How to Combat The Physical Stresses of The Route Setting Life

Apr 02, 2016Brooklyn Boulders

Will Castelli has been route setting at Brooklyn Boulders for two years. As recently noted by Climbing Business Journal in an article on setter’s health, “a seasoned setter can add to this list of maladies lower back and leg problems from hanging in a harness for prolonged periods, knee and ankle problems from standing on unstable padded floors, shoulder and neck problems from constantly working overhead, and wrist problems from hoisting heavy tools and holds, among many other minor tweaks and chronic injuries.”

A portrait of a route setter: Will Castelli.
A portrait of a route setter: Will Castelli.
For Will, the majority of his physical issues are issues of overuse, and under recovery – which isn’t surprising as the route setters are working under fairly intense conditions. Our setters work eight hours a day, five days a week, climbing ladders, sitting in harnesses, lugging up buckets filled with hand holds, footholds, and volumes. They contort and stretch their bodies in pretty novel positions that don’t allow for proper alignment to create the problems at BKB. And, due to the frequency with which they are setting, this leaves very little time for tissue recovery.
We set him up with personal trainer (and avid climber) Adam Gallo to put Will through a personal training consultation to determine how he could best offset the physical stresses of the route setting job.>Adam’s evaluation:
Will’s main physical issues are similar to most climbers & route setters:
  • Foot & hand overuse issues and minor tendon injuries
  • Sub & peri scapular (under and around shoulder blade) tension, and adhesion (knots)
  • Overabundance of hip tension and adhesion
  • Peri spinal tension & adhesion, from the cervical spine, all the way to the lumbar spine
  • Shortening of the pectoralis (chest) muscles due to internal rotation of the shoulders
  • Poor postural/ alignment baseline, which might aggravate many of the aforementioned issues.

The approach that I took with Will is one based around recovery, and realignment. The last thing Will is going to want to do after a long day of hard labor is put his body under more tension.

Before starting Will on any work to strengthen antagonist muscles (the muscles that work opposite our climbing muscles), Adam made it clear how important it was to first work on getting Will realigned and on the road to a quicker recovery.


1) Training the body back to optimal alignment. Alignment comes first because it’s often alignment issues that are to blame for how we carry tension, or which injuries arise in our practice.
Alignment is key.
Alignment is key.
That’s right, it’s worth reiterating that it’s often our passive positioning that leads to strength imbalances and injuries in our climbing practice. It’s not what we are doing but how we do it.
I gave Will the five steps to good posture, then suggested an hourly repeating timer. The hourly timer will gently remind will to adjust his posture. The idea is, after 3-6 consistent weeks a Pavlovian response will be established and Will will be adjusting his posture, on the hour subconsciously without the need for the timer.
2) Preparation stretching for activity is key.  The next thing we worked on is a basic stretch program will can implement at the start of his day. The stretch program Will help put will in his body before he has to work, and will also serve to lengthen the tissues and introduce some blood flow to his body before he begins work.
Adam stretching out Will.
Adam stretching out Will.


3) Myofascial release. We then moved onto tissue release methods, beginning with tissue release for the hands and feet. We used a series of Myofascial release balls of different sizes to massage trigger points (tension points) in and around wills fingers, toes, feet, hands, and forearms.
Roll it out.


The hands and feet are the most used, and under cared for parts of an athletes body, especially climbers. Many of our sidelining issues arise from issues that stem from the hands and feet.


4. Foam rolling to release tension. The last thing we worked on was a myofascial release program for Will’s body using a foam roller.
Foam rolling your way to relieve tension.
Foam rolling your way to relieve tension.
Ideally, will would implement the foam roller program at the end of his workday to release any built up tension related to work. The foam rolling will also equalize intramuscular fluid pressure buildup, and bring blood flow to the affected muscles. This will help speed recovery, and release any adhesions, as well as help reduce inflammation that might build up over the course of the workday.


5) Hot/ cold water therapy. Outside of exercising, we also discussed hot and cold water therapy for Will’s hands and feet to aid in recovery and reduce inflammation.
After the session with Adam, Will reported feeling sore, but loose. “Previously, I had been missing hip and leg stretches that Adam showed me, and he also offered significant tweaks in body position for other stretches.  I have continued to implement his stretching program in the morning before work and I find it increasingly helpful for the work day,” Will has since been taking advantage of the foam rollers at BKB Queensbridge.

While these five steps are a good baseline for any route setter or avid climber, each body varies and has it’s own physical history. Get your own personal training consultation with Adam today to uncover yours. 

Adam Gallo is a Personal Trainer at Brooklyn Boulders Queensbridge. To sign up for a complimentary personal training consult with Adam, click here.
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