by Lynn Hill
Overuse injuries in climbing are prevalent these days, especially for ambitious newcomers and people who simply have a hard time listening to their bodies. I know that most athletes are aware of the basic principles of preventative medicine but sometimes we tend to disregard them at the most crucial times. The following post is mostly just a reminder to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and always try to use perfect form in every activity.
Knowing what perfect form is comes from paying attention to that intuitive sense we all have within us. But one thing we can do that is within our conscious choice is to work on developing muscular balance, since this is one of the keys to being able to maintain perfect form in movement.
The most important muscles in the body, besides the brain of course, are our abs – the center or core of the body. There are numerous exercises to do to develop the abdominal muscles. My favorite ones are gymnastic maneuvers that require both strength, flexibility, and balance. I practice doing a perfect handstand, meaning I try to hold perfectly straight posture without moving my hands. Since I practiced gymnasts as a girl, I've been practicing what's called a press-to-a-handstand. These are great exercises, which are a perfect compliment to climbing since they not only require core strength and flexibility, but they work the opposite muscles in the forearms, triceps, and shoulders.
Some people's shoulders are slightly off structurally so the mechanics of how the tendons and ligaments are attached around the shoulder doesn't allow for perfect alignment and efficiency. For people in this situation, it's particularly important to do exercises that develop strength in the deltoids and rotator cuff.
For most climbers, however, the forearms are usually the muscles that fail first when pushing our limits on a climb. Consequently, most climbing injuries are related to the forearms, fingers, and shoulders. Here are some things that you can do to both develop muscular balance and help prevent injuries:
- Listen to your body: if it hurts, stop!
- Do some supplemental exercises that help develop opposite muscle groups. For example, for the forearms, do some reverse curls and make sure to stretch the forearms before and after exercising or climbing.
- Do some deltoid exercises using either dumbbells or Therobands, or the equivalent type of elastic band that can be used to create multi-directional forces with varying degrees of tension/resistance.
- Do whatever kind of abdominal exercises you prefer. Calisthenics are my favorite since they are easy to do at home and they help develop what I call functional fitness. Such exercises help teach our body how to move efficiently while building strength, coordination and balance at the same time. Exercises that develop functional fitness include any exercise or activity that engages the whole body using one's own body weight against gravity as the form of resistance.
- Make sure to balance the type of climbing you do. Too much repetition of the same moves or types of moves can cause overuse injuries. If you climb on slabs that require hanging onto small edges all the time, you risk finger and forearms injuries. A good compliment to this style would be climbing on some steep terrain within your level of ability. Overhanging terrain requires a considerable amount of balanced strength in the forearms and shoulders, as well as a great deal of core strength. This kind of climbing can help build well-balanced strength. However, getting on routes that are way too difficult for your current level of ability can also cause injury. When pushed beyond our limits of strength, form is likely to break down, resulting in the use of poor technique, which ultimately leads to injury.
- Practice climbing with perfect fluidity and form, and enjoy the process!