Whether you’ve been working from home this whole time or you’re new to quarantine, transitioning back to normal life and to rock climbing, will no doubt come with some struggles.
By Alice Hafer
We’ve all been cooped up indoors and as the human psyche is extremely adaptable, it’s no surprise that you may be feeling a mix of nerves alongside the excitement at returning to the climbing life that you missed so much.
Although exhilarating, it is difficult to return to a sport after a time away but within a few weeks, you’ll find your body adapting once again. Rock climbing, unlike many other sports like cycling or hiking requires constant attention in order to maintain the level of fitness we all like to keep - our highest performance. But this pressure we put on ourselves can lead to disappointment, especially after time away from climbing, so it’s important to focus on enjoying the fresh air and outdoors, and quality time with our greatly missed friend(s).
It's been a few months since lockdown started. Many of us are seeing an easing on restrictions and as a result there are some tentative steps being made to get back to climbing outdoors. And even if some of us are more concerned about our climbing clothing, some of us, at heart, may have often worried about our performance, even in the newfound company of good friends.
With that in mind we've put together some tips to help you return to your favorite sport (in your favorite new climbing trousers) with a positive frame of mind.
1. Perform some basic fitness exercises
2. Be patient
3. Keep it light hearted
4. Focus on footwork
5. Keep a record or log of your climbs
I. Perform some basic fitness exercises
What can we do to start prepping those muscles again?
If you had trouble keeping in shape while in quarantine and you haven’t touched your hangboard (or didn’t have one), you can use some basic exercises to get some of your fitness back before returning to the rock.
The best way (we can verify this) is to join in our 3RD ROCK weekly challenges. Get motivated by our community logging their crunches, pull ups, and planks. Plus, there's prizes to be won!
After you’ve logged your challenge, get the hangboard out or safely borrow a friend’s. If you’re relatively new to climbing or had a break the entire quarantine, simply do unweighted hangs.
In between your hangs, tackle some pull ups. Pull ups are a great awakening for the large pull muscles of the body. After a long break, sometimes the shoulders can feel loose and could be prone to injury. A few sets of pull ups can go a long way.
Don’t forget to add in some stretches and antagonist training, particularly some I Y T which can be done at home without weights.
Related: Men's 'back to the rock' essentials:
II. Take it slow and be patient
All good things take time. You may have strong fingers from fingerboarding, but unless you've been climbing on a home wall, you have probably lost some strength and muscle exclusive to climbing regularly. You may find a weakness in the legs, chest and in compression style problems. Pace yourself -- you may feel all body cramps, not just calves, highlighting the importance of nutrition and a thorough warm-up.
Maybe even establish a specific warm-up. Do it a few times before you go climbing, maybe in the mornings, in order to create a habit and not skip the warm-up on your first day back in your climbing gear.
We are the most critical of ourselves, so focus on affirmations, reminding yourself that you are a good rock climber, you are an athlete, and you will get back to where you were before, if you make a careful constant effort.
III. Be honest and don't sweat the small stuff
If your favourite crag is opening up, but you’re not feeling up to going, you may have motivation issues. Head game is an integral part of climbing and although not addressed as much as physicality, it is perhaps the most important aspect of climbing well and having fun. We all have internal struggles on the sharp end, and with the increase in anxiety and isolation due to the pandemic, physical exercise has probably never been so important.
“Mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
– Ed Viesturs
If you aren’t feeling motivated, it may be helpful to remember that climbing and physical activity has many mental health benefits, especially if you’ve been deprived of these life-essentials in lockdown. By simply getting out, spending time with your friends, and being outdoors, you may feel better by the end of the day, or even the first hour.
Call your favorite climbing partner and try repeating some of your favorite ascents to build up your confidence. Or re-watch your favorite climbing films to build your psyche.
Related: Women's 'back to the rock' essentials:
Often we lose drive when we lose touch with our original motivation to begin climbing in the first place. It can be helpful to ask yourself questions like:
Why do you climb?
What do you love about climbing?
What is climbing important to you?
What did you miss about climbing?
In asking these questions, sometimes the answer might be surprising. Instead of concluding that you climb because you want to boulder 7A, you might find your motivation is a connection to the outdoors, or a love of physical activity, or it was the people with whom you climbed 7A that made it so great.
Related: Can Anybody Climb 7a?
There will be aspects that affect our ability to climb after periods of rest after an injury or quarantine-life, but there is a clear path to recovery. Regaining strength, motivation and technique, can be a slow process, but also a fun and rewarding one. By focusing on these suggestions on how to return to the rock in a healthy and positive manner, you’ll get you back your climbing fitness in no time. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy the rock.
IV. Focus on footwork
After a break from using your feet, your climbing footwork and technique may be a bit rusty. By concentrating simply on footwork and keeping the grades low, you can swiftly improve. While you’re doing your warm ups, think to perform each step perfectly and with your best technique.
Make sure to put your best foot forward.
Maintaining intense focus and aiming for mental sharpness in each movement, will allow you to improve your rock climbing footwork and technique more quickly. If you’ve lost some strength, this is a great moment to work on movement, as Adam Ondra says, “Climbing is not only about power, but technique.”
If you find on that first exciting day that your calves are very sore and legs tired, use a foam roller, hockey ball, or do some basic calf stretches to ease this pain. If you’re rolling up your rock climbing trousers in immense pain at a muscle cramp whilst climbing on the first few days back, you may be vitamin deficient. Drinking some electrolytes, taking a multivitamin with magnesium and vitamin C, or simply bringing a banana can help ease your leg cramps.
Hamstrings recovery and stretches
V. Log your climbs and aim for volume
It’s important to manage expectations, start slow, and build up your confidence by doing volume. When working back from being out of shape, writing down your climbs is one of our favorite tricks to turn up the fun-like scrap booking for climbing!
If you’ve never tried it before, try starting an online logbook, aiming for volume more than grades. Enjoying the process of ticking off all the classics you may have never tried. Taking note of your progress will just contribute to the electrifying process of getting back to climbing outdoors.
Related: The Best Peak District Boulders (up to 7A)
Writing down your ticks allows you to visibly track your progress and celebrate small victories. It’s important to reward the body and the mind, not focus on the past, and show yourself that you are improving as you regain your rock climbing fitness.
A return to rock is a cause for celebration, and don't forget that famous Alex Lowe quote...
"The best climber is the one having the most fun".
Alice is a writer, 3RD ROCK climbing ambassador, and climbing coach based out of Las Vegas, USA.
Follow @alicehafer on Instagram
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