Exercises to prevent tendon injuries for climbers

Sore tendons are inevitable when it comes to climbing, because, let’s face it, we love climbing, and when you don’t have the pain sensors that tell you to stop climbing, it can be difficult to stop climbing. 

For me, it was waking up in the morning and noticing that it was difficult to hold of coffee and that when I pinched my eight to tendon on my ring finger, it was painful. It was sore. 

Luckily, this was pre injury or a micro injury, so it didn’t stop me from climbing. But there are definitely things that I needed to do to recover. 

Today, we did an interview with Eric Horst, the author of Training for Climbing, and you probably know him from his YouTube channel or from other thought leadership that he’s done regarding the subject because he really is a leading spokesperson in this space. 

This is actually part two of a three part series. In part one, we talked about the science behind your tendons and in this one, we’re talking about what you can do physically to recover from sore tendons. There is also a part three where we talk about what you can do nutrition wise as well.

When should you exercise your tendons?

When it comes to training, of course, it’s all about the appropriate dose. Climbers who just go overboard, whether it stays in the gym or reps on a hangboard or just too much too soon, it takes years to build the capacity to train like that or to train at a high level. 

A climber of two years shouldn’t try to train like a climber they see at the gym of 10 years. It will get them injured, in most cases, if they try to model after somebody else. 

You need to find a coach or self coach and be on an appropriate program fit for you. 

In terms of rigorous training or rigorous climbing where you hang on your fingers hard or pull hard, three to four days a week is the limit

You know, people that go to the gym seven days a week and you go to the gym and you say, oh, I’m going to do an easy day, well, that easy day often escalates into something that’s a lot more rigorous.

It takes discipline and keeping track of your workouts and what the intensity is and the high intensity days, maybe just two or three a week, and then maybe there’s a fourth lower intensity day. 

You need some rest days where you’re not tugging on your fingers hard and you can do other types of training. You can run, you could do some antagonist training, but you wouldn’t want to do anything really highly targeted or rigorous on the climbing muscles or tendons on the rest days. 

Exercises for rest days

Total rest isn’t the best thing for tendons and ligaments either, except for the case of an acute injury. If you get one of those ruptures or you have an acute injury in your shoulder or elbow, there needs to be a complete withdrawal from training and climbing. 

During that acute stage, you want to assess the situation, possibly see a doctor, maybe ice the injury the first day or two, so there needs to be at least a brief withdrawal from climbing.

You don’t want to climb through an acute injury. 

But for an uninjured climber, someone like you or me, hopefully right now we’re doing our three focus days of climbing, training and at the gym or climbing outside. 

For rest days, you can do some loading of your tendons. 

Squeeze devices, for example, can be a great way to load tendons. Not one of those strong man devices where you’re squeezing at one hundred percent – I’m talking about those rubber balls or doughnuts that are easy to squeeze or even a tennis ball that is easy to squeeze.

If you have a Hangboard in your house hanging on the biggest holds or the middle sized holds that go for two pads deep, doing a few hangs like that. Doing some forearm stretching or doing those types of activities every day is fine and actually good because the connective tissue has poor blood flow so they actually get their nutrition during the loading. 

Think of how a sponge you put a sponge into a bucket of water and you squeeze it and let go. And if you do that, the fluid is moving in and out of the sponge. Well, in a very subtle way, that is what is happening in our tendons and ligaments.

They are bathed in synovial fluid and when you load the tendons – it could be the tendons in your fingers, it could be your ACL and your knee when you go running – when they’re being loaded, there is that sponge-like fluid moving in and out of them, and that’s how they get their nutrition. 

On your rest days, if you do nothing but sit at a computer, that’s not enough loading to really get that sponge effect, if you want to call it that. 

But if you did some doughnut squeezing or you did some easy hangboarding or a few pull ups or some rotator cuff training, that would be great to do on a rest day, as long as it doesn’t escalate. 

If it turns into a handboard workout where you’re grabbing small holds, then you’re into that heavy loading again. And so it takes discipline. 

I call these very light, brief workouts, protective sessions. 

Eric has done a couple of videos on safe tendon loading so you can accelerate the recovery and the rate of remodeling or even healing of a tweaked tendon or ligament on his channel here.

If you like this article, you’ll probably like the next one in its series. It’s all about the nutrition behind tendons so that you can recover your tendons from what you eat, including something that’s super important when it comes to the science of tendons.