How to "listen to your body"

I hear “listen to your body” a lot as a way to avoid injury but I’d love to hear your thoughts on what this means and how to more effectively prevent injury. We all want to be climbing or training and seeing progression rather than doing rehab!! Some examples that I feel like are more basic:

  • Warm up well, and specifically for high-risk moves
  • Take a rest day when you need to
  • Dial back intensity if you are feeling super tired after warm up
  • if a hold or movement hurts to use/do (not from skin), drop off, readjust, take care to limit number of times using

Some things that I would love to hear more about, that seem to be more nuanced:

  • Unless climbing is the only thing you do, you’re managing work, family (?), stress, poor sleep… Many times that I’ve been injured, it’s because one or more of these things has gotten much worse than normal. You can’t skip training anytime you are under-slept or stressed, you’d never train. How do you find that line of when to push through vs. go but decrease volume or intensity vs. skip altogether?
  • We’re all always managing small tweaks or injuries during training. How do you know when for example, a particular pocket is fine to use 3x but not 5x? My body tends to let me know that sort of thing only after the fact :slight_smile:
  • How do you approach moves that you’ve been injured on before or that make you feel scared to do from an injury perspective?

Love to hear your thoughts!!

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  1. The older I get the more I force myself to adjust my days to prioritize sleep. So if you find yourself in a cycle of poor sleep evaluate why and adjust. I had to cut out caffeine most days and talk to my employer about having a later start to my morning (I know not everyone has this type of flexibility though). Having one day a week of low sleep doesn’t affect my training much and I usually just need to make it to the gym and once I get started the motivation flows. But multiple days in a row of poor sleep? My nutrition gets messed up/I eat more, feel bloated, feel agitated = bad gym sessions. For the last year I’ve made sleeping 8 hours a night a priority and my training has gone so much smoother. It also helps my stress levels in general.

  2. I know when to stop usually when the moves feel forced (i.e. I’m starting to get desperate or throwing to moves that don’t need it). Once I’m in that area physically, I cut myself off for the night or move to a different wall/style. Also maybe consider limiting attempts on specific moves (I know some people use 7-10 attempts as a magic number). Most of my injuries came from trying the same move like 25x in one session.

  3. This takes time and mindfulness. I tore both of my hamstrings a few months apart and spent an entire year being terrified of heel hooks and avoiding them completely. In retrospect I should’ve started integrating “mild” heel hooks earlier and gauging what my body could handle and practicing the technique.
    Reflecting on WHY you got injured (for me, bad form for my heel hook) and then taking steps to correct that and practicing it can be useful and confidence builders (i.e. if you got an injury from falling improperly, force yourself to do fall practice.).
    Trying out those specific moves you fear on a systems board or spray wall where you can control multiple elements is a good place to start.

This is a great question! You’ve nailed it in terms of effective warm up and looking at other factors like sleep, nutrition, etc.

Whenever I say “listen to your body” it’s often referring to level of acceptable discomfort or fatigue. That level varies from person to person and dependent on the situation.

Examples:

  • I have plenty of apps and tools that will help me gauge my ability to take on physical strain, but ultimately, I need to think about how I am feeling prior to training AND after my warm up. Sometimes I’ll feel great and then I warm up and I’m like, okay well this session clearly needs to be dialed back. The opposite also happens where I’ll feel like trash and then I’ll eat breakfast, drink my coffee and warm up… suddenly I’m unstoppable and feeling great.

  • when working through injury, we can’t always go by the book or by the doctor. We know (or should learn to know) our bodies, what we can handle, what feels “normal”, how hard we can push, how much we need to rest etc. Coming out of a recent ankle dislocation and I’m recovering much faster than expected. So I’m basing my activity and my acceptable level of discomfort upon my own healing and experience.

It takes a lot of practice to “listen to your body” and you’ll experience endless scenarios as you age and as you become more experienced in sport and training. That phrase is certainly misused and taken for an excuse at times. If i listened to my body every time i felt tired or wanted to skip training, i wouldn’t be where i am. But we should learn to understand the difference, know when to push past the excuse and when to dial it back.

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I really struggle with listening to my body, but my coach recently managed to simplify it for me. I was already writing down a bunch of stuff in my training log, but now I’ve added ‘psych’ (the desire to actually get out there and crush it). Apparently, that’s a really good predictor of when you need a rest… which makes sense. So I will try and use psych for the following weeks and months to decide when I need an extra rest day or even an extra deload week.

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These responses are super helpful! Thank you! Deliberately gauging tiredness or psych before and during a session is something I need to do. I have had both the experiences that @jesswest described. Being deliberate about it, making a habit of it, seems really important. Those days where I’m super low energy and higher risk to injury, I’m also not cognitively sharp enough to focus on both climbing well and listening to psych levels/tiredness during the session, especially towards the end.

@sdwinkel I’m currently rehabbing a pulled hamstring for the 3rd time. Heel hooks are both scary and essential. My PT helped frame risk in the following way (this is specific to hamstring pulls near the knee), but I think it’s applicable to any injury and useful to listening to your body when healthy:

  1. You’re climbing on toes on near vertical terrain. You might feel this on a high step but for the most part, you’re going going to put force through that tissue to be at risk.
  2. You’ve moved to steeper angles, you’ll be using heel hooks on mostly good holds, below waist level, climbing below your grade so that you have some room to compensate through your fingers.
  3. You’re able to do some mix of: crank on that heel on boulders, use bad holds, on steeper angles, above the waist, closer to hard-for-you climbing. Limiting attempts on those moves as appropriate.
  4. Same as 3, but your climbing routes, and those hard heel moves are after 4-8 bolts of steep climbing so there’s a fatigue element built it.

If you haven’t been comfortable with one level, you shouldn’t be jumping into the next. For example, don’t jump straight to hard compression climbing without the confidence of success on a variety of easier compression climbing. When you’re trying a new level, it should be easy to bail. For example, don’t make that first steep, high, heel hook essential to making a hard clip. His point was that just as we look for momentum, progression, and confidence through a season in climbing success, we should be looking for the same in past injuries and staying healthy. That can help with knowing what you’re capable of, and the decision to pause or change problems, both of which limit risky situations.

@jesswest which apps and tools do you think are most helpful?

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@mikemast This makes sense! Great advice. My PT also advised me that my multiple hamstring injuries were likely due to a weakness in the muscle and encouraged me to start deadlifting and integrating more leg work (I had unfortunately neglected leg workouts for years). It’s helped a lot.

Sadly even a year and a half post-injury I do not have my flexibility back though – I hear hamstrings are one of the muscles that take FOREVER to fully heal. Forward folds and certain yoga poses still irritate them.