29 March 2010

Climbing for active rest

Some of you commented from my last post asking if you could use light climbing as active rest between hard climbing days, and how to judge the intensity. Yes you can do this, but there are some obvious pitfalls. The first is obviously if the ‘light’ climbing isn’t light enough. It’s more of a problem if you are sport climbing than any other discipline. The routes have to feel really quite easy, so at the end of the session you should probably feel fresher than at the start.
Climbers on short (1-2 week) sport climbing trips often tell themselves they’ll just have a light day as active rest so they can avoid having to discipline a boring full rest day while staying at a dream destination. Tough as it is in the short term, the full rest day often works out better down the line. Most climbers standard goes steadily downhill during trips as they  to more volume than they can handle and end up with hands and muscles so totally trashed they can hardly look at a route by the last day. So while on trip, when you are doing more climbing than you are generally accustomed to, full rest is often the best idea. But if you are climbing at home and especially if you know the active rest  climbs/circuits you want to do, you will be less tempted to overdo it, and you might actually help your recovery.
If you are bouldering for some reason it’s a little easier psychologically to discipline yourself to an easy session, just focusing on movement, and jumping off anytime you hit a hard move or get pumped. It’s also easier to fit a very short session in, just ‘swinging past’ the crag to nip up a handful of problems in 30 minutes and then leave before breakfast/lunch or on the way to something else. Adventurous trad is by far the easiest and best active rest day for climbers. It’s great fun, and it’s not hard to find routes that will still feel engaging without being physically challenging. If you are up to it, free-soloing on easy ground is a nice active rest day that's definitely not for everyone.
Don’t get hung up on which grade would be the correct intensity - it’s a guaranteed way to get the intensity wrong. Just focus on how you feel. If you feel like you are recovering and feeling fresher as the session goes on, you’ve got it right.

17 March 2010

Serious resting

I have been reading many books recently in research for a book I am writing. Reading texts on different aspects of professional sport, and training science always makes me feel small. I understand a little more each time how amateur climbing training is compared to real athletes. One of the biggest areas climbers let themselves down is when it comes to resting.
The term ‘resting’, just like ‘training’ causes all sorts of problems in discussion about it’s optimisation, because it brings up a very limited idea of what it involves. So lets think about it by it’s proper and more descriptive term - restoration. When we think of resting between bouts of climbing/training, it conjures up ideas of forgetting about your sport for a bit and just doing something else. Often the something else contributes to rather than relieves the training stress. 
Restoration is a better word because it describes the true goal, which is restoration of the capacity to train. For most people, rest days involve going to work. Everyone has to. But for a lot of people, going to work involves psychological and/or physical stress of other types. Even though the stressors are of a completely different nature, they add to the total amount of stress the body must recover from. And the result is incomplete recovery from the training. Of course, you can’t always do that much about it. Fine - but most climbers don’t recognise that their ‘normal’ training becomes overtraining during times when life gets busy and stress gets overloaded.
And restoration is not just about rest. Training is by definition an exceptional use of the body. And in response the restoration must be of exceptional quality if you expect your body to put up with such abuse for years on end. The quality of the rest time can be increased in all sorts of ways. Good sleep and diet are just the basics. 
Light general exercise is a really useful way to accelerate the recovery from summative general stress. Massage, heat, stretching, are three of countless other therapies that add to the speed you can recover from overworking your body. 
Serious climbers with the time to do all this stuff don’t do it either out of laziness or just being constantly too focused on the training to concern themselves with the other half of the picture. Serious weekend warriors with busy lives don’t do it either, often because they think all that stuff is only for the elite who do enough hard training to warrant it. It’s a mistake though - busy recreational climbers at a low-medium level in climbing suffer from overuse injuries just as much as the elite. Why? Because the recovery state of these climbers is poor and there is not enough build up of training load over time.
Another problem is that young climbers have never felt the frustration of long term injuries, and there is no message from the body that the tissue damage has already started. Young climbers - I guarantee those of you still trying to climb hard in 10-15 years time will curse yourself for not thinking about this now.