Climbers are warned to avoid over-training because it can lead to sub-standard results and possible injury. Signs of over training include a lack of resistance to infection and colds, mood changes, fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, drop in performance and sometimes injury. Climbers are generally advised to cut back on training volume or intensity to alleviate the effects of over-training. Recover from over training involves a minimum of 2 weeks of active rest, which deletes the effect of the training.

Rather than considering the problem as over training, it is possible that it is really a condition of under recovery. Instead of cutting back on training, it is possible that positive results can be obtained through improving the recovery process after the workout.

The test for this condition is to take your pulse the morning after training just before getting out of bed in the morning. Take a few days off training. Take your pulse again for a few days at the same time. If it decreases each morning even by a few beats per minute and you have a bunch of the above symptoms, it is likely that you are in an over trained or under rested condition.

Many climbers have a detailed workout plan; few have a recovery and regeneration plan. While a lot of information is available on workout design, research and information on recovery is limited. A state of fatigue results in low concentration, poor co-ordination and poor movement control, all essential to top level climbing. The goals of a recovery regeneration plan are to restore damaged tissue, to overcome effects of fatigue and to restore the body's energy level. A critical system in recovery is the immune system. This complex system of the body, repairs tissue damage caused by the workout and controls bacteria in these damaged areas.

Muscle tone is related to the number of muscle fibers that are contracted. With increased muscle tone, more fibers in a bundle are contracted. This means that fewer fibers are available to fire. Lower muscle tone means more fibers are available for contraction. An ideal state of muscle tone exists that results in maximal performance. If muscle tone is too high, insufficient fibers are available to fire for a maximum workout, and conversely, too low a muscle tone is equally ineffective. Over time, the climber can recognize an optimum state of muscle tone. His/her objective is to achieve this optimal state as soon as possible after the workout.

Regeneration of nerve cells is about seven times slower than regeneration of muscle cells. Fast twitch muscles take longer to recover than slow twitch muscles

People recover from workouts at different rates. Recovery is slower as we age. Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which inhibits recovery. Climbers who have stressful jobs will find recovery from workouts and climbing to be very difficult. Women recover slower than men do. Well-conditioned athletes tend to recover quicker. Recovery is non-linear with 3/4 of recovery occurring in the first third of the recovery period.

Below are some of the more common recovery techniques that are accessible to most climbers on a daily basis.



Fluid ingestion is essential before, during and after the workout. Glycogen is used at a higher rate when hydration is low and as a result your endurance will suffer. Worse for climbers, power output can decrease up to 20%. By the time a climber feels thirsty, it is too late. Water and/or electrolytic beverages must be consumed to restore and maintain hydration.


During and after a workout, blood flows to muscles at a rate about 50% higher than normal. This continues for up to 3 hours after the workout. This period is ideal for delivering nutrients at a high rate. Both protein and carbohydrates should be consumed during this period to ensue that both amino acids and glycogen are delivered. Protein is broken down to amino acids that are essential in repairing and restoring muscles after a workout. Glycogen builds and maintains muscle and can be restored to a maximum level. Carbohydrate should be consumed during the workout to help keep glycogen levels high. Low glycogen levels are related to a perception of higher effort. Workouts will seem more difficult when levels are low. Waiting until after the three hour window will result in a much lower absorption of nutrients and a longer recovery period. After a hard training effort endurance athletes need to consume about 100 grams of carbohydrate. This is the equivalent of about four fruits, six slices of bread or a liter of Gatorade.

A low caloric diet for weight loss is not conducive to proper recovery since essential repair material and fuel are not available in sufficient amounts. Excessive alcohol should be avoided since it disturbs protein synthesis and causes dehydration.


I believe that it is very difficult to get proper nutrients from a modern diet and that dietary supplementation is necessary for everyone but especially for people involved in athletics. At a minimum, a multi vitamin along with a range of anti oxidants, especially vitamin C is essential for recovering from a workout.

People who are involved in athletics need far more protein than normal people need. Protein supplements such as Whey protein may be useful to increase protein levels without increasing fat consumption. This may be especially true for climbers who are vegetarians or those people like myself who eat little meat. Recent research has shown that Creatine improves the rate of recovery by reducing muscle catabolism following strength training.

The need for supplements has been debated, inadequate and contradictory research continues to confuse the issue.


