Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 2 (EASY-MEDIUM)

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Five General Injury Prevention Tips

We’ve all heard the saying that prevention is the best medicine, and this most certainly holds true for avoiding show-stopping climbing injuries. I’ve covered many of the areas that are valuable components of injury prevention in previous entries, but I’ll nonetheless reiterate ten of them here (five today and in the next entry), in no particular order of importance – in other words, meaning all of them are important!

  1. Nutrition. Proper athlete nutrition for climbers is a must. I put athlete in italics because it’d be my best guess that while sports-minded active people tend to listen to expert nutritional advice for the masses the most, these people actually have different dietary needs due to their higher levels of activity compared to the sedentary majority. Proper athlete nutrition includes providing the body with enough carbs to fuel top performance, as well as ingesting a 3: or 4:1 carbs to protein snack within 30 minutes of finishing a workout/climbing day. I will cover nutrition and body composition in more detail in a future Improve Your Sport Climbing series of entries. If you want a head start, grab a copy of Advanced Sports Nutrition: Second Edition and start reading.
  2. Hydration. Hydration gets its own category here, though I’ll discuss it more in the nutrition series as well. Even slight dehydration negatively impacts performance, as detailed in this excellent excerpt appearing on Human Kinetics: “Dehydration and its effects on performance.” Start your climbing day or workout hydrated, and be vigilant about staying hydrated throughout your efforts. Replacing some or all of your water with sports drinks (like Clif Bar Electrolyte Hydration Pouch) has the potential to delay fatigue. Sports drinks can help you keep electrolytes balanced while you hydrate, also providing an easy way to keep your carb intake consistent throughout a climbing day or workout.
  3. Sleep. If you’re shirking on sleep you increase your risk of injury. Even one night of not enough sleep can negatively impact your reaction time. A study reported at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in 2012 linked less sleep with greater risk of injury in student athletes, and the risk of injury from not enough sleep increased for older adolescents. How much sleep is enough? This depends on who you are, but normal for most adults is 7 to 9 hours a night, says the National Sleep Foundation. However, athletes may benefit from logging 10+ hours of sleep per night regularly, according to a 2011 study reported in the journal “Sleep.”
  4. Rest. In addition to sleep, light days and rest days are an integral part of avoiding injury. On the whole, from what I’ve observed, most climbers tend to climb/train too much and not rest enough, when in fact, it’s generally better to be undertrained than overtrained, and more rest (within reason) is almost always the best choice – especially if there’s any doubt in your mind about whether you’re recovered enough to climb hard for the day. This tough reality presents a real mental challenge for dedicated climbers, who are often barraged by mental messages of doubt (“You’re losing fitness! You should be training! Everybody else is climbing more!”), but in reality, rest – including lighter days or even lighter weeks of climbing and training – is an essential part of a smart injury-prevention plan. And of course, resting when you’re sick is a no-brainer. Let your body heal rather than loading more stress onto an already stressed system.
  5. Pacing. A subset of rest, pacing here involves how much you rest between efforts or sets (for resistance training) as well as pacing yourself when you know you’re going to be climbing multiple days in a row or a lot of days in a relatively short time (like a nine-day climbing trip). Climbing all nine days probably isn’t the best plan for top performance or injury prevention. Planning at least two rest days into those nine days is a smart tactical choice, along with one or two lighter days of seriously moderate climbing for you. In addition to that overall plan, pacing yourself throughout each climbing day can help prevent injuries (and promote better and more consistent performance) as well. This means if you’re climbing two days on and plan to try routes that challenge you on both those days, that you warm up well, then put in two to four fewer efforts in on difficult terrain than you potentially could – so you leave burns in the tank and don’t drain your body’s resources down close to nothing on your first day out. And, you rest between burns more than you might expect, too, so that you allow your body to recover as fully as possible between each effort. (For more on #’s 3-5, see my earlier entry in this series on resting).

This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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