Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

What are the best subscapularis exercises for rock climbers?

July 13, 2022

The subscapularis is the largest and strongest of the rotator cuff muscles. Its primary function is shoulder internal rotation and it plays a critical role in stabilizing the front aspect of the shoulder during climbing movements. The subscapularis is the least commonly injured muscle of the rotator cuff, but is still prone to pain and dysfunction in climbers. If you’re having pain in the subscapularis muscle it may present as pain in the armpit but can also refer pain to the back side of the scapula and shoulder.

Every exercise for the shoulder engages the subscapularis, but what does the evidence say are the best exercises to target this muscle?  Decker and colleagues used electromyography to determine which exercises generate the greatest subscapularis muscle activation. They tested a variety of exercises from traditional resistance band rotations to more compound movements such as downward chops and punches. They found that the three best exercises for engaging and strengthening the subscapularis were:

  1. Push up with plus

  2. Shoulder internal rotation with resistance band

  3. Diagonal punch

Using this information you can design your own exercise program to target the subscapularis muscle.

Mend Recommendation: choose two of these exercises to add to your injury prevention routine and perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps. Do these exercises 2 times per week at the end of your climbing session and continue for a minimum of 6 weeks. Strengthening your subscapularis will stabilize the shoulder joint during pushing movements such as mantling as well as pulling movements such as lock-offs and pull ups.

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, schedule an appointment with a rock climbing specialist at Mend. We have locations in Boulder and Lafayette, Colorado. Many physicians, surgeons, and physical therapists do not understand the sport of rock climbing and may give incorrect or ill-advised advice on whether or not to return to climbing. The rock climbing specialists and Mend understand the sport and know when and how to safely return to rock climbing.