Avoid injury and overtraining in climbing
Updated: Jul 16, 2022
Most climbers are interested in how they can improve their performance, squeeze more workouts into a week, and get more out of gym session; few climbers slow down to consider that maybe they’re doing too much.
Realistically, most people in the United States aren’t getting enough exercise to ever worry about overtraining (according to the CDC, only 7% of Americans participate in the recommended amount of exercise). That being said, there are plenty of dedicated gym rats that are regularly overtraining.
All of the following are signs that you’re potentially overtraining:
You feel overly fatigued during your workouts
Your joints ache and you always feel on the edge of injury
Despite regular/consistent workouts, your climbing ability has been at a plateau for months
You’re climbing 6-7 days per week for months on end
You participate in copious amounts of cross-training (running, lifting, etc.)
You’re climbing all the time, but you seem to have gotten worse
Hard work is highly respected among athletes. We’ve all heard a variety of old sayings that encourage working harder than others, things like “hard work beats talent”. While that might generally be true, that type of mindset has led a number of athletes (include mountaineering athletes) down a dangerous road of training too much, not resting enough, and becoming injured. We’ve previously discussed at some length the types of injuries that individuals can develop from rock climbing, and we’ve also detailed ways in which to effectively take rest days. Here, we expand this discussion by addressing techniques that are specifically beneficial for overcoming a bout of being overtrained.
Consider a Detraining Period
A detraining period is an extended period of rest, and most dedicated athletes need a detraining period more than they realize. A detraining period involves taking 1-3 weeks of limited physical activity. That doesn’t mean no activity (we still encourage active rest activities, such as yoga), but athletes are encouraged to not climb for a couple of weeks to allow their muscles a full recovery and to return to “baseline” levels of being well-rested.
Most hardcore and obsessively fit individuals have a hard time wrapping their head around the concept of “detraining” because, in many ways, it goes against every fiber of their fitness identity. Rather than working out, going on long runs and/or hitting the climbing gym to get ready for the mountains, detraining encourages athletes to do little or no exercise. While this might at first seem counterintuitive, individuals that have been obsessively training for months (or years) greatly benefit from an extended rest period, and might actually find they climb better than ever after a little time off. Not to mention, a detraining period helps fend off chronic injuries (little aches and pains) that slowly creep in on hard-working athletes.
Making major dietary changes is a tricky concept to approach, and we by no means recommend making any serious diet changes without communicating with a registered dietitian. That being said, a number of coaches and nutritionists recommend some basic dietary changes to athletes that feel they are overtraining.
If you’re routinely sore and feel that you’re struggling to recover from your workouts, you might want to consider increasing your protein intake. Protein is the macronutrient that helps your muscles recover/heal, and increasing its consumption might keep you from becoming over-trained; conventional nutrition science suggests training athletes can consume 2.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in a day – but it’s best to space that protein intake out by only consuming 20-30 grams of protein per hour.
If soreness isn’t an issue for you but you feel extremely fatigued or “bonked” during your workouts, consider increasing your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are often demonized by popular diet regimes, but if you’re a hard working athlete on a low-carb diet you might struggle to keep up with the demands of your training regime. It is important to seek out your carbohydrate intake from healthy sources such as brown rice and whole grain bread.
We get it, life is busy and it’s easy to prioritize doing stuff oversleeping more. That being said, missing out on sleep is going to leave you feeling chronically fatigued and more prone to overtraining your body. It’s imperative, especially if you are training hard in the gym, that you prioritize sleeping at least 6 hours a night. Some individuals might find that they need even more sleep, and there’s no shame in sleeping 8 hours per night if that’s what your body demands.
Sleeping more might mean getting to bed earlier than you’re used to, small lifestyle changes will help you get to sleep earlier and feeling more energized throughout your day.
Rest is Best
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to take more rest than you’ve previously allowed your body to take! If you’re only making it to the gym a few times a week as it is, it’s probably unlikely that you’re overtraining. However, if you’re a hardcore athlete that’s training 5-6 times a week, you’re going to eventually have to recognize that a detraining period will be extremely beneficial for your health and fitness. Further, consider how dietary changes might be beneficial for your recovery – but seek out a dietitian before making any radical changes. Finally, you probably need to sleep more; if you’re only sleeping 4-5 hours a night your body is going to have a hard time recovering from difficult workouts.
More than anything, it’s important that you listen to your body. Overtraining can be just as bad (or even worse) than not training enough. Even professional athletes have to be careful of overtraining, so there’s no shame in taking some precautions against too much hard work.
When it comes to injury prevention, consider these Proactive Approaches.