Injury Prevention

Injuries can be the greatest hindrances to continual increases in climbing improvement. Heres how to prevent them

By Chevaan Patience

It can be simple to train hard and get strong, provided you have the right motivation and a bit of guidance. Also, don’t get injured… this is harder than you think. Injuries can be the greatest hindrance to continual improvement in climbing performance, and can leave you feeling pretty bleak about your climbing future.

So, how do we avoid these (actually quite preventable) mishaps?

Well, first off, let’s try and gain a bit of an understanding into the structures which we are trying to protect.

Many of the climbing injuries which we are trying to avoid involve the hand and wrist, as these our crucial point of contact for climbing. These structures are made of a maze of tiny bones, ligaments and tendons, all of which (at least since our devolvement from the good ol’ neanderthal days) are not used to high loads of work under such great forces. These structures will get stronger, thicker and denser the longer you climb, but how we achieve this and how we go about protecting them is crucial.

Below are four key aspects of injury prevention, which I feel will help you avoid a lot of heartache…

The term “warm up” is more often than not misunderstood. The aim of a good warm up should not just be to get the blood flowing, but also to prepare the appropriate musculoskeletal structures for the imminent onslaught. In a climbing context, it means warming up the vulnerable joints, such as the shoulders and wrists, as well as preparing the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the hands and fingers. One way to do this is to work from large holds to progressively smaller ones, making sure not to overexert the fingers. When you do no such preparation (or activation) of the muscles of the forearm before going straight to a small crimp, this places massive strain on the small bones and ligaments of the fingers, which can result in injury.

An easy and progressive hangboard routine before climbing is all you need to properly prepare the fingers for intense climbing.

This principle is easy to explain – don’t do too much too soon. Progressive overload means increasing the training load SLOWLY so that the body can properly adapt. For example, it is possible to do a one-arm, one-finger pull up… but this kind of achievement is only possible through the progressive overload principle. The small bones, tendons and ligaments of which we spoke have the incredible ability to increase over time in in size, density and overall strength, given the proper stimulus. If we treat our training like the tortoise would, slow and steady, we will see continual improvement (and hopefully avoid injuries too).

Bend a piece of wire in the same spot for long enough and it will snap.

Training variety in any programme is not only crucial for varying the stimulus and ensuring continual improvement, but it is also vital to avoiding injuries. Progressive overload or not, if you stress the same structure in exactly the same manner for long enough, it will lead to injury. Luckily climbing in itself is never exactly the same as routes and boulders all require different movement. Specific training, however, such as hangboarding or campusing the same routine every time you come to the gym is a sure way to get injured, or plateau, or both.

Mix your training up and change your routines every now and then to avoid staleness and injuries.

Last, but definitely not least, know your limits.

When it’s the end of the session and you are gassed, keep it to volume climbing on routes and boulders which are not close to your limit.

In the same vein, stay away from any max power and strength exercises such as hangboarding and campusing at the end of a session or when you are tired. It’s these moments when the small supporting muscles in your hands and other joint structures will be tired and these exercises will become extra high risk.

Happy sending!