Are You Overtraining? The Answer Is Probably Yes
by Christopher Schafenacker
Folks train to get stronger, and if you’re tuned into climbing media, you probably have the impression that you do so through endless 4x4s, hangboarding, and campusing. After all, every other post from major publications seemingly introduces a new training protocol, and if you don’t read these through a critical lens you might be easily tempted to overtrain. New ways to work out make for great, clickable content…but here’s the thing: strength gains happen while resting, not training, and so if you don’t do enough of the former, you simply won’t improve.
The Crucial Importance of Supercompensation
To grasp the value of rest, it helps to dig into a fundamental—but often neglected—concept in climbing: supercompensation. This idea is linked to the way our body responds to the damage inflicted by exercise. Pull-ups, boulder circuits, deadlifts, and all other forms of physical training provoke microtears and metabolic deterioration in our muscles. As soon as we stop, our body goes into repair mode and tries to heal the damage done. This initiates a two-step process.
Phase one of recovery is the pursuit of homeostasis, in which the body’s various self-regulation systems seek to stabilize our inner environment and bring us back to our baseline. When this is complete, the body then aims to increase its functional capacities in the hopes of avoiding future deterioration. Muscles fibers are thus strengthened, and metabolic capacity is improved. This second phase is referred to as supercompensation, and it is here that we grow stronger and more capable.
If you do not allow your body to time to complete the return to homeostasis and proceed to supercompensation, you will see no benefit from your training and, eventually, you will get injured. This implies two critical take-aways. First, you probably need to rest more than you realize, and second, you need to cut your sessions shorter than you might want.
Modern climbing gyms, with their expansive facilities, plethora of training tools, and comfy vibes encourage the sort of endless sessions that leave you with limp arms and swollen fingers. While this may be satisfying—and encouraged by your crusher friends—you gain little by training yourself into the dirt. As important as rest is training to an optimum level of fatigue. When you push it too far, your body requires multiple days just to return to homeostasis (much less reach supercompensation) and thus getting back on the wall in the interim is not only inefficient but dangerous.
How Much is Too Much?
Knowing when to stop is not an easy calculation. Climbers of differing skill level and experience have differing workload capacities, which makes it is easy to believe that you need to be doing more to improve. Your community’s local pro might session for hours on the sprayboard before campusing and finally “cooling off” with six thousand legs lifts, but this does not mean you need to do the same to send hard. On the contrary, less is often more where training is concerned, and improvement only comes when you are able to exert high-quality effort.
A standard warm up is a good way to gauge whether you are sufficiently rested to make the most of a session. As you go through the familiar motions of preparing your body to climb, you will notice whether you are fresh enough to try hard or whether your time would be better spent on conditioning, or on running easy (like, really easy) laps to help you recover for another day.
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