Everyone knows that you use your shoulders a lot in rock climbing, but not every rock climber training their shoulders well. A strong shoulder is an essential part of rock climbing. It can increase your climbing ability and minimize your risk of injury, but training your shoulders specifically is often overlooked.
One of the best ways to train your shoulders is by using scapular pull-ups. Specific exercises that work the muscles of your shoulder can help you greatly in climbing. The scapular pull-up is an amazing way to help strengthen and stabilize your shoulders, allowing you to focus more on your climbing and think less about how many more moves you can do before your shoulders get tired.
What is a Scapular Pull-Up?
A scapular pull-up is a variation on a traditional pull-up, but it focuses on using the muscles around your shoulder blades to pull you up a small amount, as opposed to using the muscles in your arms to pull you up all the way. A scapular pull-up starts in a normal pull-up position with your palms facing away from you and your hands a little over shoulder-width apart.
The next part is where it differs from traditional pull-ups. Instead of pulling up with your arms, do a reverse shrug and push your shoulder blades down and together, pulling your body up slightly. When you first start doing it, you will likely only go up a few inches, but as your range of motion and strength increase, you can get up to moving a foot or more.
Think of the scapular pull-up as a hanging reverse shrug. Instead of bringing your shoulders up to your ears, you are pulling them back and down. Make sure you keep your core engaged the whole time and don’t bow your chest out forward as you push your shoulder blades back. This will allow you to get the most benefits for the least risk.
What are the Benefits of the Scapular Pull-Up?
Training by using a scapular pull-up routine instead of or alongside a normal pull-up and workout routine can have some pretty amazing benefits. It can not only give you a better range of motion and understanding of your range of motion, but it can help you be able to understand your body’s movements better.
The scapular pull-up can also help you maintain better shoulder positioning while climbing or doing regular pull-ups. This is a great workout to use to train yourself to understand how to tell when your shoulders are engaged and to work on keeping them engaged. Allowing your shoulders to disengage and your shoulders to pop up by your ears while climbing, can increase your risk of injuring your shoulders, which is never a good thing.
Why Scapular Pull-Ups Help Climbers?
Scapular pull-ups are a great workout for climbers. They can increase the strength of your shoulder muscles, but also increase the range of motion that your shoulders are capable of. In general, stronger muscles are able to help you maintain a more even body tension and minimize your risk of injury while climbing.
Using scapular pull-ups as a part of your regular workout routine can help you develop good form and technique for utilizing your shoulders. As you continue to strengthen these muscles, you are likely to be able to climb for longer, while still maintaining a good form. Workouts like the scapular pull-up that focus on such a small muscle group force you to become better acquainted with how your body moves and responds.
How to Use the Scapular Pull-Up?
View this post on Instagram
Scapular pull-ups make a great addition to any workout routine. We recommend that you start by doing two sets of 10, with a five-minute break in the middle. As you train more and more, you will be able to increase the range of motion that you have when you pull your shoulders back, but don’t worry if the first few times you do a scapular pull-up, you only move a few inches.
As your shoulders get stronger, you can slowly up the number of scapular pull-ups that you are doing to 3 sets of 10, again with a five-minute break between each set. The other thing is that as you continue to train more, you will be able to pull yourself up more with each pull-up since your range of motion and mobility will be increasing as well.
How to Make Sure You Engage Your Scapula?
View this post on Instagram
There are a few ways to make sure that you are engaging your scapula during your scapular pull-ups. The first is to make sure you keep your arms straight, not locked and not bent, but straight throughout the whole workout. This will force any movement to come from your shoulders.
Another thing to be aware of is how engaged your shoulders are and where they are in relation to your ears. If your shoulders are all the way up by your ears while you are hanging, that means that you are not engaging your shoulders. If you engage your shoulders, they might come up a little towards your ears, but certainly not all the way. Understanding how to engage your shoulders can help you understand how to move the specific muscles needed for the scapular pull-ups.
The other tip to make sure your scapula is engaged is to think about bending the bar that you are hanging from to point at the ceiling. The motion that you would do if your arms were straight and you were still bending the bar is the general motion that you want to aim for when doing a scapular pull-up.
When to Add Weight to Your Scapular Pull-Ups?
As with any pull-up or pull-up variation, it is super easy to adjust the scapular pull-ups to make them easier or harder. To make scapular pull-ups easier, simply place a box or other sturdy raised surface beneath your pull-up bar, so you can take some of the weight off your shoulders.
To make scapular pull-ups harder, you can start to add weight. Many climbers like to add weight to workouts by attaching a weight to your harness or even just doing the workout with your trad rack fully racked up on your harness. This adds a realistic amount of weight for you to train with.
In order to prevent injuries, make sure you take this workout slow and don’t add weight for a while. If you can comfortably do three sets of 10 reps, maybe it’s time for you to start to think about adding weight. Just remember that climbing is a full-body workout, so only training your shoulders isn’t helpful either. Scapular pull-ups are most useful when they are integrated into a full training program.
Helpful Videos Showing the Scapular Pull Up
View this post on Instagram
Since this is a workout move that you may not be as comfortable with and you wouldn’t want to risk hurting your shoulders, here’s a selection of our favorite videos that show how to do the scapular pull-up.
This video does a great job of explaining and showing the motion of a scapular pull-up while not getting overcomplicated or confusing.
This video goes into detail in talking about how your scapula and back should look and feel while doing this workout. This is a great video to watch if you are struggling to figure out how to make sure your scapula is fully engaged.
This video utilizes the scapular pull-up as well as a few other exercises to work on the muscles around your scapula. This is a great idea for a shoulder and upper back workout, since all of the workouts featured in this routine focus on strengthening your scapula. They also offer another variation on a scapular pull-up.
If you want more variations on the scapular pull-up, this is the video for you. This video breaks down a few different variations on the scapular pull-up, all of which are done slightly differently and work slightly differently.
This video is great because it is specifically tailored towards rock climbers. This short video from Training4Climbing talks you through the scapular pull-up and how to do and use it. If you haven’t heard of Eric Hörst and his Training4Climbing program, you should highly consider checking it out.
Eric Hörst is known for creating amazing climbing workouts and for having great articles and videos that will talk you through some of the more specific workouts that he recommends. He has also published some books on training for climbing and is a well-respected name within the climbing community.
He is also known for being a big supporter of creating an antagonistic training routine for rock climbing, and we have an article on that, so if you want to learn more, check it out here: Antagonist Climbing Training: The Best Guide
Wrapping Things Up: The Scapular Pull Up for Climbers
Overall, it is super important as a climber to maintain good shoulder health, and scapular pull-ups are a great way to do that. They can help with your mobility and your overall strength, giving you more control for a longer amount of time while climbing. Take some time to look through the videos provided and find a way to integrate scapular pull-ups into your climbing training routine.
We hope that you’ll take some time to watch some of the videos and think about how the scapular pull-up could be worked into your climbing workout routine. Taking time to work specific muscles is a great way to begin to tailor your training to your body, and your climbing and the shoulders are a great place to start!