Performance Enhancement Strategies for Climbers

Over the last few months I have been conducting a secret experiment. An informal survey of various climbers who love to train. I asked people what they think the most important part of their training is and what is one thing they do to enhance their climbing performance.  

I got a host of different answers ranging from “core exercises,” “eating more protein,” “campusing,” “rotator cuff exercises,” “drinking coffee before training,” “gymanastic ring training,” “taking BCAA’s,” “running,” etc. 

Almost no one gave me the answer I was hoping to hear. 


So what was the answer I was searching for? Let me tell you…

The most important part of any successful training program has nothing to do with training itself. The most important part of training–the part that will affect your performance the most–is REST and RECOVERY. That’s the answer I was hoping to hear.

Rest and recovery are probably the least planned and underutilized ways to enhance performance.

In 15 years of climbing and dealing with my own injuries, 3+ years of working with athletes’ broken bodies and 1 year of barbell training I have learned one thing:


This is a hard fact for many athletes to face. We all want to push our bodies to the limit and we think that more is better. This really isn’t the case. I currently spend 5 days a week fixing athletes who train this way and spend a lot of time begging them to take some rest days.

If you don’t rest and recover your body won’t adapt to the stress of your training—you won’t get stronger. Neglect it for too long, and you will start to lose strength. You’ll sink into the black hole known as overtraining. First, your sleep patterns and energy levels will feel the effects. Eventually, your immune system crashes, and you lose your appetite. It’s like burning out your engine.

vian at BIW

 We have different systems that need to recover. These include hormonal, neurological, and structural. Our structural system includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Muscles recover the quickest because they receive direct blood flow. Tendons, ligaments, and bones receive indirect blood flow and therefore can take longer to recover and be more susceptible to overtraining stress (think pulley and tendon injuries here).


You don’t have to be a pro athlete to suffer. Recreational athletes can overtrain too. With deadlines, chores, bills, kids, school and lack of sleep, it’s more challenging to recover properly from your training.

OK, OK, you get it right? Resting is important to recover from your training, for injury prevention and to prevent burnout. So what are the best strategies for rest and recovery? 

1. Sleep

 Sleep is the most important time to recover. Adequate levels of sleep help to provide mental health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery. Between seven to ten hours is what is needed for most athletes.

 2. Hydration

 Drinking adequate amounts of water is critical to health, energy, recovery, and performance. Water helps all of our functions. A few examples are more efficient nutrient uptake, lower levels of stress on the heart, improved skin tone, and better hair quality.

 The simplest way to check hydration is to look at your pee. If it is clear to pale yellow you are hydrated. The darker and more color in your pee the less hydrated you are and more water you need to drink.


See my last blog on Climber Posture

American culture doesn’t really focus on this one. On average we spend more time sitting than any other country in the world, and as a general trend have bad posture. This is not a restful position; sitting or standing with bad posture is harmful. It can lead to back or neck pain, specifically for those with desk jobs. I highly recommend switching to a sit/stand desk at work if possible.

Max Zolotukhin competing at the SBC Pro in 2012.

Prime example of Climber Posture at the SBC Pro in 2012.

 4. Self-Myofascial Release

 As one of my favorite bodyworkers Mike Papciak said in a recent interview on the Touchstone Blog,

“A tight muscle is a weak muscle. It takes much more effort to use a muscle that’s stiff and dysfunctional than to use a muscle that’s pliable and responsive. Tight muscles are also slower, less coordinated, and more prone to tearing, spasm, and injury. An athlete who’s not getting regular release work from a practitioner and/or doing it on their own is hobbling their performance.” 

Read my article on Climber Posture for some tips or read this article on foam rolling . Better yet, book yourself an appointment with someone like myself or Mike. We know athletes’ bodies well and can help free up that junky tissue and get you moving better.  

Spending some additional time focusing on rest and recovery can pay dividends beyond additional training time. Think about it…it’s essentially legal performance enhancement!!! Most people miss out on this because they don’t want to dedicate time to the little things that matter most. Don’t ignore your body until it becomes too late and you’re forced to take unnecessary time off due to injury, burnout, or worse.


8 responses to “Performance Enhancement Strategies for Climbers

  1. Pingback: Shoulder Impingement Syndrome Part 2 – Treatment | Natasha Barnes Climbing·

    • You are welcome! Glad to hear that other are finding it helpful! Please feel free to share the post with other climbers who may find it useful. Thanks for reading!

    • Daniel thanks for reading and thanks for your question. That’s a hard one for me to answer on an individual basis because it really depends on the volume and intensity of your training/climbing and also whether you are a beginner or advanced athlete. I know for myself I train hard 3 days a week Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and can sometimes get away with an easy-ish bouldering session on Sundays and still feel recovered for the next week of training.

      • How many hours per week does that amount to? I’m typically doing around 7 +/- 1 hours a week (hangboard, campusing, and yoga) I don’t have easy access to any type of actual climbing. But I hear of people doing significantly more and wonder how they are able to get results.

  2. Pingback: 3 BIG Reasons You’re Getting Injured and What To Do About It! | Natasha Barnes Climbing & Performance Therapy·

  3. Pingback: 3 BIG Reasons You’re Getting Injured and What To Do About It! – Climbing Performance Therapy·

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