Climbing has its own unique set of injuries, and why shouldn’t it? We put our bodies under extreme pressure for our craft in a way no other sport does. This results in damaged pulleys, climbers elbow, and strained rotator cuffs. It is rare to come across a climber who hasn’t suffered at some point from one of these big three climbing injuries. It is almost a rite of passage in the climbing world. You don’t want an injury, but it feels like you’re climbing harder if you have one.

The rotator cuff doesn’t have the glitz and glamor of a popped finger, but is equally as important. Many people overlook the dependency their climbing has on the shoulders and therefore ignore essential elements of training. It is far easier to jump on a fingerboard than spend 15 minutes performing stabilizing exercises.

Compression moves, Gaston’s and mantles all require stable shoulders. Training to strengthen your shoulders is key to the prevention of rotator cuff injuries. Unfortunately, people tend to address the rotator cuff only after it’s injured. The cuff stabilizes the shoulder and rotates the head of the humerus in the socket. If the cuff muscles, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor are weak or poorly controlled, then damage to the ligaments in the shoulder is more than likely. It is common to have weak stabilizing muscles even if the large mobilizer muscles like deltoids or latissimus dorsi are relatively strong—as evidenced by six pack heroes with no core strength.


Photo: Chance Clouse

With that in mind, here are a couple of basic exercises that will help build the necessary stability in the shoulder:

External rotation

External rotation will challenge the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles while stimulating some activation in the supraspinatus and rear deltoid. The tension on the resistance cord does not need to be excessive. This exercise is about control. Keep the shoulder girdle square throughout the movement.

1. Stand side on and take the resistance cord in your left hand, keeping your arm at a right angle across your body.

shoulder exercise

2. Keeping your elbow as close to your side as possible rotate your arm outwards, pausing at the end of the movement.

dave culver

3. Slowly and controlled return the arm to the start position and repeat.

Internal rotation

Internal rotation of the shoulder will challenge the subscapularis, with some activity also created in the pectoralis major.

1. Standing side on take the cord in your right hand keeping your arm bent at a right angle.

Rotator Cuff

2. Rotate the arm inwards towards the stomach, pause at the end of the movement.

Rotator Cuff

3. Slowly and controlled reverse the movement.

Not everyone wants to train but no one wants to miss out on climbing due to injury! Simple prevention can give you a happier, healthier pain free climbing life.

Train hard, climb hard!


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