Category Archives: General Fitness

Ways to Improve Your Sport Climbing/Bouldering (6): Promoting and Maximizing Recovery (EASY)

This WI entry covers five major areas to consider integrating into or expanding upon to promote faster/better recovery throughout each workout/climbing day as well as throughout each week, month and beyond.

1. Resting: The topic of the previous Ways to Improve (WI) blog, rest is an often underutilized but key tool for climbers/boulderers interested in maximizing the results of their workouts and climbing days. Key takeaway points:

• Resting enough between efforts during a workout/climbing day can yield greater successes;

• Muscles only grow stronger when you rest. If you never rest enough between workouts/climbing days, you’re likely sabotaging your efforts to get stronger;

• Without adequate rest, you increase your risk for overtraining/overuse injuries; and

• Getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis is essential for top athletic performance.

2. Nutrition: This will be covered in greater depth in a future entry (hopefully!), but for the purposes of encouraging recovery, climbers and boulderers should make sure to:

• Stay hydrated and fueled throughout each workout/performance day. This means drinking before, during and after the activity, AND taking in adequate carbohydrates throughout the day to keep blood glucose levels high enough to avoid bonking (sports drinks are a great resource for maintaining energy throughout the day);

Some of my current favorite Clif Bar offerings that help keep hunger at bay and energy levels high both during and after workouts.

• Ingest a 3: or 4:1 carbs-to-protein recovery meal/drink ideally within 30 minutes (and definitely within two hours) of finishing a workout to optimize muscle recovery;

• Aim to get about 60-70 percent of your total dietary calories from carbohydrates, as suggested by the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s Optimal Dietary Intake Guide, which explains, “carbohydrates…are the most efficiently broken-down and metabolized form of energy for the body. Athletes doing stop-and-go activities were found to have better speeds and to delay fatigue when consuming a higher carbohydrate diet;” and

• Focus on incorporating lean proteins and healthy fats into your daily diet along with healthy carbohydrate sources to ensure an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals as well as macronutrients. Don’t rely on supplements to make up the difference.

3. At-Home Treatments: Resting doesn’t need to be completely passive. While you’re chilling between workouts or climbing days, you may be able take some proactive measures beyond simple resting plenty and eating well to encourage faster recovery, such as:

• Using RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation – to treat lightly strained muscles, tendons or other aches and pains, as outlined by MayoClinic.com;

• Taking over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help alleviate inflammation and pain whil encouraging healing. Be aware that these medications also come with the potential of negative side effects to your digestive and excretory systems, among others. They may also have long-term negative effects on your muscle growth, as explained in the September 2009 “New York Times” article “Phys Ed: Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise?”

• Possibly incorporating natural alternatives to NSAIDs into your regular diet. Certain foods have proven anti-inflammatory properties, including tart cherry juice, extra-virgin olive oil, fish oil and cayenne pepper, to name a few. Many more have unproven potential in this department, including ginger  and pineapple; and

Two of my top topical picks for helping to relieve sore muscles and skin after hard climbing days.

• Applying external remedies, trimming skin/removing calluses, and using self-massage to promote recovery. External remedies include hydrotherapy – “the use of water (hot, cold, steam, or ice) to relieve discomfort and promote physical well-being,” as defined by The Free Dictionary by Farlex – as well as topical pain-relieving/skin-healing ointments, creams, gels and oils, such as Zheng Gu Shui or Bonnie’s Balms Healing Salve. Trimming flappers and skin shreds off of hands and feet and sanding down calluses can help you avoid painful flappers, cuts and blisters on future climbing days. Apply Neosporin or a healing salve and bandage as appropriate to promote healing. Self-massage sore muscles with your hands or better yet, with one or more of the many self-massage tools (my favorite is the Thera Cane Massager) available, to potentially alleviate pain and improve circulation to sore, tight muscles.

4. Active Recovery: Not to be confused with, “climbing below your limit but still trying hard,” active recovery may indeed help prepare you for your next hard climbing day. However, try to keep the following in mind:

• If you’re using climbing for active recovery, true active recovery should involve easy (read: very submaximal and not taxing at all) movements of your limbs through the ranges of motion used in climbing. Active recovery may help muscles recover faster than simply resting. However, if you overdo it – very easily and often done by climbers laying claim to the active recovery concept – you won’t reap the rewards and will interfere with your recovery. Avoid this pitfall by following the 30/30 protocol – a maximum of 30 minutes of total climbing time at 30 percent (or less) of your maximum intensity. Basically, the climbing should feel completely effortless, like taking a nice, easy stroll on a flat street. The point is to get the muscles moving and to stimulate blood flow without impeding muscle recovery in the least – thereby encouraging recovery in the process.

