Tag Archives: climbing

Move of the Month 6: Straight-Arming Moves

Contemplating the next move with straight arms.

Contemplating the next move with straight arms.

Bending one’s arms repeatedly – like you would when climbing a ladder – might strike a nonclimber or a beginner climber as the most logical and straightforward, and therefore most efficient and effective, way to ascend any given rock climb. However, unlike climbing a ladder, the diversity of angles and holds in climbing often lends you an option that tends to be more efficient – that of keeping your arms mostly or relatively straight while you ascend.

Straight-arming this move by rotating my hips.

Straight-arming this move by rotating my hips.

You do this by organizing the rest of your body to allow for this straighter-armed positioning as much as possible. Both bending your legs (while straightening your arms) and rotating your body from side to side enable you to conserve more of that precious upper body strength contained in the relatively smaller muscles of your arms for those moves when you might really need it.

In fact, one of the general rules of climbing that is good for beginners to start with is to try to bend your arms as little as possible while you’re climbing, whether you’re moving or resting (see Straight-Arming Your Rests for more on this).

Looking to swing straight-armed to the next hold.

Looking to swing straight-armed to the next hold.

One of the most efficient and effective ways to keep your arms straighter involves lowering your body weight down so that your arms are straight and your knees are bent, rather than the opposite of straight legs and bent arms – a position commonly used by beginners. With your body weight lowered down, you can maneuver your feet into position for the next move while your arms are straight, working to execute that move as efficiently as you can – maybe by backstepping and turning your body to help keep your arms straighter as you move up.

Of course, all rules are made to be broken (right?), so there will be situations (and many of them!) where it is most certainly warranted to bend your arms – and sometimes a lot or repetitively for move after move – whether you’re locking off a hold, bending an arm (slowly or explosively or somewhere in between) through a range of motion to get to the next hold, or some variation of these movements. In other words, forcing this issue by trying to climb with stick-straight, rigid arms would yield inefficient climbing movements, for sure. But it’s better to be aware of the idea that repetitively bending your arms and climbing a route like it’s a ladder usually leads to fatigue and failure far faster than a less arm-strength-dependent execution of climbing movements.

For most climbers, trying to bend the arms as little as possible during climbing moves and especially when resting tends to yield a less-fatiguing and more successful climbing experience and performance. Start working on this by:

  • Consciously trying to bend your arms as little as possible while you’re climbing a warm-up route that is easy for you and that includes lots of handhold and foothold options;
  • Experimenting with lowering your body weight by bending your legs, especially when you’re looking ahead at different options for your next move;
  • Swiveling or repositioning your feet on the holds (or onto different holds) to help encourage straighter arms both as you rest and as you move;
  • Turning your hips and torso from side to side to allow you to move up without bending your arms very much;
  • Observing stronger, more experienced climbers climbing in this way to help guide you in your exploration of this key point of efficient climbing movement; and
  • Asking a knowledgeable partner or coach for feedback when observing your climbing to help you discern places where you might be able to employ this skill more effectively.

And finally – again – don’t be afraid to bend your arms when it is the most efficient way for you to execute a move.

Here my left arm is straight but right is bent because of the demands of the angle and move.

Here my left arm is mostly straight but right is bent because of the demands of the angle and move.

Know that sometimes this depends on a climber’s personal strengths and weaknesses. This means that one climber might find it more efficient in a certain situation to just move quickly by putting a foot on a hold and then bending both arms powerfully to execute a move, while another climber might find it easier in this situation to spend the time setting up a more straight-armed version of the move involving several more foot movements and a repositioning of the body to enable a more straight-armed execution. Neither climber is necessarily doing the move less efficiently or effectively for his or her body – though they might both do well to at least check out the other climber’s way to see if it’s more efficient for them, too.

Up Next: Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions 3: Cross-Training

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 Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Prevention and Attenuation Tactics (IYC Series), Part 5

Reducing DOMS makes for more productive training sessions and climbing days -- not to mention a better quality of life overall.

Reducing DOMS makes for more productive and enjoyable training sessions and climbing days — not to mention a better quality of life overall.

My DOMS reduction list continues below with the final items, items 8 to 10, now added to the interventions discussed already in previous entries as potentially contributing to my lessened post-exercise soreness: resting enough, sleeping enough, reducing stress, engaging in light physical activity, getting stronger, hot tub (or bath), and massage/self-massage. To these, I add the following:

8. Eat right. How’s your diet before, during and after your workouts? Do you make a point of eating and drinking regularly throughout every climbing day? Are you obsessing over every pound you lose or gain? Are you starving yourself or severely restricting your food intake while simultaneously working out hard to make climbing/training gains? Engaging in sound, sustainable nutrition practices can go a long way to help promote faster recovery from difficult workouts or climbing days – and food deprivation is not part of that equation. Check out the 10-part Improve Your Climbing Series on nutrition for details on shaping up your diet for climbing and training .

