I have a lot of clients and members who ask me about what to do on rest days, and how many days they should be climbing. In my personal opinion, climbers will climb too much at a high intensity on a regular basis, and disregard the norm of rest and exercise science in other sports. Even with all of my training and knowledge, I have also been a culprit of binge climbing.
When I was training for ABS Nationals a few years back, I had to “catch up” on my competition climbing and had a time crunch. I climbed at a fairly high intensity about five to eight sessions a week. This wouldn’t have been a bad idea if I had ramped up my training schedule slowly, over years of training. I put in about fifteen hours of climbing a week, plus did cross training and running. I was super fit by the time nationals came around, but it also resulted in elbow tendonitis in both elbows, and after the competition, I was totally wrecked and didn’t climb for about three weeks. (note from MN: Mercedes was overtrained)
The problem was that I didn’t rest enough. I did preventative exercises to keep my body in check, but it just wasn’t enough. Rest and recovery are essential, and now I know not to try and “catch up” on my training and rather just adjust to my current level of fitness and skill.
How much rest and recovery depends on how experienced you are, your current climbing, and fitness level, and how hard you eventually want to climb.
If you are not a pro climber, then I suggest not climbing more than three days in a row. In fact, two days on, one day off might be the most optimal ratio if you enjoy climbing and want to progress at a steady pace without getting injured. If you are fairly new to climbing, I’d suggest one day on, one day off. If you are feeling good and have been progressing well, three days on, one day off can help push you to the next level.
No matter which ratio you pick, you should vary up your training intensity. This means, don’t crush yourself every single climbing session. Change your intensity by climbing one day of steep overhanging, then the next day take a technical approach and climb slab and vertical. You shouldn’t be climbing to absolute failure every climbing day. Putting new and different constraints on your body is the best approach to adaptation and learning. (note from MN: learn how to track your training here.)
It’s not just about getting stronger, it’s also about learning new movement, becoming more efficient, becoming a smarter and more experienced climber. Take your rest days seriously, and do some things that you enjoy. Remember, we climb because we like to climb, don’t push yourself to the point where you don’t enjoy it anymore.