Fitness

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FA Staff Spotlight: Eric Schafer

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Eric Schafer. Eric is a long-time member of the Chicago climbing community. He is also our Fitness Coordinator at FA, so we’re excited to share his story! Eric is working on expanding our fitness programming, including Basecamp Group Training, Personal Training, and Redpoint Climbing Training. Make sure to say hi next time you see him at the gym.

How did you get into climbing?

I could trace the desire back to trips to various National Park trips out west when I was young, but I started technical rock climbing in 2008 at Lakeview Athletic Club. Initially, I was only interested in adding the skill to my toolbox as a means of pursuing peaks that require 5th class climbing like the Grand Teton. Of course, I was hooked almost immediately and began climbing regularly 3x a week.

It’s really fortunate that I happened to wander into LVAC, a wall with an amazing community and always well-managed, despite the limited resources available. Had I walked into a facility without the passion of the CAC climbing community, I certainly wouldn’t have been as drawn to it.

What do you love about climbing?

Pretty much everything. I’ll just list a few things here:

The community: The Chicago climbing community is incredibly welcoming and tolerant of overly enthusiastic newcomers with no experience. Within a year, I had gone on a dozen trips to the Red and a couple trips to climb ice with the friends I made at LVAC and LPAC.

It takes you to wonderful places: Climbing, and the associated technical skills, open up a whole world that is otherwise inaccessible. From high-mountain peaks to the canyons of Utah, almost everything is fair game if you know what you’re doing.

Signing the log on a summit and knowing that you are the only person who has been there in a week, a month or even a year is an amazing feeling.

There are infinite examples, but look at something like Matthes Crest, totally inaccessible without 5th class climbing and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

 It enables you to physically push your limits: This has always been a passion of mine and, in many ways, drives my general fitness pursuits as well. Top-rope and sport allow you to push yourself to the physical and mental limits.

Slopers: The best type of holds.

Why are you excited to be part of the FA team?

First Ascent is the heart of the Chicago climbing community. It was founded by a number of my friends and climbing buddies from the dark days before Chicago had a dedicated climbing gym.

I’ve worked in a wide range of industries over the years. From consulting to mountain guiding, the one common theme is that the most important aspect of the job is the people you work with. At FA, I work daily with people I consider friends who share the same passions.

It’s something I don’t take for granted.

Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

Sport has always been my answer to this question, and probably always will be. I like being on a rope, pushing the limits of endurance and climbing beautiful lines. I’m inspired almost as much by the aesthetic and setting of a route as the movement within. I challenge someone to walk into the Midnight Surf or the Madness Cave and not feel inspired.

That said, over the years I’ve grown to appreciate bouldering, especially the social aspect of it. Unlike a sport route, where you’re largely alone on the wall, bouldering allows you to work together with a group of friends or people you just met to figure out a sequence. 

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

This is a really difficult question. Muir Valley is certainly up there. I’d probably say Ouray for ice climbing. Yosemite, both the valley and Tuolumne, is amazing. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous and the Alaska Range is incredible.

Other outdoor activities I participate in are:

Mountaineering: Walking uphill has always been a passion. I guided on Rainier for a season and loved it.

Ice Climbing: Love it. It’s like rock climbing only you can put holds wherever you want and they’re always jugs.

Canyoneering: I don’t have much experience here, but of what I’ve done, it was super fun. I’m actually leaving for Zion in two days and hope to get a few descents in.

Skiing: Backcountry skiing is great because it takes the least enjoyable part of mountaineering, the descent, and makes it fun! Resort skiing is a blast as well.

Hiking: I suppose this can be enjoyable on its own, but this is best used as a means of accessing the things listed above.

Tennis: I haven’t played as much over the past few years with my main partner having moved to the suburbs, but I still enjoy it on occasion, despite being rusty. (I am a washed out high school athlete.)

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

Nothing specific. My goal is to continue to consistently climb three times a week to build finger tendon strength so I can climb more challenging grades without injury. I might target Super Best Friends or Cell Block Six for Fall 2019?

