You train hard regularly, months on end. You work your climbing sessions into your schedule, even on vacations. You eat healthy food and feel that you can move mountains, then jump over them. But you don’t. You feel sore and tired and sense an injury lurking from the next hold. Should you push even harder? Probably not.
Maybe you’re actually overtraining. If you are, it doesn’t mean you need to stop but introduce some changes to your routine. However, if you are doing too much or doing something wrong, you risk injury. Then you’ll have to stop.
But, how much climbing is too much?
As with every extreme lifestyle, going at it too hard and without full preparation can produce adverse effects. At best, your training will not yield results adequate to the input. At worst, by climbing too much and excessively training for climbing, you can injure yourself. Balanced, diverse training and lifestyle are the remedy.
Our article will help you understand the benefits of regular training, but also the disadvantages of overtraining.
Table of Contents
Great Climbing Training Is Not Excessive. Don’t Overtrain
Some climbers train for a hobby or a workout. If you’re in this group, you probably train once or a couple of times a week. Your training may be more or less straining and regular. Keep it up!
Then, there are lifestyle climbers, people hanging on a wall or under a boulder whenever they can make it happen. They schedule holidays near climbing sites, scour places they visit for climbing opportunities, and hang off fingerboards in their homes during conference calls.
You’ll recognize yourself if you’re in this group. You train maniacally and return to complete problems you failed to clear and keep on training and pushing yourself until you do. Then you can move on. Great stuff, keep it up, but: keep yourself healthy on all fronts, and don’t push only the climbing/training part.
How Does Your Body React to Excessive Climbing?
Clearing harsh obstacles and solving problems in climbing asks much of your body and mind. You force the body to create leverages it wasn’t designed for. You ask your fingers and limbs to withstand pressure a regular person can’t even imagine. All that while your mind brushes off the fatigue and pain to calculate a strategy against gravity. It’s gratifying to make it, and that compels you to push yourself beyond limits.
However, let’s not forget that climbing in any form is an extreme sport, even when all safety measures are in place. Climbers who overtrain or train improperly reach their limit early and are exposed to injury.
At that, overtraining is a risk in any sport. How does it happen in climbing, and when do we give ourselves a break to prevent it?
Climbers Channel Incredible Forces to Small Joints and Muscles
Any top-level sport is about pushing our bodies and minds to the limit. Only so can we expand our abilities. And any extreme sport drives you the same way – climbing included.
So, it makes sense that climbing and training for it at peak power three, four, or more days a week will steadily expand your limit over months. Not really. Not in any sport, but especially not in climbing.
While climbers only typically work out with only their own body weight, there is a misconception that injuries typical for powerlifting are impossible. That why many people have in mind when comparing rock climbing and weightlifting.
A climber often hangs all of the own weight on the tips of a few fingers. That way, all of the forces are channeled through the fingers, wrists, forearms, straining delicate joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
That disproportionate strain on your small joints and muscles means you must let them rest well and regenerate. Just as powerlifters must rest the big muscles after working out with heavyweights.
Training too frequently, without allowing your body the time it needs to rest and regenerate will actually decelerate, halt and eventually reverse your progress through injury.
Climb Too Much And You Risk Fatigue
In climbing, the most common warning sign that you’re overtraining is profound fatigue. Then come pains and aches in the joints of your fingers, hands, shoulders, with the feeling that you’re on the verge of injury.
The pain, fatigue, and weariness limit your ability both from the physical and the mental end. That prevents you from ordering your body into performing moves and exercises you know you were able to do, and that spurs frustration and creates the potential for injury.
Rock Climbing Injuries and Excessive Training
Injury is what any athlete needs to avoid. Because of the strain focused on the small joints, climbers face injuries that could keep them off the walls and rock for a long time. Those injuries also tend to return and frustrate their training in the long term. It’s impossible to generalize, but it’s also clear that trying too hard may cause injury.
