Fresh off the press, attention everyone…I got a knuckle/middle finger injury, no fun! How did this happen? I started training to get revved up for November/December adventures overseas so I visited with a dear friend Peak Experiences near Richmond, VA. Why? They have walls double the height that of my home gym and typically set stellar routes that trigger good moves, which for me meant solid training. My friend and I really climbed so well, but I just got too greedy. Towards the end of our workout, I eyed an overhung climb (my weakness). I started it with what I think is smooth, fancy foot technique, but encountered a reachy section, which required grabbing a pincher with the right hand. It was a far reach right, but I surely hit it right on, only my left foot cut right off. And what did I do? Hold on to that damn pincher. Not very smart, but in reality it was an instinctive thing to do.
Anyhow, I thought about what were some potential causes to this injury and was it preventable? I came up with lots of thoughts, but here is my analogy in summary.
- Strength to weight ratio – I trained earlier this year for a Spain adventure and reached a seriously great climbing place. I was strong, confident in my climbing, and finally felt like I opened up a lot of climbing options. But after that trip I have been traveling like an insane chica. So I have been climbing outdoors, but not much cross training or indoor gym training. Naturally, slowly but surely my level of strength has declined over the summer, but my technique has improved quite a bit. I have been able to climb most of the summer without injury because of my continuously improving technique plus I have not pushed my limits like I did in Spain.
- Tired self and muscles – We climbed at Peak Experience like fierce warriors. We climbed everything we could get on; we pushed our limits within reason. When I decided to climb that overhung climb I was exhausted and my limbs were too. I essentially set my self up for that injury in a way. I grabbed a pincher in the most overhung part of the climb and my body weight pulled right on it when my foot cut off, causing stress to my finger. I also usually have super strong lock offs, but that has weakened too over the summer. So I had weak fingers, weak lock off and all of sudden rapid weight to take on. This is an easy formula to figure out.
- Over eager and greedy – It seemed every climb we hit, our climbing just got better and better. Oh and so did my ego. See with my recent decline in strength I have been frustrated climbing at my home gym the past month. And all of sudden, my body had its ‘a-ha’ moment, yes I finally found that hidden Spain climber from April of this year, or at least I saw the potential coming right back. I even dreamed of my fun climbing I would do this winter. I got over eager and greedy. I pushed my limit and not that I should settle, but I kept pushing it, like gambling. And I knew inside where I reached my limit, but that last overhung climb was not a smart choice. In April, I would have sent it clean blindfolded. But a few weeks ago, nope, it was going to be a struggle and I was iffy about it. I knew deep down it should have not gone down, but my excitement and over eagerness and memories of my strong climbing self a few months earlier said ‘what the heck, just do it!’ And now I have a hurty knuckle/middle finger! I essentially got greedy; the perfect workout was not enough. This was my first train hard get serious session, why go for the gold all in one sitting? Cause I got greedy!
Coming to Jesus Moral of the Story -I studied Occupational Therapy and right before graduation (oh my, yes I did do that) I switched to health sciences and pre-medicine. I interned quite a bit at the Raleigh Hand Center and did not follow any of the advice I shared with my patients. One of my biggest advice to patients was “learn your body’s language and listen to it!” I had a great workout and that overhung climb was more of an ego thing, my body was saying ‘what? What? Oh hell no this sucker ain’t going down today’, but my ego was like ‘yeah girl, get her done, put a postage stamp on it, send it!’
Lessons Learned – Ways to prevent injuries like this and build stronger and happy you and me!
- Learn your body language and LISTEN to it – If you struggle on a grade on a given day, stay at that grade or lower. Some may disagree, but if one day you are struggling on a 5.9 lets say and your goal is to get through 10 climbs mix it up like try to do all the nines in the gym and every 2 climbs do a 5.8 and mix that up (1 over hung 8, 1 vertical 8, 1 slabby 8, and so on). Why? You are going to get old some day and you will have hurty joints and bones, or that thing called arthritis. Build a climbing journey over time not just in the moment.
- Cross train & build strength – Ok, seriously, foot work fancy chic like me who used to be a gymnast, I can get away with climbing higher grades given my strength to weight ratio. But it will catch up to you and also building some strength will actually improve performance. Make sure on off climbing days to work out those muscles (including opposing ones). Those lock off move come handy, but require a level of strength too. Build those muscles to push through the moves that require strength and will not go down easy just on fancy footwork.
- Stretch, stretch, and stretch – Well I used to be able to do all my splits (can still do some), bend every which way. It was not only for pretty dance, but primarily to avoid injury. A-ha! How does a former elite gymnast not remember this? Flexibility will not only help you hit that cool high hand-foot match move, but overall, it will help prevent injury. Make sure if anything to stretch before and after climbing sessions such as your fingers, wrist, shoulder, legs, and calves (yup, Elvis legs is proof that your calf is getting worked!). Build a flexible body for maximum performance and to prevent injuries.
- Go for a pyramid-climbing workout – I have a friend who is an insane climber and I climbed with him earlier this year thinking he would send some crazy 5.14s, but rather he did a bunch of 10s and 11s. He builds his climbs week to week in anticipation of when he wants to peak. Then he hits that 5.14 trip, hits sick sends and then tapers back down all over again. I was surprised at this and asked how in the world does he do it. He said he has been climbing all his life and wants to climb until he is an old man. So when he pyramids back down, he ups the cross training. When he is on the weeks closer to his peak, he tapers down the cross training to encourage muscle recovery and avoid over stressing his tendons, and so on. He also at his peaks does more relaxing yoga than usual. Build less of an ego that involves less hard sending 100% of the time, but more climbing over the span of your life.
- Add variability to your climbing – Slap them slopers, grab those jugs, hook that heel, lay back baby, jam that crack and more. We all have styles and moves we prefer. But if you climb everything and anything you can get on you build a wider variety of skill sets. Each type of hold has its art, like slopers and ledges are best from below, under clings are strongest once you go above it, and so on. Build an open mind that will open your climbing options over time and give you a well-rounded climbing journey.
Blog posts soon to come, share in my journey in recovering that hurty middle finger and knuckle!