Tag Archives: climbing

Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 10 (HARD)

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Starting Back After an Injury (or Any Break)

Have you ever come back from an injury only to virtually immediately reinjure that place or injure another body part – or do you know/have you heard of someone who has? It seems so unfair, to put all that time into rehabilitation and recovery, only to be sidelined again right away. Causes for this are usually pretty obvious. Either a) the injured area wasn’t fully recovered and ready to be climbed on again and/or b) the climber in question came back into climbing by doing too much, too soon, and the body wasn’t in shape or ready to climb at the same level as before the injury-mandated hiatus from climbing.

After an injury or any break from climbing, come back slowly and give it time, just like you would ideally with any new training program. Do less than you think you can, and stop way before you think you’re done. This is a smart approach when you’re adding anything new to your climbing/training; you don’t go for broke or to total exhaustion, diving in the deep end and hoping you can swim right away. Instead, you lightly dip your toes in the water and check the temperature, and then you wait for a day or two to see how your toes feel before you put your whole lower leg in the water. And then you wait again, and eventually, as you build up/rebuild your strength and fitness and technical skills and so forth, you will be swimming in the deep end, free from injury, and ready to head out into the open ocean and explore the world.

This can be very difficult, of course, because as soon as you have the go-ahead and you’re feeling better, it can be hard to put the stops on yourself to prevent reinjury or new injury. Give yourself a time/difficulty limit for each session, and stick to it, knowing that in time, you won’t need to be quite so regimented, but that it’s very important now. Don’t get pressured by the fun factor or friends into doing more than you planned – while this can be okay when you’re at peak fitness levels now and again, coming back from injury isn’t the time to push your luck. Remind yourself that you don’t want to get benched again and that a little bit of climbing every other day is way better right now than a glut of climbing followed by two months on the bench (or longer).

And, as mentioned before, keep all of what you’ve learned from your injury in your mind and your planning for future climbing and training efforts once you’re back to full capability. Draw on the experience and lessons of the injury so that you don’t get involved in a hateful cycle of regular reinjury or new injuries. Make sure you know what caused the injury as much as you possibly can and that you also have measures in place that will help you and your partners prevent such injuries in the future. In this way, you make the most of your injury and can actually make it into an overall positive experience rather than an entirely negative one – a process that I’ll delve into in greater detail in the following five entries, which will consist of personal case studies of injuries I’ve incurred as a climber.

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!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 9 (HARD)

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So I’m Injured, Now What? (III) – Mental and Emotional Challenges

In addition to physical pain, the mental and emotional aspect of climbing injuries should not be downplayed or underestimated, especially severe injuries that put you squarely on the sidelines for a lengthy period of time and/or call into question your body’s ability to handle what you want it to be able to do (climb!). It’s common to feel depressed, irritable and unmotivated when injured, and it’s also common to feel guilty about having such feelings, e.g. “I don’t have a right to feel depressed; I still have all the normal luxuries of my Western life so I’m just being selfish by having these types of feelings at all.”

While we undoubtedly enjoy an incredible quality of life compared to many other places in the world, one that allows us the indulgence of filling our free time with things like rock climbing, this doesn’t take away from the fact that a sudden decrease in physical activity – and especially one that’s so engaging and consuming as rock climbing (or any similarly pursued athletic endeavor) – can lead to a cascade of mental-emotional impacts, suffered as a result from the abrupt removal of the regular activity level and the consequent mental-physical-emotional disruption. In other words, it’s not just you being a selfish person for feeling badly that you can’t climb; it’s your whole being reacting to the situation – and you feel it in your mind as well as your body. And if you’re going to feel guilty that not climbing is making you feel depressed or down or grumpy, you might as well just feel guilty all the time about climbing even while you can climb, too – the same rules apply; it’s a privilege to have the freedom to climb at all.

So don’t feel badly that you feel badly; this is unproductive and will only make the feeling bad even worse. Instead, try to acknowledge your feelings and accept them as valid, and do what you can to mitigate symptoms and find joy in the process of injury recovery. How to do this will vary for each individual. For some injured folks, being around other climbers or hearing about rock climbing only compounds the sense of depression at not being able to participate (sort of like hanging out and drinking water while all your friends are getting hammered to hilarity on the hard stuff); for others, being around climbing and climbing conversion gets them outside of themselves and helps remind them of what they’re working back toward being able to do.

