Round 157

I know there are a lot of tools/techniques/exercises to prevent injuries in climbing, but with such a busy schedule I find it hard to fit in those exercises regularly. Is it more effective to do these preventative exercises regularly than it would be to set them aside for my rest day? For example, on my no running/climbing day I would spend a while working antagonist muscles, range of motion exercises, foam rolling, etc. What’s your opinion on this? Is doing it once a week better than sporadically or not at all? –Greg (New York)

Great question. Greg. Yes, you should be doing these twice per week. Personally, I prefer to do them on two of my rest days from climbing (but this is often on my running day), but never on a Friday if I’m climbing on weekends. Some people prefer to cram in 15 minutes of antagonist training at the end of their climbing workout–though I don’t think this is ideal, it’s better than blowing off this extra training.


Hi Eric, I have persistent finger pain that mostly comes from climbing close to my limit on crimps or hard overhanging bouldering.  Any type of finger strengthening causes immediate pain.  After a hard climbing session, I usually feel some dull pain.  It does not hurt to the touch; only when climbing.  I even did a tough crack near my limit and the finger was sore for a few days after. Your thoughts? –George

George, I suggest you find a good finger doctor so as to get down to the bottom of this chronic pain. The mention of “pain while crimping” is a classic sign of A2 or A4 pulley injury…but these usually present with some pain to the touch (if you press on the area near these pulleys).  If it is an A2 or A4 pulley, then it will heal if you take a significant break from climbing (assuming it’s not a complete pulley tear). A few weeks off is rarely enough; and “climbing through” the injury almost always leads to chronic pain and dysfunction–pretty much as you describe. So until diagnosed otherwise, you should assume you have a pulley injury. Going forward you have two courses of action: 1. Keep doing what you’re doing (taping and climbing with the hope it won’t get worse….but knowing that it may not get better), or 2. Stop climbing for 6 to 12 weeks…and do appropriate rehab, but no climbing or specific training. Again, I recommend seeing a doctor in order to get an accurate diagnoses.


Hello Eric, How much progress do you think a climber can make in a year given the guidance of a good coach and a complete focus/dedication to just climbing? –Jess (Florida)

Jess, Everyone’s improvement curve is different–we are all at a different “place” on the curve (which flattens out over time) and genetics play an underlying (but very influential) role on how fast people improve in their formative years. For example getting from 5.11a to 5.12a might happen in a single year, whereas going from 5.13a to 5.14a often takes years, if it happens at all! Then there’s the (rare) genetic outlier with favorable traits for climbing—he/she might reach 5.14 in just two or three years (as the teenaged Chris Sharma did!). Anyway, as a generalized guess…I believe a two or three letter grade jump is achievable in a year for a climber really dedicated to improving their mental, technical, and physical capabilities.

Hi Eric, About 9 months ago I tweaked both of what I presume to be my A2 pulley in both of my middle fingers while bouldering. After taking a month or so off, I returned to climbing easy stuff on the boulder, but still found that I would have discomfort in the base of my injured fingers. Ever since then, I have been stretching and massaging them like crazy along with easy sport climbing, but even now, eight months after injury, I still get this pain in the base of the fingers when I climb. I’m down to climbing maybe four times a month because I don’t want pull too hard on something and re-injure myself. Recently, I’ve been trying contrast baths on the fingers to see if that would help, but as of now, I don’t see any noticeable difference. The fingers don’t hurt when I’m not climbing, or even when I stretch or massage them. Is there anything else I can do to get them back up to snuff? I’m started to get burned out on knowing that I’m going to miss another outdoor season because of this. Any help would be great! –Chris (New York)

Hey Chris, Sorry to hear about your fingers—yeah, sounds like A2 pulley tweak. These injuries are buggers—the minor/partial tears don’t hurt much except when crimping, so it’s easy to think you can climb through it….until the pain returns/worsens. Vicious cycle. Rinse & repeat.

Anyway, going forward….you need to make an intuitive call. If the injury is truly minor (only slight/vague pain when crimping), then you may be able to tape the base of the finger tightly and try to climb on into the season, hoping you don’t make it worse…then take 2 or 3 months next winter and heal. Or, if the pain is more significant, then you would be best to shut it down for the Spring or Summer—take 2 months off, with only rehab type activities and no serious climbing or finger training. Given this approach there’s a chance you can ease back into climbing before Autumn. The bottom line: there is no miracle cure. The contrast baths help some people, but provide no benefit for others. Take solace in knowing that most high-end climbers get this injury at some point…but with long-term, careful training you can eventually train up (thicken) your tendons and pulleys, so that you’ll be less at risk in future years, despite climbing harder and harder. So think long term.

Dear Eric, If I have only 60 to 45 minutes for training, what do you suggest I do—bouldering or a fingerboard workout? –Vangelis

Hi Vangelis, It depends on your current climbing ability. If you are relatively new to climbing (first year or two….climbing 5.10/V4 and under), then actual climbing time is most important to developing movement skills and climbing strength. However, once you begin to press into the higher grades (5.11/V4 and above), then finger strength and pulling power becomes more important….and so dedicating two 60-minute sessions to strength training (such as fingerboard) is very important, too.