9. Ingest natural anti-inflammatories regularly. Tying into eating right, including foods in my diet that have known anti-inflammatory properties is kind of a no-brainer. If I like them anyway, and they might help alleviate DOMS, why not? Numerous natural anti-inflammatories/pain reducers are readily available that for the majority of us carry little or no risk by adding them judiciously to our diets. These include (to name a few) tart cherry juicefish oil/omega-3s, turmeric/curcumin and caffeine, which you might consider taking in via green tea for additional benefits. What about protein supplementation for lessening post-exercise soreness, you might ask? Well – check out this review for more on the relationship of protein intake and DOMS reduction.

10. Curtail vitamin I usage. In my non-medical opinion, taking ibuprofen regularly as part of your pre-, during or post-training routine may do you more harm than good. I don’t regularly use any over-the-counter (or prescription!) painkillers. In the event of an acute injury, I might consider using an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) to help reduce acute pain and swelling. But the potentially negative effects of regularly using vitamin I or other NSAIDS – including gastrointestinal problems, masking pain signals that would otherwise alert you to potential overuse injuries in the making, and possibly interfering with muscle repair post-exercise – keep me from using them routinely. For more on this check out “For Athletes, Risks From Ibuprofen Use” and “Ibuprofen Before Exercise?

This concludes my top-10 list of interventions that I feel may have contributed to the gradual lessening of my DOMS intensity. Know, too, that there are other interventions out there that may work for you or that you may wish to test out to help with DOMS – such as kinesio taping, vibration therapy, and contrast baths, to name a few. The key is really in finding the combination of ingredients that works best for your body and your being – which may or may not include some or all of the components of my DOMS-busting recipe, plus some of your own.

As with all things training-related, what works perfectly (or at least, fairly well) for one person may have a very limited or zero impact on another. But if you’re struggling with debilitating post-exercise pain regularly, I encourage you to not just accept the pain and think you have to live with that level of discomfort regularly in order to see gains. It’s worth looking into some interventions that, at worst, will have no impact (positive or negative), but that at best, may leave you in a little (or a lot) less après-climbing/training pain than you have been enduring.

Up Next Week: Move of the Month 6: Straight-Arming Moves

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 Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Prevention and Attenuation Tactics (IYC Series), Part 4

Items 5 to 7 of my DOMS reduction tactics are detailed below, adding to the following interventions discussed already in previous entries as potentially contributing to my lessened post-exercises soreness: resting enough, sleeping enough, reducing stress, and engaging in light, recovery-oriented physical activity.

Developing more strength appears to have lessened the intensity and duration of my DOMS. (Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net).

Developing more strength appears to have lessened the intensity and duration of my DOMS. (Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net).

5. Get stronger. Gaining strength through a more committed and sustained approach to resistance training – including working on  my less-used muscles (the ones that tend to not get overused in climbing) – seems to have had a tremendous impact on my ability to recover from hard climbing days that used to leave me hurting, as well as my capacity to recover more quickly from hard resistance-training workouts, too.

In previous years, I’ve consistently fallen into the seductive cycle of letting go of strength work virtually entirely for months on end during my outdoor climbing season, and I think this has been detrimental to both my body and my climbing in the end. Gradually detraining from my peak strength levels throughout the season while often simultaneously climbing too much and not resting enough, I would also build up muscle imbalances and accrue minor tweaks and pains. However, by working to more conscientiously stay true to my intention to keep some resistance training in my life throughout outdoor climbing seasons, combined with resting enough to allow for recovery, I am finding that I feel less sore; appear to lose less strength (detraining); seem to incur fewer minor aches, injuries and pains; and overall have more energy and recover faster.

6. Hot tub (or hot bath). Maybe it’s just me, or just some of us, but nothing feels better (except maybe a massage) the day after a hard workout on my sore muscles than a hot bath or hot tub. But that’s just me. The scientific jury is still out on if any form of hydrotherapy (hot, cold, thermo-neutral or alternating hot and cold baths) can be proven effective at ameliorating post-exercise pain or enhancing recovery.  As with all things DOMS-related, my take on this is to do what feels best to you and seems to work for your body, until or unless clearly proven information comes down from the powers that be showing that what you’re doing in the name of recovery is definitely, without a doubt, causing more harm than good.

7. Self massage/massage. Another still-somewhat controversial treatment for DOMS, massage (or self-massage/self-myofascial release) seems to have staunch supporters on both sides, with some folks claiming it does nothing, and others dying to crawl onto the next massage table they find in their path. I fall into the latter camp. I love a good deep-tissue massage, and if I can’t get one from another person, that’s what the foam roller and Thera Cane Massager are for, right?

Recent studies on massage and DOMS seem to support my long-held love of massages for alleviating post-exercise pain, such as “Manual therapy ameliorates delayed-onset muscle soreness and alters muscle metabolites in rats,”  and “Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures,” and  “Effects of therapeutic massage on gait and pain after delayed onset muscle soreness.”

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Prevention and Attenuation Tactics (IYC Series), Part 5

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!