“No pain, no gain.” We’ve heard this maxim a million times, and in the world of performance rock climbing, building strength and power (pain!) are trending big. Between the MoonBoard, the Tension Board, and the Lattice Board, we have no shortage of torture devices to make our lats and biceps bigger. There are also fingerboards and campus boards galore with specific workouts designed down to the second to increase our strength and power (gain!), all with the goal of helping us through those mean V-scale cruxes on our projects.
But there’s one aspect of sport climbing that goes largely ignored in the training world: resting. Before and after we enter those cruxes, we have to be able to manage our pump and keep it together to clip the chains. Have you ever wondered why über-strong boulderers often fall on sport climbs several V-grades below their max—like that V12 climber from the gym who somehow can’t do a 5.13a outside? They have plenty of power to get through the crux, but they don’t know how to rest and recover to get through easier terrain. So, how do we get better at resting? What are some specific techniques and how can we train for it, regardless of how powerful we might be?
As rock climbers—particularly in sport and traditional climbing—we switch between anaerobic and aerobic exertion. In anaerobic exercise, there is not enough oxygen to supply the energy demands placed our muscles. In climbing, this might be getting out of breath after completing a short boulder problem. Meanwhile, aerobic exercise involves sustaining a mild level of exertion for a long period, such as on a 30-meter sport climb at a grade that’s moderate for you, with plenty of stances and mini-rests. As we push our limits on roped climbs, suddenly we’re blending both styles. We might make it through to the last few moves of the crux on our route, say 60 feet up, and we’re gasping like a sprinter in the 100-meter dash (anaerobic recruitment). But somehow, we still need to get to the rest above the crux, and then relieve our forearms of lactic acid so we can jog the last mile, or more moderate terrain, to the chains without flaming out (aerobic recruitment).
Resting requires creativity and technical precision, with the goal being to get the weight off those blasted forearms and onto your much stronger legs. Kneebars, hip-scums, drop-knees, frogger-stance (hips and feet turned out, giving you the appearance of having “frog legs”), and heel-hooks are common ways to distribute weight onto the lower half of your body. And for the upper body, there are savvy ways to unweight your hands and to relax your grip, like arm-wraps, fingerlocks, and hand jams. Balancing the minimal amount of energy to hold on to the rock but enough to not fall off is key for resting efficiently. I like to visualize the weight distribution on my bones—dangling from my skeleton—using as little muscle as possible to hang on. One way to actively remind yourself to do this is to tell yourself “Rest.” Then say “Rest again,” and sag a little lower onto locked-out arms. Then repeat one more time. It’s amazing how little tension you actually need to stay attached.
But sometimes you’re not so lucky, particularly on more sustained rock climbs, where your “rests” rely heavily on your forearms and the pump clock keeps ticking no matter how hard you try to recover. In these cases, you need to train to rest. Sure, this isn’t as trendy as training to do one-arm pullups, but one rarely used resting technique at least sounds sexy: the “G-Tox.” The G-Tox, which involves shaking the arm in an upward fashion for five seconds, then down for five seconds, then alternating arms, is so named for the idea that gravity helps detoxify the fatigued forearms. It’s an active recovery method that has been proven superior for over a decade, according to Eric Hörst on his website Training for Climbing. A British scientist, Luke Roberts, published a study in 2005 which claimed that after a two-minute recovery period, climbers using the G-Tox method experienced a significant increase in grip strength. (18 percent vs. just 2 percent using the standard, below-the-heart, dangling shakeout). Hörst claims the G-Tox technique increases blood flow by way of gravity accelerating venous return and decreasing lactic acid accumulation in the forearm. I’ve personally adopted the technique, and have used it for the past few years. Has it been life-changing in my recovery? No. But I do believe it helps, and every little bit helps—even having 16 percent more strength.
So we’ve gone over some techniques for resting, but how do you train resting?
Resting can be physically and mentally taxing, but given the proper attention and discipline to focus on improving, you’ll see major gains in your redpointing. Battling the lactic acid and being patient while shaking out are uncomfortable, and it’s often tempting to just give up and say, “Take.” But there are some tricks, both physical and psychological, to fight this temptation.
In order to keep it together and hold on, focus your eyes on one spot. I like to focus on a crystal of rock in front of me or even close my eyes. When your eyes dart around, your frantic gaze takes energy and focus away from recovery. You can also come into your breath, slowing it down and keeping consistent counts on inhales and exhales in order to decrease your heart rate. I like to breathe in for a count of 4 seconds, hold my breath for 1 second, then exhale for 6 seconds. At first you might feel like you’re panting and you can’t slow the breath, but with time and practice you’ll become more comfortable with this pattern. Your mind might be racing with negative thoughts like “I’m so pumped, I’m never going to recover,” but be patient. Focusing on the breath will take you out of your doubting mind and help relieve the discomfort of that lactic acid accumulation.
Even if you’re not on redpoint, practice these resting routines during your working burns. It’s tempting to just go in direct and rest hanging on the bolt, but it’s important to treat rests as part of your beta, just like you would the crux sequence. Over time, you’ll discover subtleties that really help, like those small shifts in weight to help relieve your swollen forearms or new ways to grab holds that let you rest more efficiently.
You can also take your resting practice into the gym. Just like you might re-create a crux using similar holds in the gym, you can set up the “rest” holds and practice recovering and shaking out on plastic. About seven years ago, I was working a sport climb in Red Rock, Nevada, called You Are What You Is, and the “rest” after the crux was a one-pad flat crimp rail before a final crux to the chains. I would boulder in the gym then immediately hop on the campus-board rail, and with feet on, try to shake out and recover. Another useful resting trainer is to do a boulder problem near your max, downclimb easier terrain, then rest on a jug for about a minute before launching into a slightly easier boulder problem, and then repeat until failure. For example, I might boulder a V7, downclimb a V1, then rest on a jug for one minute, then up a V6 and repeat with a V5, and so on, until failure. You can also swap in a slightly worse inter-problem resting hold, to make the drill tougher or simulate a specific shakeout on your project.
Let’s face it: You might not ever get that MoonBoard 7c or do a one-arm pullup, but if you can rest on small edges or bad slopers, your sending skills will reach a new high point.
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