Strength Training for Beginning Climbers
(5.10s on Lead or V3 for bouldering)
“DON’T GIVE UP. Great things take time.”
Posture. Posture. Posture! As an injury prevention specialist, my goal is get you functioning properly first, then strong and flexible. If you can’t maintain a neutral spine for a minute, how can you pull from that mess and expect that something isn’t going to break down in the chain of weakened links?
I usually have beginners start with a basic movement screen on the ground. I’m not so much looking at the movement as much as I’m looking at HOW you accomplish it. What muscles are you using? Did you stay balanced and stable? Was it graceful? Was it painful? At the end of the assessment did I cross my arms, end up shaking my head, and saying “PLEASE make it stop.”? The goal as a newbie to any sport is to set a foundation that you will later build on as your body mechanics improve on the wall, in your training, and during functional activities for daily life.
Some bodies are ready for progression right away, others need weeks or even months to master theses movements. Your time working on strength during this phase of your climbing should range between 20-30 minutes, 3x/week. Some of you need to cut down and prioritize for your goals, others will need to make time for the first time ever. Strength comes after your climb session if doing them on the same day. Never exhaust postural and stabilizing muscles, then expect them to do their job while you play.
“Difficult” is fine, PAIN IS NEVER OK. Top priority is always your rehab or injury preventative exercises as prescribed by your medical team. Next, start working on the movements below. After that, feel free to work on personal goals. Last in priority are the “mirror muscles”. In fact, ditch those. You don’t need to work on pecs, biceps, or abs until you have achieved balance between anterior and posterior muscle groups. This means, no shoulder pain, proper climb technique, great posture, ability to maintain neutral spine for your workday. Climbers at this level should stay away from heavy bicep and pec work unless they have 100% shoulder range of motion and are absolutely pain free. I usually ban exercises like static plank, sit ups, push-ups, bicep curls, and dips during this phase of climbing development.
NOTE: Every exercise you do is a “core” exercise if you are doing it correctly. Form is of the upmost importance in any phase for any athlete. Reps and sets don’t matter if they are sloppy. You are reinforcing bad habits and movements if you aren’t moving with purpose, focus, and good form. This is why most online strength training programs fail, or worse, lead to injury.
Movements to Master:
1. We need both scapular mobility AND stability combined for transitioning from reach to pull. If utilizing proper posterior shoulder muscles:
Beginners should learn proper hanging technique from overhanging rings, bars, or holds. Your weight should not be in the front of your body. It should be in your posterior. It looks like a gently curved “C” from fingers to toes, all extensors are active. No bent elbows. Belly does not lift toward hands. Hips are in extension, not bent. Great as a warm up drill.
Practice relaxed grip: hold on as little as possible until you actually slip. Learn how little grip you require to hold your body. This is a great warm up drill.
Now practice scapular mobility. Allow full gliding of your shoulder blades without bending of your elbow or lifting of your trunk up/forward. These are the anchors that attach your arm to your trunk. They are SUPER important in pulling! You guessed it, excellent warm up drill!
2. Hip Hinge: A foundational movement for finding posterior hip musculature. You will need this to progress into functional lifting. To assess yourself, hold a broom stick from the back of your head to your tailbone. You should be able to keep your mid back, tailbone, and back of your head, (not lumbar or neck), against the stick. Reach back rather than forward or down. Your weight should shift to your heels. Keep your feet flat, even though your toes will want to lift.
3. “Swim”: Again, posterior trunk muscles, including rotator cuff and glutes. Lay face down on floor. Lift knees & elbows barely off floor while keeping them straight. Try any swim stroke. DO NOT let your back arch; keep your belly tight like you are bearing down or about to be gut-punched.
4. Wall Facing Squat: A strict teaching tool to wake up your hamstrings, glutes, and spine. It takes away all of your “cheats” for squatting and keeps your patella-femoral joints safe. Toes should touch the wall for climbers. If you fall backward, your glutes failed. Find the point they can still hold your against the wall. repeat. It doesn’t count if you fall back. Practice this often!
5. Snow Angels against the wall: Place the back (NOT TOP) of your head against the wall. It may feel like you are tucking your chin just. Add in the backs of your shoulders, hips, elbows, backs of hand, and heels. Now press the back of your hands into the wall. Don’t allow the other parts of your body to leave the wall. You will not be able to flatten your lumbar or neck against the wall if you have a normal, healthy spine. It’s like tug-o-war, but pushing with postural muscles instead of pulling… Try to find a balance that leaves your midsection actively pressing and everything in your posterior working just a bit to stay against the wall. Now, breathe and pay attention to how your body feels. Your goal is simply to feel proper scapular placement, posterior hip, minimally active core, and neutral spine.
Looking to keep yourself accountable as you work on progressing in your climbing? Contact us at ATHENA where we specialize in injury prevention, massage therapy, strength training, climbing assessments, core training, and sports nutrition. You can also follow us on instagram @ Athena_PDX!