The rock is dry, you’ve been flicking through the guide book picking problems, watching videos for beta, and you’re all stocked up on magic chalk dust. You head out for a day at the crag, the rock feels great but perhaps you’ve noticed
- Your neck, shoulders & back being shot half way through the day;
- Your movement on the rock is stiff & laboured;
- An array of niggly aches, pains and stiff muscles creeping their way in.
Cues like pain, crunching, tingling, crappy flexibility, lacking strength/power, or undue fatigue can all be signs of underlying dysfunctional movement patterns. Having any of these likely means you’ve been moving around in funky repetitive ways (tissue overuse, muscle strain and compromised joint positions) for a while. Climbing is both a vigorous sport and one that creates imbalances, so how do you avoid fatigue, aches and stiffness creeping in? (Especially as the years pass)
The first step is looking after your body – what we commonly call BODY CARE
Get into a habit of performing some form of stretching, mobility or soft tissue work most days for 10-15 minutes. It will be a constant effort, although one that isn’t a big ask and well worth it to minimise damage, enhance performance and preserve the lifespan of your climbing. Just focus on a few key areas each time and you will soon start softening those restricted, hard tissues and be moving better!
So here’s 4 specific Body Care techniques to climb with more flow and freedom of movement. Enjoy!
Lat/Obliques/Shoulder – Soft Tissue Work
One of the major muscle groups stressed with climbing are the lats. Hanging and pulling followed by more hanging and pulling makes up the majority of time actually spent on the rock. Combine it with many attempts throughout long days often in cold temperatures and those lats are going to start feeling pretty stiff.
The lat attaches to both the arm and the pelvis and everything in between. When they both get short, they pull the shoulders forward. If left out of balance like this a forward shoulder position screws with the movement and muscles of the shoulder blades, upper spine and rib mechanics; not ideal for pulling hard on holds. If one is stiffer than the other things really get interesting and the body starts getting twisted all the way down to the ankles which can create havoc in movement function, performance potential and how you feel. A great way to restore optimal length back to the lat muscles is to do some soft tissue work using a foam roller.
Pec Minor Stretch
A little muscle that can cause a lot of disruption is the pec minor. Pec minor sits deep underneath the major pec fascia and attaches to the shoulder and a number of the upper ribs. When it gets stiff pec minor drags and holds the shoulder forward leaving it locked in internal rotation. As I’ve said before a shoulder stuck in a forward position screws with the movement and muscles of the shoulder blades, upper spine and rib mechanics; not ideal for pulling hard on holds. One of the best ways I’ve found to restore optimal length back to the pec muscles is to use a swiss ball to stretch that area.
Swiss Ball Side Bend Stretch
Many problems (especially overhanging or compression lines) require a tonne of maximal concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions of the big muscles of the upper body. Muscles like the obliques, lats and erector spinae all of which attach to the rib cage, spine and shoulders. Frequent maximal contractions, especially isometrics, teach the body to stiffen up. Overtime these muscles learn to stay stiff and hold excess tension which screws with the nervous system disrupting our access to strength, power and flexibility. Basically if left stiff, overtime we lose movement range of the ribs and spine as well as the ability to pull hard and explosively.
The swiss ball side bend is one awesome stretch that’s great for loosening up all these muscles at once (including the obliques, lats, quadratus lumbourum, erector spinae and psoas major to name a few).
Swiss Ball Thigh Stretch
The lunge movement is everywhere in climbing, drop knees, step ups and bridging are examples. Good range of movement in the hips and thighs gives us more options on the rock. With constantly stepping up off the points of our toes we create quad dominance and the thighs over time shorten and lose their full range. Losing any range of motion in the hips, is often compensated for in the low back and screws with recruiting the hamstrings and glutes, this commonly results in achy low backs and sore knees.
This thigh stretch is great for restoring and developing the lunge movement, loosening up the hips and knees, lengthening the quad muscles, rectus femoris, sartorious, and somewhat the psoas, adductors and glutes with a bit of movement.
Live the Rock Life,
p.s Keep an eye out for more techniques in part 2 and 3!