29 March 2010

Climbing for active rest

Some of you commented from my last post asking if you could use light climbing as active rest between hard climbing days, and how to judge the intensity. Yes you can do this, but there are some obvious pitfalls. The first is obviously if the ‘light’ climbing isn’t light enough. It’s more of a problem if you are sport climbing than any other discipline. The routes have to feel really quite easy, so at the end of the session you should probably feel fresher than at the start.
Climbers on short (1-2 week) sport climbing trips often tell themselves they’ll just have a light day as active rest so they can avoid having to discipline a boring full rest day while staying at a dream destination. Tough as it is in the short term, the full rest day often works out better down the line. Most climbers standard goes steadily downhill during trips as they  to more volume than they can handle and end up with hands and muscles so totally trashed they can hardly look at a route by the last day. So while on trip, when you are doing more climbing than you are generally accustomed to, full rest is often the best idea. But if you are climbing at home and especially if you know the active rest  climbs/circuits you want to do, you will be less tempted to overdo it, and you might actually help your recovery.
If you are bouldering for some reason it’s a little easier psychologically to discipline yourself to an easy session, just focusing on movement, and jumping off anytime you hit a hard move or get pumped. It’s also easier to fit a very short session in, just ‘swinging past’ the crag to nip up a handful of problems in 30 minutes and then leave before breakfast/lunch or on the way to something else. Adventurous trad is by far the easiest and best active rest day for climbers. It’s great fun, and it’s not hard to find routes that will still feel engaging without being physically challenging. If you are up to it, free-soloing on easy ground is a nice active rest day that's definitely not for everyone.
Don’t get hung up on which grade would be the correct intensity - it’s a guaranteed way to get the intensity wrong. Just focus on how you feel. If you feel like you are recovering and feeling fresher as the session goes on, you’ve got it right.


gian said...

i'm particularly interested on the "climbing trip" comment.

I like trips alot and right now i hardly do any sport climbing apart from trips (i have amazing bouldering and ugly sport next door...).

my strategy has always been to be selective: on a trip i want to climb good lines in good conditions in a good shape, since climbing an uninspiring route in poor conditions and awful shape is always possible at home.

That cuts my daily volume a lot, i'd say i'm usually having a very late start, two warmups, two or three "performance" ascents with massive rests in between, and rarely a "warm down".

This i usually manage to do 3 climbing days and 1 rest, and i'm getting stronger through the trip.

Do you consider this approach to be "optimal" or you think that 3 consecutive days on is too much even when the volume is so low?

Dave MacLeod said...

There are never any right or wrong answers that involve solid numbers of days, routes etc. Optimal in most training variables is a holy grail most of the time. You can judge it more optimal if the results from training or performances are better than before or better than expected (accounting for other effects going on in parallel!). It's less optimal if the climbing is getting worse.

The key I suppose is to experiment rather than stick to one routine. That way you will learn to know your body and how it responds to different types and amplitudes of stimuli.

What seems to work for me on short trips is reasonably similar to you, but I tend to manage 4 decent burns on long sport routes after the warmup on the first day after the rest day, but only have two days on. But on other trips I've climbed every day. It depends on the character of the routes also!

AlanL said...

I went for a walk through the gorge for a "rest day" at the Verdon. It's nice down there, but: a full day of quite rough walking, hot, big ascent at the end, didn't carry nearly enough water. I was completely wasted afterwards ...