Bal­ance your body to climb harder and pre­vent in­jury.



Clip with your right hand. Move right hand first. Lock off right hand and place the .75 cam. We climbers of­ten fa­vor our dom­i­nant side, which can lead to lop­sided strength im­bal­ances— and in­jury. As a long­time suf­ferer of a weaker left shoul­der, I sought ad­vice from train­ers and ex­pe­ri­enced climbers alike, par­tic­u­larly Kimm Tellez, a per­sonal trainer at Earth Treks in Golden, Colorado. Use these tips to recognize your im­bal­ances, en­cour­age sym­me­try, and crush all projects.

Causes and Risks of Im­bal­ance

Be­gin­ner climbers un­dergo rapid mus­cle devel­op­ment, es­pe­cially as they up the vol­ume and fre­quency of their climb­ing. Like­wise, repet­i­tive ex­er­cises and pro­ject­ing can lead to im­bal­ances even for ad­vanced climbers; ditto for an in­jury and then sub­se­quent fail­ure to pur­sue phys­i­cal ther­apy. Climbers com­monly ex­pe­ri­ence un­even shoul­der strength, which can be no­tice­able when lock­ing off; un­even fore­arm strength; and tight chest mus­cles due to overde­vel­oped lats. Im­bal­ances can cause ten­donitis, mus­cle strain, and ro­ta­tor cuff in­juries, and poor pos­ture and sub­se­quent back and neck pain.

Iden­ti­fy­ing weak­ness

Iden­ti­fy­ing im­bal­ances is the first step to cor­rect­ing them. Keep in mind any past in­juries. Tweaked your left shoul­der five years ago on a gas­ton move? You may still be out of whack. Work with a trainer or coach who can ob­serve pos­ture and tech­nique. You can also part­ner up with a friend to film and/or eval­u­ate each other for lean­ing, un­even shoul­der height, or im­per­fect pos­ture/tech­nique while you do pull-ups, push-ups, or sim­i­lar ex­er­cises.

Cor­rect­ing An Im­bal­ance

Upon dis­cov­er­ing an im­bal­ance, your first step is to de­velop over­all base strength. “The base-level phase of your pro­gres­sion should be fo­cused on func­tional move­ment,” says Tellez. “Ba­si­cally, you need to learn cor­rect form first, be­fore you move on to per­for­mance train­ing.” Per­form high reps of lower-in­ten­sity ex­er­cises with good form ( see be­low) to achieve an even base. Do ex­er­cises equally on both sides un­til you have achieved a bal­ance.

Base-Build­ing Ex­er­cises

Since climb­ing in­volves a lot of pulling, our bi­ceps and lats tend to over­power an­tag­o­nist or push­ing mus­cles, such as the ex­ten­sor mus­cles in the fore­arms, tri­ceps, and pec­torals. De­vel­op­ing the an­tag­o­nis- tic mus­cles helps cor­rect im­bal­ances and de­vel­ops all-around strength. The sug­gested reps are for be­gin­ner weight-lifters. Choose a weight that al­lows you to com­plete each rep with per­fect form. As you gain strength, you may in­crease the weight and de­crease the reps.


Shoul­der Presses: Shoul­der presses build strength and sta­bil­ity in the del­toids, and also work the pec­torals and tri­ceps. Do three sets of 15–20 rep­e­ti­tions, rest­ing 30–60 sec­onds be­tween sets. Sit or stand with your back straight and a dumb­bell in each hand. Raise your arms so that your shoul­ders are even and el­bows bent at 90 de­grees. Palms should

face for­ward and tri­ceps are par­al­lel to the floor. In a con­trolled mo­tion, press the weights up­ward un­til they meet over­head. Lower slowly and re­peat.

Chest Presses: Chest presses strengthen the pec­toral mus­cles. Do three sets of 15–20 rep­e­ti­tions, rest­ing 30–60 sec­onds be­tween sets. Lie face-up on a bench with a low-weight dumb­bell in each hand. Hold the weights above your chest, shoul­der-width apart, with your el­bows at 90 de­grees. Press the weights to­ward the ceil­ing un­til your arms are straight. Lower slowly and re­peat.


For each ex­er­cise be­low, do two sets of 15–20 rep­e­ti­tions, rest­ing 1–2 min­utes be­tween sets.

