Stronger, Safer Shoulders


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Strengthen and Injury Proof your Shoulders

Injuries are an innate part of being active. You're a unicorn if you haven't experienced some form of injury before – regardless of whether you're a pro-athlete or a sporting newbie, they are unavoidable. However, we should try our best to prevent them because there is nothing worse than being forced to stop doing the sport you love!

Climbers are plagued by shoulder-related injuries; rotator cuff strains being one of the most common. Given muscle injuries are caused by a stress/strain that the muscle cannot tolerate, the best defence is a good offence - build the load tolerance through different strength exercises! Expose the muscle to the type of stress/strain it will experience in your sport, to minimise the risk of injury when you perform.

Below is a list of fundamental exercises that expose the shoulder to various loads. Performing 3 sets of each of these exercises at least twice per week will help to prevent climbing-related shoulder injuries.

You should aim to be 2-3 repetitions away from failure by the end of each exercise (set your repetitions and weight according to this rule). No more than 12 repetitions per set.


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Pull-ups.


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A great strength exercise to help you deal with those climbing-specific movements.

  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip

  • Lean back and pull your chin above the bar.

  • Think about pulling your shoulder blades down and back – pretty simple! Don't overthink it.

⬆️ Progression; add weight (using your harness)

⬇️ Regression; use the assisted pull up machine


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Single-arm pull-downs.


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A one-arm exercise that allows you to see how much stronger your dominant side is - you can then work on balancing it out.

  • Sit directly below the handle.

  • Make sure the handle is high enough to allow you to move through a full range of motion (no ¾ pull-downs permitted).

  • Overhand grip the entire pull-down

  • Pull your fist below your chin and then reach back up.

⬆️ Progression; add weight….

⬇️ Regression; take-off weight…


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Push-us



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The climbers worst enemy. A movement that most of us do not do enough of – pushing - yuck! 

  • Face in front of the hands

  • Elbows bend diagonally from the body

  • Keep your mid-section tight!

  • Try to touch your nose on the ground and then push back up.

  • Avoid rolling/crunching the shoulders/neck.

⬆️ Progression; narrow hand placement (tricep push up)

⬇️ Regression; use a bench or railing for your hands.


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Single-arm dumbbell press.


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Another great exercise to check if you have a weaker or stronger side.

  • Have the elbows stacked directly beneath the wrists at all times

  • Elbow comes down diagonally as the chest comes up.

  • Have to engage your obliques otherwise you get pulled sideways off the bench!

⬆️ Progression/regression; more or less weight


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Overhead barbell press


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Pressing movements – another foreign exercise for climbers, but essential to prepare your shoulders for the challenging presses involved in climbing.

  • Start with the bar below your chin, elbows stacked underneath your wrists.

  • Press up (without the wrists falling forward of the elbows) and straighten out into a bean pole.

⬆️⬇️ Progression/regression; more or less weight – or go for a full handstand!


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Handstand (against a wall).


A step-up from the overhead press. Not for everyone, you must have a substantial baseline level of strength to hold your bodyweight!

The primary goal is to stack all of your joints on top of each other. Your body must be in a straight line. Watch out for the curvy back and wiggly feet!

Progression; hover off the wall (i.e. No assistance)

⬇️ Regression; go back to the overhead barbell press.


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Cable row.


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Climbers will be back in their happy place with this pulling exercise.

  • Handle set up at chest level or above.

  • Sit far enough back for the weight to lift off the stack when you have straight arms (i.e. tension at all times).

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together (without shrugging) and poke the chest out towards the handle.

⬆️⬇️ Progression/regression; more or less weight


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Reverse fly.


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Challenging exercise to do correctly, but great for the back of your shoulders.

  • A slight incline on the bench 

  • Use a light dumbbell and "fly" your arms out in-line with your chest, with a slight bend in your elbows

  • Your chest will come out towards the bench, and you should feel tension through the back of your shoulders.

⬆️ ⬇️ Progression/regression; more or less weight


h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Suggested routine

You should aim to be 2-3 repetitions away from failure by the end of each exercise (set your repetitions and weight according to this rule). No more than 12 repetitions per set.

Have a go at all of these and please get in touch if you have any questions. You can also find me at the gym most days of the week.

Sam Higham has been a member of the Climb Fit crew since he was a young pup and started here as a birthday party belayer many years ago. He's now an accredited exercise scientist with over 6 years of Personal training under his belt and runs one on one sessions and classes here through his business Contract Fitness. He loves the outdoors, bouldering, surfing and spicy sauce. 

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