Category Archives: Training Talk

Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions 2: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) (IYC Series), Part 2

What I do for the rest of a climbing day depends on how I feel warming up on familiar ground.

What I do for the rest of a climbing day depends on how I feel warming up on familiar ground.

This entry continues last week’s discussion of common climbing-related DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) myths.

Does the presence or severity of DOMS indicate the quality or efficacy of my workout?

Not necessarily. As mentioned last week, different people experience different levels of DOMS. And, certain workouts – especially ones that include a lot of eccentric motions – are likely to predispose you to experiencing DOMS more than others. But, you don’t necessarily need to experience debilitating post-exercise pain in order to make gains, or to think that you had a worthwhile workout.

Keep in mind, though, that if you never push yourself hard DURING workouts (i.e. you always stay well within your comfort zone, rarely or never try hard moves, stay on angles and styles of climbing that are pretty easy for you, and always say “take” when you feel the slightest bit pumped, and so forth), you’re not as likely to make significant gains as if you do push hard – regardless of your post-workout DOMS status. I still think there’s some truth to the now-somewhat-unpopular “no pain, no gain” concept, particularly for those who want to excel at a sport – but all within reason, meaning that if you’re still sore and unable to train (or even worse, just to move/live life normally without pain) three or four or even more days after a workout, you’d probably do well to take it a bit (or a lot!) easier the next time around.

You can definitely make gains by taking a more moderate approach, and particularly, by allowing your body the time and space it needs to recuperate between sessions, since bodies can get stronger, faster if they’re provided with adequate rest after working out. If you continually tear your muscles up and never allow them the chance to rebuild, you will never be able to put your full effort into your training or climbing, and you will never realize your true potential as a result.

For me, a more moderate approach tends to mean less volume (i.e. shorter sessions, or not climbing or training until I’m 100 percent drained, which I used to do regularly) and sometimes, less frequency (i.e. fewer training sessions per week), while still trying to maintain a decent level of intensity (difficulty) in each training session, whether I’m focused on strength, power, power endurance or endurance. The only exception to the intensity rule is if I do a recovery climbing session – which I’ll talk about in more detail later on in this topic.

If I don’t have DOMS, am I ready to train hard or climb hard again?

Maybe – but maybe not. I used to use my level of post-exercise muscle soreness as the main indicator of my recovery status (though I often ignored it, too, and then got frustrated and/or overtrained as a result of my body not rigidly adhering to whatever schedule my mind had decided it should be able to stick to). And remember that DOMS can take one or two days after working out to fully manifest – a fact that got me into trouble too many times to count, as I’d wake up “feeling fine” and head out to train or climb, not realizing the pain that awaited me down the line (and the consequent even-longer recovery time). Nowadays, I definitely still consider my DOMS status as part of the equation, but I also take into account:

  1. The difficulty and style of my last workout, meaning that, for example, if I did a hard strength-training workout and dug deep, I probably won’t do that again for a number of days, regardless of how I feel. I actually usually wait 4 to 10+ days before strength training again after a serious strength workout (meaning weight training);
  2. My mental and emotional states – since I’m a person who really loves training and climbing as hard as I can, if I’m not psyched to do either of these things, that means I’m probably not recovered. Sometimes I’m psyched to train/climb and I’m still not recovered – and that’s always tough! But that’s even more reason to not train or climb if I’m not psyched – it generally means that my body isn’t recovered enough for me to get much out of it, and that I’d be better off resting; and
  3. How I feel when I start to warm up and engage with the climbing or training I have planned for the day. I have some standard training warm-up exercises, as well as some familiar warm-up routes at the crags I go to regularly, and I use how I feel on these to gauge my status for the day and to alter my plans accordingly as needed. Sometimes I feel more recovered than expected, sometimes less – but the key here is having a flexible, open mind and being ready to shift my plans accordingly should I recognize that what I thought I should do is not appropriate, given how I feel warming up.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Attenuation and Prevention

This multipart series of 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. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You 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!

Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions 2: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) (IYC Series), Part 1

Do you suffer the dooming pain of DOMS after working out or climbing? [Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Do you suffer the dooming pain of DOMS after working out or climbing? [Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Delayed onset muscle soreness – or DOMS, for short – has plagued me for much of my climbing life, so it’s no wonder that I’m interested in learning more about it and doing whatever I can to curtail it (except for not training or climbing!). This insidious bringer of bad news tends to wait to deliver its message of pain until a significant amount of time has passed since the cessation of the exercise or activity that caused it. This fact has led me to the brink of and directly into overtraining and overuse injuries too many times to count. DOMS tends to peak 24 to 48 hours after you’re done with your workout, though you can start to feel DOMS-related soreness within 6 or 8 hours. Similarly to the lactic acid myth, a number of common myths and misconceptions surround this phenomenon. Today, I’ll address several of these.

Is DOMS caused by lactic acid or lactate accumulation?

Nope. Lactate and other similar metabolic products that accumulate during exercise are efficiently cleared away by the body and back to normal levels within half an hour to an hour after completing your workout.

So what does cause DOMS?

There actually isn’t a for-sure answer for this yet(!), but the culprit may be (or partially be) micro-tears in your muscles and the surrounding connective tissue, particularly from the eccentric part of your training or activity. And the delayed soreness may be due to your nerves responding to the healing process. In other words, it’s quite possible that the pain you feel is caused by the repairs taking place, repairs that will hopefully help you not experience DOMS quite so severely from the same activity next time.

For a climber like me who has long struggled with the bigger muscles more than the forearm/fingers part of the equation, this makes sense, seeing as I am constantly fighting to keep bending my arms and locking off, meaning I am frequently – albeit unintentionally and much to my frustration – lowering myself away from holds even as I strive to resist this motion. All too often, my hands can still hang on but the muscles in my arms fail to stay appropriately engaged to do the next move. I’ve also heard that DOMS tends to be more pronounced in the upper-body muscles than the lower-body muscles, which also gels with my personal DOMS experience.

However, just like many other theories (both sport-science relevant and not), just because this makes sense doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the case – or that it accounts for the entirety of the DOMS phenomenon. DOMS may also have metabolic components and neurological components. The bottom line is that DOMS appears to be complex, and its exact cause(s) have yet to be clearly unraveled. For a more complete discussion on this, check out Paul Ingraham’s excellent article “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): The biological mysteries of ‘muscle fever,’ nature’s little tax on exercise” on PainScience.com.

Read more: Eccentric exercise-induced delayed-onset muscle soreness and changes in markers of muscle damage and inflammation

Does DOMS only happen to unfit people or people doing unfamiliar workouts?

Nope. It’s true, though, that being out of shape OR engaging in a novel workout/training stimulus/climbing experience (or both!) does seem to tip the scales in favor of increasing your likelihood to experience DOMS. And that with more regular participation in whatever the activity is that made you sore, you are less likely to experience DOMS post-workout – especially if you keep it at the same level (i.e. you don’t increase the volume, intensity, or frequency of your workouts). However, regardless of training status, people’s experience of DOMS varies, meaning that a total beginner might only get vague DOMS, while an experienced rock climber might routinely struggle with DOMS. Genetic predisposition almost certainly contributes to this aspect of DOMS.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions 2: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) (IYC Series), Part 2

This multipart series of 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. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You 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!

Move of the Month 5: Initiating Movement (Improve Your Climbing Series)

MI1By request, this month’s move involves how to start climbing moves, or movement initiation. I’ll keep the discussion fairly basic, meaning that there will almost certainly be climbing moves that will not fit the general guidelines I give here.

This is an area of climbing that, with time and work, should become subconscious for the majority, if not all, climbing moves during their actual execution. What this means is that eventually, you will likely not be “thinking” the movements while they’re happening, but rather, moving too quickly and fluidly to accompany the movements with verbal commands from your brain.

But, like all novel skills involving complex movements of the body, it can be helpful to try to break down into words and concepts what you want to ultimately happen without the need for these words and concepts to direct your physical actions – much like how you once learned how to tie your shoes, but now can do it without thinking through each step.

