Rock Climbing Injury Prevention & Prehab
by Christopher Schafenacker
Nobody needs to be told that climbing injury-free is key to sending hard. After all, if you can’t climb, you can’t send. Simple as that. Climbing injury prevention thus needs to be a cornerstone of every climber’s training. The fact is that if you don’t prehab your fingers and shoulders—the parts of the climber’s body most prone to injury—you will one day hear a snap, crackle, or pop that means all your hours spent training have been wasted. Worse, in all likelihood this will happen when it hurts most: just as you’re wrapping up a training cycle and at your strongest. Avoid such heartbreak by incorporating the following climbing injury prevention protocols into your routine.
Finger Injury Prevention
Your fingers are perhaps both the most important and most vulnerable part of your climbing apparatus, so it’s no surprise that they are also among the most injury-prone. Finger injuries tend to happen in one of two ways: either when you eagerly jump on your project without properly warming up, or when giving that notoriously dangerous “just one last burn.” A proper warm-up helps you avoid the former, and not being a dummy will save you from the latter. Below is a simple finger warm-up followed by tips to avoid dummy mistakes.
A Simple Finger Warm-Up:
1. Place a thick elastic band or something like the TheraBand Hand Xtrainer around your fingertips and activate your finger muscles by stretching them from a bent position to a fully straightened and spread position.
2. Hold this straightened position for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat 5 times resting 5 seconds between repetitions.
3. After warming your fingers up with a band perform 3 sets of 10-second hangs in both a half-crimp and open hand position on a comfortable-sized edge. Rest 30 seconds between repetitions and aim to exert no more than 50% effort. Don’t worry if you need to keep your feet on the ground to achieve this. Whenever possible, perform your hangs on a wooden hangboard or portable wooden crag board.
4. Once complete, get on at least one or two warm routes before going for it on your proj.
Tips to Avoid Dummy Mistakes
1. If it hurts, stop. The high force of crimping can cause microtrauma in the flexor tendon, tendon sheath, and collateral ligaments of the flexor digitorum profundus (FDP) muscles which can easily become injured if not allowed to recover.
3. Learn how, when, and when not to tape your fingers. A good place to start is Dr. Volker Schoeffl’s Youtube series on the subject.
Shoulder Injury Prevention
Learning proper finger care is half the battle of climbing injury-free. A good portion of the other half is learning to do the same for your shoulders. Wall slides are a simple exercise that targets many of the underlying susceptibilities that lead to shoulder injuries and should therefore figure in every climber’s warm-up routine.
1. Stand with your back flat against a wall.
2. With palms facing forward and elbows bent to 90° hold your arms flat against the wall as well (yes, like a cactus).
3. Without losing contact, slowly raise your arms above your head until straight and fully extended. Slowly lower back to a 90° bend for one repetition.
4. Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions with a 2-minute break in between sets.
Wall slides help with climbing injury prevention by correcting shoulder alignment and strengthening your external rotators. As an added benefit, they help undo the shoulder hunch from which so many climbers suffer.
If you’ve ever wondered how can the possibility of getting injured while training be minimized, we hope the above provides some answers. Naturally, there is more to climbing injury prevention than that which is covered in this article. Elbows, knees, ankles, and even toes need attention but getting into all of that will have to wait for a future installment.
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Augste, C., Winkler, M., Künzell, S. Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlich fundierten Leistungs-diagnostik im Sportklettern (2020). Augsburg University.