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Finger Strength and Plateau


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Joe B · · San Diego, CA · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0

I’ve been climbing for just over a year now and have got to the v6 indoor and v5 outdoor level. As I know, my technique always needs to improve, but I would have to say strength-wise it’s finger strength that I need to work on.

My issue is; I train easier crimpy problems and hangboard (using the half crimp) then finger strength goes up. I work my way up to my limit crimp problems and then I strain a pulley. And the cycle continues. I feel like to break through my v5/6 plateau my fingers need to get stronger since most V7 and beyond almost always involve hard crimping.

Help me out if you can! It would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance 

Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,506

How old are you?

Joe B · · San Diego, CA · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0
Jaren Watson wrote: How old are you?

28

Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,506

That’s old enough you’ll want to be (as you’ve found already) very careful about pushing too hard too fast.

V6 in a year is really good—nice work!

At this early stage in your climbing, it’s tempting to think finger strength is the main limiting factor. Don’t underestimate how much a role is played by technique, though.

If you’ve already experienced pulley injuries, I would advise focusing on long term progress. Yes, V7 is right around the corner grade-wise. But a serious recurring tendon injury can keep you from reaching that goal for months, even years.

My advice is to be patient. Would you prefer climbing V8/V9 in two or three years, or battling yet another round of ruptured pulleys and fighting to get back to V5/6?

Aside from the genetic freaks, almost every climber that advances to higher difficulty levels did so by playing the long game. The good part about the long game is that there are many things to work on in the meantime.

Core strength, flexibility, endurance, precise footwork, large muscle power—all of which are less likely to result in an acute injury.

One other bit of advice—climb outside as much as possible. Pulling hard on gym crimps is a recipe for injury for anyone over 20, especially for new climbers.

Keep working at it!

Remember to have fun along the way. V5 today should be more enjoyable than any climb of any grade tomorrow—because that one doesn’t exist!

JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95
Joe B wrote: I’ve been climbing for just over a year now... 

Tendons take time...a lot of time. Longer for some people than others. Climbing progress is a long-term process. A year is nothing. Be patient, give your body time to catch up to your ambition.

Joe B · · San Diego, CA · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0
Jaren Watson wrote: That’s old enough you’ll want to be (as you’ve found already) very careful about pushing too hard too fast.

V6 in a year is really good—nice work!

At this early stage in your climbing, it’s tempting to think finger strength is the main limiting factor. Don’t underestimate how much a role is played by technique, though.

If you’ve already experienced pulley injuries, I would advise focusing on long term progress. Yes, V7 is right around the corner grade-wise. But a serious recurring tendon injury can keep you from reaching that goal for months, even years.

My advice is to be patient. Would you prefer climbing V8/V9 in two or three years, or battling yet another round of ruptured pulleys and fighting to get back to V5/6?

Aside from the genetic freaks, almost every climber that advances to higher difficulty levels did so by playing the long game. The good part about the long game is that there are many things to work on in the meantime.

Core strength, flexibility, endurance, precise footwork, large muscle power—all of which are less likely to result in an acute injury.

One other bit of advice—climb outside as much as possible. Pulling hard on gym crimps is a recipe for injury for anyone over 20, especially for new climbers.

Keep working at it!

Remember to have fun along the way. V5 today should be more enjoyable than any climb of any grade tomorrow—because that one doesn’t exist!

Thank you for the response and advice! Gotta check my ego and take it slow. I can’t hardly wait 3 days without climbing so I can’t imagine a serious injury.... And yes I agree I have to get outside much much more. 

Joe B · · San Diego, CA · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0
JCM wrote:

Tendons take time...a lot of time. Longer for some people than others. Climbing progress is a long-term process. A year is nothing. Be patient, give your body time to catch up to your ambition.

Thanks for the advice! I’ll stop the grade chasing and enjoy the process.... have to work on technique anyhow!

Will O. · · Marquette, MI · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 942

If you're not doing it already, look in to training your antagonist forearm felxors to mitigate those injuries. Here's two exercises from Eric Horst: https://trainingforclimbing.com/effective-forearm-antagonist-training-for-climbers/ 

Also, rest is super important, muscles recover in 48 hours while tendons may take over 72. Be careful if you find yourself doing multiple limit-bouldering sessions in a row.

Finally, it can be hard to avoid grade chasing. Everyone hates on slopers, but for those of us with weak fingers looking to try a little harder they're great, especially in compression climbing, as they require more technique and all around body strength to hold instead of finger strength.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 16,118

What's the evidence that forearm antagonist exercises prevent finger pulley injuries?

Or if evidence is difficult to find, what's the reasoning in physiology + biomechanics for why we ought to believe that it helps?

Ken

P.S. I never do antagonist exercises, and I don't get finger injuries.

Ned Plimpton · · Salt Lake City · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 110

My understanding was that antagonist training helped prevent muscular imbalance thus lessening the likelihood of tendonitis, etc. but I’ve never heard it having an effect on pulley injury prevention.  ?

