There is no feeling better than having your forearms be completely pumped after you’ve sent your project. But there is nothing worse than realizing that you pushed too hard—and now your pump has turned into pain. More specifically, it’s a pain that’s localized along the inside of your elbow where your forearm muscles attach to the bone. The pain can be from a single climbing session during which you climbed too hard, or it can be cumulative from overtraining. You may have discomfort with actively flexing your wrist forward or passively stretching your wrist backward. This inside elbow pain is also referred to as golfer’s elbow or, more technically, medial epicondylosis.
But fear not. You can tame that pain and still train hard and crush your project with some simple movement tips, plus a preventive exercise to balance the strength in your forearms.
Movement tips to prevent injury while climbing
When you climb, the constant gripping action overworks the finger and wrist flexors in the front of your forearm. The repetitive action of constantly flexing your fingers and wrist can lead to degeneration of the tendons that insert into your inside elbow. In climbing, four common movements can lead to repetitive strain here: gripping with a flexed wrist, overusing slopers, overgripping, and letting your hips sag away from the wall. To combat these scenarios, grasp with a neutral wrist whenever possible, minimize the use of slopers, grip hard only at the crux (you need to save your mojo anyway!), and keep your center of mass over your toes. If you are mindful of your movement and adjust your technique, you can decrease the risk of injury significantly.
Recommended Exercise: Raised-Elbow Wrist Rotations
Perform the exercise below to strengthen the muscles in the back of your wrist. This will help decrease the overuse of the muscles in the front of your wrist that can lead to inside-elbow pain. Strengthening these muscles in an active-arm raised position will reinforce a movement pattern that requires lower-body strength, wrist stability, and shoulder stability. Training all three of these at the same time will lead to greater carryover on the wall.
- Hold the end of a knotted, anchored resistance band in your hand.
- Start with your elbow elevated to shoulder height and bent to 90 degrees.
- Perform a semi-squat and hold.
- Perform small, controlled rotations of the wrist in one direction.
- Maintain your overhead arm and squat position as you rotate your wrist against the resistance.
- If you don’t have access to a TheraBand, use 4 feet of nylon webbing or a double-length runner.
3 sets of 20 repetitions in each direction per side
Full-length resistance band
Dr. Jared Vagy, a doctor of physical therapy and an experienced climber, has devoted his career and studies to climbing-related injury prevention, orthopedics, and movement science. He authored the Amazon best-selling book Climb Injury-Free, and is a frequent contributor to Climbing Magazine. He is also a professor at the University of Southern California, an internationally recognized lecturer, and a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist.
For more injury-prevention tips like this one, take Dr. Vagy and Climbing Magazine’s 8-week AIM Adventure U course Strength Training for Injury Prevention. You’ll learn how to avoid common climbing injuries by strengthening your shoulders, wrists, fingers, hips, knees, ankles, and abs. With the help of pro climber Sasha DiGiulian, Climbing Magazine and Dr. Vagy take you through world-class warmups, workouts, and techniques to strengthen your upper body, lower body, and core. Best of all, this 8-week course only costs $125, and you can take it over and over again.