Tag Archives: overtraining

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!

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 4 (IYC 17)

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Plateaus (1): Too Much Climbing Is Not

What seems to happen often is that climbers experience the dreaded plateau at some point in their climbing development – that place where improvement slows down to a trickle or a standstill – after months or years of spending most of their climbing time (whether they label it training or not) “just climbing,” without any real thought to form or structure.

Or perhaps they label it “training,” but it doesn’t go much (or at all) beyond rather vague ideas such as, “Hey, maybe I’ll boulder for a couple months and that will make me stronger/more powerful,” or “If I climb a bunch of laps on an easy route I have dialed for a couple months, perhaps my endurance will improve.”

Regardless, you could actually be doing the exact same routine that has been churning out sweet results and consistent improvements for months or even years on end, and then – BAM – suddenly you realize you’re stagnating, no matter how much more you climb or how many days off you take between climbing sessions. Are you overtraining? Undertraining? What is happening here?

Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer to what causes or will bust a plateau. And it could indeed be overtraining (too much volume and/or intensity, and/or not enough rest) or undertraining (not enough intensity and/or volume, and/or too much rest). Note that most fitness experts tend to agree that on the whole, it’s best to be a bit undertrained than overtrained, since overtraining can lead to performance declines, overuse injuries and burnout. Meanwhile, all too often, avid sportsmen and women tend to respond to overtraining by training harder as they fail to recognize that their performance decline is a result of too much – rather than too little – activity.

So I would recommend first and foremost that if you find yourself plateauing, you take a good look at how much you’re resting from climbing, and if you’ve been logging lots of climbing days and little rest for weeks or months or years, try taking a week or two off (or much lighter). You might be surprised at the results – and that might all that you need to get out of your rut and back onto the road to improvement.

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!