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How To Climb Your Best – Pros and Cons of Rest Days

How To Climb Your Best – Pros and Cons of Rest Days

When I first started climbing, I was at the gym every day climbing and loving every minute. This is a common occurrence for new climbers and you may have found yourself doing the same thing. If you are here, reading this article, then you are probably wondering if it is ok to rock climb every day.

This article goes in-depth for the pros and cons of break days and climbing every day as well as how often you should climb and signs that indicate you may need a rest day.

As for everyone that doesn’t like reading, here is a quick summary:

Can you climb every day? Most professional climbers and trainers recommend rest days to reduce the risk of injury, prevent fatigue and allow muscles to recover.

Overall, the benefits of rest days outweigh the benefits of rock climbing every day and the cons of climbing every day heavily outweigh the cons of taking break days. 

If you just want to know signs that you need a rest/break day, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Note: Benefits and cons are dependent on how difficult or hard you push yourself during your climbing session.

Pros of Climbing Every Day

There aren’t as many pros for climbing every day as there are for taking rest days, but in order to make your own decision, it is worth putting them here for you to analyze. 

The intensity of your climbing session will make a difference when it comes to pros and cons so if you are set on climbing every day, decrease your intensity and duration of your climbing sessions. If you want to skip to the part of this article that outlines signs you may need a rest day, scroll to the bottom.

Improve Technique

Moving your body up the wall requires strength and technique and the application of the technique is done by climbing. This is why one of the most common suggestions that climbers have for beginners is to climb as much as possible because so you can learn and adapt to the unique movement required for climbing. 

It doesn’t matter how many videos you watch or books you read, without applying technique by actually climbing, you aren’t going to develop better technique. For this reason, climbing every day can help you improve your technique without the concern of forgetting what you’ve learned in previous sessions and by giving you as much time to get the technique down as possible.

Another reason why climbing every day can help improve your technique is that it doesn’t require muscle strength. However, it requires coordination and mental clarity so if you are fatigued, it will likely be difficult to maintain good technique.

Pros of Taking Rest/Break Days

Some associate break days as days that you just don’t climb or sit on the couch all day but there is more to it. Break days include taking deliberate action to help your body recover and prepare for more climbing. 

This includes eating enough protein and vitamins, rolling out any sore muscles, and getting enough rest for your physical and mental climbing game.

Here are the main pros of taking break days: 

Improves performance: 

One thing that most climbers have in common is the drive to improve performance and level up. Climbing is a very milestone oriented sport because you can easily identify improvement when looking at the climbing grade/difficulty you are able to climb today compared to what you could climb last week or last month. This is why performance is at the top of this pros list. 

Giving your muscles/body/mind a rest allows you to recover, build muscle and prepare for your next climbing session. That recovery time and preparation will make it easier for you to perform at your best and limit mistakes and/or fatigue.

Improves endurance:

By taking rest days, you are able to train harder and longer on climbing days, which, in turn, will improve your endurance if you train correctly. Endurance is an important part of climbing, especially with sports climbing/other rope climbing, though endurance is helpful with bouldering as well. 

By training harder and longer on climbing days, you are able to train your body to push further and harder than previous sessions, which is what builds endurance. 

There are particular training regimens that you can use to build endurance but you won’t be able to build endurance if your body hasn’t been able to recover from previous climbing sessions. That recovery comes from rest days.

Give muscles a chance to recover and grow: 

As you probably already know, your muscles need time to recover before they are able to get stronger. 

Just like exercising with weights, climbing causes microscopic tears in your muscle tissue so your body needs rest to repair it.

 When the tissue heals, it also grows and results in stronger muscles.

Prevent muscle fatigue: 

Every time you climb, your muscle glycogen depletes, which causes soreness and fatigue. Without glycogen, your body is unable to leverage your muscles so this is a particularly important aspect of recovery. Break days give your muscles a chance to refill your glycogen levels so that you can use your muscles to climb. (Who knew that you needed muscles to climb…) 

Give your skin a chance to recover: 

Unlike most exercise, climbing is unique in that it requires a lot of skin tolerance. When you first start climbing, you’ll probably experience soreness/sensitive skin on your hands – I remember feeling like I couldn’t use my hands for a couple of hours after climbing the first couple of weeks because the skin was so sensitive. As you get more experience with climbing, the skin on your hands adapt and will eventually be able to tolerate as much beating as the rest of your muscles, but until that point, a break day is important to help your skin heal. 

Prevent skin tears and wearing: 

Break/Rest days are an important part of preventing skin tears. In addition to providing a chance for your skin to recover, you also have the chance to groom and maintain healthy skin without the issue of climbing and making them rough again. On rest days, make sure that you are using a lot of lotion and are keeping your hands/skin moist and healthy so that it can become more pliable and usable. In addition, sand down any callouses you may have. Callouses can get caught on the climbing holds/rock and cause a flapper. Here are recommendations on how to deal with flappers. Pro Tip: Avoid washing your hands in hot or cold water – room temperature water is best for your skin to recover.

Prevent tendon injuries: 

Tendon injuries are most commonly caused by overuse and break/rest days can help prevent tendon overuse. The most common tendon injuries are in your hands/fingers (blasted crimp holds!). Even if you aren’t on a rest day, however, if you feel any pain in your fingers/tendons (shoulder and elbow tendons too), then stop climbing. You can start climbing again after the pain goes away. Tendon injuries aren’t worth another send. 

