Round 149

Climbing has recently become the truest passion I have ever known. After graduating high school, I took a gap year to save money for college and ended up working at a rock gym. I have been able to see massive improvements in my climbing over the past several months (pushing my redpoint from .11a to .12d in nine months), but I fear this is only because I have virtually unlimited climbing time at the gym. This fall, as my gap year draws to a close and I begin life as a college student, I know that soon I will be balancing work, college, and climbing, and will have to greatly reduce my climbing time. Right now I do not train much other than doing the occasional shoulders/core calisthenics, and spend most of my climbing time simply projecting. What training would you recommend I implement to climb less but retain this level of progress? –Andrew (Pennsylvania)

Hi Andrew! Congrats on the huge improvements! The good news is that your climbing technique won’t drop off, even if you have to cut your climbing time in half (or more) as you return to school. You will likely lose a little endurance if you cut from 20 days per month to, say, 10. Fortunately, I think you’re training gains in the future will come more from building a higher level of strength (rather than endurance)—this is a many year (or decade!) endeavor! Climbers like Sharma, who keep improving year after year (20 years and counting), do so in part because they take their strength up a notch each season. Doing this not only opens up new moves (more power), but with a short period of dedicated endurance training (say one month) you can really climb hard on longer roped routes as well (assuming you get on a rope once or twice per week to stay in that grove).

Anyway, I suggest you get on a good hangboard program this Fall and Winter—and a small amount of Campus Training, too, as long as you follow through with supplemental training for your rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers (important!). The just-released third edition of my Training For Climbing book details several very effective hangboard programs and tons of other exercises for getting stronger and staying uninjured as you push into the 5.13s! Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

I can run a 5k (even 10k) no problem, but I’ve just really incorporated much running into my training routine.  I’ve heard the leg muscle mass from running can do more damage than good (for optimal climbing). How much is too much? –Ben

Ben, People respond to running differently, so there is no definitive guideline. For example, distance running (say, 5k runs a few days per week) makes my legs skinner and helps keep my body comp where I want it. While I know many climbers who respond to running in this same way, I also know of a few people who gain leg muscle mass (hypertrophy or due to increased glycogen storage) from running….so you’ll need to experiment and see if a moderate amount of running is helpful or hurtful for your climbing.

I injured my left wrist while pulling up on a campus board about 2 months ago. There was no pop or extreme pain but sharp enough for me to stop for the day. After a couple days of rest, I didn’t notice pain in normal activities so decided to get back to climbing/lifting. I noticed a brief shooting pain when I supinated during a bicep curl and when I pulled up on slopers or some underclings. Do you know any good rehab stretching or exercises to perform for this type of injury? –Daniel (Idaho)

Hi Daniel, Sorry to hear about your wrist tweak. It could be the FCU tendon, or ligament strain in the wrist. Hard to say without an exam. Anyway, minor tweaks like this usually subside in 2 to 4 weeks, given that you go easy on it (no campusing or hard bouldering!). As a rule, don’t do anything that causes pain. Anyway, there’s not a lot you can do for rehab, other that mild stretching, finger/wrist mobility work, and perhaps some forearm wrist extension exercises (like reverse wrist curls). Important: I strongly suggest you consult a doctor, if the pain lingers more than a few weeks (or condition seems to be getting worse). Good luck!

I tweaked something in my elbow while bouldering and I’m in a lot of pain—my arm is now weak and my elbow is on fire (but no swelling). I noticed it after pushing myself for 17 days back to back projecting this V8 boulder problem. Initially, it just hurt while bouldering, but now it’s hurting 24/7. Could it be possible that I have “climber’s elbow”? Is there a way I can still boulder and heal at the same time? –Sam (Utah)

Sorry to hear about your injury, Sam. Here’s why your problem developed: Tendons breakdown (slightly) from training/climbing just like muscles, but they recovery and strengthen about five times slower. Therefore, climbing hard many days in a row often results in tendinopathy. Whether or not it’s “Climber’s Elbow” (or some other tendon/joint injury) depends on where the pain is coming from.

Let’s assume it’s climber’s elbow….some people who experience this as mild medial elbow pain are able to climb through the injury–with care–by dialing things way back (i.e. no hard training and no painful climbing moves). That is NOT likely your case, obviously, given your sharp, persistent pain. Furthermore, I often tell people that if your elbow hurts while doing ordinary, everyday things such as washing your hair or pouring milk from a jug, then you are past the point of “climbing through” the injury.

You should begin by taking 2 to 4 weeks off from training and climbing. Do some mild stretching and self-message as long as it doesn’t cause much pain. Some eccentric training of the Pronator muscle is important for long term recovery. Search for a recent Rock & Ice article for a good article on Climber’s Elbow. The bottom line: this injury can become chronic, thus ruining your climbing for years! So it would be wise to address the problem now, rather than hope it goes away as you continue to climb. (It won’t.)