Climbing is the sport of the moment right now, and we’re not ashamed to say we’ve caught the bug. The Northern California coastline practically dares you to defy gravity! Whether bouldering or top-roping, as long as you’ve gone through your safety checklist, I say go for it — just remember that Pilates is part of that list.
Here are 3 reasons we highly recommend Pilates for climbers:
1) Keep your shoulders safe.
Shoulder injuries are by far the most common affliction of climbers. The sport is highly focused on the upper body, and the muscles around your shoulder blade are small and therefore more prone to injury. Unfortunately, many people who experience labrum (protective tissue in the shoulder joint) and rotator cuff tears never completely recover from the injury. This can mean decreased range of motion, loss of strength, or pain — all for the long haul. The good news is we’ve talked it over, and we’ve decided that all of our clients are simply not allowed to get injured. Ok? Great.
That flat triangular bone on your back is your shoulder blade, or scapula. In order to keep your shoulders healthy, it’s essential to regularly do some scapular stabilization exercises. All of the arm work we do in Pilates emphasizes stabilizing the shoulder blades. In fact, we often practice scapular stabilization even when we’re not doing arm work.
Bonus Tip: Some climbers advise taking a break on the wall by “hanging” on your shoulders. They suggest taking the weight out of your arms by letting your shoulders come up by your ears and allowing yourself to passively hang. Though I can understand the need for rest, please be careful! Bringing your shoulders up by your ears isn’t great, but then giving them the responsibility of your full body weight is an injury waiting to happen.
2) Stronger abs = stronger limbs
You may have caught onto this principle by now (fromwhen we focused on runners and cyclists and yogis), but it’s so important that it bears repeating: When you do work to strengthen your abdominals, you’re also investing in stronger extremities. And what offers you better core work than Pilates!
We all know that the body is connected from the song (the knee bone’s connected to the … shin bone), but many of these connections aren’t so obvious. For example, your arms and abs obviously aren’t directly touching, but engaging your abdominals will absolutely send more power to your upper body. Try doing a bicep curl isolating just the arm muscles. Now try doing it while drawing your navel into your spine and exhaling. Easier? We think so.
Our multi-talented client Melissa said she’s a much stronger climber when she’s been doing Pilates regularly. Go Melissa, go!
3) Climb with your entire body
An expert climber scaling a wall resembles a mountain cat more than a human. Skillful climbers have mastered the cat’s technique: climb with your entire body, not just your arms and back. You may not have a tail to help you keep your balance, but when you move in a fully connected way, you take advantage of your strong abdominals and powerful lower body to distribute the effort throughout your entire body.
Pilates is great practice in body connectivity. Your teaching isn’t trying to haze you with those highly coordinated big movements; she’s trying to get you to move in a way that integrates your entire body. And don’t forget the breath! Maintaining a strong connection to your breathing helps with body connectivity, too. I personally find more power when I exhale on the effort, but whatever works for you is just fine.
Next time you reach the top of that challenging wall, thank your body for paying attention in Pilates!
Author: Ali Weeks