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Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Prevention and Attenuation Tactics (IYC Series), Part 1

Severe DOMS can make your life miserable while learning how to lessen DOMS can improve the quality of your life, not to mention climbing and training! (Image courtesy of sixninepixels at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Severe DOMS can make your life miserable. Learning how to lessen DOMS can improve the quality of your life, not to mention your enjoyment and quality of climbing and training! (Image courtesy of sixninepixels at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The previous couple of entries introduced the topic of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), covering the causes of and common misconceptions about this well-known phenomenon, as well as constructive ways to use DOMS to help understand your recovery status. The next few entries will discuss various ways to lessen the severity of DOMS, starting with why you’d want to do this at all. In the end, whatever interventions you choose to use should be the ones that are most effective for you as an individual, so long as they don’t have the potential to cause your body harm, regardless of whether or not there’s a study backing it up. In other works, if it works for you, do it!

Why should I want to prevent or lessen DOMS at all?

Good question. From my perspective, after spending the majority of my life as a climber (so far) experiencing relatively severe DOMS pretty regularly, I’d say it’s because being in almost constant pain after climbing or working out pretty much sucks. This makes it hard to be positive or psyched or to have good energy to put into productive rest-day activities (like writing climbing-training articles, for example!). Lessening the intensity of my DOMS has always been a major goal of mine, but it wasn’t until very recently – like this past year! – that I can say that I really have found a way to still train hard and climb hard (for me, of course, all things being relative!), but to not have severe post-exercise pain be the result after practically every high-intensity effort. Having found a combination of methods that seem to have helped alleviate my previously much-more-severe DOMS has helped improve the quality of my climbing, training and rest days – or in other words, pretty much my whole life.

This is not to say that I don’t still get sore after a hard workout, but rather, that I don’t feel so actively in pain that I can barely function or that it affects my mood. The intensity of the pain has decreased a lot. As I discuss various interventions, I’ll note the ones that seem to have helped me – and I say seem to, because I’m honestly not sure if there’s any one intervention that should get all the credit, or if it’s the combination of interventions working together. Nor can I endorse any of these methods – those I use or those I don’t – for anyone else to use. Maybe one or more of these will work for you, or maybe something else entirely. Try at your own risk, understanding that as of right now, there is no resounding scientific proof or endorsement backing any particular method of DOMS attenuation or prevention as working wonders for everyone who tries it – save resting until it dissipates.

How can I prevent DOMS?

The only way you could virtually make sure that you never, ever experience DOMS again in your life would be to avoid trying any unfamiliar, difficult, or challenging physical activity ever again in your life. This course of action is not recommended, of course – and especially not if you’re interested in improving at climbing or pushing your current level of fitness up.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Prevention and Attenuation Tactics (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!

One Climber’s Story: Five Injury Case Studies (V)

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To round out this series on climbing injuries, the next few entries will get a little more personal as I present and discuss five injuries I’ve incurred during my life as a climber. I share these in the hopes that they might help other climbers/athletes first and foremost to avoid similar injuries. I also hope to help others understand that if and when injuries do occur, they can provide great insights and lessons for us in the moment as well as for our future selves as to what we should and shouldn’t do to avoid incurring such show-stopping injuries again. Every single injury or series of injuries I’ve lived through has led to a greater understanding of my own body and being, informing and shaping my life afterward in ways that I maybe never would have expected or been open to had the injury never happened.

Case Study Five: Nerve Impingement (2012)

Injury: Nerve impingement in my left arm leading to a temporary partial paralysis of my left hand and wrist.

Causal Factors: Overtraining and too much, too soon, plus a likely connection to the previous muscle tears in 2006, which I believe probably didn’t heal properly and played into this whole scenario. I dove right into training in the winter as hard as I had been training in the previous winter instead of easing into it slowly (which is way smarter). Once again, my enthusiasm got the best of me. I was stoked to try out some new, difficult opposing muscle exercises (pushing motions opposing the common “pulling” motions of climbing), which I should have waited to try until I was more conditioned. My hand started to have some numbness and to feel weak. In response, I backed off what I was doing in training, and it started improving as a result (of course; at least I’d learned something about overtraining at this point). Then I tripped and fell on a hard surface while traveling, and I put my hands out automatically to absorb the shock. This inflamed what was already inflamed even more. My radial nerve became impinged, almost cutting off the signaling from my brain to my hand. I couldn’t type or pick up a glass of water or put a rubber band in my hair, much less clip a climbing rope into a quickdraw with my left hand, for a couple months.

Recovery: I don’t want to rehash this injury here in great detail. I did seek medical help and did get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. This involved absolutely no repetition of the motion causing the injury (i.e. no pushups and guarding obsessively against falling and catching impacts on my arm, and so forth), ample use of NSAIDs (ibuprofen multiple times a day), ice on the affected area, and an understanding that if it didn’t progressively improve or it worsened, that I would probably need surgery or risk losing full use of the limb for life. Thankfully, this injury did heal progressively and I didn’t reinjure it; gradually and ever-so-slowly, I regained the full use of my left hand and arm, and the awful feeling of paralysis, numbness and weakness subsided.

Long-Term Result: This injury was the best injury for me ever, though at the time, it was completely devastating – not just physically but also, mentally and emotionally. All of my injuries throughout life have been blessings in disguise in one way or another, whether we’re talking climbing-related physical injuries or entirely mental/emotional injuries, actually, but this could take me off on a philosophical tangent for pages and pages. The point here is that this injury forced me to take a step back and take a hard look at what I was doing to myself repeatedly in training and even beyond training (too much) and to wave it off like an MMA referee waves off a fighter from his or her already downed opponent, disallowing the opportunity for more strikes and more damage. In this case, I was fighting myself and TKO’ing myself regularly, knocking myself down not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally, completely, time and time again. This is common pattern for the zealous athlete (or any person who is overcommitted to anything), but not a very sustainable or productive approach, especially over the long term.

A frightening, sidelining injury can provide an incredible opportunity, giving you space and time that you don’t normally have to think things through while you’re away from your sport, perhaps becoming an impetus for change, for introspection and for reevaluation/examination of your approach to training, climbing or life overall…even if it only serves as a slow-it-down signal, and nothing more. It can be so desperately hard in the moment (or long, drawn-out moments) of downtime away from the activity you love to see things positively in this manner or to understand what you can take from the situation and mold into a brighter, more productive and fulfilling way of climbing, living and being. It’s not something to succeed or fail at, though; it’s a process and an opportunity for growth and learning.

This injury compelled me to reevaluate so many aspects of my being. The details don’t really matter as far as sharing all of the personal revelations and realizations that came from this. The big message from this injury for me was, “Wake up!” Stop bullying and berating and beating your being, body, mind and soul, for not performing at the levels you aspire to perform at. Find a gentler approach, a sounder path, a safer way to make this journey toward climbing harder (or whatever you dream of doing better or differently) productive and pleasant, both, for all aspects of your being, and those around you, too. Enjoy your relative state of health, strength and comfortable living situation now instead of racing for and banking on some better place that might exist some day in the future (or dwelling in the past).

It’s fine to pursue greater heights and personal goals but it’s also really important – more important – to find comfort and peace and joy with who you are, where you are and what you can do right now – and then ideally, to be able to share that sense of joie de vivre with others, without losing or compromising your own internal sense of balance, integrity and wholeness.

“What you are is what you have been, what you will be is what you do now,” according to Buddha, as quoted by Nischala Joy Devi in “The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras.”