stiff back after climbing
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“A stiff back after climbing – what can help?”

Stefanie | September 5, 2018

Christina asked me: “After climbing, I often suffer from a stiff back. What can keep me from feeling like a stiff gorilla?” Today I’ll share a few tips on how to loosen up your back to prevent anything from back tension to pain.

A stiff back is a limitation we really don't need, right?

Back, neck and shoulder problems are among the most common ailments we encounter not only in climbing, but in everyday life. In my yoga classes, about half of all participants are familiar with the phenomenon of a shortened lower back muscle, a hunched back or shoulder and neck pain.

A stiff back doesn’t appear overnight. Usually month- or even year-long habits lead to stiffness over time.

So even if a stiff back is more noticeable during climbing than during basic activities―it’s important not to view climbing as an isolated cause, but to think about day-to-day habits that may be aggravating the problem.

Let’s first take a look at how to prevent a stiff back when climbing and then address what we can do for our backs on an everyday basis.

How to prevent a stiff back after climbing

Carlos and I used to just jump right in when it came to climbing and bouldering, sometimes warming up our arms and fingers a little.

Today we always practice a few yoga poses beforehand to prepare the body, and especially the back, for climbing.

What yoga poses can help prepare the back for climbing?

In my opinion, dynamic exercises that

  1. loosen up the back muscles, then
  2. give them a stretch and
  3. follow up with an optional gentle twist are the most suitable.

A few examples:

Cat-Cow stretch

Cat-Cow is an easy way to warm up the spine and loosen up your back muscles. Repeat several times, e.g. 10 breaths.

yoga cat pose
Exhale and round the spine. If it feels more natural for you to inhale when rounding the spine, do that instead.
yoga cow pose
Inhale, arch your back, look forward or keep the gaze down. Again, if you inhaled in Cat, you exhale here instead.

Warming up the shoulders and the upper back

Alternately open your bent arms to the side and then bringing them together in front of your upper body

yoga open the chest
Breathe in, open your bent arms to your sides.
yoga relax shoulders neck
Breathe out and bring your lower arms together in front of your upper body. Relax your shoulders and your neck. You can do this exercise while sitting or standing.

Triangle Pose

Triangle pose works great as a gentle stretch and a twist at the same time. Remember to switch sides.

yoga climbing triangle
Place both feet firmly on the mat. Turn and stretch up.

A gentle spinal twist

Lower your bent legs from side to side while sitting up.

twist to prevent a stiff back after climbing yoga pose
Move your bent legs from side to side. This exercise can also be done lying down.

As always: Ask yourself what your body needs at the moment.

If you’ve been on your feet all day, your back will benefit from different poses than if you’ve been sitting all day.

Relax and stretch after climbing

After climbing, poses that relax the neck muscles and backbends that stretch the front side of the body and prevent a hunched back are especially suitable.

Poses Carlos and I enjoy after climbing include:

Cobra Pose

cobra pose yoga
Cobra pose opens the chest and feels great for your shoulders. Remember to relax the neck.

Butterfly Pose

prevent a stiff back after climbing back stretch
This forward bend stretches your lower back. I love it, because it also helps me to relax my neck and shoulders.

Side stretches

A gentle side stretch feels great after climbing. If you have sensitive wrists, support yourself by making a fist as I do. Otherwise you could use your flat hand.

Gentle twists such as Thread the Needle pose

stiff back delicious twist after climbing
Our friend Gustavo and Carlos enjoying Thread the Needle pose. This is one of our favorite poses after climbing because it gently twists your back while allowing you to relax.

In my opinion, after climbing is one of the best times for some moderate (that is, not too long or strenuous) flexibility exercises. Your body is warmed up, and climbing’s allowed you to let of lots off steam, making it much easier to relax your mind. This usually means your breathing will be calmer as well.

But: If you have a stiff back, I don’t think yoga before and after climbing is enough to fix the problem if other day-to-day things don’t change.

A stiff back requires more attention and a few everyday exercises that help it become more flexible again.

At-home exercises

The following exercises are suitable for every day as well as before climbing:

  1. Loosen
  2. Lengthen
  3. Strengthen
  4. Stretch
  5. Twist

An example exercise sequence could look like this, for 5-10 breaths each:

  1. Cat-Cow stretch
  2. Balancing Table pose
  3. Gentle side stretch
  4. Thread the Needle pose
  5. Starfish pose
stabilizer to prevent a stiff back yoga
Balancing Table pose strengthens the back and has a stabilizing effect. You can either hold the pose for a few breaths or add movement. To add movement, pull your elbow toward the knee of the opposite leg and then extend again.
Starfish pose is a strong pose that helps you develop more strength and stability in your lower back.

Because it can be completed in just 10 minutes, such a sequence can fit into even the busiest schedules.

Remember: You won’t start noticing a difference until you develop a routine that you follow regularly.

In summary: A stiff back calls for new habits

Yoga before and after climbing can help the back “absorb” the stress of climbing better and prevent stiff back muscles. A stiff back doesn’t manifest overnight, but is usually the cumulative effect of several day-to-day habits.

That’s why it’s important to develop an everyday routine that helps the back become more flexible again. 10 to 15 minutes may seem short―but give it a try and see what changes you notice.

Does your back ever feel stiff? What helps you before and after climbing?

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