Product Review: Using Compression Garments to Potentially Enhance Climbing Performance & Recovery

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Climbing in the gym wearing SKINS compression sleeves.

I have been wearing compression sleeves off and on for my arms both during and after exercise for perhaps a year – not consistently, but more during the colder months because I like the extra warmth they provide without the bulk and restriction of movement added by a shirt. Plus, armpits are sweaty, and I hate that too-hot feeling that builds up when I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt – compression sleeves help ameliorate this, keeping my arms warm enough without adding a gross, overheating feeling. I also must have read something about the potential benefit of compression at some point while doing some research on recovery that made me decide to get some compression sleeves. I figured they probably wouldn’t hurt, and with the potential to help, why not?

After all, according to the 2013 review “Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery,” published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, “…the application of compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations with consideration of the effects magnitude and practical relevance.”

In November, I received two compression items – A400 tights and compression sleeves – from SKINS at no cost. The company reached out to offer this, and given my interest in improving my climbing (and training!), I was excited to try out these products for myself. While I’d used several other (less-expensive) brands of compression sleeves and already knew I liked them for the reasons I detailed above, I had never worn compression tights before I received the A400 tights. My product testing reflects purely my personal reactions and observations, and I received no compensation for writing this beyond the two products I received to test.

  • Test #1: The day after my heavy weight-training day. I received the SKINS products yesterday after my training was done. I put them on at 6 a.m. this morning under another layer (since it’s cold here!). I started my day out with some light pull-ups, a more endurance-focused/recovery-training session, very short. Then it was off for my day, which included teaching five yoga classes and running errands in town. By the time I took the SKINS off, it was after 8 p.m. at night. I have to say, I was a little wary about wearing the garments consistently for 14 hours – but they were so comfortable that I didn’t ever think about it. My DOMS has been a lot lighter so far this training season than it used to be – but maybe the SKINS helped with it, too. Again, for me it’s a case of why not? If they have the potential to enhance my recovery and do no harm and cause no discomfort, then I’d rather stack the odds in my favor than not.
  • Test #2: Wearing SKINS during a climbing day. I wore the tights under my normal climbing pants and the sleeves under my shirt on a cold winter climbing day. One thing I really appreciate about these particular compression garments is that they feel lightweight, form-fitting and supportive while also adding an extra layer of warmth. They don’t restrict range of motion, which is of huge concern to climbers and other athletes whose sports require this freedom of movement. I’m not sure they helped my performance (since I was fatigued on this day and it was cold), but they definitely helped keep me warm and didn’t hinder my performance. Anything that might help my performance and that I don’t notice getting in the way when I’m climbing gets a thumbs up. I’ll definitely try them again when I’m climbing – or at least the arm sleeves, since I view these as much more relevant for potential sport-climbing performance enhancement than the tights. I think I could ruin the tights climbing in them pretty quickly because of the nature of the game (rock meets fabric and if fabric isn’t super burly, rock often wins! And my legs as a whole make way more contact with the rock than my arms when I climb).
  • Test #3: Wearing SKINS during weight training. I’ve worn SKINS multiple times during weight-training sessions at this point. After having them for a couple months now, I am drawn to select them as my base layer when lifting, both the tights and the sleeves. It’s my impression that I feel more supported when I lift wearing these compression garments. Even if this is all in my head (which I’d venture to guess it’s not), I’ll take it! Anything this simple that can help my training efforts is worth it.

Overall, then, my impression of the SKINS products I received to check out has been a positive one. As a company, SKINS appears to take its commitment to providing the best compression science available in its products to its consumers seriously – which may perhaps account for why certain SKINS items (like the arm sleeves) tend to cost more than some of the competitors’ products out there. In other words, it seems that you might just get what you pay for (at least up to a certain point) when it comes to compression garments, and paying a whole lot less might mean that you’re getting an item marketed as a performance/recovery enhancing compression garment that could actually have little to no impact on your climbing/training/recovery.

Does this mean you must use SKINS products to get worthwhile compression results? I’m sure it doesn’t, but it does mean that you should try to make sure the products you choose do actually compress enough to make a difference. According to literature provided to me by SKINS, their compression garments provide between 8 and 20 mmHg, meaning light to medium compression from a medical point of view, a “level of compression [that] has been shown to elicit physiological benefits while also being sufficiently comfortable to wear during and after sport.” As the article Compression garments: Do they influence athletic performance and recovery? points out, “…caution should be taken when choosing the correct compression garment for your sport and ensuring the garment provides enough pressure to promote venous return.” This article also reflects my current belief about compression garments – why not use them, since there is no evidence that they harm performance, even if you’re not certain that they help? For the climber interested in peak performance and recovery, adding a decent, lightweight, comfortable pair of arm compression sleeves into his or her training, climbing and recovery toolbox seems like a no-brainer.

