Climbing builds exceptional strength through the arms and fingers.
If you increase your climbing load (actual climbing or training) your finger muscles will adapt. They will become stronger and more suited to climbing. You will find yourself moving more easily. As you become stronger your climbing muscles may become tighter. There are different thoughts explaining this phenomenon, and we plan to explore these in a new post (…coming soon!).
Movement is most efficient when muscles can lengthen completely. Stretching offers one way to train and maintain normal muscle length. Strengthening opposing muscle groups is another strategy. There are a group of climbers who stretch more than necessary. This is okay, but their time may be better spent. The next paragraph describes a simple self-test for the finger flexor muscles to help guide your stretching program.
You will need a pencil, a wall and a tape measurer. Stand facing the wall. Choose a starting hand. Put your palm flat on the wall, fingertips facing down. Here is a guide to help you get a reliable test result: palm flat, fingers pointing straight down, elbow straight, elbow fold pointing upward, arm perpendicular to the wall and shoulder down. Move your hand up the wall, keeping to the guide. Eventually, you will get to a point where the stretch is intense and your palm will begin to peel off the wall. You want to stop when you can only just keep your palm flat while maintaining the other points in the guide. Use the pencil to mark the wall at the tip of your middle finger. Before you take your hand off the wall, note how close your arm is to being level. Take your hand off the wall and measure from the mark to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
A rough goal is for your arm to be near level. Most of the time your side-to-side difference should be less than 10% as measured to the floor. It is important to recognise that your body is naturally asymmetrical. The 10% rule is one method to allow for normal side-to-side differences. It is not perfect, but useful.
You can use the test position as an effective stretch, or Google ‘climbing forearm stretches’. Just make sure you critique your sources.
Keeping your forearms strong and flexible will help you climb better and comfortably.
Toby Moen & David Moen
Masters of Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapy
Adelaide Rock Climbing Physiotherapists