Fitness? Get Dan Bartz and Jon Shepard to do a conditioning workout with me! I almost had Jon one day, but he bailed right before the burpees started.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Most of my free non-climbing time is spent lifting, doing gymnastic work and conditioning on occasion. Outside the gym, cycling (to and from the gym), watching movies, playing piano, planning climbing trips and playing video games, if we’re being honest here.

What do you love about Chicago?

Chicago is a great city. I’ve always said we should just pick it up and move it closer to the mountains. I like that everything is close together and easily accessible via bicycle.

What is something about you most people don’t know?

In college, the dark days before I started climbing, I practiced martial arts for five years and was fortunate enough to earn a first-degree black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do.

I’m super out of practice, but I might still be able to throw a (very low) kick or dive roll.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Thank you for always being so welcoming to new climbers. The community will grow over the years and it’s difficult to not roll our eyes when someone calls “free soloing” by the term “free climbing,” but let’s never get to a point where we think we’re too cool. After all, we’re still just climbing pieces of plastic, screwed to plywood, in a city nowhere near any outdoor climbing and everyone thinks we’re crazy.

 

Study Results: Predicting Wrist and Hand Injury Risk In Rock Climbers

My name is Oliver Rivera and I am a physical therapist at UIC. You may have seen me at the Uptown or Block 37 locations last March and April trying to recruit FA members to participate in my research study.Oliver Rivera PT, DPT

For a little background on me, I am a suburban Chicago native who finished up physical therapy school in June of 2017 in Las Vegas. It was in Nevada at Red Rock Canyon where I developed my passion for climbing. Recently, I completed a 13 month orthopedic physical therapy residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago where I was required to create a research project on something related to my field. From what I saw, there currently is a gap in research related to rock climbing, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to combine some of my passions.

As a climber who has experienced a few wrist and hand injuries, I was very interested in whether there were any specific characteristics of the wrist or hand that could predict injuries in rock climbers. I spoke with my climbing friends, fellow physical therapists at UIC, and a few climbing specific physical therapists across the country to identify characteristics that would be interesting to look at in terms of possible correlations with wrist and hand injuries. We identified a variety of factors worth investigating, including climbing experience, climbing frequency, climbing ability, grip strength, wrist flexor and extensor strength, wrist flexor/extensor strength ratio, wing span, ape index, digit length and width, and digit length/width ratio. Climbers frequently discuss many of the factors regarding strength as areas to possibly focus on during their training, so this study has the potential to better inform the climbing community on areas that they should or shouldn’t be concerned about in their training, as well as what matters or not in regards to body type.

For the study, we used a survey based design to obtain questions about climbing specific information such as ability, frequency, and injury history, and then took measurements of all the strength and anthropometric characteristics that interested us. In total, 98 climbers participated in the study. Prior to running the analysis, I hypothesized that wrist flexor/extensor strength ratio and digit length/width ratio would demonstrate the strongest correlation with wrist or hand injury in climbers. Specifically, I believed that someone with an “imbalanced” wrist flexor/extensor strength ratio, and someone with narrower and longer fingers would be at a greater risk of sustaining an injury.

Wrist alignment on rock climber

With the help of a statistician, we ran an analysis of the whole data set to look for significant interactions between all of the variables we recorded. Unfortunately, no significant interactions were found between any of the objective measurements we took. These findings were disappointing, as the goal of the study was to find some type of objective measure that could possibly predict wrist or hand injury in climbers. However, the positive takeaway from these findings is that none of the objective variables mattered in terms of influencing injury risk; there may not be a specific body characteristic or strength measurement that increases injury risk.

After the analysis, we did find two significant interactions within our survey data. A significant correlation was present between the following: wrist/hand injury and self reported climbing experience, and wrist/hand injury and self reported climbing ability.

At first glance, these findings make sense, since the longer you participate and the higher difficulties you encounter in climbing, the longer your exposure and the higher the risk you have sustaining any type of injury. What I also interpret from these findings is that what the climbing community may believe to be important for injury prevention may not be as vital as knowledge of tissue adaptation and a solid training program progression.

