Training Log Jan-Jul 2023: Healing my broken body

Hello again, dear reader. By now you’ve probably forgotten all about me and my training for climbing journey. But my mailing list hasn’t forgotten you. So here I am, in your inbox once again to update you about my climbing training.
When we last left off, I was feeling pretty broken. My fingers were swollen with synovitis, my back was hurting, my neck was tweaked, and my shoulder kept giving me trouble.
At the beginning of this year I spent some time reflecting on my climbing journey and re-evaluating my priorities. It went something like this:
Before: After: - get better at any cost - don’t be in constant pain - maybe try to enjoy it somewhat? - get better
In light of that, I ended up spending the first few months of this year trying to sort out my various aches and ailments. I did this by consulting with several Physical Therapists (PTs), and doing some of my own research and experimentation.


The first protocol I got from a PT was to stop climbing on the tension board, and reduce crimping in general. Instead I shifted to spending more time on the set problems in the gym, particularly on the bigger pinches, slopers, and various other friendly holds.
I did contrast baths, which were fairly painful (maybe I used too much ice?) and inconvenient.
My swelling went down over the course of a couple weeks. I’m not sure if the contrast baths sped up the reduction in swelling, but I think it’s most likely the reduction in crimp volume that provided most of the benefit.
I also did some Tyler-Nelson-style recruitment pulls, since they didn’t seem to aggravate my injury. The point of this was to try and hang on to some strength with a small amount of training volume.
After 3-4 weeks of this, my fingers were no longer swollen - the soreness and tweakiness felt a bit better - so I tried to re-introduce some crimping. My fingers swelled up again almost immediately.
After that I dropped the crimping volume again, and tried a heavy finger roll protocol for about two months. I used a 135lb barbell and progressed it from 10 reps to 20 reps per set over that time. I also experimented with using dumbbells and higher volumes (25-50lb, 20-50 reps). Unfortunately this didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the stiffness / soreness / tweakiness in my fingers either.
The next thing I tried was light, frequent hangboarding. This was initially introduced by Emil Abrahamsson, and recently I saw this video by Hooper's Beta on it that convinced me to try it for the sake of injury recovery.
I don’t worry too much about measuring weight, reps or hang times. I generally do it like so:
  • Load my fingers by trying to “finger curl” myself off the ground, until I feel slight pain/discomfort. Hold that for 10 seconds.
  • Do other stretching or mobility work for 20-30 seconds - forward bends, side bends, lunges, air squats, deep squats, lat stretches, etc…
  • Repeat for ~10 minutes.
I initially did this on a flash board attached to a tree in my yard, but eventually switched to using a door frame. This made it really convenient to do the routine whenever I thought about it throughout the day, and my adherence immediately went way up.
Immediately after doing these hangs, my fingers felt warm, pliable and pain-free. This was really encouraging and also helped with adherence. After a week or two, I saw a significant reduction in how stiff and sore my fingers felt in the mornings and throughout the rest of the day.
Since then, I’ve introduced some higher-intensity crimping with off-the-ground block pulls, which has been progressing pretty well. I’ve started adding a low amount of climbing on crimpy problems on the set wall, and I think I’ll try to add some moderate board climbing in my next cycle. I’m feeling pretty confident that my fingers are going to continue to improve.

