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.


Brent Apgar DC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brent Apgar DC said...

Amazing post, thank you. I've been climbing for over a decade (granted no where near a world standard) and work as a therapist focused primarily on sports medicine in climbing. It's great to hear a climber of your caliber addressing this issue. Trying to educate the climbing community on the advantages of preventative and maintenance care has been a very frustrating task at best.

Another topic of recent interest to me is the mis-perception of the climbing community w/ respect to the difference between rehabilitation therapy and sport performance. I feel like a lot of climbers think that rehab and performance coaching are synonymous and that they should be able to get sound training advice from their Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, D.O's, etc... and become frustrated w/ the "sports med" establishment when this is not the case.

Again, thanks for the post and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this important subject as they evolve.
Brent Apgar

Anonymous said...

What about using climbing for rest days? Just to get the blood moving. Very light activity with no muscle fatigue. Bad idea?

Dave MacLeod said...

Yes light climbing can be a good idea so long as it's light enough for the stage you are at with your training or immediate/longer term goals.

Ian said...

Something I always wonder about is the effect of moderate alcohol consumption on recovery (e.g. 1-2 drinks). I have a daily bedtime cocktail and I seem to recover OK from training and I see strength and endurance gains. That's about the only drinking I do.

I know there's evidence that alcohol can dampen protein synthesis, lower testosterone levels, etc, but I've never been clear on how much alcohol consumption it takes to get those effects. Especially interesting to consider in conjunction with the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is quite good for overall health.

I guess I could always try giving up the cocktails for a month and see if I can handle greater training intensity.

(I know that alcohol is a source of unnecessary weight for many, but I'm a skinny 25 year-old with like 9% body fat. Not too worried about that.)

Anonymous said...

"Yes light climbing can be a good idea so long as it's light enough for the stage you are at with your training or immediate/longer term goals"

Any chance of expanding on this idea?


Anonymous said...

I always presumed that meant really easy for you climbing so for me at E1 and F6a indoors then climbing Diff to V Diff would feel very light and be easy, but maybe Dave means something else. I'd also appreciate further enlightenment on what 'very light climbing' might mean as I try to recover from hammering it this winter.

Kyle said...

Thanks for taking on rest. There are tons of info on how to train, but very little on how to rest.

So, the question is....How much to rest for hard climbing? On a short climbing trip the answer is easy. Very little. We are currently on an extended climbing trip so a sustainable climbing / resting ratio is important. We are on an every other day schedule with an occasional 2 day rest.

Anyone else have a magic formula?

Terry said...

Dave, just wondering if you've any insights into multi-pace training (I'm a middle distance runner as well as a climber) and how it applies to climbing.
The idea being that in every micro-cycle there are training sessions focusing on runs/climbs at a different pace/grade. You change the focus gruadually throughout the year as you aim for your peak. Benefits are it's easier to maintain than gain, and that you make small changes in each following cycle, avoiding the sudden changes that cause overuse injury.

Think this is interesting because I know a lot of climbers who thinking of periodisation as splitting their training into 3/4 distinct parts of the year, getting rapid gains and then moving on when they hit a plateau.

Anonymous said...


I notice you're writing a book about climbing injuries. If you're covering anterior dislocation of the shoulder/subluxion and want any case studies/experiences then feel free to email me, maybe my experiences will help others to recover faster and with less hassle. email sandstonemassiv@yahoo.co.uk


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