Rock climbing at Devil's Lake

From my research, I learned an interesting fact about the climbing community. For a majority of injuries, climbers do not seek medical attention. A primary reason is that the majority of injuries climbers endure are minor (strains, sprains, and contusions) and heal in a short amount of time. However, another reason found in the literature was that climbers do not trust medical professionals with their knowledge of climbing and climbing related injuries. As a physical therapist, I can say that PTs spend their education learning about tissue injury, healing, adaptation, and rehabilitation. Our profession is now at a doctoral level, and with direct access to physical therapy recently passed as Illinois law, PT’s are more qualified than ever to assist the climbing community directly with the education and rehabilitation of climbing related injuries. For athletes, understanding tissue adaptation and being smart about training progressions can play a pivotal role in injury prevention and rehabilitation.

If you are looking for guidance with injury prevention or rehabilitation, any physical therapist can provide helpful insight, and seeking a PT with a climbing background or orthopedic/sports training can also help. Look for credentials such as OCS, SCS, or FAAOMPT: therapists with these credentials often go through additional education to become specialists in their field.

First Ascent will also run Finger Injury Prevention workshops at all locations over the next couple of months with fellow FA member Dr. James Lee – be sure to sign up for one to go into even more depth about injury prevention.

I recently underwent ACL surgery 2 months ago from a soccer injury so climbing has been on hold for me. However I hope to be back in at First Ascent in the next 2-3 months, so if you see me around, feel free to say hi and ask any questions. You can also reach me at oliriv90@gmail.com.

By Oliver Rivera, a Chicago-based climber and physical therapist. 

FA Member Spotlight: Dr. James Lee

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA Member Dr. James Lee! Starting this month, James will be using his expertise to offer physical therapy services at all First Ascent locations. Follow James on Instagram @leephysicaltherapy, connect with him via email (james@leeptchicago.com) if you’re looking for physical therapy or need a quick tip, and say hi to him next time you see him around FA!

How did you get into climbing?

As a little kid, I would love to climb trees all the time. My cousins would make fun of me and call me jungle boy, but it wasn’t until I started physical therapy school in 2006 when one of my classmates introduced me to indoor climbing… game changer.

What do you love about climbing?

I’m biased for sure, but I think climbing has to be one of the most all-encompassing, full-bodied, high-tension, peaceful, physical, social, frustrating, encouraging and spiritual activities out there. It’s rare to find people from all walks of life come together like this.You learn not to give up, to press on. The moment when everything finally comes together for the send, it’s a great feeling. Being out in nature and, literally, on top of the world looking down, you’re awestruck. It can’t get better than that.

Why are you excited to start the physical therapy program at First Ascent?

Physical therapy is still a very young branch of medicine. Not many people really know what we do, so I’m excited to educate people more about their own bodies and show how they can optimize their physical health with movement. It’s important to distinguish when to be alarmed about certain pains versus when it’s okay to work through other pains without the fear of causing more damage to yourself. Learning good habits is a lot easier than breaking old ones, especially when it comes to a strenuous activity like climbing.

Why is physical therapy important for climbers? What’s your best tip for preventing injury with climbers?

How many times have you heard someone going to see their doctor because of a climbing injury and the doctor tells them to stop climbing? At the end of the appointment both parties are frustrated and don’t understand each other. Physical therapists are movement experts and can teach you when it’s okay to push yourself and when it’s time to listen to your body and rest. Climbing motion is also pulling specific. When you’re constantly working your body in one direction, inevitably the opposing muscle groups tend to get neglected. It’s important to know how to fix those muscle imbalances because they may end up leading to chronic issues down the road. The best tip I can give beginner climbers is to practice OPEN HAND CRIMPING!

Bouldering or sport climbing? 

Sport takes you to greater heights. I love finishing a climb and being able to soak in the view. Bouldering gives you a different high. I feel accomplished when I’m on top. I did it. Short and sweet. But when you’re hundreds of feet off of the ground, you feel small and almost insignificant like a tiny blip on the radar screen.    You get a sense of something greater, something beyond you, something truly awesome.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors?

