Training and Injury

Hey Steph.
Three weeks ago I was riding my bike home from school and my left foot slipped off the pedal, which continued to rotate around and came down behind my achilles tendon and partially severed it (about 50% of it is still intact, so no surgery!). This caused me to front flip over the handlebars and fracture my collarbone, though thankfully I had a helmet on and nothing more severe occured.

Anyway, rather than working and climbing in Yosemite this summer, I am moving back home and retraining my foot to be able to walk again and pronate correctly, and it will be at least six months- possibly up to a year- before I am able to climb at all. I have read your posts about coming back after your knee injury, and I am interested in the training side of being on the couch. I have been crutching my way around the gym doing some upper body and core stuff (as much as my collarbone will allow), but I am really concerned about maintaining and improving my finger strength. Someone told me today about a climber who had a lower body injury in 2002, forcing him to spend the whole winter training in his parents’ basement, and he came back feeling stronger than before. Very inspiring.

Did you do any sort of hangboard workouts following your ACL replacement? It’s difficult living without climbing right now, especially knowing that I will be missing the entire season, though I am slowly discovering new interests outside of my regular routine (always a good thing), and I get my cams out every now and then and reassure them that they will be tasting splitter granite very soon…
Thank you so much- Sam

Dear Steph,
I am struggling with chronic wrist and elbow pain (problem remains unconfirmed due to a pokey public health system and the complexity of the joints). However, the whys aren’t the concern of my message, but how to deal with being deprived of the sport I love dearly for a potentially indefinite time.

Pursuing other interests like biking has helped, but my options still remain limited by my wrists. Besides, no activity I can manage has yet come close to inspiring the pure joy and rush I experience while climbing.
Rarely did it ever feel like a chore or obligation to train and climb, more like an absolute treat. I’m now getting out of shape and losing my motivation to stay active. I’m trying to accept my present situation, without becoming resentful or giving up, but sometimes I’m not particularly successful.

When injured, how do you try to deal positively with the situation? Any thoughts appreciated.
All the best,

Hi Sam and Ali,
Sorry to hear about your injuries!!! Ankles and wrists can both be really limiting. I’ve been fortunate to not have any serious injuries, though I’ve had lots of minor sprains and overuse things in both ankles and wrists. Aside from tearing my ACL, I had another injury where I fractured my sacrum and also tore some rib intercostal tissue and got elbow bursitis at the same time.

That was about 6-8 weeks before everything was fine again, so it was pretty quick. But all those things were surprisingly painful. I couldn’t walk at first because of the pain, and certain arm movements or sitting up would trigger the rib tissue. But I would go to the swimming pool, and just slowly walk around the pool–I loved that. It was the only time in the day where I felt normal, and walking didn’t hurt, so the pool was the best thing ever. I wanted to lap swim, but couldn’t at first. Eventually I discovered I could do breast stroke without triggering the rib pain, and that was great. I also went to the weight room, and just hobbled around between the weight machines, and found the exercises that didn’t hurt my rib tissue or my sacrum, and did those. Some things I could do normally, like lat pulldowns. Other things I had to use extremely light weights. But if it didn’t hurt anything, it got put into the routine, and I did start doing some exercises I’d never done before. So between all of that, I was kept pretty busy, and by the time the injuries were healed I was actually in extremely good shape because of all the lap swimming too.

When I was recovering from the ACL surgery, I also used the weight room a lot, every day, in fact. I did tons of pullups and also did fingerboard workouts, since the only thing that was not okay was just my left leg. After two months, when I could go on walks on flat dirt roads, I was really excited! So the thing about the recovery process is that it’s constantly exciting, as you are able to do more and different things. At least, that’s what I think. By the time my leg was recovered, I was in great climbing shape, since I had done so much upper body training. It sounds crazy, but when I hurt something involving my legs now, I think, “oh good, now I’ll train and be super strong for climbing.” Because there’s only so much time in the day, and it can be hard to divide your climbing time between playing and training, normally. 🙂

So my advice about injuries is to look things objectively, and ask yourself, “what CAN I do?” If your wrists or shoulders are hurt, you can do a lot of core strength training which you probably don’t usually have the time to devote as much attention to. Core training will absolutely improve your overall fitness and climbing. I had zero interest in lap swimming until I fractured my pelvis, and I discovered that it is one of the best types of climbing and fitness training around. So don’t think about what it is you can’t do due to the injury, use your imagination and start thinking about all the things out there you can do. You might find yourself excited about something new, and look back on the injury as fortunate in that way, because that’s how I feel about discovering lap swimming with the sacral fracture I had.

I certainly don’t like being injured, and no one does. But it can be a fairly engaging experience, because you are caught up into a full-time project. It’s an opportunity for you to step outside your normal routines and be creative with things because you need to figure out what to do and how to do it to maximize your training possibilities and accelerate your healing. There’s something oddly enjoyable about that process, when you know you will get better. That’s the other thing too. If you have an injury that is going to get better, you have to realize how fortunate you are. Be thankful for that every day, and that will also make you feel very positive throughout the healing process.
🙂 Steph

  • LOL! AW Steph! You crack me up; “I’ve been fortunate to not have any serious injuries …Aside from tearing my ACL, I had another injury where I fractured my sacrum and also tore some rib intercostal tissue and got elbow bursitis at the same time.”
    Geez! Those sound like serious injuries to me! lol!
    You give me Strength, Hardcore!
    All the Best, Chipper

  • Anonymous

    🙂 well, you know, it’s all relative. i think i’m pretty lucky.

  • Bruno_hache

    I cannot agree more with Steph.
    I also had several sprains to fingers, lower back and ankles throughout the years.
    And also some episodes of overuse tendinitis.

    During recovery, besides disciplined rehab, I switch to another project.
    One of them was building the inside of my camping trailer.

    I would like to add:
    I avoid thinking about 6 months ahead to full recovery, it is very demotivating.
    I focus on only 2 wks progress at a time.

    Two weeks progress is like the recompense of color belts in Martial arts.
    It keeps you going and motivated.


  • Gorka

    i am a climber of spain .I hope you are good and good luck


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