I recently went to a local rock climbing gym!
One of my friends goes from time to time and asked me to come. In the spirit of trying new things I told him to count me in!
As a last-minute surprise, his wife joined us. She’s an experienced rock climber, ice climber, and does a bunch of other stuff I find very impressive and would never in a million years think of doing. I like being outdoors, but they take it to another level! Much respect.
She gave me a brief “intro to climbing” talk and helped me understand how to climb and not wear yourself out.
As someone who spends a considerable amount of time every week lifting heavy stuff, it was tempting to rush right in and start climbing like is was in the gym for a workout. I know better than that though, and rock climbing is NOT an activity to approach with a “BRUTE FORCE” mentality. That is, if you want to be able to move and have hands capable of doing anything the next day.
My unexpected coach helped me have an enjoyable and successful first go at climbing. Thanks, coach! Luckily, I was able to somewhat return the favor in the same day.
During a break from climbing, explaining route markers, and the differences between indoor and outdoor climbing, she mentioned she gets pain in her forearms whenever she does a pull up. My turn to be the coach!
We went over a few stretches for areas she mentioned were tight, and I spent a few minutes teaching her how to engage her lats to help with her forearm issue.
The Moral of The Story…
Learning to engage and use bigger muscles before smaller ones (lats vs wrist flexors and extensors, in this case) will make you stronger in the gym and in everyday situations.
When learning pulling exercises in the gym like rows, pull ups, and even lat pulldowns, “engaging” the right muscles first is key. Bigger muscles can handle more stress and won’t fatigue as fast, allowing you to do more work. Improving intra-muscular coordination will lead to better results and less likelihood of injury.
Learn to retract and depress your shoulders!
I bet you can shrug your shoulders and round them forward with no problem, right? The 2 movements below are about learning to move in the opposite direction. These moves are usually tricky when attempting them for the first time. Take is slow, don’t get frustrated, and practice often!
This movement is challenging if you’ve never done it before. Often when you ask someone to “move their shoulders back” they will lift their chest and arch their back, which isn’t exactly what we want here. It’s a small movement. Start with 2 sets of 10 with a 1-2 sec pause on each rep. You can increase this hold as you get stronger. You can also change the angle of the exercise for an added challenge. The lower the angle, the more of a challenge to retract without shrugging your shoulders.
This is the opposite of “shrugging” your shoulders. A common instruction is to “put your shoulders into your back pocket”. This is also a small movement and tricky if you’re not used to it. Start with 2 sets of 10 with a 1-2 sec pause on each rep. You can increase this hold as you get stronger.
You do not need to hang from a bar to perform this exercise. I prefer this personally, but I’ve also worked up to the point where it is easy. You can start with your arms overhead, or by holding something light, like a broomstick if it helps to have something in your hands.
This is important for performance in and out of the gym, but also for healthy shoulders. Add these exercises to your warm up routine or do them on your off day. It doesn’t matter where you do them, just make sure you get them done!
You don’t need equipment to do these exercises either. If you’re stuck behind a desk all day you can raise your arms and do them with no resistance. You’ll still feel it where you’re supposed to.