As climbers, we understand the importance of upper body strength, but one area that is often overlooked is overhead scapular (shoulder blade) strength and stability. Overhead scapular strength directly translates to better climbing performance. When reaching for holds above your head or making dynamic moves, strong shoulders provide the power and stability needed to execute these actions with control and efficiency.
Climbers are no stranger to shoulder injuries due to the progressing repetitive and demanding nature of the sport. Shoulders are now the second most injured body part in rock climbers with prevalence growing over the past few years. Proper scapular strength and stability exercises play a crucial role in reducing this increased risk of injury. The muscles that control the shoulder blade partner directly with the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder to ensure smooth motion and stability of the shoulder during climbing specific movements. The primary scapular muscles include the upper trapezius, levator scapulae, middle trapezius, lower trapezius, and serratus anterior. They coordinate together to help the shoulder blade upwardly rotate (reaching overhead for a hold), downwardly rotate (pulling on that hold), protract (mantling), and retracting (side pull, gaston, lock-off, etc.).
Some great exercises you can incorporate into your strength training include A's, T’s, W’s, Ys, and 90/90’s. You can see these demonstrated in the video below!
Here are key considerations when performing these exercises:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Keep your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles all in a straight line, maintaining proper alignment.
When pulling the band back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and downward (retraction and depression). This will help stabilize your shoulders and engage the muscles in your upper back. Be sure to allow the shoulderblades to roll forward again each rep.
Focus on “keeping a long neck” throughout the movement. This will reduce upper trapezius compensations and allow the lower scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff be the primary muscle groups working during these movements.
Important: If you have any pre-existing shoulder or back injuries or conditions, consult a healthcare professional or a certified trainer before attempting these exercises to ensure it is safe and appropriate for your specific needs.
Incorporating scapular strength activity into your climbing training routine is paramount for success and reducing injury risk not only to the shoulder, but for the elbows, wrists and fingers as well. Strong shoulders and shoulder blades reduce stress to the joints down the arm. Strong shoulders also have the potential to directly enhance climbing performance, allowing you to execute movements with control and efficiency. Embrace a well-rounded training plan, including specific scapular-strengthening exercises, and witness the transformation in your climbing and overall shoulder health.
If you have pain with overhead activity or you want to learn more about overhead strengthening for climbers, reach out to The Climb Clinic or book a Free 15 min Phone Consultation!