I’ve been going to Devil’s Lake more and I love it. There are new boulder routes being set up as more people explore the talus fields. I’m more confident in my anchor building skills and I’m starting to climb simple trad routes. The rock is slick and it’s the perfect place to build a strong foundation.

 

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

I’d love to go to the Red and get back on Easy Rider 5.13a or Orange Juice 5.12c. Those were my two most memorable fails, and I’d be happy if I can red point them one day. Jesus Wept 12d looks like a really fun climb too and I’d love to give that one a go. I feel accomplished leading and flashing the Upper Diagonal 5.9 trad at Devil’s Lake. There’s no need to go any harder than that. A personal fitness goal I’ve always wanted to sort of (not really) meet is to get a six pack, but I love sweets much more than the thought of shredded abs. Key lime pie at First Slice is my favorite. 

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

When I’m not climbing, I’m treating patients or I’m busy making videos on instagram to help people with climbing. I volunteer with the Adaptive Climbing Group (@adaptclimbgroup) where we help people with disabilities to climb. And I love spending time with my wonderful girlfriend who just said yes to marrying me! We enjoy cooking together and also going out to eat. If you ever see us in the gym training together, it’s probably the only time you won’t see her smiling… my fault. 

I’m also currently training my pet Sophie to become a great crag dog one day! She has her own Instagram @crag_dog_sophie.

What do you love about Chicago?

I love calling Chicago my home. We have the most beautiful skyline, the city streets are clean and we have a lake the size of an ocean. It’s easy to find a peaceful corner to get work done or get caught up in a big crowd at a music festival. The diversity of cuisines is never ending too. I just discovered this Venezuelan restaurant on the very north side of Lake View. The cheese sticks alone are so delicious.

What is something about you most people don’t know?

I’ve been playing the drums almost every week at my church for the past 20 years. I was self-taught starting my freshmen year in high school because our youth group needed a drummer.I now play for our adult service. I’m actually really surprised it’s been 20 years, maybe because I learned at such a young age and it was built into my routine for so long that you just lose track of time. It’s so much fun. I still feel like a kid whenever I play.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?
I’m excited to be on the front lines of injury prevention at FA. Climbing is my passion and I’m fortunate that I can use my profession to help people climb better. I can’t wait to meet you!

First Ascent Uptown is expanding!

We are excited to announce that First Ascent Uptown is expanding!

If you’ve been wondering about the brown paper covered windows at 4718 N Broadway, wonder no more: First Ascent Uptown will take over half of the first floor space, which will become the new home of our fitness and training area.The expansion will also allow us to offer indoor bike parking with room for 30 bikes. The current fitness area upstairs will be transformed into social and coworking space. 

Our Uptown location opened in December 2015, just 4 months after our first location, First Ascent Avondale. First Ascent Uptown is an adaptive reuse of the historic landmark building where Broadway meets Racine in Uptown across from the Riviera Theater.The flatiron-style building opened in 1915 as Sheridan Trust & Savings Bank and has changed hands many times over the years. Prior to First Ascent Uptown, Borders Books inhabited the entire building before shutting its doors in a 2011 company-wide bankruptcy.

When First Ascent Uptown moved into the building in 2015, the project stirred curiosity and excitement from the Uptown neighborhood – curiosity because indoor climbing and bouldering were relatively unheard of in the city, and excitement because of the new energy First Ascent would bring to this iconic corner in Uptown. After 3 years in business, First Ascent has seen tremendous growth in indoor climbing and bouldering, fueling First Ascent’s expansion into the first floor space. With First Ascent’s expansion as well as the recent opening of the Huntington Bank in the corner space, the building is one big step closer to being fully occupied again. 

FA co-founder and CFO Joe Zentmyer had this to say about the expansion: “We are very excited for this project! The additional space will allow us to more than double both the fitness area and the social space at FA Uptown, and it will enable us to offer coworking space and indoor bike parking, two things our members have been requesting since we opened.”

