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Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

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Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby JROSKA » Fri Feb 01, 2013 2:34 am

Hi everyone, I just have a general question regarding upper body strength as it relates to Class 3 and Class 4 climbing. Specifically, the shoulders and rotator cuff. I am in my mid-40's and have had two surgeries on the left shoulder, and it is very weak. The right shoulder (dominant side) seems to be showing some signs of wear as well. Basically, my upper body strength is very poor. By keeping up with an exercise routine, I may be able to improve it to some extent; however, based on the symptoms that I continue to have, my physician is a bit non-committal about just how much strength I will be able to re-gain.

I don't necessarily plan to be a finisher, but I do like to challenge myself as much as I can, rather than just stick to the ones that are considered relatively "easy". Of the two ranked 2+ on my peak list, Mt. Lindsey or Castle Peak didn't cause any issues for my range of motion; scrambling isn't an issue. My main issues are that I can't reach too high over my head (especially with the left shoulder), and there certainly isn't enough strength to completely support my body weight (ie, climbing up a rope, or using my arms to pull myself up vertically onto a rock ledge).

My question is, given this current situation, assuming that it only gets marginally better, where does the upper limit of my capabilities lie? i.e., is it probably in the Class 4 realm, or could it be a bit lower, like Class 3? I feel ready to attempt a Class 3 this summer, like Wetterhorn or Longs; again, I like to push myself and don’t want to use the word “can’t”. However, I also need to be realistic. I do not want to put myself (or another party who might be behind me) in harm’s way, and I don’t want to cause frustration for myself (or a potential hiking partner) by reaching something very close to a difficult summit (like Longs’ Homestretch) and deciding that I shouldn't attempt it.

I suppose it comes down to my own individual decision, but I’d appreciate input from anyone who has first-hand knowledge of what is required on many Class 3 and Class 4 mountains in Colorado. Thank you.

- Jeff R

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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby pvnisher » Fri Feb 01, 2013 6:45 am

You should be able to hike all of the 14ers without lifting your arms above your chest. You might use your arms for support and balance, but they are not needed for pulling.
You might need to work on balance and coordination in order to help you out, as most people just "cheat" and use their arms, but it's not necessary.
If you are confronted by something that will require you to lift over your head and pull yourself up, you are off-route. 8)

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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby kansas » Fri Feb 01, 2013 8:27 am

This pretty much sums it up.
pvnisher wrote:You might need to work on balance and coordination in order to help you out, as most people just "cheat" and use their arms, but it's not necessary.
If you are confronted by something that will require you to lift over your head and pull yourself up, you are off-route. 8)


Class 3 shouldn't require hands for anything more than the occasional balance check. The homestretch on Longs can be done without using your hands at all.

Class 4 requires you to hold on with your hands but there isn't a need to pull yourself up because the foot holds are generally pretty good. And to be honest, the class 4 sections on the 14ers are short. I would go so far as to say most of them are one move wonders like N. Maroon and Sunlight. I didn't think Pyramid had any class 4 and Capitol can be kept pretty simple with good route finding. If you focus on building your routefinding skills first, you will find the difficult moves are few and far between on the 14ers.

Personally I think people worry too much about climbing ability and don't focus on things like being able to move on loose rock, a much more important sill IMO.
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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby Alpine » Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:01 am

While I do generally agree with what Kansas and pvnisher said, in my mind you also need to consider that while in the best conditions and with no surprises, you should likely be able to complete all the standard routes with no issues, there might come a time where your foot slips or a rock moves, at the wrong moment, even if you are being careful. You may need your arm(s) to be able to hold substantial weight while you readjust your foot. And if you cannot count on your arm above a certain height, you need to think the moves through before committing, to make sure you have options that will work for you.

To me this does not mean you should not climb, it only means that you may need to be more thoughtful before you make any move, about the possibilities and how would you handle them.

And while you didn't mention snow, you would also need to consider the effect of lesser arm and shoulder strength on a glissade situation where it is possible to generate a good deal of force on those parts of the body.
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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby Tory Wells » Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:02 am

The most important muscle groups in rock climbing are the legs and core, especially as it relates to 3/4 climbing. You'll be fine.
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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby Oman » Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:25 am

You need upper body strength to lift that I-phone camera above your head for selfies to post your climb on Facebook as it happens.

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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby doggler » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:09 am

Real men do burpees.

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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby kansas » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:13 am

doggler wrote:Real men do burpees.

buck furpees
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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby GeezerClimber » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:16 am

I agree with others that arm/shoulder strength is not that important. Legs provide almost all upward motion. There have been times when I would place my hands on a chest high ledge and push up but these moves were more out of convenience than necessity. But range of motion does help, especially on descents. There are times when I would use my shoulders while lowering my feet to the next step. Again, I think these were moves of convenience not necessity. Working up the difficulty ladder slowly is a good plan but I don't read anything in your post that would prevent you from climbing Capitol.

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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby Randy » Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:49 pm

Like I always told beginning rock climbers, Use your dam legs there twice as big as your arms.

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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby crossfitter » Fri Feb 01, 2013 2:21 pm

With practice and a bit of skill, you can probably get up to about 5.5 on some routes without significant use of hands required (mostly grabbing jugs for balance) maybe higher depending on how limited your shoulder is. If you find yourself needing to support more than about 10% of your bodyweight with your arms at any time on a standard route, you are doing something wrong.

In the meantime, you may have luck rehabbing with shoulder exercises. Ring dips/pushups, overhead squats, dumbell/kettlebell presses, turkish getups are all good options. If you live in boulder, the head trainer at the BRC runs very good free classes weekly which have a lot of emphasis on shoulder strength specifically for climbers.
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Re: Upper body strength / Class 3 and 4

Postby RoanMtnMan » Fri Feb 01, 2013 3:22 pm

There are some days I wish Fred Beckey was on this site. Last I saw him he was 87 or 88 and was waiting in Talkeetna for a flight into the Ruth Gorge to put up a few more first ascents with a group of 40 somethings. Made me feel like a young whippersnapper.
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