8-year-old Jonathan Hörst sending 5.12a at the Red River Gorge, KY.
This is the second in a two-part series on age-appropriate training for youth climbers. (Read Part 1.) The overriding goal of a youth training program must be skill and cognitive development, along with a modest amount of strength training to develop muscle balance and control.
As youth climbers enter the pubescent growth spurt, their training must be monitored and adjusted to prevent injuries. Here are a few key guidelines for this important period.
Do not try to train like the “Pros” or the age 17+ climbers at your gym–youth climbers are NOT “little adults!” Stop climbing at the first sign of finger or joint pain, and take a week or two off.
Avoid a singular focus on intense bouldering, which is more likely to lead to injury during the adolescent growth spurt (age 11 – 14 in girls, and 12 – 16 in boys). Expose the youth climber to outdoor climbing to broaden their skill set.
Do only a limited amount of climbing-specific training, but do LESS than you think is necessary! Don’t overtrain in an attempt to compensate for the tendency to “outgrow your strength” during the peak of the growth spurt (doing so may lead to injury).
Avoid highly dynamic and excessive high-intensity exercises. Tendons and growth plates are at high risk of injury as bodyweight rapidly increases during the growth spurt.
Sleep and “eats” are important! Eat a big meal right after your workout and get 9 to 10 hours sleep on nights after climbing. Youth climbers should never “diet”; instead focus on eating a clean diet with adequate protein, carbohydrate, and unsaturated fats (fat is a primary muscle fuel for climbers age <12). Consider consuming supplemental protein (whey).
Engage in daily flexibility training (dynamic stretching as a warm-up before climbing and a modest amount of static stretching during the cool-down period or before bedtime). Stretching is especially beneficial during the growth spurt period.
Have a climbing “off-season.” (Chris Sharma does!) Develop interest and skills in a second sport. It’s good for your mind, body, and your climbing!
Copyright 2011 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.