Your arms are pumped, breath is heavy, and you are on an emotional roller coaster after you miss that final hold to finally complete that route you’ve been working on for weeks. You know that today is the day - you are going to top out and claim victory. A mistake that many climbers make after attempting a hard problem is to sit down and wait for their body to recover. This waiting game is known as passive recovery. Now, lets compare this to walking around after missing that final hold – this is called active recovery.
Draper et al. (2006) showed the benefits of a 2-minute active recovery compared to 2-minutes of passive recovery during subsequent trials in recreational climbers. The participants who performed active recovery noted they were not as tired after each climb and had lower arterial lactate concentrations prior to hopping on the route again. While on the topic of lactate, I just want to clarify some of the rumors floating around the Internet. Higher levels of lactate are associated with fatigue, but NOT the causative factor. The real culprit is the accumulation of hydrogen ions within your muscles, which ultimately results in the sensation of fatigue. Nonetheless, lactate is a good indirect marker for the onset of fatigue.
The next time you feel pumped, perform some active recovery by walking around the gym or crag! In the video, I fail to top out on my project, but instead of sitting, I decide to take a quick stroll around the gym and am ready to get back on the wall! In general, active recovery applies to not only climbing, but also any high-intensity activity such as weightlifting or sprinting! Now, get off your bum and get moving!