To do this, you’ll start by drawing awareness to specific areas of the body involved in this process, working to comprehend how to most effectively engage each area involved for the desired outcome. Next, you’ll slowly execute the movements (or parts of the movements) with attention to specific aspects of the whole. Finally, you’ll start to piece together all of the areas involved in climbing movement initiation into an integrated whole, allowing you to transition from move to move with coordination, strength, balance, agility, flexibility, and proprioception.

As you go through this process, you’ll also improve your ability to read routes, both from the ground and while on the climb. Repetitive exposure to similar situations will help to build your route-reading skills. As you learn to quickly assess the terrain in front of you, you will more and more often respond in kind with a fitting solution and less hesitation or verbal thought.

Step 1: Focus on your feet. This goes back to the topic of “Eyes on Your Feet,”  which I covered in Move of the Month 1. Too often, beginner climbers become overly focused on their hands and arms, neglecting conscious placement of their feet. Here, though, we’re concerned not only just with looking and placing your feet on footholds but also, choosing the footholds that will help you most effectively initiate movement to the next target handhold. Knowing which foot placements to choose for the most efficient and effective movement to the next handhold takes repetition (i.e. learning to “read the route” while you’re climbing it), as does knowing which way to orient your foot (i.e. edge of big toe, outside edge of little toe – the backstep! , straight on, heel hook, toe hook, smear, front point, etc.). Oftentimes beginners tend to try to step on holds with the balls of their feet to maximize surface area – but this makes you lose leverage, mobility, strength, and power. Probably the most commonly used efficient foot position comfortable for beginners to start working with is to use the edge of the big toe, close to the tip of the toe.

Step 2: Try to consciously think about initiating most, if not all, climbing movements from your feet and legs, rather than your arms. This is counterintuitive for many beginner climbers. Most climbing movements will be made more efficiently if you think about starting your motion toward the next handhold from your feet, driving yourself toward the hold you’re headed to by pressing with your feet and your (bigger, stronger) legs, engaging the core muscles to stabilize and extend your upward motion, and allowing that motion to carry on through your shoulders and your arms.

In reality, all of the above happens almost simultaneously, as the well-trained climber moves the body as a whole rather than in parts, engaging all of the muscles needed for each movement, but ideally using only the exact amount of effort from each muscle group for successful completion of movement. This is actually why we can develop better coordination for any move or set of moves via repetition, even in a single session of attempts – because our bodies learn quickly how to stop using muscles or parts of muscles not needed for the motion, delivering more efficient execution each time we try – until we get too tired.

Using the upper body as little as possible and the lower body as much as possible to drive climbing movements is a good rule of thumb – because it’s almost always fatigue in the fingers, forearms, and/or upper body that causes physical (though not necessarily technical/tactical) failure on any given climb. (I’ll talk in more detail about what your arms/hands should be doing most of the time while you climb in the next couple Move of the Month entries). Learning to execute every climbing move without overusing any part of your body (i.e. overgripping, overpowering, not using your feet/legs when you could or as much as you could to drive the movement, etc.) – even when you’re trying hard – is a key to smooth, efficient and effective climbing movements.

Step 3: (More Advanced): Once you have the basics down of how to efficiently and effectively choose the right footholds to initiate coordinated climbing movements that involve moving your body as a whole rather than in parts, you can start to work on refining your timing (moving more quickly and efficiently from move to move) by adding momentum into your climbing. Momentum involves not needing to statically control every climbing move you make, instead drawing upon the energy created by your body in motion to carry you into the next move and the next move, without a pause or break between movements (except when needed/warranted). Think about how you would most efficiently swing across monkey bars for a visual of momentum in action – the backward, then forward swing of your legs helps propel your upper body forward with less strength than you’d need to move from bar to bar with your legs hanging straight down and not engaged in the movement. This same concept applies in climbing – you can take advantage of the
momentum generated from move to move, or from swinging down and away from your target hold, and then harness it to propel you through moves that you don’t have the raw, static strength to do without the help of momentum backing you up.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions 2: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Myths (IYC Series)

This multipart series of 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. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You 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!