To round out this series on climbing injuries, the next few entries will get a little more personal as I present and discuss five injuries I’ve incurred during my life as a climber. I share these in the hopes that they might help other climbers/athletes first and foremost to avoid similar injuries. I also hope to help others understand that if and when injuries do occur, they can provide great insights and lessons for us in the moment as well as for our future selves as to what we should and shouldn’t do to avoid incurring such show-stopping injuries again. Every single injury or series of injuries I’ve lived through has led to a greater understanding of my own body and being, informing and shaping my life afterward in ways that I maybe never would have expected or been open to had the injury never happened.
Case Study Four: An Array of Overtraining Incidents and Relatively Mild Overuse Injuries (2008-2012)
Injury(s): A whole series of mostly vague and fairly quickly resolved (one week to one month) overuse injuries and overtraining episodes since I first started training for climbing outside of just climbing in 2008. These involved periodic bouts of burnout, lack of psych, exhaustion, depression, inability to climb/train normally, and several painful but not severe muscle strains here and there.
Causal Factors: Too much too soon. Too much too often. Too much intensity. Not enough rest. Not stopping when my body was sore and tired. Reading well-researched training materials general to all sports and trying to interpret and apply them for a climber (myself). Since I always believe I’m superwoman and I can do anything, I would tend to take the most stringent training approach and high-intensity protocol outlined, never mind all of the caveats about resting and recovery being keys to training success. I would make up a schedule and then try to adhere to it rigidly, come hell or high water. Note that this is a very stupid way to train, unless you also want to cultivate overuse injuries or overtraining.
Recovery: Every time, I had to rest – and rest for longer than I would have needed to rest had I not overdone it in the first place. Like so many of us do when confronted with our innate tendencies such as this, I needed this lesson and result repeated over and over and over again for it to really “take” in my psyche – for me to grasp that I needed to rest more than I wanted to if I wanted to get the full benefits of the training time I put in, and that I will probably always need more rest than I want to have or think I should have.
Add to this my propensity and mental ability to push my body to (and often past) its absolute limits every day that I train and climb, and my virtual inability to feel the pain/burn in the moment, and I clearly have a recipe for overtraining/overuse disaster on my hands. This is not an ideal set-up for an athlete at all. I have often wished to have more in-the-moment indicators that tell me it’s time to stop when I’m tired or worked, but I usually do not feel pain or exhaustion from training or climbing until much later. A more moderate approach and a bit less drive to push hard would honestly probably serve me better in the big picture.
Long-Term Result: Well, I still struggle with this, and I probably always will, but I do understand a lot more about not training a body that has been pushed to its limits until it’s recovered. I also think it’s a bit amusing to reread some of those training books and to realize how much I ignored or just didn’t notice the caveats about too many high-intensity workouts spaced too close together resulting in overtraining. These days, I really try to limit myself when I’m climbing outside multiple days in a row; I stop WAY before I think I’m done, usually on the first day on with a ton of pitches left in the tanks. I occasionally allow myself a binge, when I know I have to take days off after, but I’m still more cautious than I used to be.
I actually find the climbing regulation a bit easier than the training regulation. Still, when I’m training more and not climbing outside so much, I am better these days at forcing myself to take the rest my body needs, though I still have to routinely battle with the voices that tell me I should be training more. I have enough overtraining incidents that I can draw upon to remind myself of what’s happened before when I’ve pushed too hard, including Case Study Number 5, which sealed the deal.