The One Workout Every Climber Should Do

posted by dpm on 09/07/2011

 

In my Should You Train? article there was only one type of training that I recommended for all climbers in every situation: stability and mobility training.  We are fairly aware of the latter.  Most people know that they should stretch and the climbing world, in general, seems to do a reasonable job at this.  Not so for the former, something that this short and simple workout will fix.

Climbers aren’t the only demographic to ignore the importance of stability training.  A few sports scientist friends, trying to answer the riddle as to why bigger, stronger, and faster-than-ever-before athletes are also most injured found that most—in some cases as high as 90%--showed significant muscular imbalance.  When we’re out of balance and don’t move with biomechanical efficiency our linear movements don’t “track” correctly.  When this occurs an injury can happen anywhere along the body’s kinetic (movement) chain.

In populations where these imbalances have been correct they’ve seen non-contact injury rates plummet.  The major areas of focus are the shoulders and hips.  Pelvic (hip in the colloquial) stability can be important for climbers (and everyone) but in the need-to world of sports specific performance we’re only going to address the shoulders.

This region hosts the origin of almost every move that climbing begins with.  And while it does not include the “money” area (the hands and forearms), biomechanical alignment problems will radiate to that area as well.  This means that imbalances in the scapular region can lead to elbow, wrist, or even finger problems.  Even though you rarely fail on a climb because your back or shoulders were pumped, strengthening these areas properly will shift more of each climbing movement’s burden to this region’s larger muscles, thus saving your smaller hand and forearm muscles for when you actually need them.  This energy savings also translates to less strain on connective tissues, reducing instances of tendon and ligament damage.

Sold yet?  If not, consider that it’s not that hard, doesn’t take too long, and that each workout usually ends with you feeling better than you did when you began.  I generally do this work out three times per week until I can hit the benchmarks noted on three exercises.  The benchmarks indicate imbalances have been more or less corrected at which time once workout per week should keep you there for quite some time.  I also often break these up when I’m climbing a lot so they are shorter and can easily be done after a climbing session, where they serve as somewhat of a cool-down.

 

The Warm-up

If you’ve been climbing or training you can skip these exercises.

Halos

Using a dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball (or rock, etc), stand erect holding the weight in front of you at chest to neck level with naturally-bent arms.  Keep your weight centered on your heels and your pelvis tucked.  Raise the weight in front of you toward one ear, circle around the back of your head back to the starting point.  Repeat in the opposite direction.  Keep your head relaxed and eyes focused straight ahead.

Do 10 in each direction

Snatch

Use something very light, like an un-weighted barbell or a broom.  Grasp it just wider than shoulder width with arms in front of you, straight, held down to your thigh.  Pull the bar up along your body, keeping it very close, which naturally pulls your shoulders back, then raise the bar as high as you can, ending with it behind your head.  This should feel like an active stretch.  If it’s stressful your bar is too heavy.

Do 15

Skiers

This is like poling in cross country skiing except that you don’t bend your arms, meaning they aren’t really like skiing at all, but I didn’t name them.  Hold two light weight dumbbells with your arms straight down by your sides.  Raise them keeping your arms straight high above your head, then swoop them down in front of you letting them your legs bend at the knee and your arms go behind you like you’d do with ski poles.  Don’t use much weight and keep this movement under control.  It’s just a warm-up.

Do 15

 

Click the image for video demonstrating the warm up movements.

 

 

The Workout

Pull-up Retractions

Hang from a bar as if you’re about to do a wide-grip pull-up. Keeping your arms straight, focus on your scapula and pull from the middle of your back.  Your shoulders should raise a few inches.  Lower slowly with control.  Repeat.  This movement is how you should begin every pull-up and climbing movements where you pull from your back.

Do 10

 

Pull up retractions.

 

Plange Push-ups

Like doing a normal push-up but adding a plange (shoulder protraction) at the top.  Keep your pelvis tucked and your back flat throughout the motion.  At the top of each push-up, protract from the middle of your upper back, which feels like you’re making a hump in your back.

