Climbing doesn’t involve as much repetitive motion as sports such as running or cycling, but most of us end up working the same moves and body positions over and over. That means many of the common climbing injuries are a result of overuse and muscle imbalances.
Bob Otto, a physical therapist at Penn Therapy Associates in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and climber for 20-plus years, says the most common injuries he sees involve the shoulders—tendonitis, impingement, rotator cuff and labral tears—as well as elbow tendonitis and finger injuries.
“The most important thing climbers should do to stay healthy is include a supplemental strength program,” Otto says.
He adds, “I like yoga for the proprioception/body awareness benefits that come from certain balance and dynamic movements with certain poses. Improving shoulder and hip mobility can help with issues throughout the upper [elbow, wrist/fingers] and lower extremities [knees, ankle/foot], respectively. Also, breathing techniques with yoga can carry over when you’re pumped on the wall!”
If you’d like to add yoga to your training program, below are a few poses that open and stretch injury-prone areas. These poses could easily be added to your warm-up or cool-down routine. Hold each for as long as you’d like, and never push to the point of pain—you should feel a stretch, not a burning sensation.
This resting pose is great for stretching tight hips and shoulders. From a tabletop position on your hands and knees, move your knees to the outer edges of your mat and slide your big toes together. As you exhale, allow your forehead to drop to the mat and stretch your arms forward. Push your hips back towards your heels and relax.
Thread the Needle
Great for stretching the outside of your shoulders. Start this one from a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Inhale and lift one of your arms out to the side and reach for the sky, then exhale and bring your arm under your body and through to the other side, allowing your opposite arm to bend and your torso to twist.
Cow Face Pose
Cow face pose can be intense, so if your shoulders are really tight, grab a towel or strap to hold instead of trying to force your fingers to touch. Bend one arm up and behind your shoulder and bend the other arm down and behind your back. Grab your towel/strap or intertwine your fingers.
The trusty plank is not only a good core workout, but helps stabilize your shoulders, too. With your palms on the ground and your arms straight, get into a push-up position and keep your hips level. Move down on your forearms if you get tired or for more of a challenge. Roll to one arm and the outer edge of your foot for a side plank.
The down side (ha!) to this one is that it can cause shoulder and wrist pain if not done correctly. It’s more important to get a straight line from your wrists/shoulders/hips and keep your back straight than to hold your legs straight. From a plank position, press back into your shoulders and lift your hips. The general shape you are making is an upside-down V, but it’s O.K. to bend your knees. Your head should be in line with your biceps. Spread your fingers apart and engage your hands as well by pressing down and rotating your hands slightly to see what feels the most comfortable.
Bonus: This pose also works your wrists and fingers while stretching your back and hamstrings.
Feature image by Jan Novak