17 March 2010
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.