Rock Climbing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Rock climbing stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with rock climbing injuries for good.
Rock climbing is now both an indoor and outdoor sport in many countries, with its own set of rules, grading systems, equipment and technique. People now climb on purpose as a form of exercise or for competition. However, it was not always so. Old civilizations sometimes made their home on cliffs or rocky ledges for safety; others had to climb as a way to gather food, or needed the skills to breach walls of castles and fortresses.
If you’re looking to improve your rock climbing or just seeking to prevent rock climbing injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
During the Victorian era, when the exploration of the natural world became a trendy pursuit, rock climbing became an athletic practice as part of the discipline of Alpine mountaineering, but it was still not considered a sport. That started to change in the last quarter of the nineteenth century when some early climbers started to attract attention with some difficult climbs. A solo climber name Walter Smith who climbed Napes Needle in the 1880’s is touted as having changed the perception of rock climbing from a challenging hobby to a sport. Initially, three main regions saw the beginning of rock climbing as a sport: the Dolomite Mountains in Italy, the Elbe Sandstone mountains in Germany and the Lake District of England.
Another well known climber of the 1930’s, Emilio Comici is credited for new equipment such as belays and tag lines as well as big wall climbing. Amazingly the general public still did not view rock climbing as a separate sport from mountain climbing. It was not until the 1950’s that rock climbing became universally recognized as a sport.
As more climbers took on more and more challenging ascents, it became necessary to create a method of grading the difficulty level of ascents. While rock climbing gained popularity all over the world, attracting enthusiasts to areas that could be climbed, information sharing was not as effective as today, thus accounting for the simultaneous development of separate, independent styles and grading methods.
The nature of the climbs itself has changed over the years. Once considered impressive, climbs that took days to complete are now being replaced by shorter but much more difficult climbs. This change may very well bring with it a different pattern of injuries and likely requires a different athletic preparation than previous types of climbs.
There are now many styles with their own levels and techniques: ice climbing, indoor climbing, free rock climbing and many others. As with any sport, participants must be aware of the problems that can be incurred with participation and take measures to prevent injury.
Although it may seem that a climber requires more upper body than lower body strength, with good technique most of the power should come from the lower body, with the upper body providing the ability to balance and stay close to the wall. Here’s a list of the muscles or muscle groups most used in rock climbing:
- Forearm muscles: brachioradialis, pronator teres, flexor carpi, palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris and flexor carpi radialis. Grip strength is very important in rock climbing and comes from the forearm muscles working as a unit.
- Leg muscles: the real strength in climbing comes from the legs, particularly the quadriceps muscle. Other important muscles are the hamstrings, gluteals and calf muscles.
- Shoulder muscles: deltoids and rotator cuff.
- Torso muscles: pectoralis major (smaller role), latissimus dorsi, rhomboids.
Most Common Rock Climbing Injuries
This sport carries the usual injury risk, such as overuse problems and minor incidents, but it is also much more likely to cause acute injuries due to falls, sometimes from significant heights. Both of the categories of injuries can be somewhat preventable through a careful training plan.
Rock climbing is performed by amateurs, weekend warriors and elite climbers alike. All are at risk of overuse injuries, which close to 40-50% of climbers can experience over time, some of the most common being listed here. Overuse problems in rock climbing are almost predominantly found in the upper body:
- Climber’s finger: quite often the weight of the entire body literally hangs from one finger. Frequent climbers can eventually experience strain and tears and even complete rupture of the tendons and ligaments that mobilize the finger joints. Severity of this problem is often underestimated.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: this is caused by compression of the median nerve from inflamed swollen tendons travelling in a limited space at the wrist level.
- Lateral epicondylitis
- Shoulder impingement
- Shoulder labral damage
- Upper crossed syndrome: this is actually due to the fact that as in most sports, some muscles are used in a disproportionate manner, creating a muscle imbalance and tightness. It is best managed by an experienced sports physical therapist or sport trainer/coach who can prescribe customized strength and flexibility exercises to correct the problem.
- Lower extremity: when a rock climber does develop a lower extremity problem it will often involve the knee joint. The athlete could also develop iliotibial band syndrome and hamstring strain, all these originating both from faulty technique and a deficiency in hip flexibility.
Acute injuries occur during rock climbing for a variety of reasons, including: improper physical preparation; adverse weather; and equipment failure. Various studies about climbing accidents in the Mont Blanc/Chamonix area, Yosemite, Grand Tetons and the Sierra Nevada indicate that the most common injury from a fall is to the ankle, which experiences the impact of a fall that is mostly with the body at vertical. Up to a third of fall injuries are to the lower body and occur in experienced lead climbers a good majority of the time. Aside from taking steps to prevent the fall itself, climbers are considering shoes that are being designed to better absorb the impact of a fall.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Rock climbing is a complex sport, thus requiring extensive knowledge and experience in many areas in order to perform climbs safely. Here are some areas to specifically focus on when preparing for rock climbing of any kind. This preparation allows climbers to move quickly through an extreme range of motion or hold a position without tiring too quickly:
- Endurance strength: aim to be able to hold certain positions for a long time, possibly a few minutes. A climber may need to hang from a few fingers while looking for a foot hold or may need to reach for and hold a position while waiting for another climber to catch up.
- Power strength: this is especially important for the lower extremity but it should be developed in the upper body as well.
- Flexibility training: this is just as important as strength. The shoulders, hips, pectorals and latissimus dorsi need special attention. Certain key skills cannot be performed safely or at all without sufficient hip and shoulder flexibility. Some of these are: edging, stemming and manteling.
- Rest between climbs.
- Avoid climbing when tired or afraid. Practice mental skills.
- Pay attention to proper nutrition and hydration.
The Top 3 Rock Climbing Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for rock climbing; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
Rotating Wrist Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
Squatting Leg-out Adductor Stretch: Stand with your feet wide apart. Keep one leg straight and your toes pointing forward while bending the other leg and turning your toes out to the side. Lower your groin towards the ground and rest your hands on your bent knee or the ground.
Standing High-leg Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch: Stand with one foot raised onto a table. Keep your leg bent and lean your chest into your bent knee.
Get more Stretching Exercises here...
To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and improve your full body mobility and freedom of movement, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM).
In total, they include 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.
The DVD also includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you wherever you go.
The Handbook and DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.