Training For Sports ClimbingWith any new sport, injuries are common. Sport climbing is one of the new activities known to result in shoulder injuries from overuse bordering on addiction. Climbers are so dedicated to the sport, they tend to continue the activity even when injured or advised otherwise by their doctor.
Sport climbing refers to any climbing up or down artificial walls and natural rock faces. There are preplaced outcroppings on the walls called anchors. The climber uses them to get a handhold or foothold during the climb. The climber is secured by a rope above. If he or she falls, the rope stops them. You may have seen some of these walls at parks, schools, or in gyms.
This form of exercise is very demanding on the shoulder muscles. Training is important to improve climbing performance and to prevent injuries. In this study, movements of the shoulder muscles called work profiles were compared between climbers and nonclimbers. The goal was to help physical therapists design specific exercise programs for training or rehabilitation of these athletes.
Two groups of young adults were compared. The first group was experienced climbers (men and women) from a mountaineering group. The second (control) group were healthy adults who were not engaged in regular sports activities using the arms.
Individuals in both groups had normal, stable shoulders with no shoulder or arm symptoms or problems. The strength of shoulder flexors and extensors were measured using a Cybex isokinetic testing system. Only one side (the dominant arm) was tested since climbers use both arms equally. A slow testing speed of 60-degrees per second was used to mimic muscle activity during climbing.
Two types of muscle contractions were tested: concentric andeccentric. Concentric refers to muscles shortening (contracting and getting shorter) during motion. Eccentric means the muscle has already concentrically contracted and is shortened. For example, raising the arm forward and up requires the shoulder flexors to contract concentrically. Lowering the arm back down reverses that action by lengthening (getting longer) the shoulder flexor muscles.
The results showed significant differences for shoulder strength and function between climbers and nonclimbers. Workload generated by the shoulder muscles was higher in the climbers (both men and women). The amount of force produced by flexors and extensors was greater for both concentric and eccentric contractions in the climbing group.
Shoulder extensor muscles were especially stronger -- at least two and a half times stronger in the climbing group. This was probably because of the climbing techniques needed to pull the body up during a frontal climb. Climbing puts high demand on these muscles, so regular exercise, training, and climbing activities are needed to develop and maintain this skill.
This was the first published study of muscular function in sport climbers. The relative imbalance in shoulder flexors and extensors may contribute to shoulder injuries. But further studies are needed to confirm this finding. It's possible that having stronger extensor muscles is essential to prevent shoulder injuries. And the role of other shoulder muscles needed for climbing needs to be studied as well.
Emmy K. L. Wong, PT, MSc, and Gabriel Y. F. NG, PT, PhD. Isokinetic Work Profile of Shoulder Flexors and Extensors in Sports Climbers and Nonclimbers. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. September 2008.Vol.38. No. 9. Pp.572-577.
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