How To Prevent Rock Climbing Injuries
As an amateur rock climber I’d like to share my experience and a few things I learned to avoid and practice while taking up the sport of rock climbing. My first rock climbing session was indoors. I hired an instructor to show me the basics on how to grip; pull myself up and how to push off with my legs to get to my next rock. I started with easier climbs where the rocks are closer together and I eventually ventured out to a couple more challenging routes, which the rocks are wider. I underestimated the amount of strategy, focus and strength in doing a leisurely afternoon climb. At the end of my session my forearms were burning, obviously my grip strength needed work. Later I learned I could have used my legs more and a good warm up.
In reading one of the rock climbing forums, warming up is the most mentioned advice when preventing injuries. Before one’s climb, it is suggested to warm up the whole body with any stationary equipment for 5-10 minutes, this gets the blood circulating and tissues more pliable and ready for activity. The next 5 minutes of your warm up should be focused on ankles and hands. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine mentions that 29 percent of the most common types of injuries are sprains and strains of the upper extremity. At 46 percent the most common region of the body is the ankle. This typically is from quick unstable descents or jumping off of boulders. In knowing this, mild hand and ankle functional stretching can reduce injury.
Rock climbing is a sport and it requires strength, flexibility, endurance and balance. Common muscles that are used are back muscles, biceps, wrist and finger flexors. Muscles that are commonly weak are finger and wrist extensors anterior tibialis “shin” muscle , chest and rotator cuff muscles. Stretching the most commonly used muscle and strengthening the muscles that are weak will decrease the risk of injury. Injury can occur with repetitive stress on fingers, wrist or elbow and can result in tendonitis.
If you do not have baseline strength program the following list can get you started. Hiring a professional Fitness coach or personal trainer can be helpful in performing the exercises correctly and design a program that is for your specific strength needs.
Wrist, forearms and fingers: ball squeeze and finger extension will increase your grip strength.
Back: Pull ups or inverted rows on a stationary bar will prepare to pull your own body weight and increase back and grip strength.
Abdominal muscles, hip flexors, lower back and glutes”core”: The core requires an integrated training approach due to the demand of the movement of climbing. Training the core in a sit up will not easily transfer movement pattern on a wall or large rock. A medicine ball or cable chops will be a great place to start.
Legs: You need a strong push off. Lunges, squats and leg press can help you develop strength.
Flexibility is another exercise component that is very important in rock climbing. You need the ability to reach, bend and sometimes twist. A good stretch routine can be found at wikihow.com and rockclimbing.com.
A common question throughout the rock climbing forum, the inside of my finger is blue and swollen and I cannot move it and it is very difficult to do anything…should I see a doctor? My answer would be yes.
If pain is limiting your sport and daily activity, it is time to see an orthopedic doctor. The bottom line is WARM UP, strengthen your muscles, get flexible and don't climb what you are not good enough to climb. Listen to your body and learn when to slow down or even stop when things feel "creaky".