Updated: Aug 18, 2020
by Christopher Schafenacker
Covid-19 has not been kind to climbers. Amidst so much social and economic unrest, this is the least of many people’s concerns and rightfully so. Nonetheless, it’s true. For many, a winter’s worth of training went to waste, and the spring season was spent shuttered indoors. Summer travel plans were postponed out of a need to protect rural communities, and now the virus is coming for Sendtember, that blessed month where temps dip and you finally get a decent shot at sending your long-term proj. While this is no tragedy on a national scale (or on any scale, really), for those converts to the cult of climbing, it’s torture.
Now as much as ever practicing social distancing, staying away from overcrowded crags, and avoiding rural destinations ill-equipped to deal with a surge in Covid-19 cases is critical. This sucks, but let’s be real: it’s true, and likely will continue to be throughout the fall season. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to improve as a climber without actual climbing, and some might even bring bigger benefits than running yourself ragged on the rock.
I’m not talking about the slew of home climbing workouts that swarmed the internet when the pandemic hit. As rad as all of these are, they’re not news. After all, we’ve been in this since March and, if you’re like me, you’ve already given yourself elbow and shoulder tendonitis from all those pullups and hangs. I’m talking about mobility, stability, and nutrition, three often-overlooked components of climbing that are critical to both making gains and preventing injury.
Stability & Mobility
Steve Bechtel, founder of Climb Strong, defines stability as, “the tendon, joint, and muscle action needed to hold a joint in position,” and mobility as, “a joint’s ability to move through its full range-of-motion.” Both are essential to preventing injury and, of course, preventing injury is essential to a long life of climbing.
The benefits don’t stop there, though. Stability and mobility training also supports increased range of motion, which is evermore essential as you progress through the grades. At the 5.10 or even 5.11 level, if your hip mobility doesn’t allow you to reach a certain foothold, chances are there’ll be another way to progress up the route. At 5.14, this likely isn’t true.
Bechtal notes that the general rule of thumb with stability and mobility is to practice those drills you least enjoy. There are so many out there that mentioning all of them would be impossible. That said, my personal least-favorites include:
Frog with hip rotation. Not only does the exercise offer climbing-specific hip mobility, it also reinforces core and shoulder stability.
Kettlebell arm bar. This might be the single best shoulder mobility and stability exercise I know. It not even a little bit fun, but it works wonders.
Wall slides. A deep shoulder blade stabilizing exercise that at once trains a movement pattern which allows you to stay close to the rock face when you might otherwise thrust you center of gravity outward, placing undue strain on your forearms and fingers.
Dislocators. My least favorite of all, this exercise trains the entire range of motion of the shoulder.
All of the training in the world means little if you’re not properly fueled when you tie in for an important redpoint burn.
The other day I was chatting with Luis Rodríguez, a dietician and 5.14d crusher, about what to eat while out at the crag. I was stunned by his recommendation: white rice balls and two hard-boiled eggs. Yep, not some protein-rich super shake; not elaborately crafted bars; a simple carbohydrate with little nutrient value and a small amount of protein.
His logic, supported by other experts in the field, is that simple carbs provide an immediate energy source while at once supporting maintenance of blood glucose levels and recovery of glycogen stores in the muscles—essential elements for keeping up your try hard and avoiding pump. What’s more, rice balls and hard-boiled eggs are easy to make and even easier to transport.
Unless you’re privy to a secret spot sure to be free of crowds or are among the lucky few who reside in Boulder, Colorado, you probably shouldn’t be whipping up rice balls and racing to the crag. Gaining knowledge about how best to prepare your body for a day out climbing is nonetheless one of the most productive things you can do while you wait.
For those looking to hone their culinary skills at the same time as they train mobility and stability, I’ve translated Rodríguez’ recipe from the original Spanish. Check it out:
Energy Rice Balls
» 2/3 cup sushi rice
» 2 cups water (or, if you prefer a sweeter flavor, 1½ cups water and ½ cup skim or soy milk.)
» 1 sheet of nori
» Salt to taste
» If you’re going sweet:
1 tbsp ground coconut
1 tsp cacao powder
1 tsp ground vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
» In a small pot, mix the rice and water and bring to a boil over low heat. Allow to cook for 30 to 40 minutes in order to produce a soft rice. (i.e. Don’t worry about overcooking!)
» Let the cooked rice cool and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add salt and any other spices you like.
» Transfer rice mixture to a baking pan and press flat.
» Place in fridge overnight such that the rice gains a more compact consistency.
» The following morning roll the compact rice into golf ball-sized balls.
» Slice nori into 1-inch strips, wet lightly, and wrap around rice balls.
» If you’re going sweet, skip the nori and roll rice balls in the coconut, cacao, vanilla, cinnamon mixture.
» Place in Tupperware and prepare to send (one day)!
More recipes designed to support optimum performance can be found in Rodríguez’ just-released e-book Qué comer antes de ir a escalar? (What Should I Eat Before I Climb?). The book is in Spanish so, while you’re skill-building to become a better climber, why not brush up your language skills in preparation for that celebratory, end-of-pandemic trip to the world’s climbing Mecca: Spain?
Of course, improving finger strength and endurance is always part of a well-rounded training program, and that’s where Rockstar Volumes comes in. From hangboards and pinch blocks to at-home climbing walls and everything in between, we have a wide range of climbing training gear to meet every climber’s needs…and fit in whatever space they have. What’s better, all of our training gear is in stock, on sale, and ready to ship to anywhere in the lower 48 states.
Featured Climbing Training Gear
*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…
Christopher Schafenacker started climbing in Western MA before moving to Granada, Spain, where he now writes, climbs, and runs education-centered training camps for competitive youth climbing teams.