Do these habits keep you from becoming a stronger, more capable climber?
By Erin Malone
So, you’ve finally started to get strong because you learned some techniques for climbing more efficiently after reading my previous article, but you’ve started to wilt–you get fatigued and flash-pumped more quickly, or you just can’t quite break past that barrier that keeps you from flashing that v16 (or v2 . . . whatever; same thing). This can be so frustrating. Don’t despair; here’s some advice on the four worst habits that kill your climbs and how to set yourself up for success.
Often, climbers don’t spend enough time warming up, or worse, don’t warm up at all. The common result is one hyphenated word: Flash-pump. It’s that uncomfortable feeling you get when a bunch of blood rushes to your forearms, making them feel like they’re going to explode after only one or two climbs. The flash-pump also makes it hard to grip anything. This is what happens when you don’t warm-up—that, and injuries. So, the choice is yours: you can skip the warm-up and end up flash-pumped and/or injured or you can warm-up properly to avoid that.
As you’re still reading this, I presume you’ve decided warming up is the better option. The question then is, how do you warm up and for how long should you do it? Basically, you need to warm up until you’ve noticed that your fingers, joints, and large muscle groups feel warm and limber. One way to warm up is to start with easy climbs on vertical or slab—not overhanging problems/routes—and make sure you rest a minute or so between warm-up climbs. Machine-gun climbing can also result in a forearm pump so resting between climbs is important. Then, get in a few medium-intensity climbs. When you’re ready to start working on your project(s), be mindful in the movements; you may have completed a decent warm-up series, but, for instance, if there’s a gnarly heel-hook in your project and you haven’t warmed up your hammies, you may pull something. A warm-up should increase your temperature, improve your range of motion and prepare you for the challenges you’ll face while training.
A warm-up series can look something like this:
- Pyramids (bouldering): Complete three or four easy climbs, two or three medium climbs, and then then start on your project.
- Doubles (ropes): Climb an easy, vertical or slab route twice in a row before switching with your partner. Then, do another double on a slightly harder, yet still easy, route. Maybe get in one more route that’s one to two grades below what you’re projecting, but only climb this one once, and then move onto your project.
- Down Climb: On the easy and medium climbs you’re warming up on, when you get to the top of the climb, down-climb instead of jumping or being lowered down.
- Cardio: I’d also suggest a basic 10-minute jog before starting up your climbing warm-up routine. I’ve noticed a tremendous difference in how I feel when I start climbing if I’ve done this first because it gets my blood moving and eases any stiffness or soreness in my large muscle groups. This pre-climb jog is particularly helpful for anyone who comes to the gym from a sedentary work environment.
Everyone is different, so it’s important to always listen to your body. And because there may be many factors that you may not account for—like maybe it’s just a high-gravity day . . . haha, jkjk—adjust your warm-up series accordingly. You may have to warm up differently on certain days and on some days you may realize you need to make it an endurance day instead of a projecting one.
Onto the footwork. If you checked out my last post, you learned a few good things about keeping your feet on *whispers “core,”* but do you place too much of your feet on foot-holds? Do you pivot on your toes? And do you know about what I call the same-side rule?
There’s so much about footwork that this article would be far too long if I tried to explain it all. So I’ll focus on the toes. Plain and simple, aim to place just the big toe or the pinky-toe edge of your foot on the hold. Pretend that the rest of your foot doesn’t exist (until we start talking about bat-hangs and heel hooks and toe hooks . . . that’s for another time). For the purposes of this story, the only thing on your foot that exists at this moment is your big toe and your pinky toe edge. These are the only two places on your feet that I want you to place on foot holds. The reason for this leads me to the next point.
Pivoting. Pivoting on your toes allows you to swing into a potentially optimal position for a climbing move. In order to pivot most effectively, you must only be on your big toe or your pinky toe edge because, if you have too much foot on a hold, the wall will get in the way of the pivot. Pivoting on your toes allows for a smooth transition into . . .
. . . the Same-Side rule (sometimes I call it the same-same rule . . . I don’t know why). Each time you reach up with one hand, that same-side foot should be the one that propels you toward the hold you’re reaching for. For example, if your right hand reaches up, your right foot should push down onto the hold with the most effort and energy. Right hand reaches, right foot pushes; Left hand reaches, left foot pushes!
Footwork is something a lot of people overlook; this is especially true for gym rats that decide to start climbing because they often skip leg day from what I hear. If you can dial down your footwork, your climbing will look and feel so much more smooth and effortless.
