Shoulder & Hip Movement Mistakes

Our understanding of hip and shoulder dysfunction has greatly evolved over the the past few years.

In the past, we taught our patients to keep their shoulders back and down.  That was a mistake.  We also taught some of our patients to squeeze their gluts.  That was also a mistake.  We’ve learned a better way.

If you’re not aware of the importance of joint centration in posture, movement, and exercise, then you may be harming your shoulders and hips with exercises that we previously thought were healthy for these areas.

Stop squeezing your shoulder blades together.  Stop butt clenching.  And learn how to centrate your shoulders and hips.  If you take the time to re-learn some of your bad movement habits, you’ll end up with stronger shoulders and hips that are more resistant to injury, and you’ll climb heads and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.


Bothell Chiropractic  |  Massage Lynnwood

Training Error: Doing Too Much

I believe that for most people, training smarter means using the least amount of time, energy, and body damage to achieve a desired effect.  That’s why it’s hard for me to watch climbers beat themselves up, and waste so much time, and not get any stronger.

One of the biggest errors in training that I see is “doing too much”.  It’s a common problem with most athletes, and every strength coach talks about the difficulties of holding athletes back.  Climbers are motivated; we want to send.  And we don’t mind the pain.  So we tend to train to the point of exhaustion in the name of getting “a good workout”.  Climber’s that do super long climbing sessions or spend a lot of time with extra, non-climbing exercises (jogging, crossfit, yoga, etc.) are probably working harder than they have to, if their goal is to climb stronger.

Their are many problems with this, and you can find tons of good articles that address this issue.  The main problems that I have with this approach to training are that (1) it does not prioritize quality movement, and (2) it doesn’t allow for good recovery.

Doing Too Much Leads To Injuries

Both of these problems lead to injuries, and simply stated, injuries can ruin your climbing career.

First, if you’re idea of a “good workout” is crushing yourself into the ground, lots of sweating, maybe some vomitting; then you’re probably losing focus on quality at some point.  Your body position and technique will become sloppy, you wont be as coordinated, and your brain might even get fuzzy and make bad decisions.  That’s a great way to injure yourself.  Instead leave some gas in the tank.  Stop your workout as soon as you start to lose any quality.  Feeling “worked” is not worth risking an injury.

Second, if you’re smoking yourself every workout, then you’re going to need a lot more time for recovery.  If you’re not giving yourself adequate recovery time, then you’re setting yourself up for injuries.  Remember, if you train hard, you gotta rest hard.  The problem is that most climbers are training hard too many days a week.  If you’re young, you might be able to get away with butt-kicking workouts 3-5 times a week, but for most of us, recovery takes longer.  Keep training this way, and you’re going to hurt yourself.  It may take months or years before you face the music, but it’s bound to happen.  Start training smarter now.

Other Things To Consider

Long workouts usually mean low intensity, and that means that you’re using more time and energy than you have to to reach your desired effect.  Why would you want to do 20 boulder problems when 5 would get you stronger?  That’s 15 more reps on your joints, muscles, and nervous system.  Do you enjoy beating up your body only to plateau at the same grade every year?  To build strength, increase your intensity, and do less of it.

Simple Solutions

Every dedicated climber over-trains.  You are not alone.  Here’s some ways to climb above the crowd and become a master of stone.

Write down your goals.  If you don’t have goals, then what are your training for?  How do you know if those Crossfit workouts are benefiting you if you don’t even know where you are headed.  Doing too much might be a by-product of not having enough focus.  And that probably means you don’t have specific training goals.

Write down your plan.  If you don’t have a plan, then you’re going to fall back into your old training routine of “climbing more”.  “Climbing more” is the plan for new climbers or old dummies. A well written plan will help the self-coached climber hold themselves back, preventing “doing too much”.  At the very least, you should write down a training schedule and document your workouts and progress.  Of course, sticking to the plan is the tough part.

Keep track of your progress.  If you’re not keeping track of goals and progress, then you’re not training, you’re exercising.  Pushing the gas pedal is the first answer for a lot of climbers when they want to get stronger.  What about releasing the brakes? Tracking your progress will help you find your own training “sweet spot”, the minimum amount of work you need to do to reach your goals.  I’ve been really happy with doing a 2 week cycle of 3 workouts one week followed by 2 workouts the next week.  For me, it works better (meaning I get stronger) than if I climb 3 hard days every week.

