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Three Strategies for Slowing the Pump Clock

Endurance isn't merely a function of fitness. The best climbers have tricks for fighting off the pump.

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Training to get stronger is a good thing. Climbing in ways that conserve energy and enable more rapid recovery is a smart thing!

While both of these strategies are valid for improving climbing performance, many climbers obsess on getting stronger while not recognizing the value of optimizing their use of strength and accelerating recovery. It’s a fact that the very best climbers are all strong, yet not every strong climber becomes the very best. The difference often lies in the subtle areas of economy of movement and the ability to prevent the pump and maximize recovery on a climb. 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.

1. Practice climbing with more economy.

This might seem obvious, yet most climbers get poor fuel economy when climbing near their limit. Do you climb more like a Buick or a Honda? 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 safe setting of a gym. 1. Predetermine the rest positions on a route and only chalk-up and rest there. Climb briskly from one rest to the next. 2. Limit your time on any given hold to five seconds or less, the exception being rest positions. Climb past the smallest, pumpy holds as fast as possible. 3. Vary your grip position as often as possible. Alternate between the crimp grip, open hand grip, thumb lock, pinch, pocket grip, and such, 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.

2. Flex your fingers and wrist between grips.

For many climbers, recovering on a route is something they just let happen. To take a proactive role in the recovery process, however, is one of the subtle differences that separate the best from the rest. One such strategy is to open-and-close your fingers or flex your wrist between each grip. This is something you must do in just the second or two it takes to reach from one hold to the next. Simply think about flicking water off your fingers or hand as your reach for the next hold—that’s the motion you are after. This simple process spurs on blood flow—which actually stops during times of maximum gripping—through the forearm muscles, and the aggregate effect of doing this between every grip will produce a significant reduction in your accumulated pump.

3. Use the G-Tox to speed recovery at rests.

The “G-Tox.” Photo:
The “G-Tox.” Photo:

The “dangling arm” shakeout is the technique universally used to foster recovery from a pump. There is a more effective method for accelerating forearm recovery, however, that I call G-Tox. It involves alternating the position of your resting arm between the normal dangling position and an above-your-head position.

Consider that the discomfort and pump you feel in the forearms is largely the result of restricted blood flow and increasing intramuscular acidosis. While the dangling arm shakeout does allow the blood flow into the forearm to resume, flow of “stale” blood out of the forearm is sluggish due to the arm 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 H+ ion (which lower blood pH and hampers function) and helps restore homeostasis. The effects of this technique are unmistakable—you will literally see 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.

Eric Hörst is an internationally renowned author, researcher, and climbing coach. Hörst is the world’s most widely published climbing coach with six books (and many foreign translations) selling more than 300,000 copies, including his best-selling tome Training for Climbing, and hundreds of magazine and Web articles published. A self-professed “climber for life”, Hörst remains active at the cliffs and as a researcher, author, and coach. His website is: