I've been exclusively bouldering for 15 years. Especially in the first 6 years, I learned a lot about injuries. When it came to getting hurt, I was an expert. In those first years, I injured almost every finger, some of them twice. I've had torn ligaments in both knees, compound dislocation in my right ankle, sprains on the left ankle, elbow tendinitis, bicep tendinitis, pulled hamstring, pinched nerves, rotator cuff injuries, strained abs, bruised instep, tweaked wrists, and corneal abrasion ( see One Eye Willie at the Beavers). In the beginning I was quite the case study. I loved climbing so much that I just could not stop, and therefore could not stop getting hurt. After the first 6 years ( and I don't know why it took so long) I decided that I did not like being injured. It sucks. You wanna climb and you can't. I realized that I was going to find the common denominator of my injuries and use it as a blueprint to avoid them. So over the next few season I came up with some tips to decrease the likelihood of having to get benched. Again, these help to keep you from getting injured but know that even though these tips will help, anything can happen at anytime. From my experience though, here are 8 tips to help keep the odds on your side while climbing.
#1. CRASH PADS: Ok, I know what you're thinking, "way to go Captain Obvious, crash pads huh? no shit sherlock". Well here's why I mention it. Every boulderer I see does have a crash pad yes. Not every climber uses it properly or even uses it. Just to clarify, a pad is not a fashion requirement of bouldering. If you don't put it under you when you climb, then it's a total waste of energy carrying that awkward thing up to the crag. When you put your crash pad under you make sure that you will land in the center of the pad, getting a spotter to assist you is very helpful. Make sure there's no seams in the pad. This is important. All of my ankle injuries were from gaps in the pads rolling my ankles. Keep your legs in tact and use those crash pads. There are many to choose from. Here's my favorite one.
many pads out there, this is the one I rock
#2. DRINK WATER: Pretty basic but very overlooked. Your tendons, hell damn near the whole body is made of mostly water. Every time I injured a finger, I drank no water that day. Every time I've heard a climber injured his finger, he had no water that day. This might be coincidental, but better take another gulp just in case. According to experts, you should have drank about 20 oz of water 2 hours before exercise, 10 oz just before, and drink about 8 oz every 15 min during your activity. No need to get the measuring cup, just make sure that you keep taking a drink of water about every 20 min while bouldering. It helps a lot.
soda or water before climbing, do the right thing!
#3. The NIGHT BEFORE : Just a quick note of something else that helps. If you're sending that big project on a Monday, chances are Sunday's decisions could be influential. So make good choices the night before climbing. Some important things to do would be to eat well ( no double cheese pizza topped with fried chicken, that's post send :) , don't get crunk ( instead of beer and whiskey try WATER), and get plenty of sleep. Sometimes these little things can make a big difference.
#4. WARM UP: This is the step that I see skipped the most. I seen many climbers warm up for their v6 project by trying v8s with cold muscles and no stretching. WTF!! When I am at my best, climbing arguable v13s. I usually warm up for an hour. I do about 4 v0 - v2s, then I do about 5 problems v3 -4. Then I'll do a v5, v6, then do moves on my hard project starting with the easiest sequence and ending on the hardest. It's a slow process but gets your mind and your body ready for the intensity you're about to put it through. So don't be afraid to warm up. Besides, it's one of my favorite parts of bouldering. It's the only time I feel like I'm easily moving on rock. It's the high point of the day usually so skipping it is not an option for me. If you don't like being hurt, I suggest you do the same.
#5. PATIENCE: A virtue and an asset for healthy climbing. This one just helps a little compared to the others but don't write it off. If you're climbing and the weather sucks, patience. If you're climbing and you feel tweaky or not that good, be patient. If you're grabbing spragged crimpers over and over and getting too excited to stop, calm down, breathe deep and use........patience. Remember, the little things.
#6. REST : This one is sort of the better half of the previous. I could have included them together but what sounds better? 7 ways to avoid injuries or 8, you get an extra for free. SO, REST. This means rest between go's , full on rest days between hard climbing days and the dreaded full on big yearly rest for up to a week or two. Resting between goes is a great idea if you're trying to send. How long is up to you. A general rule is to rest 5 min and then one minute for every move you just did. Adjust this as you like it. There's is also the rest days. Bodybuilders recommend resting a worked muscle for 2 to 3 days between breaking it down. Climbers, having little patience (see rule #5), may have to tweak this ( and maybe tweak something else). Then, of course it is recommended that once or twice a year boulderers take off for about 2 weeks to let your entire package recover. I just did this step after my road trip. It was fun, I got to pretend I was a normal person who just watches TV, works, and doesn't do shit with their lives. It was awesome but sure glad that's over. Climbing becomes double exciting after one of these. So remember, REST, it's not just for pussies, it's for hard asses that think being hurt can suck it!
during the big rest, don't be afraid to regularly pass out into mid day
#7. AWARENESS OF THE TWEAK FACTOR: Ok, here's a stretch but another tip none the less. Once in a while we end up trying a boulder or exercise that has a tweak factor, i.e., inverted sprag underclings to offset gaston rose move in a full on Egyptian-bout-to-tear-my-ACL- drop knee. Problems with weird holds, shoulder moves, and screwed up drop knees should be handled with extra care. You don't have to avoid them, but be aware that they are extra risky. Listen to your body when on these climbs and know to walk away before it's too late. Keeping your sessions short on tweaky shit is a good idea.
#8. THERABAND: This is the last piece of advice I got. Much of my tendinitis and rotator cuff problems went away with the use of this simple tool and other resistance exercise. It's a basic concept, take a muscle that you use in climbing a lot and work out the opposing muscle. For example, push ups and triceps will keep your biceps healthy, theraband resistance will keep the shoulders good, ab work outs help out the lower back and so on. There are many exercises that help keep your climbing parts strong and injury free. You can check youtube for instructional videos on different resistance exercises. There are lots and lots. Just type " theraband " in the youtube search engine. I must say that this one tool has helped a lot with my rotator cuff issues and has a been a personal lifesaver. You should do these exercises about 3 -4 days a week for about 15 - 30 minutes. Doing them as a warm up before climbing is also a good idea.
Well, it took me many years to get this list of rules in my head. After the 30th time in a row I got injured climbing, I decided to come up with a protocol that helps decrease this dilemma. And, while anyone can get injured at anytime, following these methods will help keep the odds in your favor. I hope this post helps shorten the learning curve. So, get out there, be smart and climb safe.