And FA co-founder and Business Development Director Jon Shepard added: “As First Ascent grows, we strive to continue investing into our gyms and communities. FA Uptown is not only the neighborhood bouldering gym but also one of Uptown’s key fitness destinations. This expansion will make the fitness area at First Ascent Uptown the largest and most well-equipped of any of our locations. We’re excited to keep investing into FA Uptown, both for the neighborhood and for the fitness and wellbeing of our members.”

We aim to have the new space open by November 1, 2018. In the meantime, please pardon our dust as we bring you new spaces to explore and new amenities to enjoy!

To stay up to date on the FA Uptown expansion project, follow First Ascent Uptown on Facebook.

5 Ways To Practice Climbing Injury Prevention

After climbing in the gym for a while, you’ll inevitably get bit by the outdoor bug. Maybe you’ve been venturing up to Baraboo for some quartzite bouldering, or your friends have shown you the glory of the Red River Gorge in October. In any case, everyone at some point realizes how much harder and more technical real stone is than polyurethane holds. Many climbers at this point decide to begin to train, rather than simply climb casually whenever they hit the gym. It’s how to break through plateaus, after all – but with this switch in approach comes the potential for injury.

Climbing has traditionally not had a ramping up period during which new climbers learn how to train, the way more popular team sport athletes do. Commonly, climbers feel they want to get “stronger,’ so they begin to attack the hangboard or bouldering wall without the long-term strategy needed to prevent the most common climbing issues: overuse injuries, which are found in up to 44% of regular indoor rock climbers, according to a 2001 British study.

Overuse injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic, are caused by repetitive trauma due to either overtraining (e.g. working that V5 repeatedly, all session) or bad technique, which overloads specific muscles with forces they’re not equipped to handle. Think about power outages: when an electrical system is working, the wattage spreads out over the entire system, not overburdening any one node in the system. But when one node fails, its burden overloads the next, which overloads the next, and so on, until no one link in that chain can contain the force, resulting in the system shutting down.

In climbers, that “power outage” results in overuse injuries, specifically in the hands, elbows, and shoulders. In the case of tendon injuries, such as tennis elbow or an A2 pulley strain, the recovery time is much greater compared to muscle strains, because these components of the musculoskeletal system receive less blood flow than muscles do. You probably know someone who’s experienced at least one of these:

  • Pulley strains: the most common climbing injury, often the result of overdoing a closed hand crimp after not letting your hands recover from frequent climbing. Tendons and pulleys don’t strengthen the way muscles do; climbers can quickly become strong enough to inflict damage on their own hands when performing closed crimps without proper technique and recovery.
  • Tennis elbow: this is a form of tendinitis, or inflammation, caused by overusing your forearm extensor muscles, which must fire to stabilize your forearm while gripping the holds using your flexor muscles. While climbing, the tendons connecting your extensors to the elbow can develop small tears and inflammation, leading to irritation that can make continued climbing difficult, and even impossible, without rest and treatment
  • Shoulder impingement: This is an injury to a shoulder muscle, the supraspinatus, which stabilizes the shoulder joint. When it’s subjected to forces like swinging or too much repetitive trauma from hard climbing, it weakens and destabilizes the shoulder joint, pinching the tendon while the arm passes through a specific range of motion. This condition represents about 80% of shoulder injuries in climbing.

The frustrating truth about overuse injuries is that in mild cases, they can slip under the radar, until they flare up and become lasting issues, requiring professional treatment in order to recover, especially with severe pulley strains and shoulder impingements. The best way to stay out of that 44%, then, is to prevent these conditions in the first place.

In any sport, preventing injury is a long game: athletes need to think ahead about the stresses the body will face throughout a season or training plan, and plan accordingly – including sleep, diet, and mental health. These will differ based on your goals and your body. However, every climber can incorporate routine practices into their training sessions that, despite being a bit boring at times, will build a musculoskeletal foundation that can help to buffer against injury, and give you a springboard to recovery if you are struggling with these issues (with the help of a physical therapist or sports doctor).

