Rock Climbing Conditioning: Injury Prevention and the Squat

RECENTLY, when putting together a series of conditioning workshops for climbers, I realised that it was going to be difficult to choose just a handful of topics to cover over six sessions or so.

RECENTLY, when putting together a series of conditioning workshops for climbers, I realised that it was going to be difficult to choose just a handful of topics to cover over six sessions or so. The inclusion of ‘How to Squat’ was definitely a surprise to some climbers and attendees. However, as possibly the most important movement pattern for the human body, the performance impact of a strong squat profile is immense.

Climbers Should Squat

An image of a person performing a squat

“Fear the Squat no More” – Paul Chek
In my experience of studying, teaching and practicing in the health and fitness over the last ten years, I have consistently observed that it is rare to see someone with a full, clean squat profile. When there is no orthopaedic dysfunction we should be able to bodyweight squat down with hips almost to the floor, feet flat on the floor, maintaining perfect balance. More so, it should be a smooth, pain-free movement and a comfortable position to be in for a considerable amount of time.

Due to a whole host of myths about squatting many clients I have worked with have actually been avoiding squatting as part of a training/conditioning program. Soon enough it becomes their number one exercise. We must fear the squat no more and get moving through the full movement pattern in day-to-day normal activity, during training and during performance in sport and on the rock.

5 Reasons to Squat
1. One of our Primary Movement Patterns

2. Specific to climbing positions

3. To develop Strength

4. Injury Prevention

5. To Maintain our Structural Muscle Balance

Solutions for Squatting Success
:: The Movement: Standing, take a stick and hold it above your head with straight arms. Slowly begin to sit down towards the floor. Continue to a comfortable, pain-free point and return to the top.

:: Assess: Looking at your squat tells you a lot about the coordination of the movement, tightness of certain muscles and weaknesses of others. Either watch yourself in the mirror or work with an corrective exercise specialist to observe what’s going on at the feet, ankle, knee, hips, lower back, mid back, shoulders, head and arms. Does the movement look/feel strong and smooth? How far can you get, pain free. Do you see/feel compensations and shifts of the body?

:: Asymmetries: Remember that we are not symmetrical beings. If the left side of the body is different to the right, then it does not necessarily mean there is a dysfunction. This could be the way you were designed to move. The key is to look for and work on areas that will improve your squat movement.

:: Compensations will be in the form of seeing/feeling things like heels coming up off floor, ankles and knees collapsing in, poor depth of hips, rounding of back, arms dropping forward, head also dropping down, tilting to one side and rotating the body. Which can you see?

:: Lengthen the Tight Muscles: A specialist will be able to identify which muscles are tight and contributing to a dysfunctional movement. Using various advanced stretching techniques (AIS, PNF, SMR) you can then go about achieving the correct length and tension of these muscles. For climbers, these tight muscles will doubtlessly also be affecting movement and performance on the rock.

:: Strengthen the Weak Muscles: Further testing will certainly be able to highlight which muscles of the body are weak. Strengthening these muscles with specific exercises and movements will enhance efficiency and power.

:: Regress the Squat: Surprisingly enough the first exercises on your program may not look much like a squat. Sometimes it is necessary to regress the movement and perform and strengthen other movement patterns before you actually have a squat on your program.

:: Progress the Squat: A movement therapist will know when the right time is to add in a specific squat movement into your program. At this point you will have ironed out tight and weak muscles, enhanced posture and engrained essential movements in the body. Concurrently you will find that squatting is now easier, fuller, stronger, pain-free and there is a fantastic transfer to your athletic performance. Furthermore, this is the point at which sport-specific squat training should be done, which might include Olympic lifts and one leg squatting.

Climbers Should Squat - Resources
Climbing Conditioning Workshop videos at

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Future Articles and Workshops to help Prevent Injury
Stay tuned for more resources, videos and articles on ways to prevent injury for climbers, including;

:: Shoulder Girdle Function

:: Core Function

:: Holistic Approach to Prevention

Next Climbing Conditioning Workshop – 23rd February 2011
You are invited to attend the Climbing Conditioning Workshop – ‘Core Conditioning for the Climb’ on 23rd February 2011 at the Durham Climbing Centre. Book Your Place:

£10 Entry (includes evening’s climbing) | 7.00pm to 8.30pm
Durham Climbing Centre: Unit 2 St John’s Rd | Meadowfield Industrial Estate | Durham | DH7 8TZ
info (at) | 0191 3789555 |

‘Functional Trainer’ provides Climbing Conditioning Workshops, Corrective Exercise Coaching, The Bowen Technique and Metabolic Typing ® Nutrition. Contact 07792761324 jack (at)


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