The Conscientious Climber: Injury Prevention Strategies

The Conscientious Climber: Injury Prevention Strategies

Climbing is hard on our bodies. Compared to other animals, we're not that strong or flexible, and we don't even have tails. In fact, climbing-related injuries are so common we've given them cute nicknames like "climber's elbow" and "shouldn'a-done-that" and "was-that-my-finger-or-did-someone's-balloon-just-hit-one-of-our-newly-installed-ceiling-fans? (thanks Howie!)"

Here's the good news: if you make a few small changes, you'll find yourself preventing rather than treating. The bad news is that it's all very boring and gives us absolutely zero instant gratification. But taking an injury-induced break from climbing can be even more frustrating than the injury itself, so consider routinizing some of these suggestions before it's too late upping your climbing game.

1. Warm Up. It may be tempting to attack your project first thing, but you'll be more likely to send it if your body is prepared. Try a handful of the easiest routes in the gym first, making them as graceful as possible, and work your way up the grades toward your project. If you want to change it up, take advantage of Top Out's gym equipment. But somehow or another, get that blood flowing.

2.  Stretch It Out. Put on a song, set a timer, or force your friend to do it with you. Whatever it takes, limber up. And don't forget about the forearms, hands, and fingers- it may feel a little sillier and not as gratifying as that deep hamstring stretch, but we put a LOT of pressure on these guys when we climb and they need our TLC! Consider stretching before, during, and after your sessions, especially for those longer days.

3. Cross-Train. Give your forearms a rest from the limelight and spend some time on the rest of your body (read: legs and core) so it can better support you during your sessions. Here is a great article on training your antagonistic muscles, written by a nationally-recognized physical therapist and climber. You can also get the cardio in by doing some laps on the easier routes- this has the added bonus of forcing you to climb more efficiently in order to last longer, thereby honing your technique and prepping you for outdoor climbing.

4. De-Glorify the Crimp. Crimping is the aggressive grip we use for small edges, but it poses a high risk of injury because it hyperextends your joints. Because it feels so powerful and secure, many of us find ourselves relying on this grip rather than treating it as a last resort. However, open-handing wherever possible will reduce your likelihood of injury and encourage better technique! Check out this article by the Rock and Ice climbing magazine for more info and a video demonstrating a challenging but enlightening exercise.

5. Rest Days. These are just as important for our growth as the actual climbing. Everyone's body is different, so listen to yours and give it the breaks it needs to heal and come back stronger. On another note, consider structuring your weeks to include a variety of session types; for instance, one day can be devoted to bouldering, another for perfecting technique on easier climbs, and another for pushing your limits.

Sometimes taking it easy can make us feel like we're not making progress. But helping, learning from, and even just hanging out with other climbers is as essential to our development (and the fun we have!) as achieving a new grade. Want more info on preventing and treating injury? Google is ok, but Top Out's Mo Betancourt and Tyler Shaffer are better.

From Newbie to Nimble: Top Seven Climbing Tips

Tyler Climbing

So your friend dragged you to the climbing gym and now you've got the bug. You've been going every week- your skin hurts, your forearms are on fire, you looked your fear of heights right in the face and showed it who's boss- and you're cancelling tomorrow night's karaoke plans so you can finally finish that route because you were SO CLOSE LAST TIME YOU WERE RIGHT THERE.

We all know the feeling. It's thrilling. Adrenaline-inducing. Addictive. But it's also a little infuriating. You touch back down to the ground, sweating, hands on your knees, and then a girl who's five feet tall practically floats up the route that nearly collapsed one of your lungs. How did she make that look so easy?? Well- the following is a list of techniques that, with practice, will unlock whole new levels, and they'll also turn what's barely doable for you into a nice warmup.

1. Trust the shoes. Wanting to place your whole foot- particularly the arch- on a hold is instinctual. Instead, embrace your inner ballet dancer- engage that calf and point your toes. The front end of your climbing shoe is built to withstand a great deal of pressure. This will give you another couple inches (a game changer in the climbing world) and will also engage your…

2. Legs. This sport is not just about upper body strength. That certainly helps, but, especially as you come across some not-so-great handholds, you'll need your legs to do as much work as possible. Wake up, quads! And, while we're here, don't forget about…

3. The hips. You may have noticed that the most graceful climbers often don't face the wall. You'll see them walk their feet up staircase-style, and not only does this look seriously fancy but it also gives them a significantly better reach- if your left hip is on the wall, your left arm can easily extend a good half a foot higher without destroying your right forearm.

4. Remember your core. Notice how engaging your center of gravity takes the load off your limbs. Your abs and pelvis can bring you closer to the wall and will improve your balance.

5. Foot-foot-hand, repeat. As human primates (emphasis on the human), our preliminary experience with climbing comes from ladders. Left hand, left foot, right hand, right foot. Such is not the case here. Give those biceps a break by extending your elbows completely- then find your feet. Two foot moves in a row, maybe even three, will help you get your body (especially the hips!) into the best possible position for your next reach.

6. Rest. It's easy to overdo it. Take a seat and relax. Strike up conversation with your fellow climbers and maybe even stretch! And while you're doing that…

7. Watch. One of the best parts of an indoor climbing community is the opportunity to learn from others. We are all, to some extent at least, visual learners. Watch a pro and anticipate their moves. See where they surprise you. Notice their steady pacing. And if you see a hold that somebody on the wall isn't seeing, say something! Often, the best climbing is achieved as a team effort.

These techniques help us climb smarter, not harder. Engage your entire body and try to find the easiest way up the wall. You'll be surprised by what you discover!