On the first climbing trip I took with my then future wife, I remember her being a little puzzled by the fact that I had planned on two rest days during a ten day trip. Well, I can’t climb EVERY day, had been my response. As someone who’d dealt with tendinitis in the past, I suppose I was overly sensitive to the issue, but there is also a lot of data out there to back up my assertion that climbing ten days in a row simply wasn’t a good idea.
Rest days are a concept I see a lot of climbers struggle with, often packing too much climbing into the course of the week. On the surface, this usually leads to a gradual decline in performance. On a more serious level, it can lead to nasty overuse injuries, some of which can easily become chronic problems they’ll deal with for many years. Also, it’s during rest that you actually make strength gains, without it your body is in a constant state of shock and must work hard just to maintain the status quo.
In Training for Climbing, fitness guru Eric Horst recommends no more than three days of climbing in a row. Likewise, in the Self Coached Climber, they recommend no more than two days in a row, with a total of three to five days per week, depending on your ability level and conditioning. Now there are probably a lot of people that would chime in and say oh, I can do a lot more than that, but to be clear, we are talking about climbing days where you are going out and trying HARD, not chucking a couple laps on easy routes or climbs you have ruthlessly wired. It’s true that most folks can climb many more days in a row if they aren’t pushing themselves.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule, just like there are probably rich people that pay taxes, but for most, a good rule to follow is no more than four days of climbing per week. More than that and your body may have a hard time keeping up.
For the average weekly routine, this is a pretty simple schedule to stick to, the problem arises when you’re on the road and only have so many days. In this situation, many people go with a two on, one off program that provides some rest, while still packing in a lot of climbing. Throwing in a day of super easy routes could also count as “rest,” though it’s not as good as simply taking the day off to catch up some emails or go for a short hike.
At the extreme end of the spectrum, a popular training program recommends a complete week of rest once every ten weeks. For most of us, life gets in the way enough that this kind of strict schedule isn’t necessary, but if you find your progress heading the wrong way despite putting in a lot of effort, maybe it’s time to let your body catch up with your ambitions.
In the end, there isn’t one solution for all of us. We all have different bodies, that are capable of different things. The most important thing is to listen to your body, and if in doubt, err on the side of another rest day, it’ll only make you stronger in the long run.