I don’t know whether I have a fragile body, low pain tolerance, or I just whine a lot, but typically, some part of my body hurts. It’s safe to say that most of the time, I have only myself to blame for these aches and pains. When I was 12, I felt the need to prove I could do bicep curls with 25 pound weights at every team practice. As a result, I have mild tendonitis that flares up when I boulder too much (or maybe that’s just my excuse not to boulder! shh..). When I was 17, I decided that wearing climbing shoes four sizes smaller than my street shoes would make me invincible in competitions. It did not. Instead, I got bursitis, which led to surgery to shave down the back of my heel bone. These casualties were caused by nothing other than my ego. I felt the need to prove myself, I took it too far, and I wound up with my elbows deep in buckets of ice or my foot propped up on the couch for three months.
Less ego driven, albeit still a common problem, is the dreaded caveman slump. Just take a walk around the local gym or crag, and you’ll see this widespread phenomena that plagues the climbing community. Our rhomboids, trapezius, and erectors are overstretched, and our pectorals and supporting chest muscles tighten up, so we slump like seventeen year old high school boys with bad attitudes.
I’m no doctor (as confirmed by my attempt to name the aforementioned muscles), but I think injuries and misalignments are our bodies’ way of telling us to chill out. We’re over training, we’re moving too fast, we’re using poor technique, we’re not warming up enough, we’re trying to show off. The list goes on. Finally, our bodies say “enough”, and force us into a treacherous period of rest and mental torment as we watch our healthy friends go send our projects. Most of us use this “recovery time” to overtrain on the campus board or climb one footed, a cycle which further worsens our technique and creates new injuries.
The moral? Take time to listen to your body. It’s a complicated machine that can be thrown off with the slightest misuse. That said, our bodies were built for activity and they know how to work, if only we provide them with the necessary rest and care. As for prevention, take more time to warm up. Know your limits, and push them only a reasonable amount. Don’t crush your feet in tiny shoes. And find a better way to impress the gentlemen (or ladies) than heaving too heavy of weights around the gym as you throw out your back (so not hot).
In addition to not being a doctor, I’m also not a physical therapist, nor do I know anything about the technicalities of human anatomy. However, I’ve found a few exercises that have helped me over the years. I’m only preaching to myself here, as I could benefit from a few repetitions a day rather than the once a month routine I currently follow.
Ulnar Nerve Glides: Although this is an exercise to help the nerve “glide” through its insertion point in the muscle, I’ve found this helps my elbows when they start to flare up.
Start with your arm straight out, horizontal to the floor and your wrist tilted back towards your body, palm facing towards the opposite wall. Leading with your fingers, arc your hand towards your head, aiming to set your palm flush against your ear. IMPORTANT! Don’t tilt your head to meet your hand. It’s okay if your palm can’t lay flat against your head. Start with your finger tips below your chin and push your palm towards your face until you feel a slight stretch. ALSO IMPORTANT: Focus on keeping your shoulder pulled down to the ground. This is when I really feel the stretch.
Ultra Mega Forearm Bicep Elbow Stretch: I don’t know what this is called, but it also relieves my elbows.
Much like the ulnar nerve glides, the goal is to get your palm flush against the wall. But don’t push it! Start with your fingers face down with just your fingertips against the wall. Slowly work your way towards your palm flat against the wall (over a period of weeks, not minutes). IMPORTANT! Keep your shoulder down, it will naturally want to rise up to help your hand go flat. ALSO IMPORTANT! Stand up straight. Leaning your body in order to stretch further is ineffective.
Wall Angels: Erik Cumming of Grip Massage showed me this exercise and it works posture miracles! Truly. This one reverses the hunch back and helps keep your spine inline. I often have trouble with lower back pain and this helps a ton.
Start with your back against the wall, with your feet hip width about one foot away from the wall. Your butt and shoulders should lay against the wall, but allow your spine to curve naturally. Make a goal post with your arms, then slowly slide your arms up the wall, keeping your shoulder blades flush against the wall. This is surprisingly painful if you do it right!