Here are 5 basic practices climbers can incorporate into their routines:

1. Warm Up

The single most common cause of most overuse injuries is simply ramping up strenuous climbing too much too soon. While this applies over multiple sessions as well as over any individual session, starting each session with regular and proactive warmups will crank up your heart rate, pumping more blood to your climbing muscles and tendons.The most highly effective and dual-purpose method of warming up is to practice dynamic stretches, which boost blood flow while also activating and lightly stretching muscles you’ll use during your workout. Try starting your sessions with the following:

1. Light cycling will begin to raise your heart rate slowly and get the blood flowing. Do this for 5-7 minutes.

2. Walking lunges activate your hips and force you to use your core, both contributing to better climbing once you’ve warmed up. Do two sets of ten on each leg, and take it slow and controlled to lessen stress on your knees.

3. Windmills will stretch your shoulder joint while beginning to send blood through the joint and into your arms. Do two sets of ten on each arm. These should be done quite slowly and with control.

 

2. Practice Form Intentionally

Once you’ve gotten your blood flowing, don’t jump right into climbing hard. Now’s the time to get your session going the right way – with easy climbing focused on proper form. Because so many injuries are caused by improperly loading different muscles and tendons due to bad technique, this phase is critical – it builds muscle memory that will kick in when you’re pumped and stressed on a challenging project. For example, notice how in the below photo, the climber has a loose core, which directs the dangling weight of his body off his hands alone. Over time, this kind of climbing will cause problems potentially in the shoulders and hands as he begins to try harder and harder to send problems.

Now, notice how he’s brought his hips into alignment using his core: this allows him to transfer some forces off his hands and support his body using more of his legs, while also controlling dynamic forces that his arms would need to compensate for, at some risk of injury.

3. Do More Than Just Climb

Climbing will use muscles in very specific directions and planes of motion. Repetitive use of these motions can create muscle imbalances, which magnify wear and tear on your tendons. In most of your training plans, make sure to include other activities that use different muscle groups than pure climbing or hangboarding. Yoga’s a great start – FA offers classes every day. Trail running is another great example – it offers lateral motion moving side to side and up and down over obstacles, and tends to go at a slower, less stressful pace than road running. These lateral motions build “side to side” strength and stability, which will support “up and down” climbing strength to help prevent injury. The critical point is to choose activities that offer complementary, not identical, motions to rock climbing, and to build that into your weekly routines.

4. Rest

Training is only part of the equation in injury prevention. It’s fairly common in climbing to show some pride around how many days “on” you’ve climbed, but this reflects some misunderstanding of how strength is built (although it can be hard to take a day off when you’re on a trip!). Days “on” are destructive on the body, particularly on your tendons – which can’t be trained rapidly the way muscles can be. Days off are when the strength and tendon resilience builds throughout your whole body after training. Rest is at least as important as gym time – take it slow, and don’t push through abnormal pain.

5. Get Expert Input

Once you’ve gotten those preventative habits down (or even if you need help with them), it’s now time to get onto a training plan. You may be tempted to start hangboarding with friends or download a pre-made training plan online, but having the right training plan for you is an essential part of preventing injury and ultimately achieving your goals. You can find great resources to craft your own training plan – online resources from Climbing Magazine to TrainingBeta’s podcast, or a well-known climbing training book like How To Climb 5.12 by Eric Horst or The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Michael & Mark Anderson. But the best option is always to work with a professional trainer locally. We encourage you to check out First Ascent’s 90-minute Redpoint Assessment, where a Redpoint coach will assess your climbing ability over a wide range of metrics and provide you with a personalized training plan that not only makes you a stronger and more skilled climber, but also a healthier one for the long term. Check the Redpoint Training page on our website or email redpoint@firstascentclimbing.com for more information.

By Chris Rooney, an FA member and freelance writer specializing in rock climbing, fitness, and the outdoors.

Sources

theclimbingdoctor.com

drjuliansaunders.com/shoulder-impingement