Last weekend I had the chance to attend the BMC Injury Prevention Symposium in Sheffield. Both Saturday and Sunday were packed with interesting lectures that gave us an overview of the different types of injuries that are common to climbers. We even had the chance to go for a little boulder in The Edge with the mighty Steve McClure.
The list of national and international speakers included Volker Schoffl (author of the book ‘One Move Too Many’) and his lovely wife Isa, Audry Morrison (part of medical team of the IFSC), Gary Gibson (podiatrist and prolific route opener), Stewart Watson (member of the GB Team and physiotherapist), John Dunne (businessman, climber and collector of various injuries), Klaus Isele (Austrian Climbing Team physiotherapist) and other renowned names associated with the British climbing community.
A brief summary of what I learned is described below:
- EAT & DRINK WELL. A healthy diet includes all types of food (proteins, carbs and fats) and you should eat a good combination of nutritious, tasty (and preferably organic) meat, fruit and veg. For training and competitions, your body wants to burn a lot of carbohydrates, so it’s ok to tuck in a bowl of pasta or to heat up the wok for some fried rice or noodles. If you are thirsty when you are training, then go and drink some liquid. Check the colour of your wee: if it is too dark or too concentrated, drink some more. An established measure for juniors (without considering what you drink whilst you are training) is one litre and a bit per day. Energy drinks are not that great, especially those containing caffeine. However, if you were to choose from all the options in the market, go for something without sodium or fructose. Glucose drinks could be ok when you are burning a lot of energy, but read your labels carefully.
- TIGHT SHOES MIGHT NOT BE THE BEST IDEA. But if you must have a pair that is a little snug, then make sure that you take them off after each climb and never walk with them. Allow your feet to rest from all that pressure and maybe consider having a really comfy pair for training.
- WATCH YOUR POSTURE AND USE THE OPEN HAND GRIP. The Austrian climbing team spends a good chunk of their training season practising the open hand grip. Most athletes complain their overall grade decreases when they have to avoid crimping or the horrific “three finger dragging”. However, it has been demonstrated that using the open hand grip will eventually make you stronger and will be much more beneficial to support the whole structure of your hand. In other words, you’ll have to go through the frustration of feeling a bit weak at fist, to later develop a much better and firm grip on any type of holds. I’ve been trying to use only the open hand grips on my training this week and yes, it feels incredibly hard!
One other thing we can do to improve our climbing and avoid injuries is to pay attention to our posture whilst we are climbing. Are your pushing from your legs? Are your hips close to the wall? Is your neck relaxed when you climb? How about your shoulders: are they relaxed, do you ‘sag’ on them or keep them tight and high? We will be using more video analysis to check our posture and learn from watching other professionals do their thing on the walls. Hopefully we will prevent injuries by paying attention to the way we move.
- GO FOR A CHECK UP. You are training and submitting yourself to a demanding routine of studying and physical exercise. It is important to check that your body is doing ok and coping with the workload. The German junior climbing team undergo a series of tests and analysis to asses their general condition and raise any issues that may occur along the way. An early diagnostic by a Paediatrician could literally save your life. The checks done by the Germans include the same items than for the Olympic team. Maybe we should consider a visit to the doctor to make sure that we are healthy and growing to a normal rate.
- TAKE SOME REST. You are not a small adult and you definitely need to rest. You may think that you have an endless source of energy and that you could climb for hours on end, but your body feels the pressure of climbing as much as an older person. Although some of you already climb much higher grades than most adults, you must never forget that you are growing and that you will do so until you are about 25 years of age. An injury now could result in a much greater problem later in your life. Look after yourself and train with moderation.
- FOR JUNIORS, VOLUME COULD BE MORE BENEFICIAL THAN INTENSITY. If you were to prioritise the type of training you do, it’s probably better to train endurance than pure strength. The load on the fingers must be gradual, avoiding over exertion or stress fractures in the hands. Put it differently, you better do a lot of easier moves instead of trying to push constantly higher than on the previous session.
- CAMPUS BOARDING WILL NOT IMPROVE YOUR CLIMBING. In fact, it could really damage your body, like, forever! The most interesting quote came from Steve McClure, who said that in all his years of climbing like a pro, he never found that doing double dynos or using the campus board without feet ever improved his climbing. Coming from a man who has climbed 9a+ and has superb technique, I believe he’s got a point.
The BMC has published a guidance on the use of the campus board, available here
Should you be using a campus board? Extensive information about the subject is available here