Bouldering is a full body workout, and relies on grip strength as one of the biggest factors of sending a climb. Because of this, a climber’s forearms can feel especially sore for a few days (or sometimes even weeks) after a climbing session. This is especially true for beginners who haven’t had the chance to build up any real forearm or grip strength. In this article we’ll be covering the different ways to recover forearms after a bouldering or climbing session, along with ways to mitigate forearm pain in the future.
So how do you recover your forearms after bouldering? Forearm recovery after bouldering should include a focus on diet, an increase in water and electrolytes, forearm massage, stretching, rest, ice, compression, elevation, and possibly physiotherapy if the forearm pain seems to be more serious. There are also a few activities you should avoid such as drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and working out before your forearms have properly recovered. Forearm recovery usually happens within 3-4 days for beginners, however depending on the factors mentioned above, this could last slightly longer. As you become a more experienced climber, forearm recovery should take less time.
Read on for more information that will help you speed up your forearm recovery process.
- How to Recover Forearms from Rock Climbing & Bouldering
- Things to Avoid for Faster Forearm Recovery After Climbing
- Why Do Your Forearms Hurt After Climbing?
- How Do I Strengthen My Forearms For Bouldering?
- Related Questions
How to Recover Forearms from Rock Climbing & Bouldering
There are a few different actions you should focus on if you want to speed up the process of forearm recovery after bouldering or climbing. By doing all of the actions in this section, you should recover much quicker than you usually would.
Diet & Water
It’s well known that nutrition is one of the main ways to support exercise-induced injuries and muscle soreness (Source). Diet, including the consumption of enough water, is one of the main ways to help your muscles recover after a workout. You need to restore your liver and muscle glycogen stores, while replacing the water and electrolytes lost in sweat. This is especially true for the acute phase of recovery which happens within the first 0-6 hours after your workout or climbing session (Source).
So what kind of diet would help forearm muscle recovery? As we’ve said, you need to replace glycogen stores, and this happens with carbohydrates. Then you need some essential amino acids to repair the sore forearm muscles and this can be done by eating protein. I’ve actually got a 7 day breakdown for a healthy balanced diet for a climber, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Obviously, you may need to increase or decrease the amount consumed depending on your own weight, and if you have specific dietary needs I’ve got a list of 7 day climbing diet plans for keto, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, and pescatarian that you can find here. By following these diet plans to your own requirements, you should be able to speed up your recovery process.
Deep tissue massage is known to help muscle recovery by increasing blood flow into a specific area and reducing muscle tension. You can use hands for forearm massage or by using instruments such as a foam roller or lacrosse ball (links to Amazon).
Forearm massage has also been shown to reduce muscle soreness severity post-exercise (Source). Therefore, forearm massage is a great way to help you recover after a bouldering or climbing session. Here’s a video that should help you with your forearm recovery – this is especially useful if you have someone to help:
Stretching & Warming Down
Different stretching techniques can be used post-climbing to aid the recovery process of forearms and fingers. Stretching for forearm recovery should not be confused with stretching for increasing range of motion. Increasing range of motion with stretching usually includes small amounts of pain within the muscles to stretch the scar tissue, however stretching to recover forearms after climbing should be pain free as a way to increase blood flow to that area (Source). Here’s a stretch/warm down routine I use to aid forearm and hand recovery after climbing.
The RICE Method
A well known method for general muscle recovery is the RICE method. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Rest your muscles, put ice on your muscles (wrap ice cubes up in a towel or just use a bag of frozen peas), compress the forearm muscles using a forearm compression sleeve (Link to buy from amazon), and elevate your arms above your heart to reduce swelling.
Things to Avoid for Faster Forearm Recovery After Climbing
Alcohol has been found to decrease protein synthesis and therefore hinders muscle recovery post exercise (Source). If you want to speed up your forearm muscle recovery process after bouldering, you shouldn’t drink alcohol.
Smoking tobacco has been linked to impairing muscle recovery from exercise (Source). Climbers that smoke cigarettes are more likely to take longer at longer recovery speeds for their forearms.
Sleep plays a massive role in recovery. This, along with diet, is probably the most important part of your forearm recovery process. Depriving yourself of sleep can seriously impact the way your body responds to inflammation and affects your hormones, which in turn impairs muscle recovery (Source). Post-climbing workouts should be followed by turning in for an early night to encourage forearm muscle recovery.
Why Do Your Forearms Hurt After Climbing?
Forearms hurt after climbing because you use your hands a very large amount to hold onto the climbing wall. The muscles in the hands are connected from the tips of your fingers all the way up to your elbow, and are known as finger flexors. When climbing, these finger flexors are being used to grip onto the wall for large amounts of time, many times over a session.
It’s normal to feel soreness in your forearms after climbing, as this is just delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It’s believed that DOMS is caused by microscopic damage to muscle fibres due to muscles working harder than they’re used to or in a different way (Source). Therefore, if you’d like your forearms to become less sore after climbing, you should climb more often so your forearms can get used to the activity.
How Do I Strengthen My Forearms for Bouldering?
Climbing regularly is one of the best ways to strengthen your forearms and increase grip strength. Once you’ve been climbing regularly for around 6 months or more, you should probably start hangboarding. Not only will this strengthen your forearms for bouldering and climbing, but it will also help you send harder climbs. You can usually find hangboards at your local climbing gym, however if you really want to up your game you should be hangboarding multiple times a week which means you’ll probably need one of your own. Check out my cost-effective, recommended hangboards here.
A Simple Bouldering Exercise to Increase Forearm Endurance
One simple bouldering exercise I like to do to increase my forearm endurance is to use the circuit board at my local bouldering gym. The circuit board has many different difficulties, and the mistake I see people making is that they over-do their workout too early. The best advice I can give here is to climb around the circuit board and stop just before you feel pumped.
Is Climbing Good for Forearms? Rock climbing or bouldering on a regular basis is a very good way at increasing forearm strength and endurance.
Is Massage Good for Forearm Pain? Deep tissue massage is good at helping forearm muscle soreness and pain.
How Quickly Do Forearms Recover After a Bouldering Session? Beginners should see their forearms recover within 3-4 days, however this should get a lot faster as you climb more regularly. This, of course, can be longer depending on how much scar tissue has been damaged after the climbing session. If you have caused an injury, this could take a few weeks.