Turning Injury Into Motivation

This is a common case:

Athlete hits a plateau in their many years of climbing and tries to push through it by doing pretty much more of the same thing. First, an injury significantly decreases their climbing capacity, and they take a little bit of time off. After returning to climbing again, and doing the same thing as before without physical therapy, they begin to experience subsequent injuries as a result of muscle imbalance and compensation. This leads to a host of chronic issues, a very long time off the horse, and in this time, the athlete spends hours scouring blogs, articles, and YouTube channels to beef up on injury prevention. They train with a plan, using their downtime to raise motivation, and train intelligently to come back stronger.

This is me.

I was a talented, bull-headed youth competitor in California who was proud not to have a coach. In 2008, much to my surprise, I won the 2008 North American Climbing Championship in sport climbing ahead of Paige Claassen and Emily Harrington, placed 4th in my first Bouldering World Cup, and went to the World Games in Taiwan. I trained, sure – but without any research, just guesswork and experimentation with workouts and diets. In 2009, I wandered abroad in Europe and climbed 8a+ in France, felt good about myself, and in 2010 I left California to live in Colorado and train with the best. Everything was going generally well, with just a few injury hiccups here and there.

In spite of being a decently strong female climber, making all the right steps getting a job at a gym and dropping out of college (twice), I stopped progressing. I couldn’t keep up with the other ladies, and the barrier was becoming something different.

Mistakenly, I thought 10+ years of climbing had taught me pretty much everything about the physical side of training. Six years later, I was making the effort to break what I thought was a mental plateau through trad climbing, when instead I broke my ankle.

Learning about injuries, I realized the problem was definitely mental, but it wasn’t fear.
My plateau was out of ignorance.

They say things don’t leave us in life until they teach us all they know. I made all the classic mistakes with the ankle break, and the path to recovery became much longer and more painful than it should have been – I had a lot to learn from the great teacher Injury.

I ran, like I used to – the ankle hurt worse, the knee and hips couldn’t handle it.
I climbed, compensating with my shoulders – a rotator cuff got inflamed.
I continued pushing through – the other shoulder began to hurt.
I finally strengthened antagonists – and sent 3 V9s in the gym.

I started reading more voraciously.

When I moved from Colorado to Mexico, from US’s competitive climbing hub to a country where climbing training material was not nearly as abundant in Spanish, I felt like a fountain of information. Only then did I realize all my answers were based on anecdotal evidence rather than research about climbing training and injuries; they were also asking a lot of questions I’d never thought to ask myself.

Sure, I’d read Dave McLeod’s extensively detailed books, and taken some wisdom from blogs, but they were not concreted in my memory and I had no technical sports training. I couldn’t even tell you the pulleys in the fingers.

Only then did I realize how diverse and specialized were the parts to a long and successful training career, and how much information there is.

This is fairly late in the game, since I started climbing 17 years ago, but it’s never too late to start climbing smarter. I’m proud to say that a month ago I sent a 5.13b third try, close to the personal record of 5.13c and V10.

I’m going to share some of my training findings here.

Thanks all for listening to my story.

Train hard, and \m/ on.