Massage is important in speeding up recovery time. Massages can be used before, during and after a workout to achieve the best state of muscle tone. Lumps in the muscle are spasms and are the result of a large number of fibers that have fired and are not relaxing. A fiber is either fired or not, there is no in between position. If spasms are present, maximum workouts cannot occur because these fibers are not available and cannot contribute.

Pre-workout massage in the area of a lump can reduce the spasms and make those fibers available for the workout. This should occur well before the workout to allow time to recover from this treatment.

Generally regenerative massage before, during and after the workout should be light so as to improve blood flow to critical areas. Regenerative massage increases blood flow and helps to eliminate toxins. Regular regenerative massage can increase workload by up to 40%.

Deep muscle massage should be avoided since it reduces muscle tone too much and maximal performance in the workout will be impossible. In addition, deep muscle massage causes the stress hormone Cortisol to be released. Cortisol inhibits recovery. In periods of extra rest deep muscle massage can be used.

Various massage implements such as the Thumper can be useful. The Thumper allows effective self-massage.


Proprioception neuromuscular facilitation stretch (PNF stretching) is a form of stretching where a muscle is stretched and the position held, then opposing muscles are flexed and then relaxed. The original muscle is then stretched again and the process is repeated.

Tight, contracted muscles allow little circulation to occur. PNF stretching before and after training can shorten the recovery period by up 4 hours. Ideally PNF stretching can also be combined with light massage to further improve circulation.


Hydrotherapy involves various regimens of hot and cold fluid immersions. This includes hot or cold showers, whirlpool and sauna. Hydrotherapy is not always available, especially to traveling climbers.

Contrast immersions consisting a few minutes of hot and about a minute of cold, loosen and relax muscles, help to remove waste products and improves blood circulation to the muscles.


Top level athletes require 8 to 10 hours of sleep daily with most of this occurring at night. Sleep allows the body to repair damaged tissue and wage the vital fight against infections. The immune system becomes more active when we sleep. A nap during the day can also be beneficial for recovery. Even a loss of a few hours of sleep can have a negative effect on a person and makes workout recovery for an athlete very difficult. Sleep deprivation, or the accumulation of sleep loss over a period of time can have serious effects on a person and can be debilitating for an athlete.

Relaxation training

Since regeneration of nerve cells is about seven times slower than regeneration of muscle cells, some effort needs to be made to effect regeneration in this area. Deep muscle relaxation is useful for this purpose as is Yoga or meditation.

Breathing Exercises

Workouts decrease oxygen availability. Reduction of 15% of oxygen can reduce the ability to concentration. Reduction of 25% of oxygen results in reduction of strength. Reduction of 30% of oxygen may result in a depressed state. Returning oxygen levels to normal is essential. Breathing exercises can help to increase the amount of oxygen available.

Active rest

Active rest involves carrying out very light workouts that are designed to increase circulation and stretch the muscles. Light jogging, cycling or activities like playing with the hacky sack are beneficial. Workouts that engage opposing muscles to the ones that were stressed in the workout also help. For climbers, these are the push muscles that oppose the pull muscles. Climbers work the pull muscles very hard in their workouts and climbing sessions. By contracting the opposing push muscles, the pull muscles are stretched and circulation is enhanced. These sessions must be very low intensity workouts for the purpose of recovery.


Cycling training periods also help with recovery. High and low intensity-training periods are cycled. Also cycling periods of Power, Power Endurance and Endurance is useful as the change in training emphasis allows some degree of recovery to occur. Also between each cycle, a period of transition is commonly scheduled that focuses on active rest.


Electro Muscle Stimulation is induced through the use of a TENS unit at low intensity and high frequency. EMS improves blood circulation to a specific area. This type of recovery is useful because it allows for specific muscles to be targeted for recovery.

Accupressure and Ultrasound

Accupressure and Ultrasound are also useful in recovery but not easily accessible to most climbers.

Most climbers will not have the time or inclination to use all of the techniques of recovery that were discussed. However, most people will be able to make a few changes with little effort. These changes will greatly enhance their ability to recover from training and climbing sessions. Time and effort put in the gym will be rewarded with better results and injuries will be prevented.

Sleep Thieves - Stanley Coren
The Charlie Francis Training System - Charlie Francis
Theory and methodology of Training - Tudor O. Bompa
Optimum Sports Nutrition - Dr. Michael Colgon

Bob Bennell
May 15, 2000


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