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Don't Let Overuse Be Your Crux in Rock Climbing

People rock climbing

Here's the deal, everyone knows that rock climbing comes with inherent risks. There is so much to learn in the beginning and it can be overwhelming at times. Often, you're making sure over and over again that your figure 8 knot is done correctly so you don't come plummeting to floor. What everyone might not know is that a huge amount of climbing risks involve the overuse of your body at the climbing gym. "People may feel safer and more comfortable at a climbing gym because it's a controlled environment, but this is the place where most people push themselves too far causing injury" says Michael Henrie, DO, a sports medicine physician at University of Utah Health.

Who Gets Hurt Rock Climbing?

Let's be honest, anyone anywhere can get hurt while rock climbing inside or outside. The people who most often have rock climbing injuries are those that are climbing above a 5.10 grade and climbing more than five hours a week. Basically, if you are brand new to climbing keep focusing on your climbing specific safety measures. It's more likely you'll injure your body once you start sending those harder routes.

Climbing Harder and Smarter

"Like training for a marathon, you don't want to push yourself too hard, too fast" Henrie says. It's easy to be at the gym and work on a project endlessly until you get it. You spend hours at the gym and finally crush that route that is overhung, has impossibly small crimps, and spaced for someone who is two feet taller than you. Next thing you know, you wake up the next morning and can't lift your arm over your head. Scenarios like this are the perfect recipe for starting an overuse injury.

So, what are you supposed to do? Henrie suggests incorporating these three components into your climbing routine:

  • Warming up
  • Conditioning
  • Rest & Recovery

Warming Up Every Time You Climb

I know, I know, once you're at the gym or finally make your way up that grueling approach, stoke is so high warming up seems like a waste of time or maybe not at the top of the priority list. Still, warming up your body is crucial whenever you plan to put it through the paces. This doesn't necessarily mean going through a full yoga asana or harnessing your inner Jane Fonda in front of everyone. Just make sure you have stretched the parts of your body that will be used the most and get some warm up laps on lower level routes. Remember, you're in it for the long haul, and warming up is part of the journey.

Conditioning Your Body

"It's important to remember that conditioning your body takes time" says Henrie. Rock climbing is similar to strength training and more importantly, strength training involving the upper body. The general rule of thumb while training is to increase intensity by 10 percent. For rock climbing, "the most common overuse injuries occur in the hand tendons and forearm muscles" says Henrie. Often when the tendons and muscles in this area aren't yet equipped to handle the strain and force put on them, they will fail. Make sure you work your way up to more difficult holds, techniques, and routes. It's important that if you experience prolonged weakness or total loss of use in any part of your body, that you seek medical help.

Rest & Recovery

The final piece to the puzzle lies within rest and recovery. "Rest and recovery for rock climbing includes time between climbing sessions as well as between climbing routes" says Henrie. Working on a bouldering problem can make you go over and over again. Make sure you're spending some time between prolonged projects and long routes during your session. Listen to your body and recognize that after an intense session of climbing it's possible you may need a full 24-48 hours of recovery time.