Pushing too hard on a regular basis can have serious negative impacts on your physical and emotional health.

By Ryan Halvorson
Photos by Jen Gold

Climbing can be a highly addictive activity. There’s nothing like the sensation that comes from solving a problem that’s taunted you for weeks or the rush of adrenaline that comes with sending a tough route. Even though climbing is a positive, healthy pursuit, too much climbing can have disastrous effects and result in overtraining. Here are some of the most common risks of pushing your body to the max.

  1. Can’t Catch Those Zs. Have you ever climbed for hours on end and left the gym feeling completely wiped only to find yourself staring at the ceiling all night long? Overdoing any sort of physical activity can cause your sympathetic nervous system (the one associated with the “fight-or-flight” response) to go into overdrive. The sympathetic nervous system puts your body under a constant state of stress, flooding it with adrenaline which makes it near impossible for you to unwind and relax no matter how much lavender you put under your pillow.


  1. Mood Swings/Depression. According to research, depression and mood swings are good indicators of overtraining. The mechanisms behind the depression/overtraining connection are murky, but there are some theories being thrown around. One theory is that individuals who excessively exert themselves tend to be high achievers in constant pursuit of perfection and improved performance. When that performance dwindles, the tendency is to push harder. This results in less rest, less recovery and further decreases in performance. Sports medicine researchers believe this cycle of decline negatively impacts an athlete’s mental health because he consistently falls short of his performance goals. Another theory is that overtraining leads to a disruption in hormonal function. Specifically, intense training causes a release of the “stress hormone” cortisol, which, in high levels has been linked with anxiety and depression. It’s human nature to experience mood fluctuations, but when those fluctuations come in gargantuan proportions, it might be time to dial back on the bouldering.

  1. DOMS to the Max. Post-training muscle soreness is a natural side effect of an active lifestyle. But too much training can cause you to become excessively sore for extended periods of time. Not only does that reduce your physical capacity, the body will also begin to augment its movement patterns and place unnecessary stress on various structures of the body. Over time, that stress turns to aches and pains, which can turn into injury. And, of course, injury means a forced break from the activities you love.


  1. Sick as Dog. Do you find yourself getting sick on a regular basis? It might be because your intense training schedule has taken a toll on your immune system. Anytime you tax the body physically, you experience a temporary reduction in your immune system’s ability to fight off contagions. Consistent overexertion keeps the immune system in a compromised state, putting you at high risk of catching every little bug that floats by.


  1. Halt! It seems logical that training hard all the time will lead to performance improvements. While practice does make progress, the body doesn’t get stronger when you’re on the wall. The training session signals a need for growth and improvement, but that growth and improvement happens during the downtime. So, if you never get adequate rest, then your body never has a chance for recovery and restoration. That means you’ll be stuck on the same problem for longer than you should be.


If you feel you might be overtraining, check out the article, “5 Ways to Overcome Overtraining” to learn how to get your body back in working order.


Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer, editor, and content specialist for Mesa Rim.