Ex­ter­nal Ro­ta­tions: Rig an ex­er­cise band or ca­ble ma­chine so you can grip it at el­bow height. Stand with feet shoul­der-width apart and el­bow tucked at your side at 90 de­grees. Hold the band in front of you. Ro­tate from the shoul­der un­til you are grip­ping the band out to the side, 90 de­grees from the start­ing po­si­tion. Ro­tate back to cen­ter and re­peat.

In­ter­nal Ro­ta­tions: Set up as above, but then ro­tate in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, pulling the band across your torso.


For each ex­er­cise be­low, do two to three sets of 15–20 rep­e­ti­tions, rest­ing 30–60 sec­onds be­tween each set.

Wrist Curls: Sit with a dumb­bell in each hand, fore­arms sta­bi­lized on thighs and palms up. Curl weights to­ward you, iso­lat­ing move­ment to the wrists. Lower to the start­ing po­si­tion and re­peat.

Re­verse Wrist Curls: Kneel be­fore a bench with a dumb­bell in each hand. Sta­bi­lize fore­arms on the bench with palms fac­ing the floor. Curl the weights up to­ward you, iso­lat­ing move­ment to the wrists. Slowly re­turn to your start­ing po­si­tion and re­peat.

Prona­tors: Sta­bi­lize one fore­arm on a bench or counter, or by hold­ing it with your op­po­site hand. Hold a light dumb­bell (or ham­mer, broom­stick, etc.) by one end, thumb point­ing up­ward. Slowly ro­tate from side to side at the wrist.

Strength-Build­ing Ex­er­cises

Once you’ve built a solid base, move on to these pull-up-style ex­er­cises. (Note: If you can­not do stan­dard, two-armed pullups with­out fa­vor­ing a strong side, add in as­sis­tance bands or a pul­ley sys­tem un­til you’re able to achieve per­fect form.)

Off­set Pull-Ups: Drape a towel over a pull-up bar. Grip the bar with one hand and the towel with the other so that your grip is off­set. Pull up to the higher hand; lower slowly and re­peat. Be­gin by do­ing as many pull-ups as you can while main­tain­ing good form. As strength in­creases, aim for 2–3 sets of 5–10 pull-ups on ei­ther side. Start with hands closer to­gether and in­crease the off­set over time.

Type­writer Pull-Ups: On a pull-up bar or hang­board, start with a sin­gle pullup with your arms slightly wider than shoul­der width. Lock off in the apex po­si­tion with your head above your hands, then slowly move from side to side. Keep your el­bows down and do not hunch your shoul­ders. Shift­ing the weight be­tween your hands will strengthen ei­ther side and ac­ti­vate your lats evenly. Start slow and build up to 2–3 sets of 5–10 reps. Punches (aka Sus­pended Type­writ­ers): Do this ex­er­cise on sus­pended holds, such as Rock Rings. With one hand on each hold, start with a sin­gle pull-up, fo­cus­ing on form. Lock off in the apex po­si­tion, hold it with one arm, and ex­tend the other hand side­ways (punch­ing out to the side). Keep the lock-off hand fac­ing for­ward, with no prona­tion in­ward. With con­trol, bring the ex­tended arm back to lock-off po­si­tion then re­peat on the other side. Work up to do­ing 1–2 sets up to 10 reps.

Sys­tem Wall Re­peaters: Sys­tem walls of­fer mir­rored sets of holds to prac­tice a va­ri­ety of moves. In­vent a move (per­haps a fac­sim­ile of the crux on your project) that you can re­peat on both sides. Make the moves harder by go­ing for more dis­tant or smaller holds. Re­peat on both sides un­til you fail to make the move on one side, then stop. As­sess­ing the cause of fail­ure (fin­ger strength, mo­bil­ity, shoul­der sta­bil­ity) will help you im­prove. Re­peat­ing dif­fi­cult moves with ei­ther arm will build strength, and is a great way to iso­late and prac­tice moves.




ZOE GATES trains with the Brown Univer­sity Climb­ing Team. She’s driven cross-coun­try to visit some of the na­tion’s best climb­ing ar­eas, from the Red River Gorge to Red Rock, and is al­ways look­ing for new ex­er­cises to help im­prove her climb­ing.

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