The science is pretty clear – in order for muscle to grow and get stronger it needs time to recover. This isn’t news to most serious athletes in any sport. As such, most training programs include rest days (also called recovery days) to ensure maximum results are achieved.
My experience in climbing, however, is that our sport is stupidly addictive! Many climbers train, or climb hard, multiple days in a row – 4 or 5 days in a row is not uncommon. Unfortunately this level of training sets climbers up for potential injury, as they are not giving their muscles the time they need to recover properly. With the knowledge that it is the recovery phase that makes the muscles stronger, the constant workload on the muscles also means that climbers who train or climb everyday are likely hampering their gains as opposed to improving them.
However, just because you are taking a rest day doesn’t mean you can’t improve your climbing in other ways. Below is a list of 8 activities you can undertake on a rest day that will improve your climbing, and will hopefully keep you sane while you stay away from the walls or rocks!
- Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) – In basic terms, SMR is ‘massaging your muscles’. Typical SMR techniques include using foam rollers and other devices to massage the muscles and release tension. Consistent foam rolling may improve range of motion, and decrease muscle tightness. Foam rolling has allowed thousands of athletes to train at high levels and avoid stiffness that comes with heavy training.
- Stretching – We all say it, but very few people actually do it! Stretching is great for releasing tight muscles and assists in removing waste products from the muscles, which assists in muscle recovery. Stretching is also fantastic for improving range of motion in joints, which can make a massive difference when it comes to technique. If you struggle with particular movements on the wall, such as high steps, stretching the tight muscles can help improve flexibility and maximise your movement when climbing.
- Yoga – Very similar to stretching, but for those people who like having a specific program to follow with progressions as they improve, yoga is great for improving flexibility and releasing tight muscles.
- Walking/hiking – Not only does it burn calories getting you in better shape for climbing, it gets you outdoors and can increase your feelings of well-being. Most rock climbers live for the outdoors, and getting out for a walk or hike in nature is great for your physical and mental fitness. Just make sure you stay off the enticing rock faces you may walk past!
- Jogging/Running – Another great way to burn calories and get active on your day off. Studies have shown a greater cardiovascular fitness can assist with lactic tolerance, meaning that going for a run could improve your climbing endurance. As well, burning calories and trimming up means less weight to haul up the climb!
- Cycling – If jogging isn’t your thing, jumping on a bike and going for a pedal is another great way to get a cardiovascular boost. Importantly with both jogging and cycling, make sure the intensity of the run or ride is matched to your current fitness levels – you should feel good after the session, not worse than when you started!
- Swimming – Swimming is particularly low stress due to the weightlessness. You can have a great swimming workout engaging the muscular and cardiovascular system without added pressure on your joints. Again, make sure to take into consideration your current fitness level.
- Play a sport – Mix it up and play a sport with friends. Not only do you get the social benefits of hanging out with people other than your climbing mates, but the cross-training value of playing a different sport is fantastic for improving overall fitness for climbing. Important note, the operative word is PLAY not compete – keep it low key and match the intensity to your current fitness levels, remember you are meant to be resting!
Most of all, remember you have earned your rest/recovery days! You have been training hard, so take it easy and get ready to smash it out again tomorrow!