By Steve Bechtel
…or “why you should stop doing everything else until you get this.”
Mobility and stability is probably the most important training a climber can do away from the crag is to injury-proof himself. This can include a whole host of treatments, but for the average joe, it means training joint mobility and stability. Before we get too far into this, let’s make sure our terminology is understood. To the average person mobility and flexibility are synonymous. Likewise, we often see confusion between balance and stability. These terms are not synonyms. Here are the definitions:
Stability: This is the tendon, joint, and muscle action needed to hold a joint in position.
Mobility: Mobility is a joint’s ability to move through its full range-of-motion. It requires correct muscle action on one side of the joint and flexibility on the opposite side to be considered full mobility.
Flexibility: This term simply defines a muscle’s ability to lengthen.
Balance: Balance is very specific, and refers to the ability of a body to maintain position in an unstable environment. Picture it like this: A pyramid is very stable, and balanced. Flip it over, and you might be able to balance it, but it’s far from stable.
“The results are reduced injury, improved range-of-motion, and improved core function.”
OK, so balance training is fun (i.e. slackline) but is in large part a waste of time, unless it is very specific to your sport. Sure standing on a big physioball while doing biceps curls looks cool, but it’s not going to make you very good at anything except standing on a ball doing curls. Likewise, flexibility training can be great, but what you really need is mobility – there’s no point in doing the splits if you can’t press out of them.
Let me harp on the slackline a little bit more. Sure, Timmy O’Neill is a great climber and he is also good on the slackline, but one is not the result of the other. He might also be good at writing poetry, but that probably doesn’t contribute a hell of a lot to his climbing, either. All balance training needs to be mode specific or it doesn’t work.
At our gym, when we implement stability and mobility training (especially with our adult athletes) we see results. The results are reduced injury, improved range-of-motion, and improved core function. Because no one wants to do mobility drills as their primary activity, and since getting climbers to do anything except drink beer and slackline after climbing is next-to-impossible, we’ve adopted a habit of doing this training pre-session and between work efforts in training (i.e. between burns on problems).
As climbers, our first thought is to just climb to get better at climbing. Maybe we throw in some stretches occasionally (much like the 20 push-ups we do each week in some vain hope of balancing out the 3000-odd pulls we did). The key is to make a good assessment of whether your mobility is keeping you from climbing efficiently, or if you are bordering on injury. I argue that climbing itself rarely causes deep tissue injury; it’s almost always poor movement and tissue quality. Look at it this way, if you can keep from being injured by doing a few simple mobility drills, you can then climb more, and you will get better.
There are a ton of mobility drills out there. The general rule of thumb is to spend the most time on the ones you don’t like. You probably already know where you’re limited, but if you’re not sure, go through a Functional Movement Screen to figure out where you need the most work. This seven-step test takes just a few minutes and can mean adding years to your career. If you want a true assessment of your movement strengths and weaknesses, I suggest a trip to Los Angeles to visit with Dr. Vagy (www.theclimbingdoctor.com).
If you’d rather just wing it, get online and look up mobility drills for the joint(s) where you need the most work. Below is a list of the ones we use daily in our gym:
Frog With Hip Rotation
Kettlebell Arm Bar
Kettlebell High Windmill
I considered typing out explanations of these, which never works, so instead I inserted videos. Remember, it’s the ones that you hate that you probably need the most, so skip anything that seems easy.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is, 98% of the people that are campusing these days would be better served to dedicate that time to a mobility program. I realize that it’s not going to happen, but who needs a long career anyway?