High-Value Training: Working the Antagonists

physical-reverse-wrist-curlWhat could be more important than training in ways that help prevent climbing injuries? Injure a shoulder or elbow, and you’ll be out of climbing (or climbing in pain and making things worse) for a long time. While there are many angles I could take on this topic, today I want to outline the importance of training the antagonist muscles.

Consider that while climbing provides a rigorous workout for the pull muscles, it demands much less of the antagonist “push muscles” of the chest, shoulders, and upper arms. In the long-term, this could lead to tendinitis or other injuries as these stabilizing push muscles may fall out of balance with their opposing pull muscles. The two most common problem spots are the elbows and shoulders.

Let’s take a quick look at each.

[Photo: The reverse wrist curl is a must-do exercise for all climbers. Using a 10- to 20-lb dumbbell, do one set as part of your warm-up for climbing and two more sets at the end of your workout.]

First, consider how climbing ceaselessly works the finger flexor muscles of the forearms, yet does little to strengthen the extensor muscles on the outside of your forearms. As a result, climbers tend to develop a significant muscular imbalance and a susceptibility to lateral epicondylitis-a painful tendinitis on outside portion of the elbow (also known as Tennis Elbow). As many as one in four climbers will eventually suffer from this affliction, although you can greatly reduce your chances by performing a simple preventative exercise.

Reverse Wrist Curls with a light dumbbell will strengthen the extensor muscles on the back of the forearm. Perform this exercise, along with stretching of the forearm muscles, before and after every climbing workout; chances are you’ll dodge the elbow tendinitis bullet.

The shoulders are another common site of injury, especially among climbers with a preference of overhanging walls and steep, severe boulder problems.

physical-shoulder-pressClimbs of this nature place great leverage and strain on the shoulder joint, and it’s the push muscles of the chest and shoulder area that help maintain stability. Of course, climbing does a poor job at strengthening these vital muscles–the upshot, for some unfortunate climbers, is that shoulder instability can lead to tendinitis, subluxation (partial or complete dislocation), or rotor cuff injury. Again, used of a few basic push-muscle exercises will help maintain balance and, hopefully, keep you injury-free.

Push-ups, dips, and dumbbell shoulder presses are three exercises I advocate for this purpose. Two or three sets each, twice per week is usually enough to keep the push muscles in condition to do their job. Keep the weights light–you aren’t bodybuilding!–in the range of 20 to 50 percent of bodyweight.

Note: Should you possess an existing shoulder injury, I urge you to consult doctor for evaluation or a physical therapist for appropriate rehabilitation exercises.

[Photo: The shoulder press, along with push-ups and dips, are excellent for maintaining the many muscles that provide stability of the shoulder joints. Any climber who boulders or climbs overhanging rock would be wise to perform these exercises twice per week. Keep the weights light–20- to 30-lb dumbbells will provide the desired effect.]