We often focus on how biofeedback is used to improve muscle activation and performance. But what about a climbing athlete whose performance relies on muscle endurance, precision, and efficiency? Where does biofeedback fit into the rehabilitation and training of a climbing athlete? In this interview, we talk about new ways to use sEMG biofeedback, how to target specific muscles, and how to down-regulate muscles to improve performance efficiency. Read on to learn more from physical therapist and climbing enthusiast, Dr. Jared Vagy.
More about Dr. Jared Vagy
Jared Vagy (https://theclimbingdoctor.com/) is a Doctor of Physical Therapy who specializes in treating climbing injuries. In addition to his doctoral degree, he has completed a one-year residency in orthopedics and a one-year fellowship in movement science. Dr. Vagy has over 17 years of climbing experience and has climbed all over the world. He is an accomplished rock climber, ice climber, and alpinist, and continues to explore the wonders of adventure that these pursuits afford. He is the author of the Amazon #1 best-seller “Climb Injury-Free,” and has published numerous articles on injury prevention and lectures internationally. Dr. Vagy is on the teaching faculty at the University of Southern California. He is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. He is passionate about climbing and enjoys working with climbers of all ability levels, ranging from novice climbers to the top professional climbers in the world.
How sEMG fits the bill for climbers
When we look at an overview of climbing injuries, the majority of upper extremity injuries (fingers, wrists, elbow, and shoulder) are overuse related.(1) Lower extremity injuries, on the other hand, are often traumatic (ankle and knee).(2) Regardless, Jared emphasizes the importance of looking up the chain (with or without biofeedback) to zero in on the specific issue.
Below, listen to what Jared has to say about using biofeedback to help control activation levels and improve muscle efficiency in climbers:
Next, Jared brings up a very relevant point of using biofeedback to inhibit overactive muscles, since this group of athletes to tend to have high muscle tone to begin with:
Now let’s look at some specific examples. When pulling into the wall, it’s common to see climbers overusing their biceps and lats instead of their middle trapezius. In this instance, Jared uses biofeedback with an inverted suspended row to promote proper muscle activation and timing before moving it back to the climbing wall. This way, he can break down the movement first to teach proper muscle activation, then transition it to a more sport-specific movement to further challenge the athlete.
In addition to the realtime visual and auditory feedback while performing exercises, Jared says it is also helpful to film EMG sessions and review the video with the climber. This allows the climber to further process their recruitment patterns and develop strategies for more optimal motor recruitment. See below for a video demonstrating how to breakdown and review the results during an EMG session.
Another activation challenge we can address with biofeedback is with newer climbers, who tend to favor the upper body when climbing. Jared suggests using mTrigger with audio feedback on the quad or glutes to encourage lower body extension and activation when climbing. The audio feedback allows the climber to hear when they have activated the lower extremities to a sufficient level before making their next move.
Even if you don’t work with climbing athletes on a regular basis, Jared leaves us with a compelling final thought: when working with athletes, it is critical to do a movement analysis. Movement and muscle activation patterns are critical to performance and often go overlooked in sports rehab. For instance, Jared says, “climbing is a quadruped sport, you need to simulate that moment to help identify movement patterns that need to be optimized.”
Finally, we would like to thank Jared for his time and efforts in speaking with us. His knowledge and expertise on the topic of rock climbing rehabilitation is unmatched and we appreciate the content he has shared with us. For more information about Jared.
The Climbing Doctor Webpage: https://theclimbingdoctor.com/
Climb Injury-Free Book
1. Injury Trends in Rock Climbers: Evaluation of a Case Series of 911 Injuries Between 2009 and 2012
2. Müller, M., Heck, J., Pflüger, P., Greve, F., Biberthaler, P., & Crönlein, M. (2022). Characteristics of bouldering injuries based on 430 patients presented to an urban emergency department. Injury, 53(4), 1394-1400.