Will O. · · Marquette, MI · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 942
kenr wrote: Or if evidence is difficult to find, what's the reasoning in physiology + biomechanics for why we ought to believe that it helps?
I don’t know if there’s any peer reviewed literature out there to confirm it, but one of the thoughts behind it is that your pulleys get stronger by a responding to a stress (like crimping hard on the proj) by adding more collagen strands to the existing ones. Collagen is delivered through the bloodstream, but pulleys experience poor blood flow compared to our muscles and other parts of the body. These antagonist exercises will encourage more blood flow to your pulleys which will aid in their recovery and growth from the stress of crimping hard on the proj.


P.S. I never do antagonist exercises, and I don't get finger injuries.

Hmm, seems like there could be some lurking variables in this assumption...

Joe B · · San Diego, CA · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0

Incorporating everything said so far into my training! Doing push-ups made a huge difference in elbow soreness I had in the past. So it makes sense to incorporate antagonist training for my other muscles/tendons.

Justin Sermeno · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2018 · Points: 0

I don’t have any evidence that antagonist exercises help prevent pulley injuries, but I swear by them now. Wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, and rubber band extensions have helped me get past a injury plateau. I was always stuck at a certain strength level and whenever I tried to surpass that level I would get terrible tendinitis in my left forearm.

I found that my left arm could only do reverse wrist curls at about 60% the weight of my right arm. I was at a stronger strength level when I was younger, and didn’t have any problems. I’m 31 now.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 16,118
Will O. wrote: These antagonist exercises will encourage more blood flow to your pulleys which will aid in their recovery and growth from the stress of crimping hard on the proj
Not getting why "antagonist" exercises with fingers/forearms would do any better at stimulating blood flow any better than positive "agonist" usage.

The muscles used for forearm exercises are nowhere near the finger pulley tendons.

Why not just open and close your fingers repeatedly? That is moving the joints which are actually near to the pulleys.
I do lots of that. Mostly while I'm climbing, sometimes when I'm not climbing.

Ken
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 16,118
Ned Plimpton wrote: My understanding was that antagonist training helped prevent muscular imbalance thus lessening the likelihood of tendonitis, etc. but I’ve never heard it having an effect on pulley injury prevention.  ?
Yes especially since the "antagonist" exercises for normal finger/forearm motion + pulling are not antagonist / opposite pulls for the finger pulleys.

Yes the "muscular imbalance" explanation is the usual old-school argument for doing antagonist exercises.

But one of the smartest new-school Physical Therapy experts who writes for climbers has pointed out that finger/forearm imbalance is the most dramatic proof that the whole "antagonist" strategy for injury-prevention must be fundamentally flawed.

Because a serious climber is never going to get the strength of the finger extensor muscles anywhere close to the strength of their finger flexor primary climbing grip muscles. So even if do forearm antagonist exercise, the remaining "imbalance" can be slightly reduced, but it will not come close to going away.
Reducing the ratio of finger flexor to finger extensor strength from 5:1 to 4:1 remains an "imbalance".

Ken
Will O. · · Marquette, MI · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 942
kenr wrote:
Ken, I don't think we're going to convince each other to switch camps, but I've really enjoyed revisiting my training rationale with a more critical eye.

 Not getting why "antagonist" exercises with fingers/forearms would do any better at stimulating blood flow any better than positive "agonist" usage.
I'll admit, I am skeptical that wrist curls are going to increase the blood flow to your pulleys, but the extensor and flexor tendons are attached to and powered by the same muscle in the forearm. While pulleys are exclusive to the flexor tendons, blood delivered to both the flexor and extensor tendons is sourced from veins located in the connective tissue between them, so I wouldn't say it's not possible.

I agree that nothing will stimulate blood flow better than "agonist" usage. However, this "agonsit" usage is responsible for the stress on the pulleys. Maybe some sort of low intensity cool-down could have the same effect without the damage? With that being said, many extensor exercises are commonly used as PT for pulley injuries as they bring blood to the same area while deloading your pulleys. So I guess this is a form of prehab.

Why not just open and close your fingers repeatedly? That is moving the joints which are actually near to the pulleys.

It's been shown that resistance exercises increase blood flow to our limbs more than aerobic exercises. So opening your hands is a good step, tendon glides would be better, but an exercise with resistance would be best.

Philip Carlton · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 0

Take a week off each month, and occasionally a 2+ week break. Your tendons need it if you're already experiencing chronic issues. Thank me in a year...

AJ Leiden · · Eau Claire, WI · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 0

The top response to this thread over on r/climbing has some great points for anyone interested in dealing with finger injuries.

E MuuD · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2018 · Points: 20

Take 5 mg collagen 30 min before climbing (especially if your session will involve hard crimping.)

Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,506

Rub tea tree oil on your fingers while you’re at it. It won’t change the fact that because tendons receive relatively minor blood flow, they take years to adapt to the stress of climbing, but at least the oil smells nice.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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