This post started out as one thing and turned into something completely different. I will likely use this as a building block for future posts. So, rather than trying to re-type a witty intro I had to delete, let’s just get into the meat (slight pun intended).

Tissue Properties

Firstly, let’s define two very important terms in relation to tissue: elasticity and rigidity.

Elasticity is the tissue’s ability to stretch to its end range of motion and return to its original form.

Rigidity is the tissue’s INability to stretch or deform outside of its original form.

Most people are familiar with these concepts already, but if not, the best example I have was told to me by a great teacher, Frankie Faires. He likes to think of these properties, in regards to human tissue, as a rubber band. The further a rubber band can stretch, the more elastic it is. Conversely, if the rubber band does not stretch much, it is very rigid.

For our interests, we need to realize that muscles are more elastic than tendons. Alternatively, tendons are more rigid than muscles.

This is important because the more elastic a tissue is, the greater ability it has to adapt to imposed loads more quickly. This means, these tissues will grow faster once you start training them, but they will also shrink faster, should you stop training. Muscles will adapt accordingly to the stresses applied. If you lift weights, you will get stronger and build bigger muscles in a relatively short amount of time. If you stop lifting weights, you will lose a majority of the strength and size in an even shorter amount of time than it took to build.

Now, take that and apply it to tendons. Tendons are more rigid; therefore, it will take longer to build tendon strength once you start training, but it will also take longer to lose that strength gained.

Muscles We Care About

Physiologically speaking, muscles are the tissue that expand and contract to move the joints of the body. For climbing, we care a lot about the muscles above our waist, front and back. Though, it’s obvious the ones in back are the agonists required for climbing.

We primarily care about our deltoids (shoulders), rhomboids (help control the shoulder blade), trapezius (largest muscle in our back), latissimus dorsi (lats), and biceps (gunz). These are all used in pulling-type movements.

We do care about the antagonist muscles too (the muscles on our front). These are pecs (chest), deltoids (shoulders), abz, and triceps. We need to have a close overall muscle balance in order to reduce the risk of injuries. In fact, the human body will start protecting itself by shutting down the agonist muscles in the form of a pain signal if it becomes too imbalanced.

Tendons We Care About

Whereas muscles move joints, a tendon is the tissue that connects the muscle to the bone. We care about the tendons associated with the lower arm, hand, and fingers. These are the obvious ones. What some people may not realize is that the tendons of the shoulders and scapula (shoulder blades) need attention too.

Tendons of the hands are quite obviously associated with grip strength. I haven’t the foggiest of ideas as to why that would be important to climbers. So about these shoulders and scapulii (that’s the plural form of scapula I just decided to use, mkay?)…

The reason I care so much for these tendons is that we use them more than we think, but we rarely think of training them. We use them during lock-offs, and we use them to initiate movement when we are at full extension with our arms and reach for the next hold. Great stresses are applied to the tendons during those times and are a potential cause of limiting your ability, or much worse, injury.

Why I *Really* Care About These Tissues

As I’ve not so subtly suggested, these are the primary tissues used while climbing. Based on that earth shattering announcement, it’s easy to see that if we want to become stronger climbers, both in skill and in strength, we should focus our training around those groups. But here’s a great way to put any and all progress to a screeching halt (which I’ve also hinted at): get injured. Pull a muscle; tear a muscle; pop a tendon…see how that does for your climbing. Sure, we may try a move outside of our ability and put too much force on any number of muscles or tendons, but I think a more likely scenario could be related to “the office worker syndrome”.

Our form follows our function (another great quote from Frankie). If you’re at all like me, my “function” is sitting in front of a computer for 9 hours/day: neck extended, upper back slouched, and scapula protracted (which allows the shoulders to fall forward). Over time, your tissue will become more rigid and keep you in that form, even when you don’t want to be…like when you’re climbing.

Envision that form, the office worker sitting at a desk with horrible posture (guilty). Notice how everything is forward, relaxed/extended, and static. Now envision climbing. Everything is back, flexed/contracted, and mostly dynamic.

These two forms are in complete opposition of each other, but we spend A LOT more time in the former rather than the latter. That means ALL of our tissue adapts and becomes more rigid to keep us in that form, more so than the form we use while climbing. Remember, rigidity is the inability to change outside of your original shape. If we extend beyond our current, limited ROM (especially at high speeds), injury is very likely to occur.

Just like our back muscles can become overdeveloped in relation to our “front muscles” (for lack of desire to find a better term) and cause injury, so can this. And that will really drop you down a few grades.

To be continued…


Don’t Miss Your Chance

I was stuck in Corporate America for 9 years. I was miserable.

Then I took control.

You can too, and it starts right here.