Proactive Approaches to Injury Prevention
Updated: Jan 20
Most athletes have experienced a training-related injury over the course of their athletic career. While not all injuries are avoidable, the truth is that many of them are—especially when you’re training or competing in a non-contact sport like climbing.
Types of Injuries
First, you need to know that there are two major types of injuries athletes might encounter—acute injuries and chronic injuries.
Acute injuries happen suddenly without any lead-up, and they are often the result of a specific traumatic unexpected event. One example of an acute injury is suddenly straining a muscle while attempting a dramatic dyno move. These types of injuries are less common, but most of us have experienced “pulling a muscle” when we are pulling hard.
Chronic injuries are long-term and persistent injuries that build up over time. Sometimes these feel inescapable and frustrating to an athlete. A climber that has noticed pain gradually growing and setting into their joints, or is complaining of ongoing aches in their joints, is probably suffering from a chronic injury. These types of injuries are not the result of any one event. These are usually “repetitive use” injuries that typically originate from overuse. If not carefully treated or prevented early, these injuries only become worse over time.
Acute and chronic injuries can be serious, and if you’re already injured, it’s time to consult a medical professional. However, most injuries are entirely avoidable if you take some proactive steps to prevent them. Preventing injuries is a mindset too many athletes adopt after an injury. Remaining proactive about injury prevention can save you mountains of pain and frustration down the road. While not all injuries are entirely preventable, a little bit of forethought regarding your health and longevity can go a long way. In most aspects of climbing and sports in general, it’s not enough to think about what you’re capable of doing today or next month. Rather, think about what you want your body to be capable of in 5 or 10 years.
Here, we’ve outlined six tips that all athletes should be incorporating into their training regimes. Remember, a proactive mindset is key to keeping you healthy and climbing well.
Train within your limits
Don’t be a hero. Attempting to take huge jumps beyond your known climbing ability is asking for trouble. If you’re a V3 climber, you don’t have to go after a crazy V8 dyno move just because your friends are. This doesn’t mean you can’t train hard and take the occasional leap of faith to test your limits. Just don’t drastically overextend yourself into terrain your body is not prepared for. This will only put you at risk for both chronic and acute injury.
It is incredible how many climbers don’t take the warm-up seriously. Warming up is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re taking your training seriously and actively taking care of your body. Resist the temptation to rush directly into your main workout because you’re in a rush to get home or eager to try out the new 5.11 in the gym. Failing to warm-up sets your cold muscles up for an acute injury. This will make you more susceptible to chronic injuries over time.
Know when to stop
It’s important to listen to your body when it’s giving you warning signs to stop. Some athletes are eager to train even if their body is telling them something hurts. We get it, you’ve made it all the way to the gym, and you want to get your workout in or push just a little bit harder. It’s not worth it.
If you’re noticing some aches and pains, it’s probably time to call it a day. Most people will think “it’s not that bad” and continue to train, but you’re running the risk of causing an acute injury or aggravating a chronic injury. Taking a day or two off from the gym in the short term is significantly better than taking weeks off after causing more severe damage.
You must plan rest days. Overtraining is a genuine thing, and it’s happened to many ambitious athletes. Most recreational athletes probably think they take too many rest days (and that’s probably true for most people). If you’re in the gym frequently, strategically planning rest days will significantly improve your athletic performance and training longevity. Remember, 3 days on will probably make you weaker, not stronger.
If most climbers (or athletes in general) are honest with themselves, they will admit that they don’t stretch enough (or at all). Making stretching a habit post-workout is essential for preventing chronic injuries. Religiously stretching for 15 minutes after your gym session will keep you feeling better throughout your workday and your gym workouts. Don’t rush through the stretching either. Holding poses for a minimum of 30 seconds is necessary to overcome your body’s natural stretch reflex. Stretching will keep you limber and comfortable in life and on the climbing wall.
Climb With Good Form
Many climbers sacrifice proper climbing techniques to muscle their way up a route that they’re not ready for. Resisting this temptation might cause you to sacrifice your ego in the short-term, but will save you injuries in the long run. If you’re a new climber and have no idea what proper climbing technique is, consider seeking out a more experienced coach or mentor. Small differences in climbing techniques can have significant consequences for your joints.