• Other physical activities can likely be similarly and effectively used to help promote faster recovery, so long as they’re done with the same premise of not overtaxing already taxed muscles. Swimming, yoga, light jogging or cycling, walking/hiking and dancing offer just a few body-moving activities that could help enhance your climbing recovery – so long as you keep the idea of recovery front and center, of course.

Yoga offers an awesome off-day, active-recovery activity that can also enhance your flexibility.

• Finally, stretching muscles as a part of your active recovery routine may help promote faster recovery, reducing muscular pain and tightness while improving your climbing-relevant flexibility.

5. Professional Assistance: Don’t resist what’s available to assist you in a professional capacity, particularly in the event of a climbing-impairing injury:

• When in doubt, consult with a healthcare professional first, preferably a physician who has experience treating rock climbers and your injury in particular, if at all possible. Don’t just tape it up and keep on climbing, and don’t rely on your best buddy’s advice about what he/she did when he/she had a similar injury. Protect your climbing future by getting a proper diagnosis and treatment plan immediately from a qualified professional.

It’s been my personal experience that a great professional massage therapist can help relieve sore muscles and improve recovery time.

• Explore alternative options that won’t impair your healing but could enhance it or shorten your recovery time. In addition to appropriate self-care and self-prevention measures, healing professionals like massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists may be able to offer you some pain relief and reduced recovery time. Some people may find that these types of therapy offer little to no help, while others will swear by them. Scientific studies aside (and they are conflicting and inconclusive at this point for these and many other alternative therapies), the bottom line is that if one of these or another healing modality helps you, personally, recover faster without causing harm to your being, it may be worth your time and money.

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Whew, that’s a lot of information about how to use those recovery days to your best advantage – and I’m sure I didn’t manage to cover the half of it! To learn more about using recovery tactics effectively to enhance athletic performance, check out Sage Rountree’s “The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery: Rest, Relax, and Restore for Peak Performance.”

This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up. Remember that 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 my observations from climbing coaching throughout the past 4+ years. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change than I do/did. 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, bouldering and training!

Ways to Improve Your Sport Climbing/Bouldering (5): Resting (EASY-MEDIUM)

Resting enough between efforts can help you send routes in fewer tries.

Resting enough between efforts can help you send routes in fewer tries.

Rest: it seems like a no-brainer. To climb your best, you should rest enough between efforts, get plenty of sleep and take ample rest days to enhance recovery between workouts and climbing days. Yet the simple concept of resting proves to be a pitfall for nearly all enthusiastic sport climbers and boulderers at some point in their climbing lives. Not resting enough can sabotage your performance both short-term and long-term, undermine your potential progress, decrease or burn out your excitement for climbing and ultimately, lead to overtraining and overuse injuries.

Resting Between Attempts

Boulderers and sport climbers often try to cram as much climbing as they possibly can into every day they climb or train. Taking this approach makes it easy to sabotage your performance potential or training gains on any given day. Focusing instead on quality efforts with plenty of rest in between each try can yield more successful sends or valuable training sessions, even if you get less climbing in for the day. It’s all about priorities — are you more interested in sending a hard project or problem, or are you interested in climbing nonstop until you’re exhausted?

As a general rule, the longer, more taxing and more involved the climbing or bouldering effort is, the longer the rest period between attempts you will likely need in order to recover fully or fully enough for another solid attempt. This means that for a short, explosive boulder problem, resting 5 to 8 minutes may suffice before you’re ready to give it another full-power effort. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a 130-foot ultra-endurance sport climb that takes 45 minutes per redpoint effort might require an hour or more rest before your next attempt. As will all things athletic, the exact and perfect amount of resting time will vary from individual to individual. It’s your job to learn how much rest works best for you in each climbing situation, and then to be disciplined enough (only if you care about maximizing your sending efforts, of course) to put a timer on yourself so that you make sure you rest enough in between attempts to optimize your performance on any given day.

