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Injury Prevention for Rock Climbers

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | July 7th, 2020

As climbers, the motion we complete most is pulling. The direction varies, however, the motion remains similar, which causes muscle imbalance and lack of co-ordination throughout the body. For example, tightness will tend to be found in our upper and middle traps, lower chest and weakness – in rotator cuff, subscapularis, serratus anterior and muscles of the neck and anterior shoulder. If this imbalance is not addressed, climbers may start to adopt a protracted posture, which is demonstrated when climbers get tired and the elbows start to flair upwards when gripping holds.


To help with these issues, we need to train the muscles that complete the opposite movement, also known as the antagonist muscles. 

It is quite likely that at some point during a person’s climbing carrier, they will have to put up with some sort of shoulder, finger or wrist injury or pain, which may limit training, climbing or progression. To help you address those issues proactively, we have put together a list of top tips for you below:



As overtraining is one of the most common factors in injury occurrence, make sure to take appropriate rest periods between sessions as they are vital to allow the body to recover and adapt.



Warming up before climbing is one of the key injury prevention techniques. If time is an issue, as climbers mostly report injuries to the upper limbs, focus on these warm-up exercises may be preferable.
The Warm-Up Guide section below provides examples of how you may warm up before climbing.



Strength training, focused on muscles opposite to those you use most frequently during climbing, should be included in a weekly training program between 2-3 times per week. The primary focus should be on postural muscles and stabilising muscles of the shoulder girdle including the rotator cuff as well as the wrist and finger extensors, triceps and thoracic extensors.



Directly before climbing, we recommend the following exercises:

1) 5 minutes of light cardio (for example, running on the spot, jumping jacks, ski squats)

2) Upper limb-specific warm-up with a resistance band:


  • Banded pull-aparts
    Starting position: Holding the band in both hands at chest height with elbows slightly bent;
    Pull your hands apart stopping when the band reaches your chest.
    Return to the start position and repeat




  • Opening arc in each hand from low to high:
    Starting position: Holding the band in both hands or standing on one end;
    Start with one end of the band at or below hip height, holding onto the other end start with your thumb side facing downwards and your elbow slightly bent;
    Raise your arm up and out to the opposite side, finishing with your thumb side facing upwards;
    Return the start position and repeat



  • Opening arc pulling from high to low with both of your arms at the same time:
    Starting position: Holding the band in both hands above your head with your palms facing forwards;
    Pull one arm down with a slightly bent elbow;
    Return to the starting position and complete on both sides;
    Once you have the correct movement you can complete both arms at the same time.



  • Shoulder breakers:
    Starting position: Holding the band in both hands;
    Pull the band gently apart so that it is wider than your shoulders;
    Start in front of you, raise both arms up and over your head ending behind your back at hip level;
    Return to the start position and repeat.


3) Wrist rotations with hands interlocked

4) Upper limb stretches / mobility work:


  • Shoulder flexion stretch against the wall:
    Stand facing a wall with your arms above your head;
    Place your hands on the wall and pivot your body forwards.
  • Chest stretch against the wall:
    Stand with one arm raised to 90 degrees and your elbow bent; 
    Place your arm against a door frame, rotate your chest away from your arm and hold.
  • Windmills:
    With your arms straight. rotate your shoulders in a circular motion using the full range of movement at your shoulders.
  • Finger and forearm stretch:
    Stand with your palm facing downwards;
    Place your other hand over the fingers of the outstretched hand and pull upwards. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Grip Metolius ball/ or stress ball: This training and rehabilitation tool can be used before a workout or climbing session as a warm-up or after an injury.

5) Lower limb stretches and mobility work:


  • Hip openers in standing:
    Raise your knee up in front of you, then open your hip out to the side and place back down to the floor.
  • Lunges

  • Front hip stretch:
    Place yourself into a split squat position;
    With your rear knee on the floor, shift your pelvis forwards, bringing your weight onto your front foot – you should feel the stretch at the front of your rear hip.

Once you have completed your warm-up, start with low-grade climbing that is at least 1-2 grades below your onsight ability, followed by 3-4 climbs at progressively harder grades. Avoid small holds to begin with.


The key antagonist muscles for climbers include the rotator cuff, pectoral muscles, triceps, and wrist extensors. Antagonist training should be included at least 2-3 times per week rotating the exercises to include all muscle groups. Each exercise should be completed 10-15 repetitions with a 30-60 seconds rest and 3-4 sets of each.

First, the rotator cuff. The primary role of this group of muscles is to stabilise the shoulder during all ranges of motion and to limit the total strength of the arm if load through the shoulder exceeds the stability of the shoulder, which includes grip and pulling strength. The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles with several movements to train all of them. One of the main movements to train is external rotation while the shoulder is in neutral as below:





Most climbing movements involve the upper limbs pulling – either towards the rock or propelling us upwards so that we may grab the next hold. This leaves the muscles used for pushing lacking in strength if not trained specifically. The pectoral muscles and triceps can be trained with the bench press:




The next antagonist muscles to train are the wrist extensions – the muscles that bend our wrist backwards. As previously mentioned, when we are gripping the rock, we are using the flexor muscles of the fingers and wrist. This means that the extensors of these can be weak if left untrained. This can develop into instability and pain at both the fingers and wrists. Below is an example of how to train the wrist extensors with either a weight or resistance band:






Here at Shawe Physio one of our Physiotherapists Jack Badger is an avid climber and specialist in rock climbing training, injuries and rehab. He specialises in in-depth science-based advice, techniques and protocols for the most efficient return to rock climbing and hangboard training as appropriate by incorporating rock climbing-specific movements in the gym.
If you would like advice and treatment on current issues or exercises to reduce the risk of future injury, please contact Shawe Physio and book an appointment with Jack.