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Avoid the Rock Climbing Hunchback pt. 3: Strengthening

by Bo Baradar-Heristchian, DPT, PSIA, AASI, WSI

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In the first stage of strengthening to avert thoracic kyphosis or a climbing hunchback, you'll start with no external resistance and use body weight against gravity to perform the exercises. Perform the following exercises with less than a 30 second rest in between the sets to improve the endurance of the muscles of your back. In a bent-over position with your back straight, perform 5 movements with your arms; each movement resembles an alphabetical letter.


Y, U, T, W and I (3 sets x 15 reps; less than 30 sec rest between sets)

First, lower your shoulders and slightly squeeze your shoulder blades. Then, raise your arms in a 45° angle with your thumbs up to form the letter Y. Next, with elbows bent, you will raise your arms directly to the side so that they form a 90° angle from the body to form the letter U. Then, with the elbows extended and the thumbs up, perform the previous posture to form the letter T. To perform the W, simply squeeze the shoulder blades down and together with your elbows bent and arms slightly below the horizon. Finally, move the arms down and back to form the letter I.


Y, U, T, W and I on Dynadisk (5 sets x 15 reps x 5 sec hold; less than 30 sec rest between sets)

To progress the strengthening, use the Scapular 5 x 5 (Y-U-T-W-I) technique. Start on your knees with a band attached to the bottom of a door or other low anchor point. Keeping your shoulder blades down and back, raise both arms up to form each letter: Y, U, T, W and I. Hold for 5 seconds per rep.


Y, U, T, W and I on Bosu Ball (3 sets x 15 reps x 5 sec hold; less than 30 sec rest between sets)

To further progress the back exercises, add the component of balance to the level two exercises. Use either a Bosu ball, Indo board or a balance disk to challenge your balance and make the exercise better resemble climbing. If using a Bosu ball or a balance disk, place both feet on the surface or use just 1 foot for a greater challenge. However, when using the Indo board, both feet must be on the surface.


Stand on the surface of desired equipment with a band attached to the bottom of a door or another low anchor point. While keeping your shoulder blades down and back, raise both arms up to form the letter Y. Move your arms directly into a U, followed by a T, a W and finally into an I to complete each letter.


Deep Neck Flexion (3 sets x 30 reps x 3 sec hold; less than 30 sec rest between sets)

In order to correct the neck alignment, you must strengthen the muscles in the cervical spine. Keep a micro bend in the knee while placing the back of your head and feet against the wall. Place your hand across the front of your neck just above the collarbone to monitor unwanted activity of the surface muscles. Keeping your head in contact with the wall, slide the back of your head up against the wall as you nod down as far as you can without the surface muscles tightening under your fingers. Hold this position for 3 seconds before returning to the start.


Deep Neck Flexion w/ Resistance (3 sets x 30 reps x 3 sec hold; less than 30 sec rest between sets)

Progress the previous exercise by tying a strap around your head and attaching an elastic to the back of your head. Tuck your chin in and bend your head forward to look down. Return to the starting position and repeat.


Prone Neck Extensor Strengthening (3 sets x 30 sec-1 min hold x 2x/day)

This exercise is performed to strengthen the back of the neck. Lay on your stomach on the ground and support your body with your forearms. Maintain a neutral head position with your chin slightly tucked. Pull your shoulder blades down and back engaging the lower trapezius muscles.


Head Pull Backs (3 sets x 30 sec-1 min hold x 2x/day)

To progress the neck extensor strengthening, sit in an upright position with an elastic band looped around the back of the head. First, hold the ends of the elastic in your hands at head level. Next, pull your head back against the elastic resistance to align your head with your body. Come back to just neutral and be mindful not to over-retract. Then, pause and release the head position to ease off the resistance of the elastic band. Alternatively, you may hold your head back in the neutral retracted position and apply resistance by pulling forward with the hands and straightening the elbows. Be sure to pick an elastic band with no weak points that could potentially tear.


Try these strengthening exercises out. If you have any questions on how to perform them correctly or if you're ready to progress further, please reach out for further guidance and clarification.


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