The 2020 outdoor climbing season is over for me. I had the goal/idea of climbing 5.12 outside this season, which I didn’t even come close lol!… 2020 climbing ended up being an exploratory journey into harder climbing, which is exactly what I needed, and honestly, brought me to a place I never thought I would be with climbing. Overall, I am still rounding out my foundation of 11a/b climbs and learning about correcting muscle imbalances in my forearms.
5 Months Ago I Started to Think About Climbing 5.12. Where am I now?
So, am I ready to try 5.12? lol! No. Am I ready to climb 11a as perfectly as I can and ideally flash it? Yes. Am I ready to give my best effort to flashing 11b? Yes. Am I ready to tackle 11c/d with the hopes of being able to do every move even if when I stuck at every single crux? Yes. I think I am doing a pretty OK job in embracing Arno Ilger’s philosophy in Rock Warrior Way. I NEVER thought this would be me. The point for me is, I’m 39, and have never been this fit in my life. 39 and on the way up, not down.
I have read in more than one place, that 40-something athletes are a thing these days, so, yay! Our age group is called “masters.” Basically, it is the age group where biology starts to work against us. Masters. We sound a little pretentious, lol! Anyway, go us!
Kris Hampton, the author of an amazing book of climbing inspiration called The Hard Truth, had the goal to climb 5.14 by the time he was 40. I was inspired to learn that, we have so much in common, I’m not alone! Lol! Warning, if you pick the book up to read, it could feel like a punch in the jaw, or what I imagine a punch in the jaw could feel like. Nothing about the tone of the book is gentle, calling the tone tough love is even euphemistic! It is a kick ass read, even if at times you are like, “Jeeze, this Kris guy is a real ass-hole.”
The End of the 2020 Climbing Season
Fall 2020 was just a great climbing season. We made it to the NRG 3 times. The last climbing trip of the season was a week at the RRG over Thanksgiving.
I went into the Thanksgiving RRG trip with a bit of a tendonitis feeling in my right elbow: a sign that I had been neglecting something over the last 4 months. By the end of the trip, my PIP joint on my right index finger was tender and fat looking and the tendonitis feeling was still there in my elbow, obviously. I actually skipped the last climb of the trip because of it, and I cried.
This was a route worth shedding a tear over. It gets all the stars. All of ’em. Witness the Citrus at Fruit Wall. A 100 foot huge RRG overhung 11c jug haul. My index finger was fat and a bit tender, I knew my elbow was weird, and I decided that my fat finger and elbow were more important than that one climb, but it was HARD to own my decision to skip it. Rob had to talk me through it.
2021 Climbing Season Begins with!… Overuse Injury Rehab.
So, I begin my 12 month adventure to climbing 5.12 with a wee bit of tendonitis in my elbow and a fat index finger. The fat finger was capsulitis, basically extra synovial fluid in my PIP joint caused by cartilage stress from crimping. (Thank you Eric Horst! I learned everything I know about climbing injuries from Training for Climbing.) I won’t go so far as to say that these overuse injuries were a blessing, but if it weren’t for these injuries I wouldn’t have evolved my training of non-climbing muscles.
Training non-climbing muscles, what was I doing pre-injury? Specific non-climbing strength training: I did shoulder press, bench press, I-Y-T with TRX bands, lat-pulls with TRX bands, LRC pushups, and I did reverse wrist curls. I did this once a week, wrist curls maybe twice a week. Either the frequency or the variety of exercises, this was not enough for me.
Side Note: TRX Hack!
TRX bands are awesome, but you DO NOT need to spend $100. You can make TRX bands with your climbing gear. 4 carabiners, 2 long slings (or cut pieces of old rope), and some kind of handle. Heck, if you use rope, you only need 2 carabiners and you could just tie a fat knot in the end and use that as a handle. Screw a couple of screw eyes into wood beams in your basement ceiling and voila!
Are Your Tendons Keeping Up With Your Training? Mine weren’t!
The most concerning injury was my elbow. Over the past several months, I have been increasing the load on the muscle climbing harder stuff, and the muscle has kept up, but the tendon has not. I thought plenty about how my muscles were keeping up with recovery and repair, but I never thought about how well my tendons were keeping up. Turns out for one tendon, it was not keeping up.
Looking at the list of non-climbing specific exercises I was doing regularly, in hindsight, it was a lot of shoulders and chest stuff and not a lot of forearm stuff.
- Bench Press
- I, Y, T on TRX
- Lat Pulls on TRX
- Shoulder Press
- LRC Push-Ups
- Reverse Wrist Curls
New Exercises to Balance Forearm Strength
I made a consultation and a telemedicine appointment with a sports physiologists who specializes in climbing. He climbs at my gym, Reach Climbing and Fitness, and has helped a lot of climbers through his company Climb On Physical Therapy. (I learned a lot, and he is doing telemedicine appointments! So check out the page if you’ve got an injury!) Starting to learn about how forearm muscles work is hard learning. It is a lot of visualization! “So, if my arm is going down with resistance, then this muscle is lengthening and under stress, and this muscle here is shortening, so…” In my mind, it is like a Wile E Coyote scheme to catch the Road Runner, with lots of arrows pointing every which way and an anvil somewhere.
So, new exercises to help correct my forearm muscle imbalances:
- Hammer things
- Bar with the rope things
- Half reverse wrist curls
- Hangboard pulls
The very interesting thing about a lot of these exercises is that I have do the part of the exercise that strengthens eccentric muscle movement, or load on a muscle while it is lengthening, not shortening. So, you probably know exactly what I mean by the hammer thing exercise for your forearm and the bar with rope thing, but for me can’t just do the exercise willy-nilly. I have to only to the eccentric part of it. So, if you are thinking about adding these things to your resistance training, make sure you know what part of the muscle movement you are trying to train. If you jump in willy-nilly, you could end up strengthening muscles that don’t need it and just increasing any imbalance you might have.
For me, December is all about getting back into heavier strength training with some added training to correct my forearm muscle imbalances. I’m back to lifting heavy weights and applying what I learned in TLS. I’ve also kept in some exercises I really liked from Thrive Fitness. And, of course, I’ve got the shoulder stabilizing exercises from Training for Climbing. And the icing on the cake, the eccentric exercises to correct my forearm imbalances. Last but not least, cardio in the form of trail running and track workouts.