Winter Training Strategies: Looking Beyond Simply Strength Training for Climbing

My winter training season makes strength building a priority – but this doesn’t mean that I strength train in a void and stop training other relevant areas of climbing entirely. (Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo)

My winter training season makes strength building a priority – but this doesn’t mean that I strength train in a void and stop training other relevant areas of climbing entirely. (Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo)

There’s a tendency in those who utilize periodization methods for training to overemphasize whatever the focus of the current period of training is, neglecting other key areas of a person’s sport. This is not true just in climbing, but in other sports as well. I’ve done it myself – focused pretty much solely on one area of training for six weeks or six months or even longer – both with strength training and with using climbing as the top method of training for climbing and neglecting strength maintenance entirely.

Neither of these scenarios will yield optimal performance results, though. To excel at any given sport, you will want to keep all relevant skills and strengths in play to some extent at virtually all times throughout the training year, unless you happen to be involved in a sport that has a distinctive off-season in which no sports skills are practiced whatsoever. Even then, this off-season with no sport-skill practice will likely be relatively short – and when you resume training, you’ll want to get back to a smart and integrated training plan as quickly as possible.

Employing periodization effectively involves shifting the focus and priority of your training/climbing plan throughout a given training period, depending on when you wish to have peak performances and when you are more willing to dig in and work hard, sacrificing some performance in the short-term for longer-term results. Seasons can help make for relatively easy structuring of a training plan, whether these seasons are established via a competitive schedule or (in my case) by the changing of the weather. As I’ve mentioned before, my winter training season makes strength building a priority – but this doesn’t mean that I strength train in a void and stop training other relevant areas of climbing entirely. It simply means that I focus the lens of my training tightly on building sport-specific strength, and the other aspects are less important but are still in the frame of the picture, albeit a bit less in focus.

Keeping other skills in play means that a climber focused on strength training can have several other workouts each week (or in two-week cycle or month, however it makes sense to divide it up), in which they can shift the focus of the workout as follows:

  • Working on specific techniques or tactics that have emerged as needing improvement (moves, holds, angles, resting, workout fueling, mental approaches, etc.)
  • Building power (i.e. speed) into strength gains; working on explosive recruitment of muscles (via bouldering, drills, campusing, weight training)
  • Power endurance and endurance workouts, including workouts involving continuous high-intensity climbing movements for 12 to 20 or more moves (i.e. rest-recover-repeat workouts often structured as 4x4s and the likes), linked 4×4-style workouts where rest is taken on the wall rather than off, onsighting days, repeat redpoint effort days, competition practice days, pacing/breathing-focused workouts, etc.
  • Specific redpoint project training, if project(s) are known quantities, either inside or outside (or both), or area-style training (angle/hold/move/route length/route style specificity in training)
  • Recovery workouts, or climbing at a minimal effort level for a short time to facilitate recovery
  • Flexibility training

And so forth. But how do you decide what else to focus on in training, if strength is the primary area of focus? I suggest checking in with yourself and asking for feedback from others (or a coach/trainer if you have one) about the area(s) that stymie you the most – what is keeping you from reaching your climbing goals? This can help guide you in prioritizing what you work on next, assuming that you’ve made strength development a primary focus for your off-season, since strength gains usually take the most time to see significant improvement in for most people, and sport-relevant strength gains tend to have the most profound impact on other areas of skill development. Figuring out what’s next on your list is key to implementing an effective training program – and keeping the principle of SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) in mind can really help with this. The more you know about your goals, the more you can customize your training to support those goals – so if you know you want to crush a certain route of a certain angle and a certain number of moves and types of holds and so forth, you can really focus on developing the ideal skills to enable you to do that. You can do this not just by increasing relevant areas of strength to make the hard moves easier, but also by training similar numbers of moves on similar angles and holds, training the rests, the pacing, the breathing, and so forth, on your other training days during each weekly cycle. You can make up boulder problems that simulate the route cruxes and make them harder than the route cruxes. You can try to work those into routes in the gym. Creativity will help keep training interesting while specificity can help yield desired results faster. Of course most climbers won’t be training just for one route in particular, and this is a good thing – because too much consistency and little variety can lead to stagnation, overtraining, plateauing and overuse injuries.

My winter training plan is relatively flexible, taking into account the value of both consistency and variety within that consistency. I don’t adhere to a rigid schedule for weight training – meaning that while I won’t miss a weight-training workout that is on my schedule, I’ll adjust my schedule according to how I feel. Aside from that, I try to keep all the relevant skills in play at least once every couple of weeks, if not more. I try to prioritize these areas according to what I feel needs work/maintenance for me personally at this point, while at the same time making sure nothing gets left out for too long.

Keeping a training journal can really help you make sure you’re not neglecting any relevant area of training for climbing – if you look back and realize you’ve spent the last three weeks only bouldering, and only trying problems of 10 or fewer moves, and if you like to climb long, challenging routes, it’s probably a good idea to add in a power endurance/endurance focused session next time around. If you are only training longer routes for three weeks, consider adding in a power session next time around. It doesn’t have to be an exact science – and it may actually be better if it’s more random than that given the adaptability of the body to routines (which I’ve mentioned before), but it is important to keep challenging the body with enough regularity to maintain fitness in all the different directions that play into peak performance in your sport, or you will start to lose ground in those areas you neglect. Likewise, it’s key to prioritize your focus in training and to shift that focus regularly according to your preferred performance peak time – meaning that you have plenty of time each year in which you mold your strength gains into higher levels of power, power endurance and endurance, while still keeping strength training in play enough to maintain. And of course, you make room in your schedule for performance peaks, too – those awesome times when you reap the rewards for all your hard work!