Cons of Climbing Every Day

Many of the cons for climbing every day are the exact opposite of the pros for taking break days and may seem familiar. However, apparently the psychology of reading headlines suggests that listing out cons separately from the pros of the opposite action such as taking rest days helps get the point across. For that reason, enjoy the list. And if you actually read this paragraph, pat yourself on the back for being 1/10 people to do so (that stat is completely made up but it sounds believable)

Increased risk of tendon injury: 

Tendon injuries can keep you from being able to climb for weeks at a time so tendon injuries are very serious and should be avoided. The number one cause of tendon injuries in climbing is overuse and if you climb at your capacity every day without a break/rest day, you are more likely to get a tendon injury due to overuse. 

If you decide to climb every day anyway, make sure you listen to your body and stop climbing if you feel any pain. Being able to do one more climb during your climbing session isn’t worth the injury, even if you are someone you don’t plan to be again in your life.

Also, if you are recovering from a tendon injury and your doctor has signed you off for climbing, be sure to ask for proper ways to tape each finger for additional support as needed.

Increased risk of skin tears and wearing:

If you are climbing every day then your skin doesn’t have the chance to recover properly and thus you are more likely to get flappers or other skin “injuries.” Most skin injuries just require taping and you can continue climbing, but it hurts and will likely make you more hesitant to do big moves that may require strong skin.

If you decide to climb every day despite the risk of skin flappers and tares, be sure to use a salve of some sort that can help your skin stay strong and healthy. 

I made my own climbing salve, which was nice because I could add whatever oil that I thought fit my personal needs. It wasn’t difficult to make but the ingredients needed are only sold in larger quantities where I live so I made a batch of 25+ salve bars and still have a ton of leftover ingredients that I probably won’t use for a couple of years since I have 25 bars already. 

I’ve also used Climb On, which I didn’t like the smell at first but it’s grown on me and I like it now. Plus it comes with a nice container that helps keep it clean compared to the plastic bag I carry my homemade salve in.

The inability of the muscle to build properly:

Every time you workout or climb, your muscles get microtears, which are necessary for building muscles, however, the tears require recovery time to repair and build the muscle. If you are climbing every day, it will be more difficult to source the chemicals/cells required to build those muscles up, and thus prevent you from building your muscles properly. 

By taking rest days, your body will be able to build your muscles properly but if you are still going to climb every day, be sure to provide additional nutrition to help build your muscles. 

Protein is a very important part of building muscles so be diligent and ensure you are getting enough protein every day for the amount of climbing you are doing.

Increase Chance of Central Nervous System (CNS) Fatigue:

Many of us have experienced fatigue, which can be a healthy signal showing that we trained hard and gave it our all during the climbing session. However, if you consistently overtrain or overclimb, you are at risk of getting to the point that your exhaustion causes the brain to become chronically tired. 

Our speech, memory, movement, and general awareness are all a direct result of a properly functioning nervous system, which can be directly affected by CNS fatigue so it is important to avoid.

If you have ever experienced irritability or emotional changes, sleep deprivation, food cravings, loss of appetite, decreased immune system support, sluggishness or getting sick more frequently than usual, you may have experienced CNS fatigue.

Many climbers recommend resting and changing your exercise regimen if you experience any of these symptoms. Meditation is also frequently recommended as it helps with mental strength.

Cons of Taking Rest/Break Days

There aren’t many cons of taking rest days so you should probably include them in your climbing regimen. Just in case you are like me and like to see the pros and cons listed out, here you go. Of course, if you can think of more (legit reasons) then please scroll to the very bottom of this page and leave a comment.

You may forget what technique or movement from a previous climbing session:

Forgetting what you did to get to where you were the last time you were on a project can be frustrating and make you feel like you’ve lost progress. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens when you take time away from climbing. 

This con is a common reason why many climbers maintain climbing journals. Climbing journals give you a chance to record whatever you want, such as the technique and moves for your project as well as write down how you felt about your climbing session. These journals can be useful to look back on for a project as well as see how far you have come on your climbing journey.

Signs You Need A Rest Day

There are many signs that you need a rest day and sometimes you will just need a rest day because you feel like it. 

Please keep in mind that climbing while sick isn’t a good idea, so if you are sick, take a rest day. Especially if you climb in a gym. If you sneeze in a gym then everyone there will get sick.

Sore muscles:

If your body is recovered from your climbing session, then you won’t feel sore. Sometimes climbers claim that they get sore after every climbing session and if that is the case, then you may need to look at your nutrition and see if you are providing enough to your muscles. Otherwise, the only other thing you can do is rest.

Fatigue:

Fatigue is something we all commonly experience after climbing. However, feeling fatigued before you start climbing is a good sign that you should take a rest day. Climbing while fatigued is not only dangerous, but it is a symptom commonly noticed before developing Central Nervous System (CNS) Fatigue, which can have lasting effects and interrupt your day-to-day life.

Sleeping issues:

Exercise and climbing to a certain point can help improve your sleep. However, if you over-climb or over-exercise, your body may overproduce adrenaline and interrupt your sleeping patterns. If you are having a hard time sleeping, it is a good idea to take a rest day so your body can adjust and realign the proper chemical creation process.

Reduced performance:

One of the least enjoyable experiences while climbing is trying to do something that you were able to do in the past or notice that something is harder today than it was yesterday. If you notice a reduced performance, it may be because you are fatigued mentally or physically and need a rest day.

Conclusion

Climbing every day is what many climbers dream of (I literally dream about climbing every night, which I don’t think is perfectly normal, but also not what I’m referring to in this context). However, based on the pros and cons listed above, it is clear that you should include rest days.

Climbing every day can cause issues with not only your climbing performance, but also with your day to day experiences so it is important to take rest days as needed.

It is common for climbers who are on training programs to plan specific rest days after specific training regimens but for everyone that isn’t on a training program you can use your best judgment. 

If you listen to your body and do what you know your body wants you to do then you should be able to avoid injury or overworking yourself and get the right amount of rest days/time.

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