Climber Posture Part 2

Proper postural alignment is the basis of all movement. If your posture sucks, your movement suffers and you might get hurt.

Fix your posture and you’ve just taken a huge step in unlocking the full athletic potential of your body. You may also avoid some injuries along the way.

Gray Cook, the founder of Functional Movement Systems, talks about a “joint-by-joint approach” when it comes to the body. Every joint in the body has a purpose. Some joints are designed for stability, while others are designed for mobility. When a joint is forced, injured, or restricted, it will affect the joints above and below it. Mobility and stability are organized in the body in an every-other joint fashion. The ankles need mobility, the knees require stability, hips need mobility, lumbar spine (low back) needs stability, thoracic spine (mid-back) needs mobility, scapula (shoulder blade) needs stability, and the gleno-humeral joint (shoulder) needs mobility.

The thoracic spine has a tendency towards stiffness. Poor posture is the main cause of this. When the thoracic spine becomes stiff, the areas above and below are affected. When the thoracic spine is restricted, the scapula is placed in a compromised position. A scapula in a compromised position affects the rotator cuff. If you looked at your shoulder pain as just shoulder pain you may focus only on shoulder correctives. You may never work on your thoracic spine and will wonder why your shoulder pain is not going away.

Are you starting to understand why you need to pay attention to posture?

Did you fail any of the self tests in part one of this blog? Even if you didn’t you might want to keep reading so that you can learn some things you can do to help prevent future injury.

Where do we start?


Corrective work needs to be done everyday.

In Dr. Kelly Starret’s book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, he says, “When it comes to mobility there are no off days.” To make change in the affected tissues consistent work must be done. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Fifteen minutes a day is enough.

photo 1

Say hello to your new best friend, the double lacrosse ball. Just tape two lacrosse balls together width wise and length wise with wide climbing tape.

Lacrosse ball smash #1:

For this drill you will need two lacrosse balls taped together or a foam roller.

1. Place lacrosse balls at the start of your thoracic spine (the area just below your neck).
2. Fold your arms across your body (give your self a big hug!).
3. Start to bridge over the balls holding for a second then returning to the starting position.
4. Spend some time at each segment working down your back until you reach your lumbar spine.

photo 2

Lacrosse ball smash #2:

For this drill you will need a single lacrosse ball and a wall.

1. Place a lacrosse ball in your upper pec area while leaning your chest into the wall.
2. Place your arm in external rotation and roll below the clavicle between your shoulder and sternum.

photo 3

photo 4

Thoracic spine extension mobility drill:

For this drill you will need a bench and a dowel.

1. Sit on your knees in front of a bench sitting back on your heels.
2. Place your elbows on the bench (optional: hold a dowel in both of your hands).
3. Gently round your mid-back and hold for 3 seconds.
4. Then arch (extend) your mid-back and stick your chest out towards the ground, hold for at least 5 seconds.
5. Return to the rounded position and repeat for 10 sets. Remember to breath!

photo 1

Starting position, rounded.

Ending position, extended.

Ending position, extended.

Thoracic spine rotation mobility drill:

1. Start on the ground on your side.
2. Stack your shoulders so they are lined up.
3. Bring your top arm overhead and behind you.
4. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10 reps
5. Repeat on the other side.
6. Remember to breath! The goal is to get the top shoulder to the ground not just the hand.

Starting position.

Starting position.

Ending position.

Ending position. I’m tight!

Great! Now that we’ve mobilization out of the way, how do we get our postural muscles working properly?

There are eighteen muscles alone that attach to the scapula. They have to work together at specific ranges of motion to control the scapula on the thoracic spine.

As the arm rises overhead, the scapula has to rotate upward one degree for every two degrees of humeral motion. If the scapular muscles aren’t working properly, they won’t fire at the right time, resulting in scapular dyskinesia (aka your shoulder blade doesn’t move the way it’s supposed to). This decrease in scapular control places the glenohumeral joint (shoulder joint) at a mechanical disadvantage, and bigger muscles start to compensate for the smaller weak ones. Result? Shoulder pain.

The muscles most often over-recruited in climbing are the pectoralis major and minor, upper trapezius, and deltoids. The muscles that are under-recruited, the lower trapezius, serratus anterior, and rhomboids.

The following exercises are designed to enhance the balance between these muscles.

You will need a Theraband like this one of whatever resistance is challenging but does not cause you to breakdown form. OR use a cable machine at the gym.

You will need a Theraband like this one of whatever resistance is challenging but does not cause you to breakdown form. OR use a cable machine at the gym.

Cheerleader exercise:

For this exercise you will need a theraband or tubing.

1. Hold theraband with both hands in front of body, elbows completely extended.
2. Pull theraband apart (bilateral horizontal abduction).
3. Return to starting position, and then pull theraband in diagonal position with right arm up and left arm straight down to your side.
4. Alternate into diagonal with left arm up and right arm down to your side.
5. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-20

Starting position.

Starting position.

Middle position.

Middle position.

Ending position.

Ending position.

photo 2

Shoulder blades tucked into your back pocket. Don’t allow yourself to shrug up.

photo 3

Same idea here. Shoulder blades tucked down and back. No shrugging. Have a friend watch you if you are not sure about your form.

One-Arm Rows:

For this exercise you will need a cable machine, gymnastic rings or a theraband.

1. Seated on a bench, using a theraband attached to something stable, pull handles into sternum while pinching scapulae together, toward the spine.
2. Pinch and hold scapulae then extend arms and allow scapulae to assume a fully protracted position and repeat. It is very important to keep elbows tucked during entire exercise.
3. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-20.

*Note, this exercise can also be performed with gymnastic rings and can be progressed to a more and more horizontal position.

Starting position.

Starting position.

Ending position.

Ending position.

Lat Pull Downs:

For this exercise you will need a theraband or lat pull-down machine.

1. Keeping bar in front of the body, pull down handle to chest level, flexing elbows, in order to exercise the latissimus dorsi.
2. Make sure to keep the shoulders down.
3. Repeat 3 sets of 10-20.

*Once you build up the strength and control for this you can progress to pull-ups with strict form.

Starting position.

Starting position.

Ending position.

Ending position. You aren’t doing this for strength. I am well aware most climbers can do this with body weight or more. This is a technique fix. Focus on pulling with the big muscles in your back. Shoulders back and down and don’t let your shoulder come forward at the end of the movement like most climbers do at the top of a pull-up.

Disclaimer: people often think that they just need to perform a few exercises for a couple of days and they’ll magically be fixed. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Making corrections takes time, patience, consistency, and perfect technique.

Long-term success comes when you are consistent with these initiatives and don’t allow yourself to fall into bad posture habits in your daily life.

Reinforce correct movement patterns and climbing technique. Get a coach, take a class, train proper movement, watch other climbers move. Continue learning about your body.

The next post will be about core training for climbers so we can learn how to connect it all.

***REMEMBER: Do not hesitate to contact a professional (sports chiropractor, physical therapist, sports ortho) if you’re struggling with any pain or discomfort brought on by bad posture or movement patterns! If you are in San Francisco and need help please contact me at



2 responses to “Climber Posture Part 2

  1. Pingback: My Top 5 Most Read Posts on | Natasha Barnes Climbing & Performance Therapy·

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