Another great perspective to keep is to remember that all is not lost – that you will not “lose everything,” which is a common fear for injured climbers/athletes. Depending on how long you’re out, you will lose some fitness, sure, and if you’re out for a substantial time with no climbing-relevant physical activity (a month or longer), you may experience some strength loss, too. But, it takes the body much longer to lose strength gains than it does to make them; the body is reluctant to let go of such hard-fought gains (strength gains take a long time to manifest when compared to endurance gains). Also, once you’ve worn a path into your body once, it’s way easier to get back to that level again than it was to get there in the first place; the body “remembers” where you were (not exactly correct, but a good image/way to think about it). And your brain does remember how to climb, though it may feel rusty at first when you get back. You will not be starting at square one, and you’re likely to get back to where you were before the injury much faster than you might expect.

Staying physically active, as mentioned in the previous entry, is a great way to help decrease withdrawal-from-climbing and concern-about-future-climbing symptoms, as is a proactive rehabilitation/climbing-training plan that is workable without causing further harm while you’re injured. Another coping mechanism is to delve into an entirely different activity (physical or not) that you normally don’t have time to do while you’re climbing but that you’re interested in, like taking an online or community course on a topic of interest, volunteering for a worthy cause, and so forth. Keeping yourself occupied instead of spending your normal climbing/training time perseverating on what you can’t do and feeling sorry for yourself can go a long way to keeping your spirits relatively high, which in turn can actually influence the pace/outcome of your injury in terms of healing time.

“Emerging and converging evidence support the perspective that the mind and body are inextricably linked and function in an integrative manner to mediate the manifestation of maladaptive autonomic nervous system responses (ANS) that can result in symptoms and eventual illness, and in the realm of sports, drive competitive anxiety, reduced attention, diminished motor control and consequent poor performance. … Identifiable mind-body processes and interactions that have been harnessed therapeutically to ameliorate symptoms and promote well-being have also been shown to enhance self-regulation and improve performance.” (from Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology: A Practitioner’s Manual, by Roland A. Carlstedt, Ph.D.)

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!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 8 (HARD)

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So I’m Injured, Now What? (II) – Physical Training

Assuming your injury is serious enough to warrant a diagnosis and treatment plan from a healthcare professional, get a timeline from this trusted source to help you plan your recovery period and to take the fullest advantage of your time off from climbing as you can in terms of physical fitness maintenance or even potential gains. Ask for an assessment what you can do, given the parameters of your injury. If you don’t like the answer, consult with several more specialists. Ask for healing markers that will indicate if/when you should be doing certain activities, as well as what you should not be doing. Follow the guidelines but don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Above all, do not do anything to make your injury worse. This becomes your No. 1 training/climbing performance goal once an injury has occurred: to heal the injury and get back to 100 percent as quickly as possible. This means not making ill-advised in-the-moment decisions that will impact you negatively for months or even years into the future.

Informed by your healthcare professional’s advice and treatment plan, create a physical training/rehab plan that respects your body’s need to heal. Use the time as efficiently and effectively as possible, understanding that sitting around feeling bad about not being able to climb and concurrently severely decreasing the amount of physical activity you’re doing can contribute to injury-related mental-emotional health issues (topic of next entry), as well as making your comeback harder. Bodies that are used to a high level of physical activity can undergo severe withdrawal on many levels if the customary activity level suddenly declines significantly or stops entirely.

If you can’t do anything at all related to climbing, then work to figure out what works best for keeping yourself fit, maybe another activity entirely. You may also have some mandated physical therapy/rehab exercises; these take top priority in any smart injury-recovery training plan. However, if you can and have the desire to, times of injury can actually provide a much-needed impetus to train specific areas that could use more attention but that fall by the wayside when you’re healthy. A few examples: an injured ankle can often allow for upper-body training, while an injured finger can often allow for core/flexibility training. Instead of fretting about and ruminating on what you can’t do, look at what you can do and do that, knowing that you will be grateful not only now to have something to do physically but also, as you come back to an uninjured state to have kept your physical activity level as high as you could without sabotaging your body’s healing process.

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!