The Big 5 Climbing Technique Cheats & what to do about them.

We all do them when we get tired, or are on something too hard for our endurance or our strength. Technique No-Nos are a big part of sports and occur in every sport, not just in climbing. But today I'm diving into the 5 biggest positional cheats that you should avoid to ensure you don't injure yourself.

Positional cheats aren't something that is new. The body is VERY good at stealing power from a nearby area to give power to what is weak. This power can be stolen from anywhere else in the body, and it doesn't have to be even near the weak zone. So if you have an injury, first things first, let's check to see if it is YOUR positional cheat. How do we do this? Once healed, we evaluate to see if the area of injury tenses or contracts to give stability, strength or just assist the region you are loading.


Ok, so here are the ground rules before we get started. This is an exploratory game, and you are going to be kind to yourself. We WIN bigger when we work on our technique and our skills from a place of exploration and act as if it is a game. Because it is. First, we find any cheats you might have by paying attention to your climbing over the next week or two to see if you exhibit any of the big 5 I bring up. Then, we begin playing with doing the said "No-No" just a little bit less. I promise you, IF you keep it a fun game, you will improve quicker. Research shows that stress and perfectionism slow your progress, making the brain less elastic for learning, so keep it fun and work in a few minutes of practice every climbing session.

On your next day at the gym, pay attention to how you get up that wall. You just might prevent your next injury. Especially if you are plagued by a specific injury, watch to see how the other regions load into the area and what you can do to decrease this tension.

Above: A perfect example of keeping the neck long, the tops of the shoulders relaxed, and the muscles between and below the shoulder blades recruited. Her wrists are nice and straight, but what is that?! I think I see the right elbow starting to chicken-wing out a bit. It COULD be my imagination, but I think her left shoulder is stronger than her right. Yes, if you look at her shoulder blades, the right one lacks stability and is slightly assymetrical. No big deal if she doesn't do this all the time, but if this is a daily thing, she could get injured without addressing it. Rings are a difficult and amazing addition to climbing, and the sure as heck show us where our cheats are...

Ok, I promised my big 5 cheats, the ones I see in my office that bring YOU in with pain. Let's delve through these and then observe in the upcoming weeks to see if you have them in your climbing. Catching an injury before it happens is where ALL the fun is. Ok, next we hit the cheat, give solutions for working on it at home that you can implement NOW, and discuss the long term goals of each. Let's go!

Watch for the Big 5 Cheats:

1. The Turtle: You know the person whose shoulders pop up as if to hid the head?!

In this "Cheat Mode" Loaded (with a cheater cheater pumpkin eater)...

The shoulder mistakenly lifts up towards the neck with using your arm or shoulder. This cheating occurs with the upper trap alone.

I see this trap cheat SO often on weak tired shoulders that it is absolutely my number one to have you check for. Today. Some of you do it with the most basic of shoulder exercises. Others, it only pops up when you are tired and fatigued. Regardless, if it is occurring, we need to be mindful so that we back down our adventure to avoid injury. Training this out is SO much fun, and it happens quickly (don't worry!) I'd say this is my FAVORITE goal to fix because it CAN be fixed so easily. Once you catch it, then we work on controlling it, and after a while, we can do it without focusing on it full time (and then it is automatic!!) Most athletes get 25% of the way into working on it and 99% of them quit. I challenge you to get this under control and go all the way because your CLIMBING is going to be amazing afterwards! WHY!? Because we know you are using your shoulder girdle more effectively. BOOM!

Ok, so to get things started, here is your test. (HINT, the test is also the treatment!!)

Step 1: Put the opposing hand on your shoulder (the trap muscle that sits on top, above your shoulder) and pick an easy weight to lift.

Step 2: Rotate your shoulder under load moving your elbow in, out, up, and feel for the muscle to tense or the shoulder to lift.

Step 3: Ask yourself...Is there a way to SOFTEN this muscle (the one under your fingertips), and perhaps teach your brain to "STAY OUT OF IT" so that it isn't used for this motion? Can you mentally soften it at rest and then keep it softer (maybe only slightly softer as a beginning) during the motion? The test is also the treatment! So be kind to yourself and give yourself some time to figure this out. It might take a few weeks of testing, fiddling, and working through different way of applying this process.

Remember, the job of the trap is to LIFT the shoulder up towards the ears. I'm expecting your motions for rotator cuff stability DO NOT use this muscle so it should be soft, the shoulder should stay down (not lifting up) and if it is popped forwards into a slouch, you can fix that too while you are at it. (Nasty bad habit). In this photo, she is touching his shoulder and ensuring he is controlling it properly. I'm happy to give you more guidance if needed!! Just ask!

The smaller the body type, the lighter the weight for the test. 12 reps of 3 with a 8-12 pound weight should work for a healthy climber (5.10-5.12), if you are new and of slight build, perhaps start at 5 lbs to 8 lbs.