Are Pull-ups Useful for Climbing?

guy doing pull up

Pull-ups are useful for rock climbing because they are a great way to develop the strength and power of your back muscles. Besides that, pull-ups can also aid in preventing injuries. The decisive factor in wether pull-ups are going to make you stronger and will prevent injuries, is the proper execution of the exercise.

In this blog, I’ll first discuss the advantages of the pull-up in more detail. After that, I’ll show you common mistakes when doing a pull-up and how to fix them.

Are you ready?

Let’s dive right in!

1. Advantages of Pull-ups for Rock Climbing

The main advantages of pull-ups for rock climbing are:

  • Developing Pulling Strength & Power
  • Injury Prevention

1.1 Development of Pulling Strength & Power

Pull-ups are a great exercise to develop pulling strength and power. Rock climbing itself involves a lot of pulling but it might not be enough to enforce sufficient adaptations for you to send? your next big project.

If you incorporate pull-ups into your strength regimen you can train specifically for strength, power, and/or power endurance.

Furthermore, if you train pull-ups separately you can focus solely on pulling well without worrying about all the other things that come with rock climbing. The more efficient your movement pattern, the more force you can generate. The improvement happens by your nervous system better coordinating the signal transmission within a muscle and between muscles. That’s why it’s important that you deliberately activate the muscles of the back, arms, and hands for best results when doing pull-ups.

1.2 Injury Prevention

If done correctly you strengthen the muscles of the back and scapula so that you’ll be better able to stabilize your shoulder girdle while rock climbing. A correct pull-up involves pulling your chest to the bar without pulling your head over the bar while pulling your scapula’s down and together. This activates the rhomboids, the transverse-, and the ascending trapezius.

correct pull-up
Correct Pull-up

When you activate these muscles around the scapula, the shoulder socket carries the upper arm better which results in better stability.

2. Common Mistakes Doing Pull-ups

 Although pull-ups are a great exercise for rock climbing if done wrong they can enhance faulty movement patterns resulting in an increased chance of injury.

The 3 most common faulty movement patterns are:

  1. Pulling the head over the bar instead of the chest through the bar
  2. Pulling with the arms instead of the back
  3. Reduced range of motion

2.1 Pulling the Head over the Bar

Pulling the head over the bar seems like a good thing to do when doing pull-ups because you increase the range of motion, right?

Nevertheless, by pulling your head over the bar a flexion of the thoracic spine and protraction of the shoulder girdle occurs. Which activates your chest muscles where actually your back muscles should work more.

Thus, focus on pulling your chest through the bar instead of your head over the bar.

pulling head over the bar
Pulling the head excessively over the bar

2.2 Pulling with the Arms

Pull-ups mainly target the large back muscles, the latissimus dorsi, and therefore should also be done in a way that it does. If the elbows bend more relative to being pulled back there won’t be as much activation of the back muscles.

Thus, first, focus on pulling your scapula down and together, then on pulling your elbows by your back, and only then on bending your elbows.

bending elbows in pull up
Excessively bending the elbows compared to pulling them back.

2.3 Reduced Range of Motion

A reduction in range of motion either occurs due to a lack of strength or due to a lack of mobility. To be able to do a proper pull-up you need to be able to extend your thoracic spine and flex your arm well. Without it, compensatory patterns occur. Among these compensatory patterns are all three of the movement mistakes I discuss here + an overextension of the lower back.

While you could do separate exercises to improve these factors you could also make your pull-ups easier either by hanging in an elastic band or with your feet on the floor. This way you can focus on your full range of motion and make sure that your arms are raised vertical overhead at the bottom position and that your thoracic spine is extended in the top position.

If you do pull-ups with a reduced range of motion because of a lack of strength you can apply the same strategies to make them easier.

As a rule of thumb, not ever should you do an exercise without moving through its full range of motion. Besides stimulating faulty movement patterns you’ll lose out on strength, hypertrophy, and coordinative gains.

Joël Broersma

Hey, I'm Joël, a Dutch Physical Therapist living & working in Switzerland. I'm an avid rock climber and sports & movement lover in general.

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