Photo courtesy of Javipec
Summing up, I think that for each climbing level, athlete and discipline there should be an injury prevention program integrated in the general training plan. This, in my opinion, calls for:
- Assessing my athletes’ history of previous injuries and goals, and putting in place a routine of compensatory exercises.
- In the context of the general planning, choosing the right exercises and methodology for each mesocycle, carefully periodizing volume and intensity.
- A very important point: teaching how to perform correctly all those exercises and to adjust the load for each of them.
What is the most important advice that you can give climbers to prevent injuries from occurring?
In the first place, be coherent; secondly, learn to manage the load for each exercise and method. By coherence I mean being conscious of your personal and external conditions; if we have recently taken up climbing, it’s neither logical nor healthy to try methods oriented to higher level climbers (it’s not even efficient, because easier, safer methods have been shown to provide similar benefits in beginners!), like campus boarding, weighted dead-hangs, some TRX exercises, etc.
Another example is trying to do what would take 3 hours in just 90 minutes due to external time constraints. This way a supposedly “strength” session can become a high-load endurance one, resulting in small to negligible strength gains and risking overuse. If the exercises are of an explosive nature like campusing, it can be worse yet; we have all witnessed sessions where three patterns come together in a dangerous mix: a method is performed to exhaustion, disregarding execution and ignoring that when our power levels drop below certain threshold during the session, that method no longer has the desired effect. Another frequent case of coherence being put aside is trying to pack into a six-week cycle what should take double that time, just two months before our holidays… because developing stamina and endurance does not work like this, and epicondylalgia is right behind the corner.
As for the second advice, I regard individualization and control of the load as a safeguard against injury, and as a way of getting the desired effects from training. We need to start by learning what the load indicators for each training method are. For example, to develop capacity or ARC, the chosen holds and wall angle will allow completing each set without subjective forearm “pain” exceeding 1-2 in a scale from 1 to 5; if power-endurance is the objective of the exercise, pain can go up to 3-4 during a set or route, and it can build up from one set to the next, until we fall or get to muscle failure just in the last repetition of the last set…
So, when it is managed correctly, the load will allow us to 1) keep a consistently healthy execution and 2) comply with the method’s requirements, in the form of subjective sensations, distance, and time or number of repetitions. If we are struggling to do that, some load parameter has to be modified: hold size and wall angle, added weight, complexity of movements, etc. for maximum strength, length and number of repetitions or pauses for endurance, and edge depth and distance for campus boarding, for citing a few.
I also employ a numerical scale which the climber uses to make a daily evaluation of some aspects that tell us whether we are on the right track.
Another way to make sure we are fulfilling all those requirements is to educate ourselves on methodology and planning, or hiring a professional coach. If we choose the latter, though, part of our success will depend on our selection criteria. I believe that currently every user of coaching services should take a moment to ponder what he or she thinks a qualified coach is, and act accordingly.