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Wrist schmist, or how to train for climbing without using your arms (much)

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
4 min read

Right now, I’m typing with one hand while the other soaks in an ice bath. I’ve been rehabbing my left bicep tendon, and my right index finger, for the last couple of weeks. Luckily, neither is serious, but both were overtrained and headed for serious if I didn’t back off, get some rest, and shift my focus to rehab exercises, stretching and conditioning.

Luckily, I have friends with stories, who can type with two hands.

Cue the amazing, bad ass Lydia. Read on for her story of climbing injury heartbreak, rehabilitation, and unfailing optimism. Plus, I’m the least yoga’d person I know, so enjoy the tips from Lydia that I could never give you myself! And, allow me one editorial comment… this is an example of why I don’t ski! Thank you for sharing your story, Lydia!

About Lydia… she climbs, hikes and designs and loves adventures with her dog Isabel. For more info, check out www.lydiawhitehead.com or follow her on Twitter.


It was end of January and I was just starting to feel the mid-winter blues. I couldn’t go outside to climb (unless I wanted to hike through snow and freeze my fingers and toes off, which I did not), so I’d begun a super regular regime of gym climbing and was excited at the prospect of being ready for harder climbs outside in the spring. To help with the winter blues and enjoy the outdoors, I thought I’d try a winter sport. So I went snowboarding for the first time with a friend of mine who’s a seasoned snowboarder.

And that’s when it happened.

I took a lesson to get comfortable with the basics and at the end, I strapped completely into the board (we’d practiced with just one foot strapped, to get used to the feeling of the board on snow) and proceeded to take a nasty backwards fall down the bunny hill.

Not one of my finer moments.

In the process of taking that spectacular fall (and oh, was it spectacular, feet up over the head and everything), I also managed to sprain my right wrist. Brilliant. My first thought was, Crap, I need this wrist to climb on! I’ve just been injured in a sport that isn’t even one I practice regularly! Oh funny sense of humor the universe has.

The pain was intense for the first hour, but after some ice and immobilization, it waned oh-so-slightly and I thought to myself, at this rate, I could probably be back climbing in a week or so. Optimist, I am.

The doctor had other ideas. The diagnosis was no climbing, no putting any weight on the wrist for any reason, move it as little as possible for 6-8 weeks. Which meant that Super Regular Climbing Regime for Maximum Spring Fitness® was out the window.

What now?

While I was totally bummed, I knew that I didn’t want the inability to use my wrist stop me from training for climbing. Instead, I decided I would do everything I could training-wise that didn’t require the use of my wrist. This, by the way, was frustrating, because at that point I really wanted to focus on strengthening my upper body. Let’s not talk about how many pull ups I could do at that time (pull ups are still a big challenge for me).

So, I put an emphasis on strengthening my core and working on my balance, both important things for climbing. Here’s what I did:

Yoga Poses

For balance, I started in Mountain Pose, moved to Tree Pose, then moved to Warrior III Pose. I returned to Mountain Pose and then repeated the sequence with the other foot. As it got easier, I held the poses longer and also practiced them with my eyes closed.

For core work, I held Full Boat Pose and slowly lowered to the floor into Corpse Pose. I then did Dolphin Plank Pose, and from there moved down into Locust Pose to strengthen my back.

Balance Ball Exercises
For back strength, I did something similar to Locust Pose, see here and here.

For core strength, I did ab crunches (on a balance ball, these are much more difficult!)

Aside from the above, I did regular floor crunches with variations, as well as lunges. I added more cardio by running at least 3 times per week (which was difficult to find motivation for, it was winter, remember?)

In training that way, I found that I was happy to be doing *something* to advance my climbing ability and I felt my balance and core did improve. It also made those six weeks seem to go by faster. And it brought me back to running, something I enjoy but had fallen out of the practice of doing.

I’ve had my wrist back for a few months now, but I’ve kept most of those exercises in my training schedule. Now that I can climb again, I feel that I’m climbing with a bit more control and balance on the wall. Routes at the gym that were somewhat wobbly for me before the injury are less so now, which makes my heart do a tiny little fist pump and say “Yesssss!” I’m still no climbing bad ass, but I’ll take any improvement I can get.

Your results may vary, but this worked quite splendidly to get me through my climbing hiatus and keep me out of the injury doldrums.

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.