Your Questions

Round 12

How to break a performance plateau?

Q: I have reached a plateau, and I feel like my finger strength is holding me back. I can do up to 30 pull-ups and one one-hander on each side, so what’s the best remedy for my weak grip? –Sam (Lawrenceville, NJ)

A: Sam, If you can do 30 pull-ups and a one-arm on both sides, then you have plenty “pull muscle” strength to climb 5.13 and boulder V10. So, yes, your grip strength could be holding you back. Then again, the amount of grip strength you need for a given problem is also a function of the quality of your technical and body positioning. As a climber of three years, I’m sure you have solid technique, yet most people continue to make subtle technique improvements for decades! Regarding finger training, you could probably begin some Hypergravity training and some Campus Training (unless you have any elbow or finger tendon issues). If you are healthy in these areas, then cycle two weeks of Hypergravity training with two weeks of campus training. You don’t need to do a lot. Just 6 or 8 sets of one or the other at the end of your climbing workouts is all you need. For the Hypergravity training, buy a 10 pound weight belt and wear it to do some moderate (V2 – V4) boulder problems on smallish (not tweaky) holds. If you find a problem that works the fingers nicely, you could just do 6 intervals (lap, rest, lap, rest, etc.) on it and be done. My Training For Climbing book will provide additional info, if needed.

What’s the remedy for elbow pain?

Q: I’m having a lot of elbow pain. In addition to the recommended exercises, I’ve been considering taking Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM. Have you heard of any benefit to taking these to reduce elbow pain? –Danielle (St. Paul, MN)

A: Dear Danielle, Sorry to hear about your elbow. Unfortunately, elbow tendonitis is an injury that people are rarely able to “climb through.” In many cases, it just gets worse. The only real cure is to take some time off from climbing and correct the underlying problem. Depending on how bad it is, it could take just a few weeks or an entire season. My wife had this problem a few years back and it took 3 months of no climbing to become pain free, and then she did rehab exercises for a couple months (forearm stretching, reverse wrist curls, pronators).

As for Glucosamine, it has been shown to help with JOINT problems, but has no benefit with tendonitis. Ibuprofen works to reduce inflammation and pain, but does nothing to speed healing–in fact, many climbers make matters worse by taking the pain killers to mask the pain so they can continue to climb! This, of course, guarantees a worsening condition.

Does strength return faster after a layoff?

Q: I have been a climber for 9 years now. I took the last two off after being annoyed by injuries and overwhelmed in life. I used to climb pretty solid around the V8/9 level. I have been back at it for around 5 month’s. I am curious if you have found that people regain climbing technique and strength/power faster if they once had it? –Michael (Denver, CO)

A: Technique and sport-specific strength do come back much faster the second time around; in fact, technique should come back completely in just a matter of weeks or months. It’s like any other complex motor skill (skiing, etc) in that after a layoff you’ll feel rusty, but the skills come back in hyperspeed. Strength comes back more slowly, but still faster than “from scratch” since the neuromuscular system has been there before. The one thing that doesn’t come back fast after a long layoff is tendon strength, so avoid overly tweaky stuff this season.

How to correct shoulder instability?

Q: I keep getting shoulder problems diagnosed as due to muscle imbalance. My training is just climbing. What exercises should I do to balance this out and help stay injury free? — Richard (Leeds, UK)

A: Hello Richard,
Yes, it sounds like you have the common shoulder problems that can lead to subluxation. Fortunately, if you have not injured the shoulder too bad already, you can rehab this problem with a simple program of push-muscle training. Push-ups (or light bench press), shoulder press (with 20-pound dumbbells), and some dips are the ticket to stronger, more-stable shoulders. Do 2 sets each, 2 or 3 days per week, and in a few months, you should be in better shape. However, if you have continued pain in the shoulder I suggest you see a sports physician.

What are the best size holds for a home training wall?

Q: I’m trying to break into 5.11 and have built a small, 20-degree overhanging home wall. Should I bother with buying small tweaky holds and slopers or concentrate on medium to large jugs? I’d like to build strength without destroying my 41 year old shoulders. Thanks for a great training resource with the website. –Shannon (San Diego, CA)

A: Hey Shannon, I just turned 41, so I can relate! As far as injuring your shoulders, the size of the holds really shouldn’t be a concern. It’s important, however, to do some supplemental shoulder training (dumbbell shoulder presses, push-ups and dips) and forearm training (reverse wrist curls) to keep things in balance. Back to your wall: if it’s just 20-degrees past vert, then you will want to use fairly small holds. I’d suggest about 75% holds less than one-inch deep, and 25% larger slopers and buckets. On such a small home wall, your best bet is to focus on training maximum strength, power, and anaerobic endurance.

What’s the deal with high-volume Euro training?

Q: I have heard that some of the Euro elite athletes train as many as five days a week. How can they do this without getting injured or falling into overtraining syndrome? -Dan (Rapid City, SD)

A: A good question, Dan. A very small percentage of folks can get away with training more than 3 or 4 days per week. How can they do this? One of two ways: 1. they have a genetic gift for rapid recovery and tolerance to training (kind of like how some people have greater tolerance to the sun and not burning), or 2. they are using anabolic drugs to accelerate recovery.

Bottom line: there is no secret way to “over train” safely. You’ll need to experiment and see what your body tolerates…if you are like most folks, the optimal amount of training will be 3 or 4 days per week. Of course, good nutrition and rest habits can help maximize your recovery rate and, thus, make more frequent training (and bigger gains) possible. I’ve written a full chapter on this in my book, Training for Climbing. Check out chapter 9.

Does a large body build limit climbing potential?

Q: I am a 6’4, 200 lbs male. I am very physically fit. I’ve been climbing for 2 years now on and off and finally have the time to climb a lot more. I’m wondering if my height and weight will limit my absolute ability? – Terik (British Columbia)

A: Terik, I wouldn’t worry about limitations due to height and weight. If they exist, you won’t hit them until you are deep into 5.13. You are going to get WAY better just from focusing on improving technical, the mental game, and climbing fitness. If you are worried about your weight limiting you on steep, strenuous routes, then consider adding some running to your workout schedule. Otherwise, just keep on climbing, have fun, and you’ll be climbing better each year!