Tag Archives: climbing

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!

Move of the Month 10: Smearing (Improve Your Climbing)

Smearing with my right foot and maximizing surface area so that I can step through with my left.

Smearing with my right foot and maximizing surface area so that I can step through with my left.

If you can master the art of smearing in climbing, virtually any part of the rock can become a foothold for you. In other words, you are free from having to only use the obvious (or less obvious) bigger footholds that might be not in the right balance spot for you. This is not to say that smearing will work in every circumstance when the rock does not present you with an ideal foot placement – it won’t – but developing comfort with smears will liberate your footwork much in the same way that developing comfort with flagging/dropping a foot will (another move of the month topic coming up) will. Integrate these two techniques and develop a high level of comfort with them, and you will find yourself climbing with much more steadiness and ease.

So what is smearing? Smearing often involves using a part of the rock that is not really a hold – meaning not an edge or a pocket or a ledge or a sloper and so forth – as a foot placement. However, you can also actually smear with part of your foot on a rock feature — like a divet, pebble, dish, or sloper — for greater purchase rather than trying to only use the feature by itself. When you smear, you create friction between your shoe and the rock, most often trying to maximize surface area contact between shoe and rock without making for awkward movement, since the point of smearing is to make for easier movement, of course. Smearing involves having a sound sense of just how much pressure to deliver to the smear – too much, and your foot will likely pop off, too little, and you won’t get to where you’re going.

To start practicing smearing, I suggest finding or creating a traverse in a climbing or bouldering gym that is low to the ground with lots of big holds. Instead of using footholds, use just the wall for your feet as you traverse on the big holds back and forth. This exercise will help you develop a sense of how to position your feet and how much pressure to put into each smear to get you to the next hold while avoiding popping off.

As you develop more and more comfort with not using specified footholds – with smearing – you will likely find yourself starting to find better body positions on routes both indoors and outside. Instead of forcing yourself into awkward and contorted positions when faced with a dearth of footholds, you will feel greater comfort in simply using a portion of the rock as a foothold that enables you to be in a less strenuous and more balanced body position. Combine this with a high level of comfort in not having both feet on the rock all the time, and you will be well on your way to cultivating a greater sense of overall freedom and flow in your climbing.