push your hands through the ground as you slide both your feet towards your hands.
  • Your legs should stay as straight as possible as your hips travel up towards the ceiling.
  • Maintain tension through your midsection throughout the entire movement.

What It Does

  • Trains your ability to maintain a stable trunk when both your arms and legs are moving.
  • Climbing is a dynamic sport with an infinite amount of beta within a given climb. Training your body’s ability to maintain a stable midsection while both the arms and legs are moving will mirror the demands of climbing.
  • This movement pattern is the last piece of developing a well-developed “climber’s core.”

Shoulder Strength: High Elbow Band Rotation

External Rotation at 90˚ Instructions

  • Start by facing the resistance band, it should be anchored at stomach height. 
  • Grasp the end of the band and bring your elbow to shoulder height, keeping the elbow in a 90˚ position. 
  • The palm of your hand should now be facing the floor. 
  • Pull the resistance band towards the wall behind you until the palm of your hand is now facing the wall in front of you. 

Internal Rotation at 90˚ Instructions

  • Start by having your back to the resistance band, it should be anchored at shoulder height. 
  • Grasp the end of the band and bring your elbow to shoulder height, keeping the elbow in a 90˚ position. 
  • The palm of your hand should now be facing the wall in front of you. 
  • Pull the resistance band towards the floor until the palm of your hand is now facing the floor.

What it Does

  • This overhead position is naturally the most unstable position for our shoulders.
  • It strengthens the rotator cuff in a position that is more functional for climbing. 
  • Having strength and control in overhead positions is critical to avoiding injuries such as rotator cuff strains, shoulder impingement, and labral tears.

Wrist Strength: Looped Band Wrist Circles.

Instructions 

  • Loop a resistance band around your hand and either hold with your opposite hand or secure in a door. 
  • With the elbow bent to 90 degrees at your side, perform clockwise and counterclockwise wrist rotations through a small range of motion. 
  • Make sure to keep your fingers fully straight while performing the circles. 

What It Does 

  • Strengthens the wrist extensor muscles to add more stability to the wrist without significantly increasing carpal tunnel pressure. 
  • Large circles should be avoided because they bend the wrist into extreme ranges of motion that increase the pressure in the carpal tunnel. 
  • Increased pressure in the carpal tunnel compresses the median nerve and can lead to pain and numbness in the hand. 
  • Make sure to use only small circles when performing this exercise.

Finger Extensor Strength: Child’s Pose Finger Lift

Instructions 

  • Begin in a child’s pose and lift each finger one by one a few centimeters off the ground.
  • Rock your body back so that your wrists are under your elbows and lift each finger, one by one, a few centimeters off the ground.
  • If you are unable to lift the fingers while your wrists are under your elbows, work your way back into the child’s pose and find the position where it is challenging (but not impossible) to lift.

What It Does 

  • Strengthens the finger extensor muscles in the hand which are important muscles when fine tuning grip positions.

Preventing an injury from happening is much better than dealing with the consequences. Perform these exercises prior to climbing, or on your rest days, to build more strength throughout your body so that you can climb injury free.


Dr. Jared Vagy, DPT, is a climber and professor at the University of Southern California. His book “Climb Injury-Free” teaches you how to climb stronger without getting hurt.

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