Anyone with a long-term investment in climbing will likely experience multiple reentries into the sport. Life gets in the way and, whether we like it or not, we sometimes fall off the training band-wagon.
Any number of things might keep you away from climbing; whether it’s a grad school, divorce, a new job, illness, a temporary disinterest in climbing, or any of the other life events that might interrupt your training. Before we know it months (or even years) have gone by and we’re left wondering how we got so far away from the sport that we love.
Getting back into rock climbing after a long break can be hard, tiring, and a bit daunting. For individuals that once prided themselves on their climbing ability, returning to the sport after a long hiatus is a bit of an ego blow. Usually, returning climbers find that they aren’t as fit as they once were and might also see themselves getting more nervous than they used to during their lead climbs. Anyone that has experienced a similar rough “reentry” into climbing knows that it is easy to become discouraged. Reentry will always feel a little bit harsh, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as you suspect.
Here, we outline a few tips for intermediate or advanced climbers that have taken a long break and are now trying to get back into climbing. Some growing pains might be unavoidable, but if you keep some of these bits of advice in mind, you’ll be back to your climbing peak sooner than you expect.
Lower Your Expectations
This one might sound a little harsh, but it’s the absolute truth. It’s going to be unrealistic and disappointing if you expect yourself to be able to climb at that same level. As a general rule of thumb, be happy to climb 2-3 grades lower than what you were able to do before an extended hiatus; for example, if you were crushing 5.11s in the gym all day be happy to top out on 5.9s for a few weeks. That doesn’t mean you’re a weak climber or a lesser human; you need to build again.
Listen to Your Body
Returning climbers tend to injure themselves. A combination of excitement to be involved again and eagerness to make up for lost time causes people to push themselves a bit too hard. Don’t be a hero. You have a lifetime to train for climbing.
Are your hands and forearms feeling pumped? Take a break. Strain yourself a bit on that last overzealous dyno? Call it a day. Are you incredibly sore after a couple of hard days in the gym? Take the day off.
Focus on Volume
That is the climbing equivalent of “lightweight, high reps.” If you were an Olympic weightlifter that had taken months or years off from training, you wouldn’t jump straight into lifting your max weight. Instead, you would spend a few weeks lifting lighter weights for many reps, to build up your endurance, strength, and overall fitness. Maybe after a few weeks of that, you might try a heavier weight (NOT your most massive weight) for a few reps.
You should adopt a similar mentality for climbing. Rather than worry about the grade that you’re climbing, instead focus on climbing more or longer routes. That will build your fitness, make you more resistant to injury, and prepare you for more challenging climbs in the future.
Avoid Hangboards (for a few weeks)
Many veteran climbers return to the sport after some time away and are immediately disappointed by their grip strength (or lack thereof). That usually makes people eager to jump on the hangboard. We’re not saying you don’t hangboard at all, but you should give yourself some time to build back your fitness before you jump back into our old hangboard routine.
Don’t Get Discouraged
More than anything else, this is the kicker. It’s easy to get discouraged and give up on climbing your first few days (or weeks) back at the climbing crag. Don’t give in to that feeling. Hit the gym, the peak, or the Dawn Wall (whatever your thing is), and climb every day your body will let you.
Any lifelong athlete will likely experience reentering a sport that they love – whether it’s climbing, running, weightlifting, or something else – it’s a somewhat unavoidable experience. If you’re a climber that’s returning to the crag or the gym, remember that you’re not alone. These types of endeavors are all part of the fitness journey. Don’t be too hard on yourself, listen to your body to avoid injury, and patiently build your endurance/fitness back to your previous level.
You’ve got this, we’ll see you out there.