Use the time you rest between climbs or problems wisely. Belay if you have to belay, of course, but make sure you rehydrate and have a small refueling snack (optimally of that magical 3 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein) right when you get down from a lengthy redpointing effort, to give your body time to replenish your glycogen stores prior to your next attempt. Drink frequently and regularly throughout bouldering sessions. Consider using a sports drink to help your muscles stay well-fueled if eating while bouldering or climbing doesn’t work for you. While you rest, visualize the climb or problem from bottom to top, reviewing the pacing and the movements. Walk around and stay mildly active; you may experience better performance than if you spend your time off sitting or lying on the ground, as evidenced by an April 2000 study reported in the “International Journal of Sports Medicine.”

Sleeping for Recovery

Sleep is essential for optimal athletic performance and recovery. Create a sleeping schedule and routine and take these seriously as key components of both climbing performance and training sessions. Climbers should aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night, but may see greater benefits from sleeping for 10 hours or longer.

Rest Days and Workout Intensities

Many climbers and and boulderers unwittingly sabotage their own potentials and performances routinely by training and climbing too many days on with too much volume and not enough intensity included in each day. While they’re often striving for high-intensity workouts on these days, they actually miss the mark at this as well, due to the fact that an already-fatigued body simply cannot put out peak performances or truly hard training efforts. What happens, then, is that these chronic overtrainers end up training and/or performing at a more middle level than they intend to, often not realizing or recognizing that with more rest days in between higher-intensity training/climbing efforts, they could potentially train at a higher intensity and climb at a higher level, both.

Remember that it can take muscles a long time — up to 10 days or even longer — to fully recover from intense efforts, and that muscles only grow stronger with rest. While you rest, your body can repair the muscular trauma caused by intense workouts, strengthening your muscles so that they will be better adapted (stronger!) to handle the loads you place on them the next time around. If you derail this process by placing a heavy load on muscles before they’re fully recovered, you’ll more likely than not sabotage this repair process, increasing your risk of overuse injuries as well.

Of course, for most climbers and boulderers, frequently taking 10 days off between workouts isn’t a realistic or recommended approach to training or climbing. However, it’s worth keeping this in mind if you start to feel guilty or bad about wanting to take a larger chunk of time off after a particularly strenuous training period or series of performance efforts. Chances are that you’ll emerge feeling stronger and better than you did prior to your time off. Plus, you won’t lose any significant strength during a 10-day rest; it takes far longer for your body to detrain (i.e. lose a significant amount of fitness) when you cease activities than most people think.

On a more regular basis, it makes sense to rest adequately between workouts and climbing days, taking enough time off so that you can reap the benefits of intense training and/or full-strength performances (depending on your priorities and season). For each person and each climb/boulder problem in question, the optimal amount of days off or ratio of light-intensity days to heavy-intensity days will likely be different. Every climber/boulderer interested in making gains or performing to his/her potential should therefore have a flexible mind that allows for schedule changes to accommodate the need for rest or a lighter intensity workout/climbing effort on any given day. It’s also a good idea to cycle intensities from week to week and month to month instead of constantly pushing your body to perform at the highest intensity possible in everything you do.

For a great (non-climbing) read about this, check out Keep the Hard Days Hard and the Easy Days Easy, by Lyle McDonald.

Putting It All Together

Changing your mindset to view rest as a crucial part of your training and climbing performance strategy can help you both justify your choice to rest and to handle the difficulty many active people experience when taking multiple rest days. You can lessen the boredom and potential (mental/emotional) stress of rest days by engaging in light, non-climbing-specific activities on some of your designated rest days, such as walking, light cycling, swimming, stretching and yoga, to name a few. The keyword here is “light,” though — meaning you’re not working your muscles hard, but rather, allowing your body the time and space it needs for recovery. Additionally, taking at least one day off from all physical activity per week should be a standard element of every serious climber’s or boulderer’s training plan; this allows your body the chance to recuperate on a deeper level.

Befriending rest presents a challenge for most driven athletes, and sport climbers and boulderers are no exception to this rule. However, if you can learn to strategically use rest, guilt-free, as a key component of your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly climbing training and performance efforts, you might just surprise yourself at the gains you’re able to make.

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!