The Best Climbing Exercise You’re Not Doing: The Scapular Pull-up!

Learn how to develop stronger, more injury-proof shoulders with the scapular pull-up.

The scapular pull-up is a training essential in the Hörst gym!

Keeping your shoulders healthy and developing proper movement patterns in pulling motions demands the ability to forcefully depress, rotate, and retract the scapula. Regular use of this isolation exercise will develop better kinesthetic awareness of your scapula position and enable you to climb harder and longer with good form, despite growing fatigue. Furthermore, being able to quickly and forcibly engage the lower trapezius and latissimus muscles will empower you to keep your scapula in the proper position when campus training and lunging.

How To Do the Scapular Pull-up

  1. Begin in a normal pull-up position with a palms-away grip and hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. From a full, nearly passive hang (shrugged shoulders), draw your scapula down and together, thus raising your body slightly but without bending your arms as in a regular pull-up. The best learning cues are: Try to “bend the bar” and think about doing a reverse shrug (i.e. shoulders drawn downward). Do this, and you’ll feel your head shift backward and your chest raise upward, as your scapular pinch together.
  3. Hold the top position for one second, then return to the starting position. The range of motion is only a few inches.
  4. Do six to twelve reps, keeping nearly straight arms and tight spinal erectors and glutes throughout. At first, you may find this to be a difficult exercise (a sign that you’ve found a critical weakness to correct!), but resist the urge to overdo it.
  5. Do two sets with a three-minute rest in between.
  6. Add a third set to your workout only after you’ve mastered the exercise. A good long-term goal is to do three sets of ten reps.
scapular pull-up
1. Begin from a low pull-up position with passive shoulders. 2. Maintaining straight arms, depress and downwardly rotator your scapula—think about trying bend the bar as you pull your shoulders down and press your chest out.

Training Tip: Strong climbers will do this exercise with full body weight, but I suggest learning with less resistance by keeping your feet on the floor (or elevated on a chair) and flexing your knees enough to hang with straight arms from a pull-up bar.


Scapular Pull-up “Plus”

If you’re an advanced climber, with strong shoulders and pulling muscles, then the Scapular Pull-up “Plus” is for you!

Begin as in the regular Scapular Pull-up, but raise upward with a more powerful scaption as if you’re trying to pull into a Front Lever. Your arms will bend just a bit, but strive to keep them as straight as possible. Concentrate on the cues of “bend the bar” and “press the bar away”. Maintain engaged glutes and extended legs throughout the range of motion. Build towards doing three sets of ten.

scapular pull-up plus
1. Begin from an ordinary pull-up start position. 2. Maintaining nearly straight arms, depress and downwardly rotator your scapula by pressing down on the bar. Think about trying bend the bar (supinating your forearms) as you press your chest out and raise your hips…as if beginning a Front Lever.

PRO TIP: Nourish Your Tendons and Joints Before Each Climbing Workout!

A growing body of research has demonstrated the benefits of a specific pre-exercise nutritional protocol designed to amplify collagen synthesis and soft tissue recovery. Consuming vitamin C-enriched hydrolyzed collagen before rigorous training is the lynchpin of the protocol shown to support connective tissue remodeling and recovery from powerful workouts. This is revolutionary information for a hard-training climber! Read more here >>


tfc3-cover-smallThe Scapula Pull-up is just one of the many new exercises featured in the 3rd edition of Training for Climbing. Learn more >>


Copyright © 2000–2020 Eric J. Hörst | All Rights Reserved.