Tech Tip – Sport – Slowing the pump clock
Slowing the pump clock: three strategies to prevent the pump
Training to get stronger is a good thing. Climbing in ways that conserve energy and enable rapid recovery is a smart thing!
While both of these strategies will improve your climbing performance, too many climbers obsess about getting stronger, while not recognizing the value of optimizing their use of strength and accelerating their recovery. It’s a fact that all the best climbers are strong — yet not every strong climber rises to the top. The difference often lies in the subtleties: economy of movement, preventing the pump, and maximizing recovery while climbing. The following three strategies do just this. Use them, and you’ll find the pump clock ticking slower, regardless of your current strength or ability.
Climb with more economy. Most climbers get poor fuel economy when climbing near their limit. Learning to climb more efficiently requires a conscious effort, so get a partner and make a game out of it. The following are energy-conserving techniques to practice on moderate routes or in the gym:
• Predetermine the rest positions on a route and only chalk up and rest there. Climb briskly from one rest to the next.
• Limit your time on any given hold to five seconds or less, except for rest positions. Climb past the smallest, pumpy holds as fast as possible.
• Vary your grip position whenever possible. Alternate between crimps, open hands, thumb locks, pinches, and pocket grips as often as the rock allows. Don’t miss a chance to sink a hand jam or finger lock — these are great energy-saving grips that many face climbers miss.
Flex your fingers and wrist between grips. Recovering on a route is something most climbers just let happen. This is a mistake — instead, take a proactive role in the recovery process. Open and close your fingers or flex your wrist between each grip. Visualize flicking water off your fingers or hand as you reach for the next hold — that’s the motion you are after. This spurs blood flow through the forearm muscles — which actually stops during times of maximum gripping. The aggregate effect of doing this between every grip will significantly reduce your accumulated pump.
Use the G-Tox to speed recovery at rests. The “dangling arm shakeout” is the technique universally used to foster pump recovery. It is not, however, the best technique. A more effective method uses gravity to your advantage; hence, I call it the “G-Tox”. Alternate the position of your resting arm between the normal dangling position and an above-your-head position. For example, gently wiggle your arm in the normal by-the-side rest position for five seconds, then raise it to a half-bent position above your shoulder and shake it gently for five seconds. Repeat this cycle as often as needed — or for as long as you can hang out at the rest!
The pump sensation you feel in the forearms is largely the result of accumulated lactic acid and restricted blood flow. While the dangling-arm shakeout allows good blood flow into the forearm, it doesn’t help the flow of “old blood” out of the forearm, due to the arm’s position below your heart. The result is a traffic jam of sorts, which perpetuates the pump and slows recovery. (Have you ever noticed how the pump often increases as you begin the shakeout process with your arm by your side?) The G-Tox technique makes gravity your ally by aiding venous return to the heart. This enhances the removal of lactic acid and speeds recovery. The effects of this technique are unmistakable — you will literally feel your pump “drained” as you elevate your arm. Use the G-Tox at all your mid-climb shakeouts by deliberately alternating the position of your resting arm, between raise-hand and dangling position, every five to ten seconds.