- Injuries to fingers, most often pulley, flexor tendon tear, and collateral ligament strain, are common amongst climbers. A ring finger may give in on that “last” attempt to solve a problem, particularly late in the training session. That could require months before you can climb again.
- The median nerve may pop out of its seat across the elbow in an overambitious attempt to pull your body from an overhang. If you failed several times, try an alternative or just leave it for the next time and when you’re fresh. Otherwise, you may be unable to shake hands for a couple of months, much less climb.
- Wrists, knees, toes, and shoulders are exposed to injury, and the risk grows with the duration of the training and the number of attempts. Added weight for practice also adds to the threat.
Diversify Your Climbing Routine, Spread the Strain
Before you self-diagnose yourself with overtraining, take a look at your training routine. Sometimes we develop the symptoms of overtraining by doing the same thing over and over again. Perhaps you’re repeating closely related exercises, the same climbing routines regardless of the wall and rock.
You may find relief in a simple change. Consulting your trainer, if you have one, could help. If you don’t, ask one for advice.
It takes really a lot for an advanced climber to overtrain. Most amateurs don’t reach such extremes and, if they try too much too soon, they’re likely to become injured before getting to the overtrained part.
So, if you feel that you aren’t excessively straining yourself but still suffer the effects of overtraining, consider mixing your routine up a bit. Adding variety to your climbing sessions can go a long way in providing your body with rest and the mind with the motivation they need to remain energized for the training. Maybe you tried diversifying and aren’t getting better.
Lifestyle Matters as Much as Training: Sleep Enough, Eat Well
If you’re confident that you aren’t putting your body through too much hard work, there may be different issues.
First of all, your lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is so much more than just working out. Getting enough sleep and having a proper diet are just as important. Overtraining can spoil this. An average adult needs at least six hours of sleep, but some may require more than that, especially alongside hard training.
We live busy, fast lives, and too many people cut into their sleeping to make room for activities. But a lack of sleep may lead to hard-to-trace chronic fatigue, even if you wake up all chirpy in the morning.
Adjusting your schedule for an extra hour of sleep can make a difference to how you feel during the day, at work, in training, and even your leisure. And yes, you should take the time to relax.
Proper Nutrition for Climbers
People should feel better when they train. If you’re healthy and rest enough and yet aren’t well – perhaps you’re not giving your body everything it needs. Training spurs our metabolism as it converts nutrients into energy, for action, and for replenishment. That is in itself a strain on the body. If your body must work hard only to break down what you feed it with, it won’t recover as fast as possible (if at all).
However, it isn’t just about consuming healthy food. If you’re pushing your body to its limits, taking in the right volume and the right proportion of nutrients is just as crucial as tossing out junk food. If you’re serious about training at a high level, you should consult a nutritionist for a tailored diet. Still, there are some common points that you can recognize and possibly address.
- Proteins – In case you are often sore after training and take too long to recover, you may consider boosting your protein intake. The recommended intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of your body weight. A single 25-gram protein bar after breakfast could do the trick and will, in any case, cause no harm.
- Carbs – If you aren’t sore but feel unusual fatigue, you could be short on carbs. Yes, excessive carbohydrates are the villain in most diets. Then again, general diets aren’t intended for people burning as much energy as you do.
Athletes on a low-carb diet often feel a lack of energy they need for that additional push. A shot of carbs could provide just that and leave you fresher and more solidly energized. Of course, don’t go for a candy bar, but a healthy source such as brown rice, oats, or whole-grain bread.
Climbing Too Much? Consider Taking a Break
Many athletes, amateur and pro, see detraining as a mortal enemy and balk at it. On the surface, it makes sense. After all, detraining equals dropping the level of fitness through a lay-off period. In other words, losing something that you worked very hard to reach. But if you overworked yourself for it and are because of it flirting with injury – you may consider it.
A break will allow your muscles and joints to regenerate. Your body will be thankful. After it recuperates, you will be set to attack the walls and rocks with renewed vigor. And this time, keep your wellness in mind, taper your training and adjust your habits to avoid returning to the same blind alley.