Recover better today, climb better tomorrow
Here are the self-care tools that I use to win over sore muscles and fatigued fingers. Collect these as a mobile self-care kit you can use at home or on the road. Use them 2-3 times per week to recover from all that training and prevent injury.
Basic Foam Roller
Good for: Opening up your chest, working into your hips, loosening tight calves
A basic foam roller (see above) can cost you as little as $20 and can be your best assistant for full body needs. Pick a super soft one to start out and then move up to a more aggressive (firmer) roller as your tissues loosen and you can lay on the region without crying in pain. Lay onto your back and work into your upper shoulders with the goal of trying to relax and to rest onto the roller. Breathe. There is no right or wrong to rolling, just make sure to avoid your lower back (it can irritate those with disc or joint hyper-mobility issues).
Good for: Pumped forearms, elbow pain
Ask any climber who has one, and they will tell you all about it fixing their elbow pain. It also unloads the finger tendons, and in my opinion, it’s the best tool to mimic a climbing-specific massage. Useful for the treatment of tight, angry, whiny, overly abused, or commonly pumped-out forearms, you can first secure the Armaid to your leg, position it on your arm, and then cry with painful bliss as your tight muscles learn to forgive you for your abusive ways. Forearms like rocks? Try two to three times per week of gentle use. I use a foam roller attachment for the day after a really hard session. On off-days, I’d recommend the singular ball to dig deep into your finger flexor muscles.
Good for: Targeting knots in your forearms and back
This palm-size travel buddy is awesome for its efficient way of delving straight into your tight knots. Like the foam roller, it comes in a variety of sizes and densities. Unlike the foam roller, this tool is region-specific and a great substitute for an Armaid if you’re traveling.
Position it on a table and lean on it for maximal forearm compression, or lean against a wall and get the roller going in gentle wavelike motions. Find a sore spot? Gently hold the spot and breathe, imagine it melting, and do your best to be patient while you train your muscles not to hold unneeded tension. Use it on your calves and feet, as well as your forearms, but watch out, pets love to steal it for a chew toy.
If your dog eats it (or you just want to save some coin), try the simple man’s tool of a can of tomato paste or a two-inch diameter piece of PVC pipe.
The Acupressure Ring
Good for: Stiff, swollen fingers
Loosing flexibility in a certain joint? Do a few rolls over it with this metal tool and then retest your flexibility. This tiny wonder can be clipped onto a carabiner for use at the crag or gym. It really helps those with inflamed tissues (mostly on the nail side of the finger) or for those who want to get the most out of their grip and motion for that last charge to the lip of their current project.
Good for: Building wrist strength without taxing fingers
The Theraband FlexBar is a great tool to build up strength while giving your fingertips a breather. Increase wrist strength and stability with twists and U shapes. Newbies (or those with injuries) should begin with the red one. If you have been climbing regularly, the green is the next step up. The goal is to create motion in your wrist while developing stability with opposing counter force.
Good for: Providing stability to minor injuries
Imagine making improvements without any real work. This is the beauty of Kinesiotape. Without having to focus on positioning or use patterns, the tape educates your body in proper motion patterns and helps provide stability. Use it over a recently injured muscle group, such as the forearm or hamstring, or loop it around a recently healed joint on which you are just beginning to rehab or climb.
Just having it on your skin decreases spasms of the tissue under the tape. It also returns normal motion patterns to regions that have been “guarding” or protecting from injury. Two to three layers of tape around a joint will help compress swelling out of the joint and provide support for even the most damaged of jammed fingers. (Doctors note: If you have a seriously unhappy joint, it’s best to have it checked out to ensure it’s healing properly and to protect your assets).
Good for: Finger and hand durability
Finger stability on the wall comes in part from having a stable, strong palm. Like a suspension bridge, maintaining proper tone through this region will unload the structures downstream into the fingertips and ensure that your fingers aren’t working harder than they have to. Take a dab of it and squeeze it between the mound of each finger or work it deep within the palm. Working to strengthen the muscles between the bones of your hand (the palm) and the muscles of the mound of the thumb is time well spent.
A Rubber Band
Good for: Weak fingers
Hone in on finger weaknesses two to three times per week with slow and controlled rubber band exercises. Just about any rubber band will do (make sure it’s new-ish). Work the side-to-side motion and the open-close motion of each finger pair and ensure you are using each finger to its optimal motion pattern. Once it feels too easy, and you have complete control of your fingers and the joints of each finger, graduate to a Metolius Grip Saver.
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