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.