Do 15

Benchmark: 25

 

Plange Push-ups.  

 

Prone Y’s

Lying prone (face down) on a bench or a stability ball (better), hold light weight with arms straight out in front of you dropped to the floor.  Grip weight with thumbs up.  Now raise the weight, keeping your arms straight as high as they can go.  Lower and repeat.  Don’t be surprised if you can’t use any weight on this exercise at first.  A broom is enough weight to start with for most people.

Do 25

Benchmark: 50 with 5lb

 

Prone Y's.  Click the image for video demonstrating the three movements described above.  

 

Pull Aparts

You need some kind of elastic band for this exercise, easily found at any sporting goods store.  A Thera-band might be enough at first but you’ll need more resistance in time.  Grip the band at shoulder width, palms facing up, arms straight out in front of you.  Now pull the band apart by squeezing your shoulder blades together as far as you can.  Repeat.

Do 25

 

Click the image for video of band pull-aparts.  

 

Pull Downs – straight arm

Using the band again, this time grip it shoulder width apart holding your arms straight up over your head.  Now, again squeezing your shoulder blades together, pull the band apart by moving your arms out wide behind your back.  It should feel a bit like a stretch.  Reverse and repeat, keeping the motion very much under control.

Do 25

 

Band Pull Downs.  

 

External Rotations

Wrap your band around something so that it provides resistance on a horizontal plane.   Stand tall, feet together, holding the band with the arm opposite its restraining point.  Your arm should be bent 90 degrees with your elbow tucked in close to your side.  Keeping the elbow still, rotate your forearm out to a 90 degree angle.  Reverse.  Repeat.  This movement works your rotator cuff (four small muscles) that tend to be very weak.  It may take a little while to find the correct resistance.  Don’t force much at first and keep this movement under control.

Do 15 each side

 

External Rotations.

 

Retractions

Kneel on a platform (like a bench) so that one arm and leg (the knee) is resting on the platform with one leg on the ground and the other arms hanging free, grasping a weight.  Back should be flat, pelvis tucked.  This is the starting position for a one-arm lat pull.  Now, like you did with the pull-up retraction, keep the arm straight and only retract (or shrug) your shoulder, which only moves the weight a handful of inches.  Lower under control and repeat.

Do 15 each side

 

Click the image for video of retractions.

 

Protractions

The opposite of the last exercise, this time you lie on the bench and hold the weight above you, like the finishing position of a one-armed bench press.  Now punch the sky using only your shoulder, moving the weight only a few inches.  Lower and repeat.

Do 15 each side

 

Protractions.

 

One Arm T’s (on a platform)

This is the money exercise for your rotator cuff.  Sit on the ground with your elbow placed on a platform that is shoulder height right next to you (a stability ball works best but I’ve used chairs, couches, etc). Hold a weight with your arm bent 90 degrees at the elbow so that the weight is out in front of you, palm facing down.  The movement is to raise and lower the weight keeping the 90 degree bend in the arm.  The key is to push your elbow down into the platform.  This motion releases the deltoid muscle and frees your rotator cuff muscles to take all of the load  To test, feel your delt (large shoulder muscle) and see how it releases when you press down.

Do 15 each side

Benchmark:  50 with 10lb

 

One arm T's.  Dog foot rest is optional.  

 

Wall Angels

Sit with your back flat against a wall, including the lower back, so you may need to use some force with your feet to keep it pushed flat.  Arms out to your side, slightly bent, pushed flat against the wall.  Your head should be against the wall, too, with your chin tucked.  Now raise your arms as though you’re making a show angel.  Try to raise them over your head but do not let your back arch to allow them to move further (then it’s easy).  At the sticking point hold for 5 to 10 seconds trying to stay relaxed and also focusing on keep your arms flat on the wall.  Reverse.  Relax.  Repeat.

Do 5

 

Wall angels.  Click the image for video of wall angels.