Practical Options for Reducing Climbing Risk

Athlete Sienna Kopf learning to get comfortable with the scrunch. Image by Jennie Jariel.

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Practical Options

I didn’t want to leave you without some practical options. I know very few people have the time and inclination to become an expert, but since you’re here – at least read the titles below!

If we know about specific injuries, how injury patterns are changing and trends evolving, and about the principles associated with these trends, we can:

WALK AWAY: make in-the-moment choices that help us give “pitch counts” to our training.

  • Ex. Know the injury potential of hold types, movement, and your own injury history, demographics, and habits to make informed decisions on when to stay away, or walk away.
    • I use “movement” goals (e.g. sticking the movement, rather than the hold) to provide a positive impetus to walk away in the case of a risky moves.

LEARN “YOU”: how does your risk differ from others?

  • What does a difference in age, experience, or skill level mean between you and the individuals you climb with?
    • Shift your training volume, intensity, and frequency as you age, get more experienced, and/or move up (or down) in skill level.
    • Know the relative period at which your (or your child’s) growth plates close, but even rough guestimates are no guarantee. Consult your doctor.
  • How “intense” is your climbing?
    • Climbing intensity is a mixture of your average climbing grade and the number of days you climb per year. Use this knowledge to know that higher / more = higher risk. You can:
      • Use strategic “de-loading,” tapering, or rest periods.
    • What does your preferred climbing-type (e.g. bouldering vs. lead, but also crimp vs. big moves) mean for your climbing?
      • Consider diversification, rest periods, and/or antagonist training if you specialize.
      • Know the likely injuries as a result of your specialization or preference for hold type (crimp vs. open-hand) and movement type (Competition style vs. Outdoor).

MOVE AROUND: choose to diversify your hold and movement types.

  • Ex. Diversification of grip type (not necessarily hold type) and movement type in a single training session, or across training sessions, may not provide the same level of training stimulus, but it may manage your risk.

DISTRIBUTE IMPACT: strengthen our ability to NOT avoid the move by diversifying the risk away from a single point of contact, through:

  • strength training of “supportive” muscle groups
  • progressive climbing-specific training of “symbiotic” parts of our body to strengthen technical patterns:
    • Ex. Eccentric loading through the “shockload” of a deadpoint can be mitigated by pushing force from underneath (e.g. legs), stabilizing force (e.g. “core”, posterior chain, positioning), your opposite arm’s strength, timing (“deadpoint”), training (system training), and others.
    • finessing technical patterns with climbing physiotherapists and climbing coaches to (a) become resilient to stress, or (b) mitigate stress under non-ideal technical scenarios.

UNDERSTAND TRENDS: be aware of trends in indoor training.

  • Ex. Others are getting injured in similar ways, identify how; An area may have a specific-hold type; Setters may have a “theme:” identify it; analyze your own habits, etc.
  • Recheck your own biases about both (a) the extent of your own injury, and (b) your belief that a doctor is not knowledgeable about climbing-specific injuries.
    • Check with the Beta Angel Project for open-access links to climbing injuries you can take to your doctor.
    • Ask yourself why you’re reluctant to seek healthcare and check your reasoning.
      • Additionally, PTs may be easy to schedule time with in your state (see the end of this document for an important State-based resource) and my experience with many is that they are very willing to work with you on rehabbing during climbing.

BECOME KNOWLEDGEABLE: read from experienced practitioners.

SUPPORT RESEARCH AND ACCESS TO SPORT DOCS AND PHYSIOTHERAPISTS: Push sponsorship of research in order to understand the true cost of climbing and get better access to physiotherapists.

  • Ex. Talk with climbing gyms and climbing companies about developing partnerships with researchers in order to build better systems of tracking injuries.
  • Break down barriers to allow climbers to access physiotherapists and athletic trainers – arguably the front lines of risk mitigation.
  • Ex. Consider reaching out to Beta Angel for recommendations on researchers to contribute to, like the C-HIPPER Project Collaboration in Spain.
  • Ex. Support doesn’t have to be monetary-based, it could be social media “shares,” “likes,” etc.
  • Anyone on the front lines of climber engagement (gyms, athletes, magazines, Beta Angel, etc.) has the opportunity to re-frame the narrative toward better information gathering, possibly creating better resources informed by medical professionals