Lower back pain

Lower back pain would often interfere with my training over the past few years. Sometimes my back would spasm while bending forward like during a kettle bell swing, a deadlift, or a bent-over row. Sometimes it would spasm at random - a number of times when I rolled over in bed at night.
After the spasm, it would lock up. Bending forward even slightly would send shooting pain up my back and down the back of my leg. It was painful enough that I had a hard time getting things out of the fridge and loading the dishwasher.
This was something that I ended up seeing several PTs about, including one that specialized in back pain.
All of them seemed to focus around one idea: tight hamstrings (from sitting too much), or a weak / uncoordinated abdomen, or a similar issue caused me to fail to properly support and stabilize my spine during flexion. Because of this my body would freak out, and this would cause my back to lock up.
The exercises I got from the PTs were all over the place. Strengthening glutes and abs and adductors, ab engagement and coordination work, stretching hamstrings and quads, etc… One PT prescribed me multiple sets of over 10 movements to be done twice a day. In total doing all the exercises took about 7 hours per week - about the same amount of time that all my climbing training, which is is pretty absurd. Does anyone who is not a pro athlete adhere to protocols like this?
In all of this, my lower back still hurt and it seemed to be recovering slower than usual. I ended up re-aggravating the injury every time I attempted to return to climbing.
Frustrated with the advise I got, I ended up trying to do my own research. I tried to do reverse hyperextensions. I looked up anatomy illustrations of lower back bones, muscles and nerves, and tried to narrow down my pain to specific movements or structures. Then I tried finding papers relating to those. Eventually I found this talk on movement control dysfunction and related literature.
This seemed to resonate with my experience. I doubled down on trying to teach myself to move with minimal spine flexion. I ended up doing a lot of lightly weighted hinging and squat movements. I practiced leaning forward and doing box jumps into a squat while avoiding flexion in my lower back.
After a few weeks of this… my back still hurt.
Eventually I gave up and (reluctantly) sought out yet another PT. I was feeling pretty desperate. I seriously considered that this pain may mean that I just had to stop bouldering altogether, since at this point I’ve been in pretty much constant pain for two months and it was seriously interfering with my life.
The next PT that I saw ended up giving me what seemed like contradictory advise, that I think is well summarized in this video that he sent me. My protocol with him focused on flexion movements - starting with cat/dog, then Jefferson Curls, and progressing to weighted Jefferson Curls. Also, he advised me to not avoid climbing or other activity that I typically engaged in. If a movement caused some pain or hesitation, I was to repeat the movement 10-20 times and see if that caused the pain to increase or decrease. In my experience repeating the movement almost always caused the pain to go away.
And… my back felt better about 2 or 3 days after that. This was the typical recovery time for previous times when my back would lock up. I think that by avoiding spine flexion, I ended up making the pain last longer. My PT described this as something akin to kinesiophobia. The flexion movements were needed for my body to learn that spine flexion was safe, which in turn turned off the pain response.
Now, I think the immediate reaction might be “whoa, all those PTs were dumb / incompetent, and that one PT really knew their stuff”, but I don’t think that’s the appropriate reaction. I can easily imagine the opposite situation arising:
I go to a PT and they tell me to be optimistic about the pain and to not avoid spine flexion. I do that but my back continues to hurt. Then I see a different PT who tells me to focus on moving with a neutral spine, and to strengthen the supporting structures, which helps me feel better.
Overall it just seems like something without a solid base of evidence. Human anatomy is complex, pain is complex, and studying it is difficult - you can’t just go poke around in people’s spines to see what’s going on. So it seems that smart and educated people disagree on this stuff, and both approaches end up helping people in different situations.


I wrestled from the age of 6 to about 18. I remember spending the occasional practice with ice packs taped to my shoulders due to a deep, penetrating ache that I would sometimes get from some sort of overuse injury. The pain would also cause my hands to tremble and make me lose a lot of my strength.
My wrestling coaches never figured out what it was, and neither did I - this was at least 20 years ago. At times, bouldering aggravates my shoulders in a similar way.
I’ve attempted a lot of different treatments for this - strengthening exercises for various surrounding structures, stretching, massage, cupping, nerve flossing. None of them seem to get at the root of the issue.
So far the only thing that works consistently is managing intensity and volume. When I first started climbing, I’d always end up gravitating to bouldering moves I couldn’t do. So basically every time I went to the gym I’d be working close to or past my limit. And there was always the temptation to go 2 days on, especially when on a climbing trip. Whenever I would try and push it like that, my shoulder would flare up.
These days I do limit bouldering only once per week, and usually after a 2-day rest. The other two days I do some form of moderate bouldering - whether working on power endurance, volume, consistency or technique.
One session a week of truly limit bouldering seems to be about what my shoulders can handle. I tend to not get any flare-ups if I approach things this way. I still struggle with not overdoing things, but as time has passed I’ve grown to accept this limitation.


For the longest time, I would wake up with some numbness in my pinkie and ring fingers. Two of the PTs I saw really latched on to this symptom, and I did a considerable amount of nerve flossing, chest openers and shoulder mobility work that never seemed to do anything.
Several months ago I bought a mattress topper, which completely resolved the issue.
In the past, I would sleep really hot, and often wake up super sweaty during warmer weather. Because of this I generally preferred firmer mattresses, since when I would sink into a softer mattress it would make the sweating worse. A few years ago I stopped drinking caffeine. This fixed a lot of problems I was having with sleep - sleep paralysis, disturbing dreams, sleeping hot & waking up sweaty.
Since I don’t sleep hot any more, I got a soft topper for the bed, and it has made a huge difference with how rested I feel in the mornings, and general aches & pains. It also completely fixed the numb pinkie issue. If you’re a fairly light / dense person with wider shoulders, and should probably opt for a soft mattress! Also consider switching to decaf - caffeine is a strong stimulant, and it’s pretty fucked up how heedless we are about consuming vast quantities of it.
Another thing in this category was my neck pain. My neck would often spasm and get tweaked during random times (sometimes during exercise, sometimes just looking over my shoulder when biking or driving).
After updating my mattress, I ended up getting a 3-compartment pillow. Each compartment is stuffed with shredded memory foam that you can add or remove to make it the right height. I ended up removing almost all the foam from the middle (for when I sleep on my back), and kept the edges stuffed (for when I roll over to the side). The combination of the pillow support and softer mattress has allowed my neck to relax more when sleeping on my side, which seems to have fixed my neck problems.

