Healthy Shoulders for Rock Climbers

Juan Rodriguez, Northern Point, Smith Rock. Photo by Nicole Wasko, @nicole_wasko

Juan Rodriguez, Northern Point, Smith Rock. Photo by Nicole Wasko, @nicole_wasko

One of my favorite things about running AntiGravity Equipment is that it has become so much more than just a retail store. People stop in for climbing equipment but more and more, people come in for other things like training, classes in climbing technique and equipment safety, and questions ranging from trip planning to injury prevention. It's such an honor to have people stop by for all these things because it signals that our friends and customers trust our opinions and experience in a variety of areas.

This year I want to build on that foundation and help bring our Portland climbing audience all the amazing talent and resources often connected with the retail store. In this blog post, I team up with long-time friend, climber, and physical therapist Hui En Gilpin in the first of a series of videos on useful exercises for stability and injury prevention. 

Hui En Gilpin, Smith Rock. 

Hui En Gilpin, Smith Rock. 

In general, our shoulders are extremely important in everything we do in our day-to-day lives. I remember 7 years ago after breaking my shoulder blade in a motorcycle accident, how helpless I felt without the use of my left arm. I couldn't shower the same way, pulling shirts on by myself was impossible and other articles of clothing were incredibly difficult to put on one handed. Driving was out of the question for weeks. I was terrified that my climbing would be permanently affected, until, with the help of an amazing physical therapist, I regained 100% mobility and range of motion without the need for surgery and with very little permanent damage.

Healthy shoulders should be the goal of any climber and though we often train the larger more commonly known shoulder muscles we often neglect the smaller (but equally important) muscles which support the shoulder's bone structure and help give us a healthy and stable range of motion.

In one of our visits, Hui En explained how performing an exercise known as a scapular push-up could be used to treat some shoulder injuries but could also be used as a preventative exercise. Serratus Anterior is a muscle that runs underneath the shoulder blade and attaches to the upper ribs; it is hard to work out via traditional exercises but can be specifically targeted when performing scapular pushups. Including this pushup exercise into your opposition exercise routine can help to keep your shoulders healthy and balanced so you can rock climb comfortably through a full range of motion.

AntiGravity Equipment is connected to Stoneworks Climbing Gym where we took advantage of the padded floor and extra space to learn the proper form for this invaluable exercise. After Hui En gave me a quick anatomy lesson of the shoulder I was ready to begin.

Disclaimer: Exercises discussed are for healthy climbers. Contact a health professional if you are unsure about your ability to perform this exercise.
— AntiGravity Equipment

Step 1: I started in a plank (top pushup position) making sure to keep a straight back and tight core. Hands shoulder width apart and directly under my shoulders.

Step 2: Hui En instructed me to lower my chest toward the ground by gently squeezing my shoulder blades together taking care to not bend my arms or lose the core tension and straight back.

Step 3: Next, she instructed me to reverse the movement, finishing the range of motion by rounding out my shoulders and upper back, pushing my hands into the ground. She reminded me to avoid engaging my neck and upper shoulder muscles as compensation.

In combination, the movements were very small but it did not take long to feel a familiar yet unfamiliar burn after just a few reps; I could tell I was not used to isolating that particular muscle.

If the pushup position proves to difficult to maintain good form, you can practice an easier version by standing up and leaning against a wall. Later you can progress to leaning on the edge of a table or a bench and finally down to a pushup position.

You can see our short tutorial by clicking on the video thumbnail in this post. If you find the post useful, consider sharing it with friends. Constructive comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome.

Recommended workout

  • 3 sets
  • 15 reps
  • 3 times per week

Hui En Gilpin is a physical therapist certified in ASTYM, Functional Movement Screening and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She can be contacted via email at and is available for cash pay services. She also regularly hangs out at AntiGravity Equipment with me and climbs at Stoneworks.

Other videos can be found in the video section of our site or by going to our YouTube channel. Thank you! 

-Juan Rodriguez

Juan RodriguezComment