Climber Posture

CLIMBER POSTURE.

A couple of years ago when I was still in school I did an internship at the clinic I currently work at. I remember the very first day of the internship one of the physical therapists, Kevin,  approached me and asked “Do you have neck pain?” It was the first thing he had ever said to me and I was a little taken aback.

“No, why?”

“It just looked like you might. Your shoulders are rounded and your head is pretty forward.”

Huh, was I really that bad? I’m a student at chiropractic college. I know what good posture is. I’m more aware of my posture than that, right?

Wrong.

I was also climbing a lot and studying and using the computer a lot. Kevin was right, my posture was heinous.

How embarrassing that someone else had to point it out to me. I’m supposed to be an example. This is something that I’m supposed to be an expert on. I’d never really thought about my own posture.

After Kevin pointed out my bad posture–my climber posture–I became much more aware of it. I also became much more aware of the posture of those around me and how it might affect them.

WHAT IS CLIMBER POSTURE? 

Climber posture is when our pecs are tight and our mid-back muscles (the ones between and below our shoulder blades) are too weak to hold our shoulders back, so they round forward instead.

This muscular imbalance causes the joints in the thoracic spine (mid-back) to lock up in a rigid arch in response…aka The Hunchback.

Some of this is due to bad posture in our daily lives but some of it due to the imposed demand of climbing. As climbers we are always fighting gravity and this pulls us into that rounded position even more when we aren’t using the big muscles of our mid-backs.

DO YOU HAVE CLIMBER POSTURE? 

Here are two simple tests to tell if you have climber posture.

Wall Angel

Step #1-Stand with your back and butt against a wall with your heels 1” from the baseboard. 

Step #2-Bring your arms up an “angel” shape and keep your head, shoulders, midback, elbows, wrists and fingers all flat on the wall at the same time. Make sure to double check that your midback is flat against the wall. It’s okay if your low back isn’t touching, but you should only be able to slip a flat hand in the small of your back. The mid and upper back should be flat against the wall. 

Correct Wall Angel Front View

Correct Wall Angel Front View

Correct Wall Angel Side View

Correct Wall Angel Side View

Incorrect Wall Angle. Head and wrists coming off the wall.

Incorrect Wall Angle. Head and wrists coming off the wall.

Incorrect Wall Angel. Arching too much to make wrists and head maintain contact with the wall.

Incorrect Wall Angel. Arching too much to make wrists and head maintain contact with the wall.

Supine Overhead Floor Reach

Step #1-Similar to Wall Angel but lying on the ground with legs flat and arms overhead.

Step #2-Make sure to double check that your midback is flat against the floor. The mid and upper back should be touching the floor. You should only be able to slip a flat hand in the small of your back. 

*If you can’t get your head against the wall/floor without arching your lower back excessively or straining your neck or if you can’t keep your elbows wrists or fingers flat on the wall/ground the test is considered positive for “Climber Posture.”  

*If you pass this test but still have poor posture in sitting or standing positions or if your posture seems to be deficient based on the test above, you may still need the advice in this article. 

SO HOW IS THIS RELATED TO OUR POSTURE AND WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED

Have you ever head any of these problems? Neck pain, shoulder pain, mid-back pain, elbow pain, wrist pain, finger pain, low back pain, hip pain, knee pain. I know I have.

All of these things I listed above are just symptoms of a larger problem. They are all caused either directly or indirectly by incorrect posture and improper movement patterns.

I know what you might be thinking right now.

“What are you talking about? I just torqued my shoulder weird while I was wrestling with a gaston” or “I just hurt my finger crimping that small hold. What does that have to do with my posture or how I was moving?”

Think about that for a second. You put too much strain on your fingers because you weren’t using your mid-back and core muscles to create body-tension and connect to your feet well. It wasn’t the setter’s fault for creating an awkward move, it was our own postural faults and weaknesses that caused us to go into that movement with less than ideal positioning.

If we have poor posture when we climb, or poor posture to begin with then our climbing will become upper body dominant really quickly. We will develop muscle imbalances and core deficiencies that inhibit us from connecting with the larger muscle groups.

Most of us have poor movement patterns whether it’s from poor posture in life that is putting us in bad positions when we climb or having never been coached on proper climbing technique and movement such as not being able to use the hips to rock over the foot on a long reach, or not knowing how to properly drop-knee or back-step.

This can be difficult to train our way out of once it’s already been happening for years. We hardwire ourselves to work around our weaknessess and mobility issues by compensating with other muscles.

So what happens when you don’t move well and you continue to climb in poor positions? Eventually, our body will breakdown somewhere and injury will occur.

If we’ve hit a plateau in our training or we have pain there is a good chance our posture is playing a role and/or our movement patterns are off.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS? 

“Dysfunctional movement isn’t always painful, and functional movement isn’t always pain free. You can’t always use pain as your guide to whether you’re doing something right or wrong.” -Gray Cook 

Find out if we have climbing posture by performing the tests above with partner.

Achieve normal mobility so that we can get into appropriate positions. If you need help, see a specialist like a chiropractor, bodyworker or physical therapist.

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.

***STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 WHERE WE WILL GO IN DEPTH ABOUT SOLUTIONS.

***REMEMBER: Do not hesitate to contact a professional if you’re struggling with any pain or discomfort brought on by bad posture or movement patterns!

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4 responses to “Climber Posture

  1. i’m ready for part 2! i have been checking at the PG website for updates and came here. i find that some of the problem (or a seperate problem?) is that the pecs and muscles in the chest are pulling the ribcage/ shoulders in. thanks!

  2. Pingback: Performance Enhancement Strategies for Climbers | SF CLIMBING·

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