Climbing season here in the Pacific Northwest is upon us and with that, more often than not, comes nagging climbing injuries. While traumatic injuries can occur from unexpected falls or hazardous rockfall, the majority of climbing injuries are related to overuse, with the shoulder joint being a common culprit. Common climbing injuries involving the shoulder include shoulder impingement syndrome, rotator cuff tendinopathy, rotator cuff tears, and labral tears. But can anything be done to prevent climbing injuries resulting from overuse? The short answer is yes, with a combination of strength, stability, and mobility exercises being ideal for reducing your risk of injury. Here are 5 therapeutic exercises to try:
The band-resisted wall crawl exercise helps to strengthen the rotator cuff, a group of muscles that help to stabilize the shoulder joint during overhead activity. Perform 3 sets of 5-10 repetitions every other day of the week.
The bird dog exercise helps to build stability of the shoulder joint complex, while also isometrically strengthening the rotator cuff, helping you better perform moves involving mantling. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions every other day of the week.
The open book exercise helps to increase the mobility of the thoracic spine while also improving the flexibility of the pectoral muscles, helping to create a more efficient overhead reach. Perform 1 set of 10 repetitions each direction, up to 7 days per week.
The chest opener stretch, performed on a foam roll, helps improve posture by stretching out the pectoral muscles, which are chronically tight in rock climbers. Perform 1 set of a 3 minute hold, up to 7 days per week.
Thoracic spine mobilization over a foam roll is a great way to improve thoracic extension, helping with more efficient overhead reach in climbers. Perform 1 set of 60 seconds, up to 7 days per week.
With any and all of these exercises, the motion should be gentle and pain-free. Fight the temptation to do more than recommended, as you will not get better twice as fast if you do twice as many repetitions, sets, and/or days per week. It should be noted that not only will these exercises help reduce your risk of injury, but they will also give you a bump in performance, allowing you to climb more challenging routes for longer periods of time. The exercises should be performed for a minimum of 8 weeks in order to experience significant changes in strength, stability, and mobility. Climb on!