Training season is soon upon us. In many parts of the country, it’s already here. At the start of any training season, it’s wise to ensure your base-level fitness is adequate for the months ahead of strength, power, and endurance training. One excellent shoulder exercise for building strength, stability, and proper movement patterns is the scapular pull-up. Surprisingly, it’s often overlooked by climbers. Strengthening the muscles around the scapula, or shoulder blade, is key for climbing performance and avoiding injury.
To learn how to perform the scapular pull-up, watch this short video by Eric Hörst, renowned climbing coach and author. He breaks downs the exercise’s benefits and shows both beginner and advanced variations.
In Hörst’s invaluable book Training for Climbing, he explains that regular use of the scapular pull-up will help you develop “better kinesthetic awareness of your scapula position and enable you to climb harder and longer with good form, despite growing fatigue.” The exercise also helps keep your scapula in the correct position during dynamic movement, which we all know can be taxing on the shoulders.
As you’ll see in the video, to perform a scapular pull-up, you begin by hanging from a bar in a normal pull-up position (palms facing away with arms shoulder-width apart). Starting from a relaxed hang, draw your shoulder blades together like you’re doing a reverse shrug. The best way to think about this motion is to try and bend the bar (or hangboard, if that’s what you’re using). Your blades will come together as your head tilts back and your chest raises slightly. Be sure to keep your arms straight. Your body’s upward motion is coming from your scapular movement, not your arms. Hold the top of the flexed position for one second and then come back down. Perform six to 12 reps. Hörst warns about the potential to overdo scapular pull-ups: only add a second or third set to your workout after you’ve mastered the exercise.