For strong, read ‘robust’. Climbing, more than most sports reverses (or at least alters) the tensile
loads going through the body. Bones, used to absorbing compression forces are suddenly being
stretched and bent and twisted. Ligaments are being pulled on – all the time! And muscles are being
asked not to move but to hold very still.
This creates a conflict in the beginner. Each body tissue type needs to adapt and this takes different
amounts of time depending on the tissue and the force. Muscles are the first to adapt – if I want
strong muscles I just need to repeat a load many times. However, the tendons at the end of the
muscle take at least 6 months to adapt so will complain if the loads applied are too heavy or too
Bones get strong pretty quick too, a few weeks of jumping off boulder problems and you’ll know
what I mean as the ligaments holding you together start to ache. Ligaments take well over a year to
adapt. The most common injuries in climbing walls are sprains and dislocations. Even without
specific trauma the ligaments start to tear and hurt, nowhere is this more painfully noticed in the
climber than in the fingers. Climbers have thicker fingers than non-climbers, fact. But that doesn’t
How, then do you avoid injury when climbing? You don’t, it’s inevitable but don’t be disheartened.
Most climbing injuries make you stronger and they all make you wiser. But here’s a few top tips to
keep in the back of your mind:
• Train for fitness first; climbing is good for cardiovascular fitness if you do enough of it. It
takes 40% more effort for you heart to pump blood to your arms than your legs. So for at
least 6 months stay on the easy stuff but do lots of it.
• Learn good technique early. You may notice at the wall that some people can climb really
hard problems despite them not looking particularly strong; it’s skill. Climbing is a skill you
can learn but unless you’re ‘a natural’ you’ll benefit from professional coaching. Ask yourself;
do you know what the following terms mean. Gaston, flag, dead-point, knee-drop, eccentric
lower, crimp, guppy, barn-door? If not, you need a coach.
• TRAIN for finger strength i.e. specific techniques, don’t assume it will happen on its own. Ask
a coach (a qualified one) for good training tips not your mates, especially the strong ones.
• Stretch – a bit. Not too much if you find it boring or are not a pro climber but frequently
throughout your session especially fingers, pecs, lats and neck. If you get good, stretch a lot.
• Don’t jump off but climb down; reversing climbing moves improves strength AND technique.
• See a Physiotherapist if you get injured. Most climbing walls will use someone who has
specialist knowledge so ask them who they recommend.
They say climbing exercises more muscles in the body than any other sport so there are a lot of ways
to get injured but the reality is that very few people do if compared to something like football or
rugby. Climbing is about control, it is about balance, it is about mental discipline. Climbing is “a head
game” so the best advice is if you’re feeling off your game, don’t climb – you’ll get hurt.
This is John on The Moth on Saturday. A great route at Hard Severe