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Ive read that most climbers have a lot of muscle imbalances, including some that affect proper posture.

  • Is that true?
  • What muscles are imbalanced?
  • How do those imbalances affect posture?
  • How to fix those imbalances, preferably without specialised equipment?
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1 Answer

In some quick googling around, the biggest issues I could find included:

  • Hunched shoulders -- suggesting upper back or general posterior chain weakness
  • Difficulty of spreading fingers -- the opposite of a grip problem, manifests itself as inflammation pain in the fingers.

The hunched shoulders I think are the more common issue that plagues a number of sports, not just climbing or bouldering. The good news is most of this can be addressed with common barbells and dumbbells. You might even get away with some body weight only exercises.

Fixing Hunched Shoulders

This comes from pulling yourself up while facing the rock, particularly if you don't hold yourself close to the face of the rock. It seems contradictory that a sport dedicated to pulling yourself up can result in hunched shoulders. One cause can be allowing your shoulders to shrug forward during "rests". You can see that when strongmen are pushing themselves on their farmers walks. The chest compensates to keep the shoulders in their sockets, which means more force pulling the shoulders forward. If you have gotten to a state where you are shrugging forward all the time, it's because you lack sufficient strength in the upper thoracic portion to keep the shoulders back even when you are relaxed.

Common exercises that can address this are:

  • Dumbbell reverse flies (targets the rhomboids and posterior deltoids)
  • Dumbbell front raises (targets the lats and rotator cuff)
  • Back extentions, rounded (targets the entire back, round at the bottom and raise up with the shoulders first ending in a sort of superman position)
  • Squats (hits the entire posterior chain, and strengthens your entire core)
  • Deadlifts (also hits the entire posterior chain and strengthens your entire core)
  • Any type of row (hits the upper back)

If you already have pronounced hunchback going on, I would start with the the following:

  • rounded back extentions body weight only 3x8-10.
  • dumbbell work (both listed above) at light weight for 5x20.
  • rows as heavy as you can and still pinch your shoulder blades together 3x8-10

The dumbbell work would be every time, and alternate the back extensions and rows. After that, squats and deadlifts will be awesome to build general strength and keep everything good.

Finger inflammation

The most common cause for a joint becomes inflamed is when you keep using it one way, and don't balance that work going the other way. For example, bench pressers who don't do any curls or pull ups tend to have inflammation in the elbows. Cyclists and runners who don't do anything for their hamstrings or posterior chain can have problems with their knees. The same goes for gripping small crevasses to support your whole body weight.

The good news is you don't have to balance the intensity of the work to get good results. You just need to get blood flowing through the joint with very high rep work (5x20, or any variation of 100 reps total).

To address the finger inflammation, use a rubber band around your fingers and open your hand enough to work against the resistance, but not so much that the rubber band rolls up on your hand.

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Thanks, great answer! Could you please elaborate a bit more on the hunched back problem? I cant get it how a sport thats almost all about pulling (or so it seems to an untrained eye) could have a weak back? I thought that pulling youreslf up/closer to the rock makes you develop a steel back... –  K.L. Apr 28 '13 at 13:33
@K.L., usually that's the case. However, the weaknesses can be in the shoulder area itself, or due to poor climbing form. If during most of the climb your shoulders are forward the chest compensates to hold you up. If you are in the habit of retracting your shoulder blades to keep you tight to the face of the rock you probably won't have any problems. I imagine your lower back or lumbar portion would have no problems. It's the upper back or thoracic portion that can have weaknesses. –  Berin Loritsch Apr 28 '13 at 19:48
I'll add those details in the answer. –  Berin Loritsch Apr 28 '13 at 19:49
I'm a climber with a mild hunched forward posture. Part of the picture is that climbers tend to hang on their arms fully extended, to preserve their strength for the key moves when they'll need it. You will keep your shoulder blade engaged most of the time when you're doing this, but you're still moving around on a highly extended arm. I think this leads to things being stretched in odd ways. –  DavidR Apr 29 '13 at 17:14
also, Also, for all the pulling climbers do, the sport doesn't require them to maintain good thoracic posture (picture that in a pullup, you get a thoracic position automatically, as a function of gravity, whereas in a front squat / or a deadlift you have to exert muscles to maintain it). I think that lack of thoracic control (along with potential tightness in the pecs, which climbing also doesn't really do anything for) is what leads to the posture problem. –  DavidR Apr 29 '13 at 17:17
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