Overtraining and Overuse Injuries (I)
Let’s start with a couple of definitions.
According to Medscape, “Overuse injuries, otherwise known as cumulative trauma disorders, are described as tissue damage that results from repetitive demand over the course of time.”
An article on ACTIVE.com explains, “Overtraining happens when an athlete performs more training than his or her body can recover from, to the point where performance declines.”
At the end of this series of entries I’ll provide five personal case studies of the most major climbing injuries I’ve sustained through my 22 years as a climber, in an effort to help others learn from my own mistakes and hopefully avoid making similar ones. For now, suffice it to say that I am no stranger to overtraining and overuse injuries, so this section is well-informed by personal experience in addition to support from what the scientific literature says on the topic.
I’m not alone in my experience with overtraining and overuse injuries. In fact, overtraining and overuse injuries seem to be a lot more common in avid sport climbers than acute injuries from falling or other climbing accidents. I have no solid evidence to back this up, of course; it’s just based on observation. But contrary to popular public perception and belief, sport climbing is relatively safe, meaning that we tend not to get injured due to equipment failure or falling rock or human operational errors nearly as often as we get injured in a way that’s much more common across all athletic pursuits – via overtraining and overuse injuries.
Too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing, and that’s exactly what happens when a part of the body or the body as a whole endures too much physical stress, whether it’s from climbing or any other athletic endeavor. While a “no-pain, no-gain” mentality of pushing oneself to the limits – e.g. “climbing until I couldn’t hold on to a single hold” – still tends to prevail in sports culture, the reality is that this isn’t necessarily always, or even often, the most productive, efficient or effective way to train or climb to make the most pronounced gains in the shortest time.
Overtraining and overuse injuries tend to be two sides of the same coin, meaning that both result from too much strain or stress on the body, whether we’re talking about a specific part of the body or the body as a whole. Overtraining tends to creep up on a person slowly, just as overuse injuries often first manifest as mild discomfort or light feelings of tweakiness or muscular tightness. For these reasons, identifying overtraining and overuse can be extremely difficult, particularly when they’re first coming into play – because it can be extremely challenging to tell the difference between a tired, sore muscle that’s been worked to a good level of fatigue vs. a tired, sore muscle that has been worked beyond an acceptable level of fatigue, for example. I still find this fine line a challenge, honestly.
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!