Local Missoula rock climber, Pamela Pack, has been climbing her way to the top of her sport gaining fame in the climbing community over the past few years. A very specific form of rock climbing, off-width climbing, is her specialty. By definition an off-width climb is “a crack that is too wide for effective hand or foot jams, but is not as large as a chimney”. In layman’s terms this means it is too wide to jam a closed fist into the crack to pull up with but too narrow to fit your body with your legs pressing against the wall for leverage. So what do you do?
According to Pamela, “Wide cracks require some of the strangest, most physically demanding and painful techniques in all of climbing. We wide crack climbers perform grueling sequences of hand stacks, knee-locks, armbars, chicken wings, heel-toes, calf-locks and inversions in order to surmount the world’s most despised cracks. We make desperate attempts to minimize pain with long-sleeve shirts, high-top shoes, knee-pads, elbow-pads and tape gloves but the sharp granite crystals of Vedauwoo rip up our hands and the relentless desert cracks leave us hyperventilating and trying not to vomit.”
After that definition of off-width climbing you can imagine that Pamela suffers her fair share of injuries and has to spend A LOT of time training to prepare for this grueling sport. Over the past 3 years Pamela has been working at Alpine Physical Therapy with me, Leah Versteegen MS, DPT, to develop and fine-tune a comprehensive training program specific to off-width climbing. I have a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, giving me a unique educational combination that can help athletes both recover from injury and train for returning to sport. Unlike running or cycling there are not hundreds of programs or books on how to train for off-width climbs. In fact, there are none. After 3 years of trying different combinations of training, I am happy to say that we have developed what seems to be a near-perfect combination of cardio, stabilization, stretching, periodization strength training and plyos, and metabolic conditioning to adequately prepare her for her intense climbing season.
The culmination of all of this hard work was a 2 Part Series on Training for Off-Width Climbing published in Climbing Magazine in May and June 2013. Check out Part One from the May Edition HERE with supplemental exercise description on Climbing Magazine’s Skills Website HERE. Congratulations, Pamela and Leah, on a great training article for climbers everywhere aspiring to tackle off-widths.
For more information on Alpine’s sports performance outreach for climbers, visit our clinic webpage on the topic by clicking here.
Brent Dodge is the founding owner of Alpine Physical Therapy and is a board certified orthopedic specialist. He holds additional certifications in Functional Dry Needling, Manual Physical Therapy, and Strength and Conditioning.
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