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Boost Volume without Side Effects: Skill #1

How to boost climbing volume without side effects. Slow down your first few days back.

I'm so excited to help you to get back to doing what you love.

This intro article is just for those trying to boost their volume without getting injured.

Rest assured, you yourself can avoid these common issues as well, if you follow my responsible return to climbing plan. So this week, we hone in on my first recommendation in a weekly tutorial including the HOW and WHY of what that looks like. It's a first in the line of educational emails on boosting volume and load without side effects. A HINT, it follows my podcast, which has already aired. Listen to it on iTunes. But first, let's start with self control and WHY you want to watch your speed going up that route (or problem).

Why do you need to control your return to climbing after an injury?

(Or as a newbie):

Many freshly back to rock climbing will often go crazy once released to climb, adding as much gym time in as possible. The hunger has been reignited! (or at least taken off of a very short leash). I've done it, and chances are that you have done it too. Perhaps numerous times. As we age, and as our bodies return again and again from injury, it might not be as easy to return in such a feverish manner. (Even IF you are "just practicing" technique and skills.

Your tissues need TIME to respond to the loads you place them under to come back stronger and healthier. It's the application of the load, followed by time off, that allows your joints, muscles and tendons to come back healthier. If you choose to return immediately to the gym, climbing day-after-day, you can forget that you are also overloading the body with application of load, tension and layers of irritation onto a body that isn't prepared to handle it. Even IF you are just practicing technique and skills while you go.

What if you are coming back from injury?

Seasoned climbers can usually return to climbing easier and faster than a non-climber. Perhaps you have taken days or months off and have this big beautiful base of nice strong tendons and bone attachments for your return. Great! BUT keep in mind that your tissues might have had SO much time off that they see this immediate high level of climbing as a damaging stimulus. If this is so, returning back at a high volume and climbing at your usual speed won't give you any benefit. I often see high levels of tightness and tendonitis as a result. If this is you, we ease back in at 40% of your volume and see how your body responds.

What if you just have had a few months or years away?

If YOU have taken a bit of time off, either due to work or illness, and are returning to the sport, this first tip is going to help you BIG TIME. I’ve taught this very subject to my clients and together we have noticed 75% better response in returning to climbing without re-injury or symptoms arising elsewhere.

What if you are returning on a healed injury?

Returning to climbing in a controlled fashion has never been so important.

I have seen SO many "tweaks" or aches and pains consistent with returning to climbing without a game plan. Take some time to think of the rest of your body, and the introduction it needs to be prepared for the demands of climbing:

  • Consider that while your finger has been healing, your shoulders, hips and ankles might have become stiff and weak with all the time off and as the stabilizers have atrophied, your body will want to be more cautious doing the same moves you used to do, at least until it gets used to it again.

  • Your forearm musculature might have forgotten how to climb, and the endurance will absolutely be WAY less than you had before all that time off.

For a high-end athlete, it can take only 2 weeks of time off to become completely out of shape. The body becomes inefficient at transfer of oxygen into the tissue, with waste removal at the site of injury, and the complete contraction in the muscle belly lessens and involves less tissue fibers. So as you return, we consider this and are gentle with our body in these key ways:

So after all this lead up, here is my first and BEST recommendation for those returning to climbing. If I could give you only ONE recommendation, this is the one that I see the MOST difference in regards to less injury, more days a week being able to climb, and a more streamlined match to your goals vs. training plans:

Number 1. Our focus for this week: Climb slower.

Yes. As you climb, go SLOWER. This might seem like a tiny almost imperceptible addition to your climbing, but it will have a LARGE impact on how many days a week you can climb. In the beginning, the re-introduction of your body to climbing, we simply slow down and are going for volume my friend. Breathe, soft feet, smooth motions that might have a nice stretch in them...

So, give the friends who cheer you on a thumbs up, and add in a stretch, a soft rest and gracefully move up the wall while they sigh at how pretty your climbing is. I learned this from my friend and client Amber who was recovering from a finger injury. We were outside of Rifle in the gem that is NewCastle and the West Elk Crag. Amber's motions were so SLOW and so SMOOTH that I swear she was doing a yoga sun salutation series as she moved step by step up the limestone. It was only a 5.9 but I swear I've never been so educated on the HOW of getting up a wall. I've never tried a warmup like that. ON the wall?! Sure! She smoothly and slowly clipped each piece of gear, took time loading each grip and stretched into it, maybe a hip, maybe a calf, before clipping or grasping the next hold. We all have climbers we emulate when we are on the wall. For upper body suppleness and flow, I always imagine my lesson learned from Amber (owner of Wolverine Publishing).

For your own climbing, We care more how much you can rest on that climb, how supple you can be as you move, and how controlled and graceful you can be as you glide between moves. It's not all heaving, swinging and grunting (at least not by everyone). If you ARE heaving, swinging or grunting, you are without a doubt climbing too hard in your first week back. Just saying.

As we slowly introduce our body to this motion, and strength over time requirements of climbing, this technique gives your body the option of sending more blood flow to our forearms (who in all likelihood are wondering WHAT is going on). Your hands and forearms have just been sitting there, for days weeks or months, doing the slightest of tasks like gripping a pen or carrying a water bottle, and NOW you are asking them to contract, over and over without the slightest heads up? Makes sense!

It's quite a shock to your forearms in your first few days of climbing.

Regardless of if you are a seasoned athlete who took too long off, or a newbie who is trading in the keyboard (or the weights) for limestone or plastic. Remember that the muscles of your hands forearms and shoulders probably don’t need this extra blood flow in other times of the day and are likely to not be very good at making it happen as quickly as we might like. Please try to see things from their perspective...

As seen in my average climber, if we climb slowly, your spasm response (near and around old injuries and stiff tight regions that haven't moved all day) will absolutely be WAY lower (I would estimate that spasms when returning to climbing are 25% of normal in my average client because we gently introduce volume first).

Because of the slow methodical climbing pace, your body will be WAY less likely to “twang” here or there near an old injury as a result. Remember, your body shouldn’t be asked to contract in a way it hasn’t in months or years without a nice warmup, a few tutorial remember-me movements and a handful of sessions preparing it for this motion before any surprises. This is where your body begins to feel safe and less like you are trying to injure it.

Check out my next article NEXT week, the Tap Test, to let you know if you need more time between climbs. Meet you at the same place, same time to give you the NEXT reminder for understanding and working with your body. ;-)

If you want to subscribe to get that RIGHT in your inbox, instead of looking for it, you can click here to subscribe to my educational emails.

And as always, I want to learn what YOU want to hear about. Shoot me your thoughts at @theclimbingdoc (Twitter, Facebook or Instagram). This year I'm making an effort to help the three classifications of climbers with a special focus on each type of climber: Newbies, Veteran climbers, and injured climbers. Each need specific recommendations and tutorials that the other classifications might not need or be interested. Please bear with me as I learn how to get you all what you want to see (and skip what you don't) so I can bring you what you want to learn the most.

Happy Holds!!


Dr. Lisa


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