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tl;dr - Starting to feel slight tendon pain. How long should I rest before it's OK to hit the gym hard again.

Background:

I recently decided to end my winter hibernation and got back into rock climbing.

Regardless of my slightly sloppy physique I have been hitting the bouldering gym as hard as my body will allow. Meaning, I may do more than one session a day with a few hours in between but am careful to take rest days so I can take advantage of super-compensation. I'm being careful to warm-up properly by hitting an exercise bike and stretching before each climb session.

Aside from a lot of expected soreness and energy dip until my body catches up to the pace I woke up today with some slight tendon pain in my right elbow (ie dominant arm) that subsided by lunch time.

Concern: I'm making good progress so far but also take the correct steps to avoid injury. I can switch over to working cardio in the interim but the super-compensation has been working surprising well so far and I'm really motivated to get back in the gym as soon as possible.

What's a good preventative rest interval after a minor tendon strain?

Note: There was no inflammation, just slight localized pain. Probably similar to golfer's/tennis elbow.

Update

Thanks to the advice from DavidR. I started taking rest days a lot more seriously and implemented a strict 'one rest day following a climb day' rule. I also occasionally mix in some light extensor/flexor stretches during my climbing sessions. Now that my forearms are conditioned for the intensity, I rarely feel any tendon soreness unless I climb routes that include dynamic moves or a lot of really crimpy holds.

Once my forearms got better and I could handle longer sessions I actually started to have shoulder pain instead. I dislocated my left shoulder when I was a teen so I have to be careful about straining it. With some basic rotator cuff exercises and ample rest days when it started to hurt the shoulder pain also subsided. I've been climbing 100% for a couple months now.

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You mention both rock climbing and shin splints (a running injury). Which sport are you worried most about getting injured in? You say you train multiple times a day in a climbing gym, are you doing multiple climbing sessions, or climbing some, then running later, or multiple sessions of climbing a day? –  DavidR Mar 1 '13 at 2:26
    
I ask because although you asked for general information on avoiding tendonitis, it sounds like you have some pretty specific activities you're trying to do, and advice for getting back into running would probably be different than advice on getting back into climbing. –  DavidR Mar 1 '13 at 2:34
    
Shin splints are a muscle malady, not a tendon malady. Treatments are different. And you went from couch to crazy. Your best bet is going to be rest and anti-inflammatories, and then being a little more sensible about ramping up training. –  JohnP Mar 1 '13 at 14:31
    
@DavidR I'm just extra cautious about tendon injuries because they take longer to recover from. By multiple times, I climb until my arms are toast, rest for a few hours and climb again until they're toast again. Before each session I also do 10 minutes on an exercise bike followed by some stretches to warm-up. –  Evan Plaice Mar 1 '13 at 20:14
    
Tendonitis is different than a tendon strain. –  Kate Mar 1 '13 at 20:20
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

General Strategies for Tendonitis

The real general advice is something you probably already know. Listen to your body, and if something hurts, quit doing it. If it hurts when you're not active, take a few days off. And if it continues to hurt after a week or more of rest, go see a doctor and physical therapist.

Advice for gym climbing

It sounds like you're coming straight "off the couch" and trying to do indoor bouldering as much as you can, as hard as you can. I'd recommend caution about that. That sounds like a receipt for tendon injury, exactly what you're trying to avoid.

Instead, just ramp up slowly. All of the structured climbing training plans I've ever seen all assumed that the athlete was experienced and well conditioned, and in pretty good climbing-shape to begin with. If you're not up to a basic level of climbing conditioning, the aggressive kind of training I think you're trying to do will just injure you.

Ramp up more slowly, focus on technique, having fun

If you want to get back into the gym and you're worried about overdoing it, don't try to train for multiple sessions a day. Just warm up and do one session, then go home. Don't try to climb more than 2 or 3 times a week, and not on consecutive days.

When you're in the gym on a given night, warm up and stretch first. Then climb whatever easy boulder problems you can. Focus on things you can easily onsite. Gradually work through problems you've done before, until you're repeating routes just below your limit. Then try and project one or two problems at your limit.

Its time to go home for the day when:

  • You find yourself repeatedly falling out of moves you could do earlier in the night
  • You find yourself having to crimp on every single hold, including ones you can usually grab with an open-hand grip. More than anything else, this is a sign that you've exhausted your fingers, and that your risk of tendon injury is starting to rise.

Learn technique

You can usually pick up lots of technical pointers by watching other people climb the same routes as you, and just hanging out in the bouldering area. You could also look into a skills class or group coaching class, if your gym offers one.

"Novice Gains" are your friend

This kind of very basic, semi-structured bouldering will still wear you out, and produce a positive training affect. You'll develop more strength and endurance in your fingers, build a better base of technique, and get to know more climbers in the gym all without having to kill yourself trying to train multiple sessions a day, or being on a super strict training plan. Take advantage of this. Ride that pony until it dies. Then go out looking for a more aggressive plan.

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All good advice. I actually do focus a lot on technique over strength. In top roping, I can usually progress pretty fast because I have good flexibility, balance, and emphasize using my lower body before muscling up the wall with my arms. In bouldering, I'm definitely having a harder time progressing. There's no getting around it, it just requires a lot more technique and strength. I definitely spend more time watching other climbers and visualizing than I do actually climbing. I'll keep this advice in mind and take it easy. –  Evan Plaice Mar 1 '13 at 21:43
    
Sure. I wrote some very basic advice, because I wasn't sure where you were coming from. If you are bouldering a bunch and still not feeling strong enough, you may want to consider working in strength training for pull-ups and your abs, if those are weak areas? But doing that as a separate activity, as a part of a larger plan. –  DavidR Mar 2 '13 at 13:51
    
But all of this is stuff to consider after your elbow has gotten better (it sounds like you may have a minor injury) –  DavidR Mar 2 '13 at 14:01
    
The pain subsided relatively quickly. I'm not going to keep pushing if there's pain. I was just trying to gauge how long a tendon strain can take to heal. –  Evan Plaice Mar 2 '13 at 22:39
    
you may find this link interesing: nicros.com/training/articles/treating-climbers-elbow –  DavidR Mar 2 '13 at 22:52
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