Quit while you’re ahead.  Don’t give your project “one more try”.  It’s not worth it.  Practice some self-discipline and go home instead.  Leave some gas in the tank for your recovery.  Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it a good idea. Remember, everyone else is plagued by injuries and poor performance.  You are smarter than that.

Track your recovery.  This might be a bit overkill for recreational athletes, but how bad do you want it?  Two ways to do this are to (1) monitor your resting heart rate or  (2) track your perceived level of exertion.  For the first one, take your resting heart rate first thing in the morning and make sure it doesn’t vary more than 6 bpm from your “normal” on most days and 10bpm after a hard day.  For the second one, after each workout write down how hard you thought your workout was (percieved level of exertion or PLE) on a scale of 0-10.  You want to see your workouts getting harder without your PLE getting higher,  meaning that you can climb harder without working harder, which means you’re getting stronger!  A high PLE means that you’re doing too much, and you need to train less or focus on recovery more, especially if your PLE is going up without an increase in workout intensity.

Change your beliefs.  OK, this one’s not so simple, but if you really want to change your behaviors, you need to change your beliefs.  If you’re not convinced that you can get stronger without wasting yourself every workout, then test your beliefs.  Perform a human experiment on yourself.  Follow a training plan that’s outside of your normal routine and document the results.  Who knows, maybe you’ll end up just reinforcing your own beliefs.  But you might find a better way.  Either way, you’ll learn something about yourself.

Let me know what you think.

-Dr. Andrew Shannahan

Bothell Chiropractic  |  Massage Lynnwood

Better Workouts With Better Rests

Recovering between exercises makes for higher quality workouts.  A small 2009 study on female climbers found that active recovery (easy stationary bicycle) between climbing exercises allowed for the greater recovery than passive recovery (doing nothing), electromyostimulation of the forearms, or cold water immersion.

While this is nothing new, and doesn’t just apply to climbing, I still don’t see a lot of climbers using active recovery.  Use it to your advantage.  Don’t just sit on your butt while you’re resting.  Become a master of your sport and hit the stationary bike instead. Or at least walk around a bit and shake things out.


1. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Jun;41(6):1303-10.

Effects of four recovery methods on repeated maximal rock climbing performance.

Heyman E, DE Geus B, Mertens I, Meeusen R.

Analyzing Adam

The 3 key takeaways I got from this video:

  1. You gotta keep breathing, like it’s your job.
  2. Milk those rests.
  3. You need to be strong through your entire range of motion.  You need to be able to lock onto a hold that’s completely at your fingertips and pull the sucker down to your waist.

What were your takeaways?

Interval Timer

New Tool For Training!!!

….if you have a smart phone.

One of the common roadblocks for complex workouts is keeping track of work/rest time for your intervals.  It’s tough enough to stay motivated through a workout. It’s even tougher if you have to keep an eye on your watch or count to yourself.


I used to use the Gymboss timer (until today), but it could only keep track of 2 intervals.  I actually used to have two different Gymboss timers going at the same time, for 4 different intervals.  At times, I would just abandon a workout if I didn’t feel like keeping track of my intervals, and go with something simpler.  The Gymboss was a great little timer for the simple stuff, but it’s nothing compared to a smartphone.

UPDATE: Gymboss now makes the Gymboss MAX that can handle 25 different intervals and save 15 different programs, all in a durable little package.  I still like the solution below better, but the MAX looks like a great option.


Today I found the Impetus smartphone app, a free app that can handle even the most complicated workouts.  The first thing I did was program a workout for a modified version of Steve Bechtel’s  Hangboard Sequence 3.  It was quick and easy to setup, and my workout was way more focused using the Impetus timer.  The program also allows you to save your workouts as presets, so all you need to do is pick a workout that you’ve already saved and hit start.

Now you don’t need to watch the clock, or pay someone to watch the clock for you….if you have a smartphone.

There are lots of other interval apps out there.  Let me know if you find a better one than Impetus.

Good luck!


El Capitan has been rescheduled to next season, so I’ve got some free time.  Time to mend all the stuff that got broken while I was obsessing over The Captain.  Also, time to focus on a new goal:  the CSCS exam.

For those of you who are unaware of this certification, it’s the top level of “coach” or “trainer” certifications that the NSCA awards.  It’s also helpful for getting articles published in magazines.  I’m hoping that it will gain me more validity in the strength and conditioning world as well.

