To train hard and get strong are easy, provided you have the right motivation and a bit of guidance; but to do so without getting injured…this is almost impossible. Injuries can be the greatest hindrances to continual increases in climbing improvement and can leave you feeling pretty bleak about your climbing future.
So how do we avoid these quite preventable mishaps?
Well first of all let’s try and gain a bit of an understanding of the structures which we are trying to protect.
Speaking very generally, most of the climbing injuries which we are trying to avoid, involve the hand and wrist, as these our crucial point of contact for climbing. These structures are made of a maze of tiny bones, ligaments and tendons all of which, at least since our devolvement from the good old caveman days, are not used to high loads of work under such great forces. These structures will get stronger, thicker and denser the longer you climb, but how we achieve this and how we go about protecting them is crucial.
Below are four key areas to injury prevention which I feel will help you avoid a lot of heartache:
Warm-up is more often than not misunderstood in a sporting context. The aim of a good warm-up should not just be to get the blood flowing but mainly to prepare the appropriate musculoskeletal structures for the imminent onslaught. In a climbing context it means warming up the vulnerable joints such as the shoulders and wrists as well as preparing the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the hands and fingers by working from big to progressively smaller holds before the target grip size is pulled on. When you do no such preparation (or activation) of the muscles of the forearm before going straight to a small crimp this places massive strain on the small bones and ligaments of the fingers which can result in injury.
A good easy and progressive hang board routine before climbing commences is all that is needed to properly prepare the fingers for intense climbing.
This principal is easy to explain…don’t do too much too soon. Progressive overload means increasing the training load SLOWLY so that the body can properly adapt. As many of you will know it is possible to do a one arm one finger pull up but this kind of achievement is only possible through the progressive overload principle. The small bones, tendons and ligaments which we spoke of have the incredible ability to increase in size, density and overall strength over time given the proper stimulus. If we treat our training like the tortoise would, slow and steady, we will see continual improvement and hopefully avoid injuries too.
Bend a piece of wire in the same spot for long enough and it will snap.
Training variety in any program is not only crucial for varying the stimulus and ensuring continual improvement but it is also vital to avoiding injuries. Progressive overload or not, if you stress the same structure in exactly the same manner for long enough it will lead to injury. Luckily climbing in itself is never exactly the same as routes and boulders all require different movement. Specific training however such as hang boarding or campusing the same routine every time you come to the gym is a sure way to get injured or plateau or both.
Mix your training up and change your routines every now and then to avoid staleness and injuries.
Last but definitely not least know your limits.
When it’s the end of the session and you are gassed, keep it to volume climbing on routes and boulders which are not near your limit.
In the same vein, stay away from any max power and strength exercises such as hang boarding and campusing at the end of a session or when you are tired. It’s these moments when the small supporting muscles in your hands and other joint structures will be tired and these exercises will become extra high injury risk.