This one is for the over-stoked, the climb-hards, and the training-obsessed. It may seem logical that if you train more and train harder that you’ll get so much stronger so much faster. The truth is, you’re not being efficient and this mentality may cause you to become injured. So, first, I want you to remember why you like climbing and how you got started and then ask yourself why you train so hard. Are you trying to get progressively stronger? Is there an outdoor project(s) that you really want to send? Are you thinking that if you get stronger you might get semi-sponsored so you don’t have to spend so much money on gear? Haha, that’d be great, though.
Once you’ve reassessed your climbing motivation, consider what you do for training, how frequently you do it, and what your training cycle looks like.
When you train, make sure to include a variety of activities and avoid overload on one specific training activity. Repetitive motions without adequate rest and movement variety can often lead to injuries. Climbers, in particular, are susceptible to tendonitis, tears or micro-tears in their finger-tendon pulleys, shoulder injuries, etc.
How frequently you train should depend on how hard you train and what you train. Keep in mind that tendons are more finicky than muscles are—they take longer to strengthen, they’re easier to injure, and take longer to heal. Keeping a variety of activities in your training regimen will help keep the frequency of any one specific activity to a healthy level and minimize the risk of strains. Your body and how it reacts to stressors should be a good indication of when you need to take it easy. When you start to notice that you can’t finish your sets without losing form, start to back off. Listening to your body is a great way to know how hard you can push.
Lastly, you’ll want to address training cycles, which are designed to make sure you don’t overload the body. For example, the beginning week(s) of your training program might be less intense. The intensity gradually increases until you have a maximum-intensity training week(s). Then, you’ll have a week or so that’s pretty chill—and that’s the part I want to stress. If you go hard all the time, you open the door for injuries. This also prevents you from ever climbing hard because your body’s too fatigued during maximum-intensity periods.
If you want a tailored-to-you training program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and he can help direct you to someone (or himself) at Mesa Rim who can develop one for you.
I used to joke that I didn’t even know what “rest” was, or that the word was like kryptonite and I’d hiss whenever someone would use it. Climbers aren’t known for taking many rest days; the stoke is too real. But you’ll have to wait on that project of yours you’ve been working on for the last bajillion days in a row. Rest days are important because you need to give your muscles/ligaments/tendons time to recover so that they can rebuild and can become properly strengthened to manage the stresses you put them under. If you don’t manage your rest days appropriately, you’ll be more susceptible to injuries. Plus, if you don’t rest, your body will never be able to perform at its best.
Though I’m sure you know those things in theory, putting that theory into practice is a whole ‘notha thang, especially if you don’t even know when to rest. As there’s no cookie-cutter answer for everybody, here are some guidelines and suggestions:
Everyone’s body is a little different and there are many factors to consider, so listening to your body is important. How to figure out your climbing-to-rest-days ratio depends on how much stress you put on your body and how hard you climb. Basically, if you climb hard several days in a row, the more rest days you’ll need in a row. I personally used to do a 2:1, 2:1, 2:2 and then reset—that’s two days on, one day off; two days on, one day off; and two days on, two days off. Repeat. Sometimes my ratios might look like 3:2, 3:2, 3:3. A series like 2:1, 2:2 keeps you resetting each week, if that’s what you prefer. In that scenario, your program would be as follows: Monday/Tuesday = climb, Wednesday = rest, Thursday/Friday = climb, Saturday/Sunday = rest.
If you climb more recreationally—maybe Mondays and Wednesdays are climbing days, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are surfing days—then you probably don’t need to worry about resting because you get enough of it. But, if you’re trying to get stronger in your climbing, you may want to up the ante. Three to four days per week of climbing will get you there, whereas it will take you a lot longer to get stronger if you climb only one to two days a week. This is completely up to you, as what you prioritize most will direct your actions and, thus, your results.
After you’ve decided when you’ll take your rest days, you’ve got to figure out what you’ll do on those horrid days. I’ll keep this short with a few do’s and don’ts. Please follow my don’ts but you don’t have to follow my dos.
- DON’T climb on your rest days.
- DON’T train for climbing. That means no campus board or hangboard training.
- DON’T do pull-ups and other workouts that trigger big muscle groups.
- DO go to yoga
- DO go on runs/hikes/walks
- DO recovery exercises like stretching, rice bucket grip strengthening drills, and foam rolling
- DO go home and put your head in your hands and wallow in sorrow while waiting for your rest day(s) to be over (juuuuust kidding).
Learning how to warm up, improve your footwork, avoid over-training, and manage your rest days will reduce your injury risk and help you become a much better climber.