The Answer Is Load, What’s The Question? by AJ Sobrilsky, DPT, OCS

What unique times and circumstances we find ourselves in as climbers. The climbing gyms are closed, all the home gym products are sold out, and as a community we’ve put others best interest ahead of our passion and stayed local respecting the pleas to avoid traveling to popular climbing destinations. So it seems like no better time to take care of some essential preparation in our personal climbing dojos. What better time to begin or continue training, hone and establish an armor of strength, or finally address that “insert nagging climbing related ache here” you’ve had going on for months now. Whether you’re using a hangboard to strengthen those fingers, campusing to develop some power, or taking to the kettlebells and theraband to recover it all boils down to loading. 


Loading simply is stress applied to a tissue or structure (muscle, tendon, bone) that results in some type of adaptation (stronger, stiffer, smarter). Load can be a good and a bad thing. Load in excess goes beyond the tissues capacity to remodel and adapt and could potentially result in a reactive response or injury. In fact there really is no injury; acute, chronic, or traumatic that simply doesn’t boil down to loading beyond capacity. But uniquely enough in this situation the problem or cause is also the answer and solution.


There are many types, strategies, and forms of loading depending on our desired response: rehabilitative loading, adaptive loading, stimulus loading, and reactive loading. While for the purpose of this specific post we’ll solely reference load as a physical stimulus we must remember that load stimuli is also psychological (more on that in a future post). So the answer to both improving your climbing performance, taking care of that nagging injury, and building up that armor of injury resilience is loading. Rest is not the best, and yes if you don’t use it you will lose it (however there is a caveat and exception for acute traumatic injuries: ACL repairs, grade III pulley ruptures, or Rotator cuff and SLAP repairs where we need to respect a typical tissue healing timeline). But if you’re still convinced rest is what you need here’s a simple guide to help you with that.


Loading isn’t always an exact science. A lot of factors and contingencies are at play when it comes to determining the amount, type, duration, and frequency of loading. For instance, your current training phase, training age, training history, injury history, and long term goals will influence how we’d load differently from one climber to another. Whether you’re 2-3wks into an acute injury or 3-4months of consistent aggravating complaints would also impact the loading program.


Hopefully, this post provided some insight to continue, progress, or adjust your current training. Or maybe it was just a quick break between burns on your home board that you’ve finally had time to finish (or start building). So with all that here is a final few tips, key concepts, and strategies to consider when loading:

  • Gradually and slowly progress load – Probably the most important one! 
  • Variables to consider modifying with loading: volume, velocity, duration, loading positions (different grips) 
  • Vary the surface or position you’re loading in: tension block, flash board, hangboard, single rungs, different board systems or walls.  
  • Respect the recovery required to adapt from a specific training session and/or training cycle.
  • Develop climbing specific skills: climbing is a unique sport with an ever changing set of parameters required to complete and thus ever changing and adapting set of skills required to be successful. It’s one thing to be strong but it’s another to know how to harness that strength to achieve desired goals.

Here at Excel Physical Therapy, we are ourselves climbers and patients as well as climbing research, training, and rehabilitation specialists. So we get it.  We understand what you’re going through, and we can help you figure out how to take the steps towards those climbing goals. We’d love to have you in person in the Excel Climbing Lab for a climbing evaluation, evaluate and establish a plan for that nagging injury, or consult for injury/performance questions via an in-clinic or telehealth appointment. We’re here for you and we’d love to keep providing more and more information on all things climbing so please let us know if there is anything specific you’d like to hear and learn about. 

AJ Sobrilsky, DPT, OCS is a Physical Therapist and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist in our Bozeman clinic.  AJ specializes in the rehabilitation and prevention of orthopedic sports related injuries with a specific interest in the management of those involving the upper and lower extremities. AJ received his Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Carroll University (Waukesha, WI). Following the completion of his DPT degree he participated in an Orthopedic Residency through Evidence in Motion at Bellin Health in Green Bay, WI providing him with advanced training in orthopedic manual therapy, clinical decision making, and patient centered treatment. Following completion of his residency AJ became an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) through the American Physical Therapy Board Association and received advanced training in dry needling for spine and extremities.

AJ has been a lifelong athlete, competing in cross-country and track through college and then racing competitively post collegiately. As a result of his personal experiences and passions, AJ has focused his continued education and clinical development around the athletic individual with an emphasis in: running, skiing, and climbing related injuries. AJ has had the opportunity to provide care for an array of athletic populations including youth sports teams, high school and collegiate athletes, and those competing at professional and Olympic levels.

AJ’s treatment philosophy emphasizes a collaborative patient centered approach. Structured around the patient, supported by current best evidence, and coupled with specialized exercise/techniques, AJ hopes to educate the patient on their current issue and provide them with the best course of treatment to return to their previous/desired level of activity. 

When AJ isn’t working he is usually pursuing his next adventure: rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking, or running.