How to Kick Start Your Workouts & Recommit to Fitness

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the biggest barriers to engaging with a lifelong fitness plan for so many people is figuring out how to stick with a commitment to fitness over the long term. Though getting started on a new fitness program is challenging, staying with it after the newness wears off is even more challenging. This is true for so many people, from the passionate rock climber who wishes to improve at climbing to the now-and-again yoga student who wants to make yoga practice a regular part of their world, but struggles when push comes to shove to make it onto the mat for classes on a weekly or even monthly basis. To make matters worse, missing one workout or class can lead to a domino effect as a cascade of negative self-judgement turns into a reason to disengage entirely from the once-regular (or semi-regular) workouts that marked the start of the recommitment to fitness. And, the more times a person misses, the more negative that person tends to become about their fitness, and the harder it becomes to reengage and try to get back into a workout routine again.

At this point, the honeymoon period is over, and the real work begins.

Instead of deciding that you’re an utter failure for missing so many climbing days, training sessions, yoga classes, or whatever fitness activity you’ve been missing out on that you were once more committed to, decide to work on discovering what works for you and your style of training. Here are 10 hints and suggestions to help you find a more permanent path to fitness, one that may be more sustainable in the big picture.

  1. Start small. Instead of deciding you’re going to work out 5 days a week for a minimum of one hour, try for 2 or 3 days per week for a minimum of 10 minutes. One of the biggest reasons people stop pursuing fitness is that they try to start out with too much, too soon. This is great way to get exhausted, injured, and burnt out.
  2. Look at your calendar and schedule in your fitness activities the same way you would schedule in important work meetings or other life events. Make a commitment to yourself – you are worth it! Don’t let other life obligations rob you of the chance to be a healthy, fit individual.
  3. Choose fitness activities that you don’t dread, especially to start your workout. If you hate a certain lift or exercise, don’t begin your workout with that (unless getting it over with right away gives you a certain sense of satisfaction!). Start with something that is relatively easy, like a brisk walk for 5 minutes, some jumping jacks, cat-cows, or sun salutations.
  4. About that first 5 minutes – one of the easiest ways I find to get myself to start a workout that I don’t feel that into doing is to tell myself I only need to work out for 5 minutes, and then if I’m not into it, I can stop. More often than not, I continue with the rest of the workout. Be aware that starting a workout is often the hardest part of the whole workout. If you can get yourself over the starting point, after 5 minutes of physical activity you might find that you are much more motivated to continue with the rest of your plan.
  5. If you do stop your workout after 5 or 10 minutes, don’t label yourself a failure – consider it a success that you worked out at all. Doing a little bit of something that’s physically challenging is better than doing absolutely nothing.
  6. If you’re trying to add in a training or personal practice component to an activity that you do enjoy, but you’re struggling with it, choose one small aspect of the activity and make a commitment to train or practice that for the next month for a short, concise session once or twice a week. Set aside 5 minutes and do it. Examples of this: for climbing, doing three sets of pull-ups (or one set); for yoga, choosing one pose you like, warm up with some cat-cows, and then work on the pose until your time is up.
  7. Sign up for a class or training sessions, and pay in advance. Commit to yourself and commit to the class or training sessions, knowing that you forfeit the money if you don’t show up. Otherwise it becomes easy to bow out on a day-to-day basis and to make up an excuse each day or week that you don’t attend as to why you can’t go this week, but you’ll go next week.
  8. If #7 isn’t enough to push you into sticking with it, sign up with a friend and/or make a standing fitness date with a friend/exercise partner to be there at the same time, same day, every week. You’re less likely to let the commitment go as easily if someone else’s fitness program is interlinked with your own, and a partner can help you stay motivated and help you push harder during the workout/class, too.
  9. Play music that you like to add pep and vigor to your workout, but try to stay engaged wholly in the workout – don’t put your body on a treadmill and engage your mind with a book or television show. Keep your workouts mindful and pay attention to what’s going on with your body while you work out. Be fully present and make workouts a time when you are fully present and committed to your whole-being health, not distracted by a media barrage. This is your time for you.
  10. If you truly hate what you’re doing to work out, seek out ways to change this. It may take you months or years to find activities that actually motivate and inspire you to stick with them. Don’t give up; there are so many paths to fitness out there! Learn what your community offers and approach each activity with an open mind. You might be surprised to discover what you love is something you never even thought of doing and that you don’t think you’d like. I had no interest in rock climbing at all before the first day I finally got talked into trying it. Little did I know that it would become a major part of my lifelong journey!

Climber. Writer. Climbing Coach/Trainer. Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200). ACTION Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Avid Lifelong Learner.

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