If you climb long or hard enough, chances are you will experience one or more of the “big three” climbing injuries: a finger tendon pulley tear or rupture, elbow tendonitis, or shoulder subluxation (instability or dislocation). In fact, a British study has shown that nearly 88 percent of 5.12 climbers surveyed had experienced an overuse injury (not to be confused with a “fall injury”) in the prior two years.
Interestingly, a recent NICROS Training Center Poll mirrors the British study as about 86% of our respondants experienced a significant non-fall injury. As you might expect finger tendon injuries were most common (43%), followed by elbow tendinitis (25%), and shoulder injury (16%). Only 14% of the TC Poll respondants reported no injury (or just a bruised ego) .
Given the direct relationship between climbing ability and frequency of injury (per the British study), hard-training climbers would be wise to do everything possible to minimize injury risk. Following are five powerful tips to help keep you off the casualty list:
1. Don’t climb to exhaustion. Many acute injuries occur toward the end of a day of maximal climbing. Do you really need to lap (or flail up) that “training route” or project again?
2. Don’t climb and/or train more than 4 days per week. Overtraining will get you injured, so plan your rest days. Taking enough rest days is a sign of a mature climber.
3. Maintain muscle balance by training the antagonist muscles of the arms and upper torso. Two days per week of light “push muscle” training is a great insurance policy. Stretching is also vital, particularly pre-climbing stretching of the forearms and shoulders.
4. Regularly vary the type of climbing to vary the wear and tear on your body. Specialists tend to get injured most often. This is especially true for beginners who focus on a single type of climbing (e.g. bouldering, steep sport routes, or what have you). Diversifying your climbing is also a great investment in your technical abilities–you’ll become a better climber for it.
5. Focus on improving technique over maximizing strength. Obsessive training will end in injury (see Tip #2). Conversely, improving technique will enable you to make the most of the strength you already possess. Do you climb more like an old Buick or a Honda?
Copyright 2007 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.