Usually when I climb I take plenty of rest between attempts however, yesterday I decided that I wanted to test myself and climb 25 problems at my local gym. I chose problems that were below my level but by the 7th problem my forearms just swelled up so much I hadn't experienced this type of stiffness since my first day climbing. (I've climbed consistently for 4 months now) As a result of becoming pumped so quickly I only managed 17/25 problems that night.

From my knowledge, which isn't much, common sense tells me to warm up before climbing and to rest between attempts however, when I watch pros climb competitively, they hardly get any rest between attempts (e.g USA Bouldering Nationals). Therefore there must be some tips/tricks that they use to maximize their performance.

What actions should I perform before climbing to decrease my chances of getting pumped?

What actions should I focus on while climbing to prevent my arms from getting pumped?

4 Answers 4


Ah the Endurance problem. Well this can either boil down to Power Endurance or just normal Endurance. Power Endurance is where you can retain a high level of power through a pump. This exceeds your endurance by seconds. Normal Endurance is the ability to climb at a lower level for longer. This exceeds your endurance by minutes.

For your case, it sounds like you need to work on your normal endurance rather than power endurance. For this, the main exercises seems to be Intervals. This involves climbing for say 5 minutes and resting for 5 minutes. This can also be done with pull-ups but restricted to a minute session and minute rest. Another effective exercise is ARC training. This trains more stamina rather than endurance but depending on your level it maybe beneficial. This involves climbing continuously either roped or by traversing for 20-40 minutes with only on the wall rests. Doing this exercise, you need to ensure you don't find a lovely feet only rest spot as it eliminates the benefits of the exercise.

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    Hi Rory. Welcome to TGO! If you're not familiar with stackexchange do take some time to check our tour page when you can spare a couple minutes. Anyway, nice answer.
    – Roflo
    Feb 29, 2016 at 15:25

Having your muscles "pumped" is not a problem in itself. If you have problems with movement because of it, it is most likely down to muscle type, muscle mass, and cardiovascular effectiveness.

Because I used to do a lot of weight lifting, my muscle mass is pretty high (which actually gives me a poor power to weight ratio for climbing) but as I do a lot of cardio training, having my muscles pumped up doesn't impact my climbing much at all.

It usually only causes major problems if you are building up lactic acid in the muscles, which can happen because climbing can by quite anaerobic. The temporary fix is to stop, breathe and shake out your muscles, but the real way to combat this is to train your body to get better at flushing lactic acid.

Which requires aerobic, cardiovascular exercise. So try running and cycling as well as your climbing.


Others have discussed strength training/conditioning/physiology, and remediation techniques like cool water baths. There are two aggrevating factors that haven't been addressed:

Bad Technique

If you use good technique then you will support the maximum amount of your weight with your leg muscles. The obvious benefit of supporting more weight with your legs is your arm muscles don't have to work so hard. As we all know the less work you do the more you can do it. Another technique to give you more stamina is to favor positions where your bone structure is supporting your weight instead of your muscles. Finally avoid odd angles when gripping holds. An odd angle with your elbow pointing up at the sky will require more muscle tension in order to sustain, and require more energy/effort. Other technical mistakes also come into play here but these are the ones I've fallen victim to most often.


When people are nervous they then to grip holds like their life depends on it. Consequently they'll apply 2x the force needed to maintain their grip on the hold. To put it another way when you're talking on your cellphone I can sneak up behind you and easily snatch it out of your hand because you're only using the amount of force required to prevent the phone from falling out of your hands. You aren't using the amount of force required to prevent me from snatching it out of your hands. Imaging how tiring it would be to maintain a death grip on your cellphone for a 20 minute conversation. Now apply that to climbing. I'm willing to bet that most climbers can afford to "loosen up a bit" when they're out on the rocks.

Of course there are (not so) positive psychological feedback loops at play here which reduce your effectiveness. People are nervous about their ability to do XYZ on the rock so they grip the holds a little harder, which makes them feel more tired, which makes them want to hurry to complete the moves, which makes them lose focus on their technique, which makes them try to power through moves, which makes them more tired, which makes them nervous, and the cycle repeats. That is why the mental aspect of climbing is crucial, especially at the higher levels where there is less margin for error.


I don't do any climbing but, as therapist, one suggestion I would give to you is cold rinses, (edit: cold if you do things yourself, to be conservative, a therapist would use ice, unless you know how to use it properly limit things to cool or cold) between if possible and after. A rinse wont cool your muscles down, after the exercise you could go on even with ice massage. It will help blood flow, flushing the muscles. Its not the pumping. People that start at the gym are in a similar situation, proper training in how to exercise and in maintenance before and after usually helps. Edit: Here I'm not talking about an ice bath, if you don’t have a certified therapist following you an ice bath can be dangerous, ice massages too should be performed by a therapist but cool to cold rinses are safe enough to be used by anyone)

  • This is answer might benefit with supporting references that show pausing to do an ice massage, offers value over just stopping to rest for the same period of time. Feb 28, 2016 at 11:07
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    I'm a certified therapist from 8years. Ice is widely used in athletic therapy and hydrotherapy in general. An ice massage will call blood to the muscles to maintain them warm but, opposed to something warm, the blood wont pool there. It will exchange heat, nutrients and oxygen and move on. At the same time it will flush muscles of toxins and help the normal repair process. Massage for athletes is different before, during and after and, people usually dont benefit from a therapist at hand, just rinsing under cool water will help during exercise as maintenance, also a cool shower after. Feb 29, 2016 at 13:53
  • Unfortunately preparation, maintenance, proper training regimen including posture is not something that can explained here in a few lines The "stiffness" lamented by the OP can be due to a lot of things, from the simple tired muscles workout to something more serious... Feb 29, 2016 at 14:00
  • This sounds a lot like 'cold-tubbing' (not sure what the actual terminology is), a post practice recovery procedure I did a few times when playing soccer.
    – Dzhao
    Feb 29, 2016 at 16:16
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    @Dzhao they are closely related but not the same, you are talking about a milder version of an ice bath, you better do that if you are followed by a therapist as there could be other things to keep an eye for while doing it. On your own, cool rinses during and cool shower after are a conservative and safe enough practice. Cool-cold-ice are all different temperatures and they are more and more severe. thats why i stress to not exaggerate as in their extreme they could be dangerous if not monitored. But please understand that your original question is much broader than what could look like. Mar 1, 2016 at 13:20

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