My goal is to get my CSCS certification by March 1st, 2013.  That should give me plenty of time to study the material and take some practice tests before I take the real exam.

Along the way, I’ll do my best to pass on any helpful info that I glean from my studying.   Wish me luck!

On My Radar

A few common training themes that have been coming up on my radar the past few weeks.  Nothing new, just good review:

Get your own plan.

Your training must be tailored to your unique strengths, weaknesses, and goals.  If you blindly follow another climber’s plan, chances are you will fail.

Don’t forget the hangboard.

Forget the campus board. Forget pullups. Forget crunches.  But DON’T forget the hangboard.

Beware of fads.

Just because it looks fun and cool, doesn’t mean it will work for you.  Stick to the boring, lame things that get results.  Do fun and cool things where it counts, on the rock!

That’s OK, Wiggo. I Get Moody Too When I Over Train.

One of the things that happens to me when I over train, or even when I just train really hard, is that I get really moody.  And that’s no fun to be around.

As a non-professional athlete, I don’t really have a good excuse (like training for the Tour De France) for being a jerk to my wife or my friends. Training isn’t a source of income for me.  It’s not something I HAVE to do. I do it for fun!  So I try to watch my mood, and if I find myself getting too explosive or depressed, then I’ll take some time off.  It doesn’t even have to be a lot.  I may not really want to do it, but I’d rather sacrifice some training time than add stress to my relationships.  Who knows, I’ll probably even be healthier AND stronger for listening to my body and giving it some rest.

On the other hand, I can also get moody if I don’t get ENOUGH training!  When this happens, I do my wife a favor and hit the gym.  Win-win.

What are YOUR signs of over training?

Bench Press & Other Lifts

I really like lifting weights.  I’m a little guy, so that usually makes people giggle a bit, but I’ve never seen faster gains in strength than when using weights.  At some level, the body weight stuff just doesn’t cut it and you’ve got to overload your body to see changes.

Of course, I only use lifts that are going to help me reach my goals, i.e. be a better climber.  Training smart means staying focused.  Right now, I’m focusing on leg strength for El Capitan (jugging, hauling, standing in ladders, etc.)  so I’m really into back squat, dead lift, and kettlebell swings.  The pistol squat, split squat, or one leg squat will come next.

Pavel’s Bench Press Plan

I just read a great article on the bench press:

It has a fairly simple, detailed approach to gaining strength in your BP.  If you’re new to this lift, and looking for a plan, why not start with Pavel’s approach?  At least you’ll have a plan.

Why Do Bench Press?

How does bench press help you climb?  It’s mostly useful as a longevity training tool, meaning that you’ll climb for more years and prevent injury if the strength in your upper body is balanced.  I remember a Steve Bechtel article that said that you should be able to push as much as you pull, meaning if you can do 20 pullups, you should be able to press your body weight 20 times.  That’s definitely not me!  And this probably isn’t necessary to be a world class climber, but we all could benefit from focusing on our push muscles more.  You don’t want to blow out your shoulders again, do you?

Other Variations Of The Same Movement

I like the one arm press better than the bench press, but it’s good to use multiple exercises to train similar movements, so use both!  Since most of the pulling we do as climbers is somewhere in-between straight in front of you (bench press) and straight above you (one arm press) it’s a good idea to train both of these antagonist exercises.  Why not throw in some presses from the various turkish get-up positions as well?

Here’s a great video/article for the one arm press.  It works your “core” too!:


Don’t Lose Focus

A very strong a talented young climber shows you a collection of exercises that she uses:

What will YOU do with this information?

Hopefully, you are already following a fantastic training plan, and you’ll do very little with this video.  You’ll stay focused on your unique goals, strengths & weaknesses.  You’ll value consistency over variety. And you’ll continue to work steadily towards your optimal climbing ability, injury free.  You are a master of your sport.

If you’re like a lot of people, who don’t have a plan, you might be tempted to write down all the exercises in the video and start using them somewhere in your workouts.  Be careful. This might work if you’re young, resilient, and built like the climber in the video, but if you’re old and cynical like me, then you’re probably going to hurt yourself.  Even if you do get stronger, this probably is not the best approach for you.  You need to come up with your own plan.

There is a science to this stuff.  Random exercises are for climbers who don’t know how to train smarter.

Climbing Training