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The Neglected Muscles in Climbers

When finally closing in to your local outdoor climbing season, you start to get excited. Thoughts of getting on your projects after months of training has your stoke high. You are even more stoked due to making it through off-season training free of any major injuries. Were you deliberate over the off-season about injury prevention, or did you just get lucky? Either way, the season is here and you’re ready to go.

Does this sound familiar? Many climbers begin training hard in the offseason, but how many actually perform specific exercises to help prevent injury? In this post, we are going to discuss a handful of exercises that should be included in every climber’s weekly routine. These exercises focus on the neglected muscle groups that climbers should train at a higher frequency than they likely do. These exercises should both help prevent injury and improve performance. So let’s get after it!

Neglected Muscle Groups:

-Wrist Extensors:

Much like the finger extensors, the wrist extensors help improve stability at the wrist and hand. They too help stabilize your wrist/fingers while your flexors maintain your participation in the climb. In fact, grip strength is better when your wrist is held in slight extension. However, you should not grip every single hold in slight extension, as this may lead to an overuse injury at your lateral elbow. We will save that topic for another day.

Exercise to work the finger and wrist extensors: Isometric wrist extension

-External Rotators of the Shoulder (aka rotator cuff and posterior deltoid)

The pulling motion that is performed in most climbing moves engages shoulder extensors and medial rotators. The external rotators act as stabilizers during this motion, which assists in keep the humeral head supported within the glenoid cavity. In other words, they help keep the golf ball on the tee, and thus are extremely important in preventing injury and maximizing performance. Below are 3 variations to help you train the external rotators of the shoulder. These can be performed on-the-go, and only require a resistance band.

Exercise 1: Banded ER

Exercise 2: Banded 90/90 ER

Exercise 3: Banded 90/90 ER + Press

-Lower Trapezius

Low and behold, the forgotten portion of the trapezius muscle. The low trap attaches from your scapula to the vertebrae of your spine. This muscle’s primary role is retraction and downward rotation of the scapula, but it is also used as a stabilizer as you elevate your shoulder. Tell tale signs of weakness in this muscle is scapular inferior angle prominence or “winging”. It may also be difficult to perform the exercises listed below if your lower trapezius is weak. Either way, this muscle is one that should be trained in every climber – or really everyone.

Exercise 1: Prone Y’s

Exercise 2: Ring Y’s

-Pectoralis Major/Deltoids/Triceps

We’re grouping these muscles together due to their common action, which is performing the pushing motion. Most climbing moves require pulling, meaning the pushing muscles are often left behind. It is important to train these muscles to improve stability at surrounding joints, reduce imbalance, and prevent injury. Furthermore, these muscles are critical for mantling.

Another consideration for the pectoralis major is that it performs horizontal adduction. This is the motion that occurs when bringing your arms from out wide by your sides to close together in front of you. Chest flys are a common exercise that trains this motion. Horizontal adduction is used frequently in climbing — think of compression moves where you squeeze with both arms to keep yourself tight to the wall. Try the three variations below to improve your ability to top out and finally send it on your project.

Exercise 1: Overhead Press

Exercise 2: Supinated Push ups

Exercise 3: Ring Dips

The above examples are a great way to train some of the common neglected muscles in climbers. Training these muscles may help reduce the risk of injury, thus keeping you on the wall. There are many ways to progress each of the demonstrated exercises, and intensity of each exercise should be adjusted to meet the goals your current training block. You can also adapt each exercise to match what equipment you have available.

In addition to this post, we put together an E-Book to act as a quick reference guide for performing these accessory movements. Click Here to receive a PDF of this E-Book to help improve your climbing training program.

Please feel free to comment, share, reach out with any questions.

Climb On,

Peak Pursuit Team


Dr. Drake Griggs

Peak Pursuit Performance & Rehab

We Help Active Adults In The Salt Lake Area Overcome Injury And Reach Peak Performance, Avoid Unnecessary Time Off, All Without Medications, Injections, Or Surgery.