Easing back into rock climbing indoors: progressive overload & building a callus
June 30, 2020
Raise your hand if the longest break you’ve ever taken from rock climbing indoors was because of COVID-19.
Raise your other hand if you got absolutely shut-down when you went for your first session back.
Are you sitting there with both your hands up?
A lot of us are.
And a lot of us have a lot going on right now besides rock climbing because there is a lot going on right now.
So how do we get back into it? And more importantly, how do we start rock climbing indoors as we used to without picking up an injury along the way?
Before we go into it any further, we’ve got to understand why most injuries in rock climbing (or most other sports) occur in the first place.
Put simply, we do too much, too fast, without enough recovery.
To use your skin as an example:
How many flappers did you get when you first started rock climbing indoors? How often did you wear down your fingertips until they bled?
What about after a few months? What changed over time?
Repeatedly exposing your fingers to the rough texture of indoor climbing holds is a form of progressive overload. The exposure made your skin tougher and this took time.
I’m willing to bet that with that toughness came the ability to have longer indoor climbing sessions and more attempts on the same rock climbs without getting too bloody or sore.
Now translate this example for any body part you want - fingers, elbows, shoulders, backs - the human body adapts to the load we put through it. We are resilient and we are strong. We just need to allow time for the adaptations to occur to prove it to ourselves.
So what does progressive overload look like in the climbing gym or at the crag?
This will be entirely dependent on what your home-setup and exercise regime was like during the lockdown, but for most of us it can be covered in the four recommendations below:
When coming back to rock climbing indoors…
...warm-up for longer than you think you need to.
Warm-up off the wall, get your heart rate up and get those big muscle groups firing. Do some easy climbing on the wall and assess how your body feels. Let how you feel when warming up tell you how hard you should yourself push today.
...allow yourself to recover.
Take an extra minute to rest between rock climbs and spread out your indoor rock climbing days! Allow yourself and your fingers some rest in between sessions. Regardless of how frequently you were climbing indoors before COVID-19, if you didn’t rock climb at all during the lockdown, go slow. It’s okay to not be as strong as you were before. Try climbing indoors twice in the first week and see how you feel. If you feel good, add another session and see how you feel. If you still feel good… well, you get the point.
...revise the aim of your sessions.
For the first few sessions or weeks, try to change your goals from “climbing hard”’ to relearning specific movements and techniques, like smearing, locking down, dynoing or flagging. Once you’ve had a few good sessions and feel more confident, take it up a notch and start finding climbs that are challenging for you.
...remember and record what you did.
A lot of people will refer to their casual after-work sesh at the local gym as “training”. But how many of us actually have definitive proof that the training is paying off?
How many of us keep a record of how we warmed-up, what indoor climbs we did, how we felt during the session or how wrecked we felt on our days off?
Writing answers to questions like these on your phone or in a diary will help you to track your progress and may also identify trends that explain why you’re feeling so sore or why your last session felt like more of a punishment than normal.
Climbing is one of the most frustrating sports to come back to. For now, give the above recommendations a go and remember that if nothing else, everybody you rock climb with indoors is probably in the same boat.
Stay safe and enjoy! <3 The Nomad Team
Written By: Nomad Specialist Coach - Mattias Braach-Maksvytis