Weight Management

At some point in the last year I went from ~155lb (~70kg) to ~170lb (~77kg). I’m 5’10” (~178cm). I think this may have contributed to my finger injuries, since it considerably increased the load on my fingers when climbing.
My training plan with Lattice was really taxing, so I ended up eating a lot more during that time. I’ve always been someone who could eat as much as I wanted without gaining weight, so I purposefully tried to eat more to fuel recovery. I think I was a lot more tired and worn out all the time, so I ended up being more sedentary outside of climbing/training and unconsciously eating more for comfort and entertainment. Finally, I’m getting older and my metabolism is probably slowing down.
I ended up calorie counting, mostly following the advise here and using the Macrofactor app.
I’m a bit torn about the whole dieting / weight loss thing. It wasn’t an entirely positive experience. I’ll probably write more about that later. I think my main take away is that one has to be really careful. Read strongerbyscience to make sure you’re doing things in a slow and thoughtful way. Listen to Maintenance Phase to make sure you’re doing things for the right reasons and avoiding emotional and moralistic pitfalls. Equipped with that knowledge, find a good nutritionist. I think it’s really easy to get into bad territory both mentally and physically with food tracking and calorie restriction.
I’m currently at 159lb and I’m aiming to get back down to 155lb. At that point I’ll probably keep tracking my food for a while, to try and build some intuition about how much food I need to eat to maintain my weight. I don’t want to calorie count forever, so it remains to be seen if I will stay at 155 or if my body will slowly slide back up. I guess we’ll see.

Heartburn / Restless Leg Syndrome

I’ve suffered from heartburn for many years. I’d frequently wake up in the morning with a very uncomfortable burning pain in my chest. The pain would be significant enough that it would wake me up, and generally made mornings a very uncomfortable time. I’ve seen a couple GI doctors about this, and got several expensive tests, including an upper endoscopy, to try to get to the bottom of it. Nothing there ended up being conclusive.
While food tracking, I ended up being hungriest around mid-day, so I shifted my eating pattern to have my biggest meal in the afternoon, with a smaller dinner. Even the main afternoon meal was probably only about half of what I would typically consume in one meal.
When I started eating smaller meals, my heartburn went away after a couple of weeks.
I’ve experimented with smaller meals and fasting as a heartburn cure before, but I think eating very large meals had some sort of accumulating effect, so eating less for a day or two didn’t seem to have an effect. So if you suffer from heartburn, I would advise you to try eating smaller meals for at least a couple of weeks to see if it helps you.
Another thing that would often happen is that I’d get restless leg syndrome. My legs would end up feeling irritated and periodically spasm as I was going to sleep. This would be severe enough that it would prevent me from being able to fall asleep. I’d have to get out of bed, and stretch for about 10-15 minutes and try again. Often even that wouldn’t resolve it completely. It was bad enough that I saw a neurologist about it about 7-8 years ago. After some X-rays and a sleep study, they weren’t really able to tell me anything conclusive.
This too went away once I started food tracking, so I think something about routinely consuming large quantities of food right before bed was contributing to that.
One big thing that I learned during this process is that I’ve long had the habit of eating until I felt “stuffed”. I really enjoy the feeling of being a bit too full. So overall, I’m not totally sold on calorie counting, but I’m definitely going to work on eating smaller portions, and try to let go of the feeling of needing to feel stuffed when I eat. I’m glad that I was able to discover a fix for heart burn and restless leg syndrome, as they’ve been negatively impacting my sleep, and my life for years.


I think these last 6 months have taught me a lot about what prioritization and training can look like.
It was a non-linear process. There were many times where the approach I chose ended up not working out. Many of the solutions I found came from things that I didn’t even consider when first encountering the problem. In some cases I feel like I just got lucky.
I think the essential piece that made it work was routinely revisiting my priorities. Every training cycle, I’d write out what was most important to me. I’d then reflect on my training over the previous cycle and check with myself about whether I felt like I was progressing towards those priorities.
By following this process, I was able to either improve or fix many of the issues that have been plaguing me for years - both in climbing and in the rest of my life.
I am planning on writing some future posts:
I’ll probably write one on my experience with losing weight, after I finish getting to my target weight and see if I can actually maintain it without tracking my food forever.
I also started keeping a climbing journal, and I’ll probably do a post about how I use it.
And I’ll probably have some other ideas down the line, so please consider coming back and following along!