No, I haven’t blown a tendon or a pulley, but some days my left ring finger aches enough that after 1,000 words my typing is reduced to my grandfather’s pointer-finger-only method. And then I go climbing.
While I occasionally figure-eight tape my fingers to make myself feel better–the placebo effect works wonders–I’ve heard enough two-months-off horror stories to have several backup plans just in case.
One: Hike the Pacific Crest Trail
This is an especially effective backup plan for blowing a pulley in the first week of your intended spring/summer-long climbing road trip. You’ve saved up some money and already have the time off, so why not ditch the van with some friends and explore over 2,500 miles of diverse ecosystems from Mexico to Canada. Your biggest hurdle will be securing one of the limited permits to hike the entire trail, but there’s always the option of hiking select shorter sections instead, especially if you aren’t a cardio fiend. You can also hike the Appalachian Trail, but it’s simply not as cool.
Two: Learn to Ice/Mixed climb
Just because you can’t crimp on rock doesn’t mean you’re banned from climbing completely. Try ice or mixed climbing outside if it’s the appropriate season, or get psyched to learn dry tooling in your t-shirt if it’s not.
Three: Temporarily take up trail running
Or mountain biking or sea kayaking or alpine skiing or SUP yoga–Whatever non-finger-intensive activity you’ve always wanted to try but never could justify missing a day of climbing for is now yours to explore for the next 1-3 months. Just make sure you don’t accidentally find your new favorite sport and stop making trips to the crag once you’re injury free.
Four: Find (another) job
Unfortunately most of us aren’t currently living the “dirtbag dream,” but, if you are and blow a pulley, it’s a great opportunity to settle down for a few months and earn some cash for your next crag-hopping stint. For the rest of us, picking up some extra few shifts at work or spending your next few Saturdays painting your neighbor’s garage can both make your recovery time appear to go faster and pad your bank account for your Siurana dream vacation.
Five: Abs day every day (and other training you can do)
So more realistically abs day 3-4 times a week, but sometimes focusing on the training you can do is the best way to stay sane while you heal. Start with working your core–crucial for maintaining body tension and used in nearly every climbing movement–and then slowly move up to doing some weight training, pull-ups, etc. according to what you’re able to hold onto without pain and this guide by Neil Gresham. Strengthening your antagonist (push) muscles can help prevent future injuries, and, with this break from climbing, you can’t use the “I don’t have enough time” excuse to justify not doing them.
Six: Start lifting
While this is similar to “five” above, it differs in that you aren’t lifting with climbing in mind–just how great your bi’s and tri’s are going to look after some serious superset sessions. Give yourself a break from bulk-up fear and get ready to impress the lads/ladies.
Seven: Enjoy your break
Sometimes eight weeks off from climbing is the mental break you need to get refocused and re-psyched. This might be a great excuse to let all those other nagging injuries heal too. Take some time to relax, cook, draw, or whatever else you always wished you had more free time to do.
But for now, you can do a few sets of this rubber-band finger antagonist exercise each week to help prevent finger blowouts, and, if you do have a finger mishap, check out this recovery plan to (safely) get back on rock asap.