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Loosing and gaining strength
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By Nate K
From Bozeman, MT
Jan 5, 2013
dirt bagging around cody

hey everyone. as im sure many of you can relate, a couple times every year i seem to get too busy, sick or injured to climb for a few weeks up to a few months. i have a few questions about other peoples experience with loosing and gaining strength

After about how long of a break from climbing do you normally start see a decrease in strength and is there any way to prevent this?

Does doing other forms of climbing in the winter, like mountaineering or ice climbing seem to preserve strenth you built up in the summer?

if youre already strong can you loose strength by climbing only easy stuff for long periods of time?

How do you maintain strength when youre unable to climb?


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By Jon Zucco
From Denver, CO
Jan 5, 2013
yaak crack Red Rock Canyon, NV

You'll see atrophy in just a couple of weeks in my experience.

I recently injured the A4 in my left ring finger, which has put me out of my normal training routine. Since then I've been lifting weights and doing pull ups to keep my arms up, sit-ups and leg-ups for core, running to keep the blood pumping strong, and open-hand hanging (for very short periods) on the bigger edges of my rock rings to keep finger strength up. All the while minding my injury.

When I do climb, I practice open-hand gripping every crimp I encounter, but try to only climb relatively easy/big holds stuff.

Keep tight, keep the blood moving and don't let your hands/fingers atrophy too much is my advice (maybe buy a grip trainer, this one is what I use at work when my fingers aren't shot: www.amazon.com/Gripmaster-Pro-Strengthening-Extra-Heavy-Tens>>> ).

You may not be able to jump back into the same grade, but will thank yourself for keeping fit once you get the time to get back on the wall.


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By Rohan de Launey
From South Lake Tahoe
Jan 5, 2013
Luther Spires

Look up Periodization... Taking time off will help you come back stronger in the long run and help cut back on overuse injuries. Keep up the cardio and get into something else for awhile. Most professional athletes are on a year long cycle made up of three to four periods. You will atrophy but this is good, sustained hypertrohy is not beneficial for long term pursuits. Aim to peak each year, usually just before your cllimbing season ends.


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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Jan 6, 2013
Get down from there! <br /> <br />May 2013 <br />Photo by Duc

Rohan de Launey wrote:
You will atrophy but this is good, sustained hypertrohy is not beneficial for long term pursuits. Aim to peak each year, usually just before your cllimbing season ends.

While recovery is important, I think your statement is not exactly true since recovery can be manipulated in many ways. (Also, hypertrophy is just one phase of the periodization cycle.) You address linear periodization, but this is only one type of training methodology tailored to athletes who have an "off season". Many athletes do not have an off season and therefore there are other types of periodization which do not employ long stretches of non-training (and to be honest, even athletes with an off season are not simply allowed to sit around and de-condition for long stretches--there is still a training protocol).




To the OP: strength gains diminish less quickly than cardiovascular gains. It takes 4 weeks or more to return to baseline strength levels. Do not confuse atrophy as the sole indicator of strength loss. There are many neurological adaptations which remain intact longer than the visible size of the muscle.

The best way to prevent strength losses (that has been scientifically studied) is to train those muscle groups maximally at least once per week. This has been noted to maintain strength levels. So, if there is any way to get in one maximal climbing session a week, this should help.


Nate K wrote:
Does doing other forms of climbing in the winter, like mountaineering or ice climbing seem to preserve strenth you built up in the summer?

They will maintain fitness but you were not completely clear about what specific types of strength you were concerned about losing. Mountaineering will probably help you maintain excellent aerobic and general fitness but not necessarily good grip strength or endurance. I haven't ice climbed but would imagine it would help maintain better grip and core strength but would not be helpful for the subtle varieties of grip strength (crimping, slopers, pinches, etc since it does not mimic these). Do they stack up better than doing nothing? Hell fucking yeah!

Nate K wrote:
if youre already strong can you loose strength by climbing only easy stuff for long periods of time?

Yes. Fitness gains and maintenance are proportional to the demands placed on the body. Reduced demand = reduced response. But it would keep you from completely de-training and maintain your skills.

Nate K wrote:
How do you maintain strength when youre unable to climb?

The only thing you could do is maintain a good general fitness with cardio and weight training. It's not a replacement for the specialized demands and adaptations resulting from climbing, but you will always come back quicker and stronger if you can maintain a decent to high general fitness level.

There is no magic bullet to maintain fitness while doing nothing...just keep that in mind.


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By Nate K
From Bozeman, MT
Jan 9, 2013
dirt bagging around cody

Thanks for the good answers everyone ill definitely put this stuff to use


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By Charles Kinbote
From Brooklyn, NY
Jan 9, 2013
On Waimea, 5.10d

IME, it takes about 2 weeks for climbing specific grip strength to begin to decline. I just started climbing again after a 2.5 week annual break, and my fingerboard numbers (max single hangs) are identical to my pre-break numbers on 2 of 3 grip positions, and slightly less for the third position.

Maintain it by doing a hangboard or hard bouldering session every week.

I don't know the first thing about ice climbing.


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