This coming Tuesday, August 1st Vuori is hosting a yoga and climbing workshop for free at 6:30pm. If newer to yoga or climbing, here are a few tips to review that will help prevent injury and understand the anatomy of what’s truly going on while training on a hang board. Hang board training is a great tool for climbers that aren’t able to get in the gym (saves times) and for folks that are looking to get better at climbing (climb hard routes). A word of the wise, it is extremely important to warm up before hang boarding, next jump into it too quick! Looking forward to seeing you all, happy weekend! This original article was written for Jared Vagy The Climbing Doctor https://theclimbingdoctor.com/grid/.
How to “Hang Right” on the Hang Board Review by Matt DeStefano, Doctor of Physical Therapy Student
Esther Smith, a Doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Grassroots PT in Salt Lake City, wrote a great article on how to hang right when climbing and training. She provides a detailed case report of her treatment of Babsi Zangerl, a Black Diamond athlete, during her time in the BD Bootcamp. By making minor corrections to your climbing posture, physical therapists can optimize your climbing experience and help you climb without discomfort. Esther did just that. Below is a brief description of her article, and I strongly encourage you to check out her full article on the BD website: HANG RIGHT: SHOULDER MAINTENANCE FOR CLIMBERS.
Esther’s aim for the article: Dispel the “hang like a bag of rocks on your skeletal system” myth. Explain why “hanging loose” may lead to shoulder pain. Address why “hanging right” might help to resolve current injuries and reduce the incident of future misuse injuries.
We’ve all been told at some point that when resting on a climb, we should fully extend our arm and “hang on our skeleton” to conserve energy. Right? Although this seems to make logical sense from an energy conservation standpoint, it doesn’t fair well for our soft tissue and joint alignment. Esther is teaching you how NOT to “hang like a bag of rocks”. She’s not telling you to use a ton of energy engaging your arm while resting, but activating just enough so as to maintain a healthy arm and shoulder girdle position. This is key to preventing injury. This includes activating your rotator cuff muscles, and your scapular stabilizers.
Our bodies are not meant to hang loose as Esther mentions in the article. In fact, healthy muscles never truly turn off. “Hanging loose puts undue stress, wear, and tear on the soft tissues that function to connect the bones in our shoulders.” If we try to hang on our skeleton instead of engaging our shoulder girdle, we are degrading the very tissues that support our skeleton. Additionally, by not engaging your shoulder and hanging with slightly inwardly rotated arms, this can lead to pinching in the joint space and irritation of the biceps tendon and other structures at the shoulder.
As movement specialists, PTs are trained to analyze how you move. Esther does a wonderful job here in pointing out that Babsi hung with disengaged, and slightly inwardly rotated shoulders. These observations may seem minor but over time this can lead to insidious, overuse injuries. As Esther points out in Babsi’s case, it was more a “misuse” injury vs. “overuse”, but both flavors can certainly debilitate you as a climber. “In the process of simply correcting Babsi’s hanging posture at the shoulder, she began to hang, climb and move with less pain.” About to enter an intense training program, Babsi’s shoulder pain began to diminish thanks to Esther’s minor adjustments. Following the BD Bootcamp, she reported that her shoulder pain was no longer limiting her climbing and training.
So What Can You Do To Optimally “Hang Right?”
1. We need to keep our shoulders in optimal positioning when hanging to decrease discomfort and avoid injury.
Understand neutral resting posture off the wall: A. Tall, lengthened spine with head in line with shoulders. B. Shoulder blades kept wide and flush on the back and pulled down towards your butt. C. Elbow creases oriented forward. Arms at the side. D. Thumbs oriented forward. -Make yourself comfortable with this position, as it should become your natural default in everyday life.
2. “Train” your shoulders to be in optimal alignment while conducting off-the-wall exercises, including hang boarding.
Engaged shoulder position (climbing posture shown here lying on your belly):
1. Lie on your belly. 2. Arms overhead, palms down toward the floor. 3. Shoulder blades pulled back and down toward your butt. 4. Elbow creases rotated toward the sky. 5. Make a climber’s grip with your hands and lift straight arms off the floor. - This position will now be your default positioning when hanging on a hang board or just climbing. Refer to Esther’s article for a full description.
Often times when I’m in the gym and I watch people hang boarding, I see them with slouched shoulder/neck posture, sometimes even looking at their timer on the ground. This puts the neck in an awful position that may lead to pain and discomfort. When we hang board, we must keep an engaged shoulder girdle and proper neck posture. This will help to avoid shoulder injuries, and allow you to train optimally, and climb better!
My main take-home points of Esther’s article: Hanging properly from the wall or hang board is crucial to maintaining shoulder health. When we hang, make sure you are engaging both your shoulder muscles and your shoulder blades. While hanging, avoid rotating your arms inward. To do this, try to rotate your elbow creases backward, toward your ears in order to align the shoulder girdle. Do off-the-wall exercises to encourage safe on-the-wall habits.
To check out more from Esther Smith, visit her in Salt Lake City at Grassroots PT, or check out her website at https://www.grassrootsselftreatment.com/. You can also find her on the Training Beta Podcast.
Matt’s Bio: Matt DeStefano, SPT Boulder, CO
Matt is a Doctor of Physical Therapy student at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. He lives in Boulder, CO to be closer to his playground. This is his final semester of the DPT program and he is undertaking an independent study researching climbing injuries and injury prevention techniques to provide to his clients. His main interests are in sports medicine physical therapy and injury prevention revolving around the climbing athlete. Before starting school, Matt lived in San Diego, CA and worked at Mesa Rim Climbing and Fitness. After graduating from his DPT program, he plans to return to San Diego and work alongside Mesa Rim to give back to the community he loves.
Matt predominantly climbs sport at the 5.12c/d level, and has recently taken up the craft of trad climbing. He has been climbing since 2008. Matt empowers people to take their health into their own hands, and guide them toward a stronger, injury-free climbing lifestyle. He currently teaches injury prevention classes at local climbing gyms, and also provides content about the topic on his Instagram (@theclimbingpt).
When Matt isn’t climbing, you can find him adventuring somewhere in the wild. He is also an avid biker. He rides BMX, downhill mountain biking, and has completed a tour cycling trip around New Zealand. He connects with anyone in the extreme sports realm as a healthcare provider who has the capacity to understand their sport and assist them with their unique needs.