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Five Tips for Better Resting While Climbing

The why, when, and how to shaking off the pump.

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“Just dirt me!” I squawked. Hopelessly hanging 10 feet from the anchor for the umpteenth time, I was nearing tears. A local, who had the route ruthlessly wired, coolly suggested that I “work the rest” more. For me, this “rest” was hardly restful —I’d once managed to completely fall out of it. Suffering here on my next go, I looked over and noticed a golden eagle plucking fuzzy yellow goslings from the river. Perversely fascinated, I stared over at this real-life episode of “Wild Kingdom.” By the time it had ended, I had rested longer than ever before, fully recharging my batteries — and I finally redpointed the route. The moral? Sufficiently recovering at a rest often means the difference between success and failure. You have to rest—no matter what. Here’s your five tip guide.

1. Sweet spots.

Sniff out rests stances during preliminary dogging burns on your project. Seemingly impossible sequences are far more doable when you’re relatively fresh from a rest, and blasting through a lower crux isn’t as bad when you know you’re gunning for that jug. A rest might be an obvious rail or jam on which you can camp forever, or it can be as subtle as sitting on a good foothold long enough for a couple of shakes and chalk-ups. Climb from rest to rest, not crux to crux.

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2. Get in the mix.

Once you’ve begun resting, vary your body position and the holds you use. You may have to alternate between bigger holds and smaller or more difficult-to-grip holds in order to rest all muscles. Figure out which specific strengths you’ll need for the remainder of the climb: Are there more crimps than slopers. What about big lockoffs? You might need to keep one arm totally fresh — sacrificing a little on the opposite side will give you that snap when you need it.

3. Don’t panic!

The pump may actually increase when you first arrive at a rest stance. Don’t freak out! Focus on deep breathing, to relax and reduce your heart rate, not on how strained your muscles are … or how many more bolts you have to go. Hang back all the way onto the bones of your arms, with your weight over your feet. Our bodies have the ability — known as muscle memory — to remember what a given body movement or position feels like, which allows repetition without conscious effort. So, just as you practice the crux moves over and over, so, too, must you “learn” each rest.

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4. About Time.

As you start to get the juice back, and your heart rate and breathing return to normal, stay put. Calm your mind: Visualize successfully maneuvering through the remaining sequences. Remain at the rest until you’re bored out of your skull or your belayer is whining that he has to pee. Note, however, that there will come a point, especially with a marginal rest, at which you’ve been hanging around for too long and begun to lose any gains.

5. Resting aids.

In this easiest-side-of-easy day and age, we have devised all sorts of creative ways to rest more effectively. I will describe, but do not necessarily endorse, these dubious doings: • Kneebars • Knee pads for kneebars • Multiple knee pads for multiple kneebars • Inserting non-conventional body parts (e.g., head, elbow, ass, etc.) into the rock • Clipping high above the rest and downclimbing back to it, effectively affording a comfy toprope (is that your belayer sitting slightly on the rope?).

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