Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Antagonistic Muscle Training: Part 1

This might be an assumption but I think most climbers would like to only have the muscles necessary to climb and throw away all the others in order to cut down on their weight. If this was possible it would actually cause a lot of problems especially with our joints. By using our main climbing muscles i.e the lats, biceps, finger flexors, quads most of the time and their anatagonists i.e the external rotators, pectorals, finger extensors, triceps, and  hamstrings very little of the time we can cause stress to our tendons (tendinitis anyone?) or strain/pull muscles. In this post I'll present various agonist, their antagonists (as they relate to climbing), and some exercises to help strengthen the anatagonists.

Lats -- Pecs/External Rotators
The lats originate on the lower back and insert on the front of the arms, underneath the biceps, by going through the arm pit. As we mentioned in some previous posts, the lats are the pulling muscles. On the opposite side of the coin the pecs are the pushing muscles (think of the bench press). Climbers rarely perform pushing movement except for maybe mantling or the occasional opposing side pull or press move.
The pecs can be strengthen by doing bench presses, push ups or the pec fly. I prefer the pec fly to the other two exercises because it targets the pecs better and provides a more sport specific movement.

Because the lats attach to the front of the arms and through the armpit they can cause internal rotation of the arm especially if the lats are very big. This is one reason why climber's shoulders roll forward and we look a little hunch backed. Not only does it make us look weird it can cause an impingement of the biceps tendons. An impingement is when a tendon becomes inflamed and irritated by rubbing on bony structures. By exercising the external rotators of the rotator cuffs we can prevent impingement.
There are several exercises that target the external rotators. If you have dumbbells handy, then you can do the reverse butterfly or kneel parallel to a weight bench (or couch) with one knee on and one elbow one. Use the other leg to stabilize yourself and with the dumbbell in the free hand. Bend the arm so the elbow joint is at a 90 degree angle bring the dumbbell from the bench twist out from your body.

If you have access to resistance cords, attach one end to a door knob or another elbow height object. Grab the other end of the cord and turn your body so the hand that isn't holding the cord is facing the door knob. Again bend the elbow so the joint is at a 90 degree angle. Take the hand with the cord from your body twisting out away from the body.

Biceps -- Triceps
The biceps help assist the lats in the pull up motion as well as pulling in after grabbing an under-cling. Opposite of the arms are the triceps and they help with extending the arm and forearm. The triceps are contracted when performing a mantle move mid-route or the top out of a boulder problem. Push ups are a good exercise if you want to work your pecs and triceps but if you would like target the triceps more specifically you can perform tricep curls or bar dips. My favorite are dips because they are the closest thing to topping out and they can be done when suffering a shoulder impingement.

In the next post, we'll discuss exercises to minimize the imbalances between the quads/hamstrings and the finger flexors/extensors. I will also try to post some pics of the exercises described above.

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