Longevity in Climbing
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
You are probably reading this because you love climbing, and sometimes you wonder, "how long can I climb for?"
As we grow older, it is normal for physiological changes to occur e.g. fatigue, lack of power, etc. We also start to realise that we are unable to climb through injuries that seem minor to us, or take longer to recover.
Can we climb"hard" as we age?
Yes! We just have to be attuned with what our body is trying to tell us.
When there’s pain, that’s your body telling you to stop and find out what’s wrong. When muscles feel tight, your body is sending you signals to stretch and move - to get mobility work done. These signals our body send doesn’t necessarily mean we should stop climbing at the current intensity or change the sport. It’s for us to be kinder to our body so that we can continue to do what we love.
How “hard” you climb is always relative! It really depends on what climbing hard means to you, in this case let’s define it as climbing at your highest grade. Also, to make this more relatable in the local context, let’s pretend these are your grades in the climbing gyms.
Baseline Grade (Flash, onsight) e.g. 6b/6c
Redpoint grade e.g. 7a/+
Project grade e.g. 7b/+
The truth is, you can’t always be climbing at your redpoint/project grades 2-3x/week. What would be a good way to plan your climbs would be:
(1) 1x/week: Getting in the volume by doing baseline grades
Problem: This might feel too easy!
You can always play with the intensity within these grades.
Try instead, 3 routes back-to-back, or if you want a challenge and are comfortable with the holds, try a weighted climbs with body vest
(2) 1 x/week: Project grade
(3) If you want to get that extra session in, listen to your body! If there’s a project you’d like to send and you feel great that week, go for it. But if you feel lethargic, it’s likely a good idea to hold off. Nothing wrong with working on the moves of your project though!
The Rock Rehab Pyramid
This is a very useful way of self-managing your minor injuries, and also a way for you to know when it’s time to see a physiotherapist!
The bottom of the pyramid starts off with you feeling pain, which is likely due to inflammation and/or tissue being overloaded. This means that before you move on to the next phase, you need to address the pain/inflammation/overload. E.g. NSAIDs, Icing for inflammation and rest.
The most important thing you want to get back during an acute phase of injury is range of motion - if you feel excruciating pain when you try to get ¼ of your range of motion (ROM) after 2-3 days, please see a medical professional.
During this phase of getting ROM, isometric strengthening exercises can also be done which will allow you to nicely build into the strengthening phase and subsequently movement phase is when you start doing climbing specific drills and getting back on the wall.
Here are some thing you should take note of on your next climb!
Injuries can occur when the climber falls from too high a point and lands badly, or in outdoor situations, when the fall happens on the wrong terrain.
The number one way to reduce the risk of injuries is through downclimbing. This is when you climb back down the route before lowering yourself to the ground, or hopping off from a lower height.
Downclimbing may not be as flashy as jumping down from a height, but trust us, your joints will thank you for that.
That does not mean that you should completely avoid coordination and dynamic moves if you are able to do them, just remember to ration your attempts.
#2: SPORT CLIMBING
Though done with a belayer, hard catches can occur with sport climbing. Impact to the wall often occurs and this can potentially hurt their ankles, hands, hips.
Hard catches aren’t great for the impact through your heels or feet. As you get older, your bones are more susceptible to getting fractures.
#3: OUTDOOR CLIMBING
With outdoor climbing the risks come with more variables outdoors. Here are a few considerations to have in the outdoor setting:
Approaches: For the layman, this refers to the route that climbers have to walk through BEFORE reaching the actual wall. Approaches for outdoor climbing can get quite steep with uneven terrain (unless you’re lucky enough to have one close to the carpark). Here are some tools that may help avoid injuries in the approaches:
Get Equipped! Hiking poles, proper footwear, you name it! Get the gear you need to set yourself up for success.
Train for approaches! It would probably be a good idea to start hiking or stair climbing BEFORE starting on those climbs (gradual progression of load ALWAYS helps to reduce risk of injury). Plus, if you train for approaches, it just means that you’ll be less tired for your climbs when you finally hit the crag!
Climbing through pain is not the answer.
Being able to self manage your long-term or chronic injuries is a plus to help you climb longer. Truth is, injury rarely gets better on its own, especially as we get older. As an experienced climber, you probably don’t feel it (the injuries) anymore because your body is a smart machine that’s able to compensate for little niggles. But you need to be aware and address these issues before they become big boulder problems.
I hope reading this provides you some insights on climbing well even as you grow older. If you have tried to self-manage your injury and the injury is not getting better, you might want to consider getting it checked by a professional and I'll be happy to help!
Climb hard, have fun, but most importantly, stay safe!