Oh, the infamous pump! It’s a climber’s kryptonite…
Every climber dreads that burning and tight feeling in their forearms. It’s usually a one way street, that once you go down, it’s hard to come back.
The fact is that the muscles in our forearms are relatively small compared to our larger muscles groups (like our hamstrings and biceps), yet we use them to withstand loads and forces that our larger muscles are clearly more suited for. Unfortunately, climbing requires us to rely significantly on our forearms, so the fact that they are a weak link is something we just have to accept.
But, accepting doesn’t mean settling.
We will always be challenged with obstacles and limitations, and although a forearm pump is one of them, it’s absolutely not something we must succumb to.
Listed below are some simple and effective techniques that you can use to help your fight against the pump!
1. Do A Proper Warm Up
It surprising how many climbers neglect doing a proper warm up. Hopping on a V3, followed by a V6, then moving onto your project, is absolutely not a proper warm up. Even if we give the climber the benefit of the doubt and assume that they did some sort of warm up off the wall to get the blood flowing and the muscles warm (like a couple Sun Salutations 🙂 ), 2 problems is still not enough for your muscles, let alone your fingers.
A nice gradual warm up on a variety of easier climbs is a much better way to prepare your body and avoid any premature pump outs. A gradual warm up will increase the amount of blood and oxygen that is available to your muscles, which is an essential part of improving performance. Shocking your muscles with sudden high intensity climbs will not only lower your performance, but is also a fast track to injury.
2. Take More Rests
Taking more rests, or longer rests, gives your forearms a chance to recover from the work they just endured. During these rests, blood within your forearms that was restricted as a result of the intense contractions, can begin to flow again. This flushes away accumulated waste products and brings in essential nutrients that provide you with more fuel, like oxygen and glucose.
If you decide to opt-out of giving your forearms a break, you will achieve a pump more rapidly. As you continue to contract your forearm, waste products continue to build up and become trapped in the muscle due to the poor blood flow. This build up and lack of blood flow is what induces muscle fatigue, and if ignored, is not something that a short rest can help you recover from.
3. Fuel Your Body Right
Nourishment is a key ingredient in performance. Consuming nourishing and fuelling foods can ensure that you have enough energy that an intense climbing session demands. Without enough fuel in your body, muscles will fatigue much faster and you may default to over-gripping to help keep yourself going. Before you know it, the pump will begin to set in from over-contracting the forearm.
Proper hydration also plays an important role in performance. When your body is dehydrated your muscles cannot function properly, which leads to fatigue and muscle cramping. A lack of hydration thickens your blood, which makes it harder for your body pump blood and deliver fuel to your muscles.
4. Work On Technique
Good technique involves removing as much weight as possible from the arms and directing it to the lower half of the body. This allows you to conserve a substantial amount of energy and climb much more efficiently. The less that you must rely on your arms, the longer they will last and the less likely they are to pump out too fast.
Traversing is one of my favourite ways to work on technique. It forces you to pay attention to the placement of both your hands and your feet, and since all the holds are open, you’ll begin to develop an awareness of how you decide to position your body. With practice you’ll learn and understand which positions conserve the most energy and in what situations they are most appropriate.
5. Do Some Endurance Training
Our forearms pump out due to the poor blood flow that occurs when the muscle is contracted. Although endurance training induces a pump in your forearms, it is actually also a great tool that can help you to fight through it.
When a muscle is pumped it actually creates more tiny blood vessels (capillaries), which means improved flow of nutrient and oxygen rich blood and improved removal waste products. Performing some endurance training where you maintain a steady pump, without pumping out, will help to increase the number of capillaries in your muscles and will also condition your body to become more efficient and push past feelings of exhaustion.
6. Just Let Go
Pausing in the middle of a climb to figure out the beta, or to summon up the courage or energy to make a move, is one of the best ways to waste a significant amount of energy and bring on the pump. The longer we keep our forearms contracted the quicker we are going to bring ourselves to achieving that dreaded pump. As tempting as it is to try and finish the climb while you’re in the midst of it, oftentimes it’s best to just let go during those times when you find yourself stuck on a climb.
Let go and allow yourself to analyze the climb from the ground. Conserve that energy, that would have otherwise been wasted, for a solid good attempt. And, most importantly, don’t allow your ego to get in the way. It’s ok to just let go even if you know it’s a climb you are capable of. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. So, not only will you be delaying the onset of a pump, but you’re also giving yourself the opportunity to climb it perfectly.