What you need to know so far:
- Arm and shoulder injuries or niggles are really common and they suck to climb with.
- Bouldering creates musculoskeletal imbalances and restrictions, especially in the shoulders – hunched over look with locked up rounded shoulders lacking external rotation held in place by gnarled up, stiff lats causing all sorts of wonderful crunching noises & impingements.
- Climbing with restricted joint mechanics forces your body to create compensatory movement patterns, which disrupts timing and force production and beats up muscles / joints unnecessarily.
- The bit that hurts is rarely where the problem is, and often just where you’re having to compensate.
- ‘Everything’s connected’ all the way from fingertip to toe so there’s likely underlying restrictions and weaknesses elsewhere.
Instead of spending most of your time focusing on the bit that hurts, even though it rarely gets better, what if we go looking for the actual causes? As an alternative, identifying if you have any restrictions and freeing them up or weaknesses and strengthening them, regardless how unrelated they at first seem, is a much better approach. Think of tuning a guitar, some strings need loosening and others need tightening.
Simply enhancing the ability of your spine, shoulders & hips to:
- Be mobile – (flex, extend, & rotate more effectively)
- Be stable –(handle multi directional forces and maintain good alignment)
takes a significant toll away from shoulders, elbows and fingers, as forces are effectively dissipated throughout the whole kinetic chain.
So onto the next secret of being stable – strengthening Diagonals!
To create energy efficient, complex movements, produce force and stay upright many muscles must work together. Our bodies accomplish this feat by using muscle slings – combinations of muscles connected through fascia that work together to stabilise joints and create dynamic movement. A key sling is the posterior oblique sling (POS), a diagonal muscle sling which runs across the back of the torso connecting the shoulder to the opposite hip and continues down to the foot. Its purpose is to create and stabilise athletic, dynamic movement because one limbs (e.g. right arm) task is stabilised, counterbalanced or powered by its opposite complementing limb (e.g. left leg).
An obvious example – imagine a javelin thrower powering up through the left leg and hip to impart extra force to throw the javelin with the right hand. Notice the diagonal sling? Many climbing moves (and tonnes of other important life movements) use the opposite hand and foot.
Let’s take a look how the POS works during climbing:
The glute max (big bum muscle) starts contracting when you start driving your foot down into a hold and pushing through the leg; at the same time the lat fires up as you start pulling with the opposite hand. These muscles contracting simultaneously creates tension in the thoracolumbar fascia (the stuff across the low back that joins the two) creating a stable base. This base effectively dissipates and translates movement forces throughout the whole kinetic chain for greater power to get us moving in the direction we want with less wear & tear on any particular joint.
Put simply, strong slings make us stable, powerful and accurate. Whereas weak, disrupted or inhibited slings create compensatory movements, which leads to a lackluster performance, and nagging niggles. Think of firing a cannon from a canoe vs. a battleship. The battleship obviously delivers the biggest punch and way more accuracy whereas the canoe can’t handle the force, will most likely flip and fire wildly in the wrong direction.
For a movement so fundamental to the sport and having rehabbed many shoulder injuries, it’s amazing how weak, detrained and poorly the diagonals of the body are functioning in most climbers.
Why do slings get weak and disrupted?
Overuse / Lack of rest – repetitive climbing without adequate recovery stresses the same muscles over and over, causing pattern overload. If the big strong muscles are left tense, short and tight, overtime they will adaptively shorten and disrupt kinetic sequencing.
Sitting more – We spend more and more time sitting (at work, in cars, tv, and laptops) which screws with our system in all sorts of ways, especially causing movement restrictions and stability issues.
Injuries – Pain and injury create short term compensatory patterns that can become ingrained because of poor rehab and/or lack of resting post injury
Joint restrictions – Any restrictions reduce mobility, especially in the spine. Secondly restrictions in the hip will be mirrored in the opposite shoulder over time, & vice versa.
Strengthening the POS helps all the muscles from the hand and shoulder down to the opposite hip and foot move freely with good kinetic sequencing. A wicked exercise for training your POS stability and co-ordination, is the Lateral ball roll.
- Begin sitting on a Swiss ball and roll out until your head and shoulders are rested on the ball with hips lifted.
- Holding yourself flat with arms stretched out keeping them at shoulder height, drift sideways and hold.
- Keep the body rigid (like a gymnast) throughout keeping the hips and shoulders level.
- Keep the tongue on the roof of the mouth and keep the knees pretty much over the ankle.
Begin with a 3 second hold for 6 reps, and progress this to 10sec hold each side. Once you can hold 10s each side for 6 reps, try moving your feet (vid 1st progression, build up to 10 second holds). For the very strong and experienced have a go at the single leg version (vid 2nd progression, hold for 5seconds each side only).
Getting good at it:
- Improves body tension and how well you stabilises forces, especially rotational ones. This transfers to compression prows, powerful latches, holding barn doors, and handling unexpected landing impacts.
- Builds solid foundations of static and dynamic stability creating a base for training strength and power in bigger movements like pull ups, squats and lunges.
- Enhances posture and reduces achy muscles, as it trains the neck, shoulder, torso and hip stabilisers all at once.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next secret, introducing you to the Anterior Oblique Sling.
Live the Rock Life,