Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 3 (MEDIUM-HARD)

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Five More General Injury Prevention Tips

The previous entry’s injury-prevention tips are those that I consider relatively easy to incorporate into a smart training plan – at least when compared to today’s tips. All of the first five tips involve adjustments that you can make virtually instantly and also, see virtually instant results from making those modifications. In other words, there’s no delay between cause and effect, and there’s no real training or retraining involved (though you might struggle with more sleep, for sure, if you’ve trained yourself to think that 6 hours is enough – it’s not). Today, however, I’ll touch on five more difficult ways you can work to avoid injuries. These five I consider to be more challenging to integrate into a training plan, as they all take more extra effort than the first five covered.

  1. Balanced Muscles. Do you train your opposing muscle groups – or the muscle groups that get far less attention from climbers in climbing training and less direct strengthening from climbing? First and foremost, these muscles involve your primary “pushing” and “pressing” muscles in your upper body. If you don’t include exercises training these muscles in your climbing-training or strength-training program, you run a higher risk of an overuse injury. “Strength training is the best prevention of muscle imbalance and overuse injuries,” explains orthopedic surgeon Scott Bissell, M.D., in his excellent article “Muscle Imbalance and Common Overuse Injuries” appearing on SportsMD.Choose exercises with motions opposite to the most common repetitive motions of climbing, such as bench presses, push-ups, dips, shoulder presses, lateral raises and reverse wrist curls, to name a few. Perform two to four sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise to fatigue per session, as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine, resting at least two days between sessions. Regular practice of yoga poses like Chaturanga Dandasana (often repeated many times throughout a yoga class) can also provide a solid opposition muscle workout. Work toward incorporating strength training for opposing muscles into your routine at least once a week, if not twice.
  2. Flexibility. The role of maintaining (or regaining) a normal range-of-motion (ROM) for the joints in your body shouldn’t be underestimated both for performance-enhancement and injury-prevention purposes. I’ve always been absolutely astonished at how few climbers stretch regularly, but not nearly as astonished to hear of injuries quite possibly related to or directly resulting from a lack of normal ROM. Flexibility will come up again as its own entry in a future series, so I won’t go into great detail here. But if you’re not regularly stretching post-climbing or post-training (or doing yoga or some other flexibility development activities), you are probably not doing all you can to minimize your risk of injury from climbing, nor are you maximizing your performance potential. For more on the benefits of stretching, check out my prAna Life entry: Flexibility, Stretching & Climbing. Start by setting a timer for 5 minutes and stretching areas that either a) get tight from climbing (shoulders, chest, forearms, hamstrings, calves, etc.) or b) can evidently use work to help you improve your ROM for climbing moves, like high steps, wide-legged rests/stems, full-extension reaches (having typical climber-hunchback posture doesn’t help with this!), etc.
  3. Warming Up Properly. Though nearly every climber knows that they should warm up, I see people shirk on warming up properly frequently. Take the time to get to know your body and to establish a warm-up protocol that works ideally for you, and don’t let peer pressure or ego get in the way of warming up intelligently. See Ways to Improve Your Sport Climbing/Bouldering (1): The Warm-Up (EASY) for detailed information on how to do this.
  4. Attention. Paying attention to mundane safety protocols, minor details, and little tweaks and twinges of pain can save you time off from climbing due to injuries of all kinds. I absolutely loathe seeing climbers tie in and race up the start of a climb while their belayer hurries to throw them on belay; no matter how many times you’ve tied in or how many times your belayer has belayed, rushing this process is just asking for pilot error. It’s not cool. Check the biners and draws you clip if they’re fixed, look out for bad bolts/gear/anchors and loose rock. Don’t ignore a small shooting pain in your finger or a vocal muscle in your back; it’s always better to walk away at the sign of any bodily doubt and call it a day instead of pushing through the pain greedily in the moment and sitting on the sidelines for the next few months as a result.
  5. Stress and Attitude. Are you plagued by anxiety in your workplace or family life? Do you constantly feed yourself negative messages about your own ability, age, gender, height, weight, or body in any way? Situational stressors like the former and ingrained thought patterns like the latter tend to not only interfere with your peak performance potential but also, they can actually increase your risk of injury. How? They can draw your attention away from climbing making for careless pilot errors, or, they can increase your muscle tightness and thereby increase your risk of injury, or, they can eat away at your sleep quality thereby also increasing your risk of injury, or, they can convince you of all the reasons why you “can’t” instead of believing that you can when clinch moments occur on the rock – to name a few examples.

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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