Resting, over-training and climbing: sometimes you just need a break

My training plan has included quite a few rest days. this is in part because I’m terrible at listening to my body and having a rest to let it recover. I didn’t feel great on Sunday after having my climbing session at the Climbing Works. Even though I did a quite easy circuit that didn’t really tax me, I was pretty shaky and very fatigued by the end. So, I decided to not climb on Monday (and missed the final Foundry Winter Bouldering League comp). Instead, I started to watch the Good Wife.

I made this sound more appealing by planning to climb on Tuesday evening, therefore still getting in 3 sessions this week. On Tuesday, I still felt pretty crappy. I didn’t climb. I haven’t run since last Thursday.

Stopping and actually listening to my body is really difficult. I get worried that I’m going to get weak, fat and unfit for Font. Clearly this is all nonsense, but it’s very easy to fall into that trap. In fact, there are loads of websites on how/when to take a rest week and the key signs that perhaps it needed quite badly! I think I’ve got some of my own signs as well:

  • I really crave refined carbohydrates (in the last two weeks, I’ve eaten more cake, bread, batter and pasta than I have done in the last 4 months. And felt guilt about it.)
  • I am so very tired
  • I don’t feel strong
  • My old injuries are starting to niggle

Surfing the web, these line up with what Runners World label as the 10 markers for when rest is necessary. Clearly, running is more endurance than climbing, but I think some of the markers are just as relevant:

1. Body Mass

2. Resting heart rate

3. Sleep

4. Hydration

5. Energy level

6. Mood state

7. Wellness

8. Pain

9. Performance

10. Oxygen saturation

Clearly, I can’t really test some of these (oxygen saturation/body mass), but I certainly have had trouble keeping my resting heart rate down, my hydration is shocking at the moment, I’m not particularly bouncing with energy and I have definitely been cranky! Furthermore, my last 2 runs (last week) have been pretty poor, and I didn’t have that great a climbing session on Sunday. In sum, I think I need a rest! I also probably need to eat more healthier too.

So, why does resting help? After scouring the internets, and from conversations that I’ve had with a number of different sources, here’s what I’ve found out:

  • Most dedicated athletes are compulsive – they hate taking a rest day.
  • It gives time for muscles to recover, rebuild and strengthen. By resting, the body can adapt to the stresses that bouldering or climbing makes on the body – which are very specific and often quite alien from the muscles original purpose.
  • It allows the body to replenish energy stores
  • repairs damaged tissue
  • replenishes fluid loss

Some ways to avoid over-training is by including ‘active’ recovery into training plans. I have tried to do this by piggybacking intensive sessions with lighter ones, or a different form of exercise. The benefit of active recovery is that it can reduce muscle lactate levels faster, it improves relaxation and assists in blood circulation which in turn speeds up muscle recovery. However, the body still needs longer periods of rest. These are just as important for strength and energy than actual training.

So, how should you take a rest/week off? Some suggestions include:

  • Take a week off – don’t go near a climbing gym. Try yoga or something else
  • Reduce training load
  • Aim to include a rest week every 6 weeks

I am less than half way through my rest week and I’m starting to worry that I’m getting fat, feeling ‘flubbly’ and generally a bit miserable. But these are all signs that I really quite need a rest week. If I kept running and training, as I have been I’d simply extend the length of recovery I’d need in order for my body to regain it’s energy. I have decided to try and be kinder to my body.

I am going to Northumberland on the weekend, and will start more active rest by limiting the length of time I’m out on the bike. As much as I love logging distance on Strava that would be the worst thing to do right now. Instead, I’ll listen to my body and cut the distance short. That way I’ll be able to jump back into training next week and continue to improve for Font!


Recovery climb at the Climbing Works

I woke up on Sunday with a bit of a sore head. It was our 7 year anniversary on the 14th February (such a cliche, eh?), so to celebrate, we did the usual Saturday night routine: cook some really yummy food and watch Take Me Out (mainly to annoy the OH). I was a bit fuzzy headed the next day, so quite pleased that my aim for Sunday had changed somewhat from my training plan and my aim was to do a more endurance/volume session. Even better, the Works was quite quiet for a change.

I warmed up traversing and doing some one-legged climbing on some of the reds and greens towards the back of the Works. I’m finding the little kiddy play area great for easy traversing and luckily there weren’t any kids around, so I could play to my heart’s content. After starting to feel somewhat more the thing, I started at problem #1 of the Pinkles (graded F5+). It was lovely and straightforward, but also highlighted that I really hadn’t quite warmed up yet, so I threw in a couple more reds and greens for good measure.

I zoomed around the Pinkles as much as my head and the other climbers would let me. I had a couple of rests because I really wanted to do the problems in order as I often forget which numbers I have missed out on and then fail to complete the circuit. In the end I did all 36 problems, and only failed on 4 (#2, #7, #29, #14(?)), one of which I had done on Friday. A few of them took more than 1 go, but no more than 3. I was working quite hard during this session, and was in Zone 3 for most of it. For Sunday that was exactly what I wanted – something to make me work, but not to expend too much energy as I wasn’t feeling that great (self-induced, I know!).

I also aim to climb on Monday at the Foundry as it is the last of the Winter Bouldering League, so once I finished the Pinkles circuit, I cooled down, had a bite to eat and chatted with my friends. Running around doing endurance does not lend itself to social climbing, so it was nice to catch up with people at the end of the session.

By the end of the session I felt that I had accomplished my aims. I probably should have warmed up a bit more before starting my training proper, but I was keen to get cracking and I could warm up as part of the endurance circuit. I don’t think that I climbed particularly efficiently – I think I used more strength and thuggery to top some of the problems than body position and finesse. Diane said that she often climbs easy problems again when she thinks that she hasn’t climbed them particularly efficiently. I think I might start doing that, as it would force me to use better body positioning, balance and grace than simple thuggery. Maybe I’ll integrate this into my training plan too.

My general aims for the next week are quite broad. We’re going away for 4 days, so I’m aiming to climb Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. There is a comp at the Foundry on Monday, and I’m tempted to go and have a play on the new problems, or if not that psyched, go and do a steep terrain session on the 45 degree board instead. On Wednesday, I plan to do another easy circuit which means climbing all the L1s at the Foundry. On Thursday, I’ll be playing around on insecure holds again. Not a bad training week eh?

Here’s the grading of the new Pinkles:

The new pinkles circuit at the Climbing Works. Photo: CanadianKate