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With the winter season upon us, our schedules are getting busier and less consistent. Students are beginning their long-awaited winter breaks, some of us are traveling to visit family, and others are enjoying some well deserved time off. It’s important to enjoy the break, but it’s equally important to remain active on rest days. Taking too many days away from climbing or training in the winter months can impact mood, endurance, and strength.

Feeling of Euphoria

After a great session at the gym, we experience a feeling of euphoria. Our energy level increases, our mood lightens, we are more productive, and we carry that feeling with us for up to 24 hours. This feeling is due, in part, to endorphins. These hormones can even block pain-receptors and lessen feelings of pain. The next day, we decide to return to the gym and the cycle continues. The after-effects of a great session are what help to bring us back to the gym, sometimes allowing us to send harder on the second or third day in a row. If we take more than 24 hours off, that feeling of euphoria fades away as does our motivation. We forget what that great session felt like, sometimes to the point of intimidation. If enough time passes, even 2-3 days, we remember that last session differently. Suddenly that was the best you’ve ever climbed, and you aren’t confident you can climb that hard today. So you take another day off. Taking 3 or more days off from climbing will usually result in a poor return. In theory, you are well-rested and should be able to climb hard. Instead, you lack confidence in your abilities, your skin is sensitive and you decide to just make it a light day.

“I forgot how to climb.”

“I forgot how to climb.” I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. If it’s only been a few days since your last climbing day, you haven’t forgotten anything except maybe a few key sequences in your beta. It’s more likely that your confidence and endurance have diminished. Studies show that endurance begins to decrease at around 10 days of detraining, while strength diminishes at the two-week mark. If you plan to take an extended leave from climbing, try to get in a run, bike, HIIT class, or other workout to keep up your cardiovascular endurance. In addition, try to incorporate some sort of resistance training into your day – weight training, resistance bands, hangboarding, even bodyweight exercises – something to challenge your strength and muscular endurance. You’ll have more confidence upon your return and once-familiar body movements won’t feel as foreign or forgotten.

Rebuild Your Crimp Credit

General exercise helps maintain body weight, improves muscular and skeletal strength, improves mood, and increases energy. It also prevents injury. Many coaches have found that the best way to prevent climbing-related injuries is to climb! Climbing works our tendon strength, shoulder and hip mobility, core, and even ankle strength unlike many other sports. You can train your grip with ropes and weights, but nothing will prepare your fingers for small crimps like climbing on small crimps. Building finger strength is like building credit. Both take time, require constant attention, and only take one mistake to endure a long setback. In the same sense, the less time spent on crimps, the more deconditioned you are for working on a crimp problem. If you spend two weeks on jugs, slopers, and pinches, you’re working your forearms well but your fingers aren’t prepared to get on the new, crimpy climbs at the gym. Same goes for taking time off. You have to rebuild your crimp credit by slowly introducing your fingers to small jugs, ledges, and eventually crimps. You can do this on the wall, on campus rungs or hangboards, or even at home if you have a hangboard of your own.

Climbing requires well-honed technique and a layering of experiences. Whether you’re taking advantage of the crisp temps and getting outside, or gearing up for the Climb So iLL Winter Bouldering Series, climbing and training should continue to be a priority. Remember that a day off from climbing doesn’t have to mean a day off from the gym. Do your best to move, lift, hang, and reflect on your last climbing session. Watch other climbers. Mentally working beta or route reading from the ground will keep your motivation high and encourage a quick return to the wall.

Jess Blanton

Author Jess Blanton

Jess Blanton is an instructor and routesetter at Climb So iLL. She holds an M.S. in Sport and Exercise Science and is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer. From setting nutritional goals to developing customized training plans, Jess works with all types of climbers – regardless of ability, experience, or age.

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