Training for Climbing: Injured? Train Your Core!

I have a recurring elbow injury. I know how to fix it, but how can I stay strong while it’s healing?

By Neil Gresham | February 27th, 2014

I have a recurring elbow injury. I know how to fix it, but how can I stay strong while it’s healing? I am keen to do more core-stability work but am getting bored of base-building and doing easy laps immediately after it heals. To what extent can you cut this short and move on to training power?

—Alan Barnow, Glasgow, Scotland

The right response is indeed to increase the level of core-stability training. I have seen spectacular examples of injured elite-level competition climbers maintaining their performance with this approach. There seems to be some weird, unexplained phenomenon here, and most coaches agree that doing high levels of non-specific training will help you hang onto your specific strength and fitness during a layoff. Better yet, these climbers often return to a higher level after resuming just a few weeks of specific training. Now is your chance to make a real difference in your performance by turning yourself into a proper athlete.

With core-stability work you need decent recovery time to make the best gains. Start by training day-on, day-off, and start with endurance sessions for core, then switch to strength after two or three weeks. Do three or four sets of 20 to 30 reps for endurance and five or six sets of six to eight reps for strength. After a month you will be able to recover sufficiently to consider training two days on, one off by doing strength sessions for your core on day one and endurance on day two. Pick your exercises carefully and avoid ones that hurt your elbow. A variety of floor exercises [see www.rockandice.com/coreexercises] such as the plank and the iron cross should be OK for your elbow provided you do them with your palms flat on the floor and not on your fingertips. Exercises such as sit-ups and dorsal raises are the best for not aggravating climbing injuries, so stick to these alone if you experience any elbow pain. You can also train your antagonist muscles in the same session (antagonists are the oppositional muscles commonly not worked in climbing). For example, do push-ups or dips for the chest, shoulders and triceps, but only twice a week. These sessions will reduce the chances of future injury and you should endeavor to keep them going once you resume climbing training. The ideal combination is to do core and antagonists in the same session on one day and then cardiovascular and flexibility training the next day, then repeat.

Regarding your return: You are tempting fate by proposing trimming down the base-building phase. I know repeating routes can be tedious, but try giving yourself a series of technique prompts such as “silent feet,” “straight arms,” “relaxed grip,” “twist-in” and “steady breathing.” Not only will they help you stay engaged mentally, but it can make a massive difference to your technique.

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