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It’s 65 and sunny outside in the middle of February. Normally this would be an irresistible opportunity to ditch work and get my hands on some rock (don’t tell my boss). I’d usually be begging and pleading with friends to do the same.

“Come on, man. You know you’re just going to stare out the window anyway in between Justin Bieber Youtube videos. Just tell your boss that you’ve come down with a case of Hauntavirus and let’s go.”

An illustration of an MCL tear

But today is day 15 after tearing my medial collateral ligament (MCL) in my left knee during a soccer game. The MCL runs along the inside of the knee and keeps your leg from buckling inward. Fortunately, my injury is only a partial tear, so the recovery period should be 4-6 weeks instead of the 3 months needed to heal a full tear. The doctor described these injuries as a stretched weave, like a Chinese finger puzzle pulled too far.

I was all smiles and optimism until this stupid fantastic weather showed up, like a delicious cake spoiled by rotten eggs. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that with a little foresight and stubbornness, one can often turn a short-term negative (rotten eggs) into a long-term positive (a hilarious joke left under Andrew’s bed).

When the gym season rolled around the past couple years, I had a definite plan to attack my weaknesses. For example, last year I was coming off of routes in most cases because I was pumped, not because the moves were too hard. So I trained endurance in the gym, climbing several routes in a row with no break until my arms felt like jelly, grabbing a drink and then doing it again, each day I climbed. In the process, not only did I break through that endurance barrier, but I learned how to rest on a route. I learned how to gauge how much, if anything I could get back from holds. I leaned how to manipulate my body position to climb more efficiently. Endurance will always remain an issue, but because of recognizing the weaknesses and having a focused plan of attack, now it’s not my limiting factor.

An unknown techy and difficult slab outside of Moab (Photo: Tyler Scheer)

This year I lacked a clear vision heading into the off season. I wanted to get better, but didn’t have a plan. Without goals and direction, I settled into a gym routine of having fun with friends, working a few routes and calling it quits when I got bored. I still climbed hard and got pumped, but returns were minimal.

After tearing my MCL, I had two choices. 1. Drink beer or 2. Hangboard, core work, campus board, targeted weight lifting and drink beer. I’ve known for a long time that I’ve arrived at a point reached by many climbers who peak out at 5.12 and find further improvement unattainable. Many of my goals in the sport are not oriented by numbers, but I have a continuing aspiration to improve. We all remember being a “newbie” with no footwork or technique and enjoying noticeable and exhilarating strides every new day climbing. I always desire that feeling of making a move I couldn’t do before or latching a hold that had previously evaded my grasp. In the back of my mind I knew that improvement resided in the weightroom along with sweat and determination. Tearing my MCL provided the perfect motivation simply by eliminating other options. Continuing to procrastinate equated to doing nothing at all.

Runout and breathing a sigh of relief after an unprotected offwidth (Photo: Tyler Scheer)

So I chose option 2 and have been working hard to not only maintain with an injury, but to build the base necessary to make gains when I can climb again like I want. I have no idea if this will result in a baby step, or a significant stride, but at least I won’t have excuses and regrets when my season rolls around. I’ve learned a thing or two about training in the process (keep your eyes open for an article soon) and now I can’t wait to get back to the rock. Though my knee glued me firmly to my chair today while the sunlight mocked me, I know my time will come. It’s still my choice to be ready.

The next time I barely make that last show stopping move and arrive at the anchors to bask in a fleeting sense of accomplishment, I may have an MCL tear to thank.

Thanks to Tyler for some awesome photos. Check back in the coming weeks for some more great shots from him.

lizzil - I’m glad you have a positive attitude about your MCL and are still finding ways to keep yourself motivated. A lot of people would give up, sit on the couch moping and complaining. Very proud of you!February 18, 2011 – 10:58 am

Chris - Goo! Bad news about the knee Adam. However, it’s important to see the silver lining. Case in point, Kris’s wife Sarah was forced into a work-induced 2-week hiatus and came back to send two projects right out of the gate. My guess is you’re headed down that road, my friend.

And you bring up a great point about training, one that’s hard to see without the perspective of time away. Somewhere around 5.11 or 5.12, training starts to get more involved. Simply climbing more or climbing harder, unless of course you have the convenience of being padi to climb, simply don’t get the gains you one saw. Routes at these grades start to really expose your deficiencies (not that YOU have any). At that point it’s all about specialization, sports specific training. Hangboards, weight training, cross training. That’s how you’re going to get stronger and make up for those deficiencies. I’m looking forward to hearing your take on training at the advanced and elite levels – which is clearly where you are!February 18, 2011 – 12:54 pm

Kimberly Ernest - Hey Adam,
Sorry to hear about your knee. :(
But like you said, it is good to focus on the positive. Hangboards and campus boards will get you super strong.
Keep it up!February 19, 2011 – 12:13 am

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