Your Questions

Round 25

How long should I rest between training exercises?

Q: How long should I rest between training exercises and climbing repetitions? — Eddi (Levanger, Norway)

A: Amount of rest between exercises influences the training outcome and adaptations. For instance, longer rests between exercises (3 to 5 minutes or more) will allow you to train maximally and thus train maximum strength and power. Ganging up exercises and doing them with little rest between sets (less than 2 minutes) will produce growing fatigue and elevated blood lactate levels. Training through this increasing stress trains anaerobic endurance of the local muscles being trained. Ultimately, you may want to alternate your approach every few weeks. Train max strength for a couple weeks then training local endurance for a couple weeks. Change your exercise selection and rest interval accordingly.

How does a relative beginner learn to lead above bolts?

Q: For the last couple months I’ve been learning to sport lead (5.8 indoors and outdoors), but I tend to freak out or freeze anytime I have to climb above a bolt. Since I am a relatively new climber (1 year experience and solid on 5.10a TRs), do you recommend getting my technique up before attempting to lead, or do you have any suggestions on working on the head games? –Tamara (Costa Mesa, CA)

A: Hi Tammy, I think you are doing just fine for only one year experience. Don’t be too critical of yourself. Learning to fall from above bolts is something you’ll gradually become comfortable with…and for most people it “just happens” without having to force it too much. But it does take time. So, yes, just keep doing what you are doing–practice stretching your limits on TR, and practice leading on lesser routes. Your technique, strength, and mental attributes will all steadily improve…and I bet in a year you’ll be climbing above bolts with confidence. Just keep it fun…and let it happen.

What can I do to strengthen and prevent finger tendons?

Q: I have had a finger tendon pulley injury for the second time in four months. What can I do to strengthen my fingers and prevent finger injuries? – Rainer (Geneva, Switzerland)

A: Hello Rainer, The vast majority of climbers who push their limits (climb and train hard) will at some point experience a pulley injury (or injuries). The key is to stop climbing immediately at the first sign of finger pain–take a few weeks off and let it heal. Many climbers continue to climb and the pulley injury gets worse. It’s like running on a sprained ankle–it will hurt, performance will be degraded, and the time to heal will be multiplied. Clearly, a mature approach is vital for climbers looking to minimize downtime and optimize performance. Prevention is also key, so be sure to warm-up with stretching and massage (of fingers and forearms) before every session.

What’s the best way to warm-up for climbing?

Q:Hey Eric, Everyone has their (or should have their) own warm-up technique/stratagy to make sure that the body is functioning correctly. For me, stretching is a huge part of this warm-up. What are the best stretches for climbers to warm-up the shoulders, core, arms, and such, in a way most specific to climbing? – Donovan (Charlotte, NC)

A:Hello Donovan, Great questions, however, it would take a full chapter to fully address! But let me say this: Yes, everyone does need to suss out their own “best” warm-up ritual. As I get older, mine gets longer and longer! Anyway, a textbook warm-up for climbing would begin with some general light activity to get the heart rate up and elevate core temperature–jogging for 5 to 10 minutes or every some jumping jacks would work well. Next you need to gently stretch the large muscles groups of the legs and upper body…then work to the smaller muscles and finally the forearms and fingers. Self-massage is excellent for warming the fingers and forearms. Also, targeted warm-up exercises like finger flexions and arm circles are good for spreading synovial fluid in these important joints. Finally, some light bouldering or climbing will provide active stretching–excellent for warming up your high step and stemming ability. This full process will take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, but it will lead you into an ideal performance state from which you can climb your best.

P.S. I’m currently writing a new exercise book which has a full chapter on this subject…including dozens of warm-up exercises and stretches…fully illustrated. Look for it next Spring…called Conditioning for Climbers.

Can I turn the 4-3-2-1 training cycle into a 3-2-1 cycle?

Q: As a 5.12 climber, my weakness now seems to be finger strength. I plan to start doing the HIT workout as part of the 4-3-2-1 cycle. My questions is whether it will be beneficial or detrimental to to skip the 4 weeks of stamina and skill training, to focus more on strength training? It is admittedly dull to train the 4 weeks of stamina, so I suppose I’m trying to get around this phase in the 4-3-2-1 cycle and make it a 3-2-1 cycle — Brad (Boise, ID)

A: Given your current climbing ability, I agree that you should do just a 3-2-1 cycle and skip the 4 weeks of stamina climbing. So, you’ll begin with 3 weeks of max strength and power (doing HIT with weight) and then do 2 weeks of anaerobic endurance. For these two weeks you can do Interval Training where you climb 2 minutes on and 2 minutes off your wall (just moving around on holds), or you can do body weight laps on the HIT strip and try to keep going for 30 – 60 reps.

Personally, I prefer to use the HIT strips only during the 3 weeks max strength, then focus on climbing on holds for the two weeks AE. The week off is flexible…as little as 5 days or as much as 10 days, depending on how you feel. Try to follow the HIT workout program exactly, and expect to take a few workouts to determine the ideal weight to use for each grip. I like to sand a slight bit of texture off the HIT features (where the skin wraps over) to make them more comfortable and I “X” tape the two middle fingers. Of course, you want to train to muscle failure not skin failure!

You will discover the HIT will hammer your muscles (in a good way) but does take extra recovery time. If you ever find your reps or weights decreasing it’s due to too little rest. But long term you will get WAY strong!

Have you heard of climbers getting Dupytrens Contracture?

Q: I have developed what I think is a hand problem called Dupytrens Contracture. I wanted to know if you had an experience of this in the climbing community. Can you offer me any information or advice? Thanks for all the great training tips on the site. — Jason (Edinburgh, UK)

A: Hello Jason, I have worked with thousands of climbers over the last 30 years and I’ve never met a climber with a severe case of Dupytrens Contracture. Many veteran climbers do develop a slight, permanent “finger curl”, but I’m not sure this qualifies as Dupytrens (which tends to be a debilitating condition of severe finger contracture). As I understand it, classic Dupytrens causes lumps near the finger tendons or in the palm and severely inhibits use. Since I’m not a doctor, I suggest you consult a doctor or do some Internet research. Genetics seems to play a role, and climbing may or may not lead or contribute to classic Dupytrens. So, again, see what a doctor has to say…and hopefully you can continue climbing despite the condition. Good luck! And let me know how it goes.