Rock Climbing

Drills for Rock Climbers

Much like any athlete or weekend warrior, it can be easy to title ourselves as a “rock climber” or “runner” or whatever your sport of choice may be. Sure, getting more efficient in our sport requires us to spend hours perfecting our craft. However, we often lack the discipline or expertise to train for our sport. This requires time off the wall, away from the pavement, and more time in the gym to build strength and gain mobility to support the economy of our sport.

Adding this program just twice a week to your regimen can pay huge benefits when you get back on the wall!

1) Hanging Scapula Retraction

The ability to control the scapula (shoulder blade) will make your climbing, especially over hung climbs, feel much stronger. Being stronger and more stable around the shoulder will allow you to climb harder routes, with less risk of injury, giving you the confidence to go for the big move, or maybe climb something you normally would shy away from.

What to do:

  • Find something you can hang from, pull up bar, gymnastic rings, hangboard, or tree branch are all acceptable.
  • Hang from your tool of choice with STRAIGHT ELBOWS throughout the entire movement. This is important, because we want to make sure we are training the muscles of the shoulder blade without the arms jumping in to help.
  • While maintaining straight elbows, pull your shoulders down away from your ears, arch your back so the chest starts to point up to the ceiling, then retract your shoulder blades. Think about trying to crack a walnut between your scapulas. Let your legs hang relaxed.
  • Either hold for time, or do this for reps.
  • Goal is 5 sets of 10 perfect reps.

Hanging Scapula Retraction Position 1

Hanging Scapula Retraction Position 2

Hanging Scapula Retraction Position 3

Something to keep in mind while doing this drill is quality BEFORE quantity. It will be more effective to do 1 high quality rep than 10 subpar reps. Quality movement will lead to quantity, but you have to put in the time to learn the movement properly while developing proper neuromuscular facilitation. If at any point you have to bend your elbows, put your feet on a bench to help support your bodyweight. This will make the drill much more effective.

2) Seated Shoulder Flexion

When climbing, most of the time your hands are overhead. This position is called shoulder flexion. With so much time spent overhead we want to make sure that we have proper control in this position.

What to do:

  • Grab an elastic band and anchor it down at ground level.
  • Sit cross legged so you are facing the anchor point
  • Grab the elastic band, and keeping the elbows straight, pick your hands up overhead so that your upper arm is next to your ears (like a handstand).
  • Do not allow the band to pull your arms in front of your ears. Keeping the elbows straight and arms by the ears will help you tap into the mid/lower trapezius muscles.
  • Once you are in position, pretend you are making a snow angle, or doing a “jumping jack” motion with the arms, not allowing them to come forward during the entire movement.

Seated Shoulder Flexion Position 1

Seated Shoulder Flexion Position 2

During this drill, make sure that you are using your arms/shoulders to pull the band to the ears, and not using the weight of your body to stretch the bands. It is also very common for people to arch their low back and have the lower rib cage “stick out” while in shoulder flexion. Keep your abs engaged to pin your ribs down. If you have a hard time with this, sit with your back against a wall during this drill and try to keep your low back against the wall.

3) Weighted reverse arm circle.

The previous two drills have your arms in flexion, hands over head. For this drill, we will be doing standing arm circles with the hand going behind the body. This movement is shoulder extension. Spending so much time with hands over head without getting the arm to move behind the body will create muscle imbalances which could potentially contribute to an injury down the road.

What to do:

  • Pick a light weight, 3-8 pounds. This drill is done one arm at a time.
  • Stand up and keep your feet together.
  • Keeping the elbow straight, and palm facing forward, move your arm behind you and draw a big circle with your arm ending up back where you started the movement.
  • Do this for a set of 5 and switch arms. 3-5 sets is sufficient.

Arm Circle Position 1

Arm Circle Position 2

Arm Circle Position 3

Arm Circle Position 4

Arm Circle Position 5

Keep in mind that this is not a “workout.” You should not be doing maximal effort during this movement, but just enough to start to expose the shoulder to a light load during its entire range of motion. As with the shoulder flexion drill, do not allow your back to arch, or your lower ribs to stick out. Keeping an active core is important! If your core is able to control your torso, your brain will allow you to have more range of motion in your extremities. Proximal stability, will lead to distal mobility.


Spencer Edgren

Spencer Edgren

Personal Trainer