How to Take Breaks in the Busiest Situations
Life doesn't always give you a lot of clear opportunities to rest. Here's how you can start making your own:
In a Precarious Position
“Clipping,” I yell.
My belay partner lets out an arm’s length of slack. I’m now in one of the more precarious positions a lead climber can find themselves in: far above my last piece of protection, with the system full of slack.
When climbing this way, you aren’t protected by a rope above you. Instead, your lifeline trails behind you, secured to a series of carabiner safety checkpoints called quick draws.
If I fall now, I’m going to fall far.
To make the situation more challenging, I’m on an upside-down section of the climbing route. The ground is a distant memory, some 30 feet below. I dangle from one arm, gather up some of the slack in my opposite hand, and reach for the next quickdraw.
Lactic acid builds in my forearms, burning at my tendons and eating at my grip. A familiar buzzing sensation creeps into my fingers.1 Keeping my hand closed around the hold is becoming more difficult.
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Rushing though, is not an option. A hasty move could swat the quickdraw away from me, making it harder to clip in. Sloppy technique could mean snagging my finger.
Balance. Precision. Efficiency.
Muscle memory takes over.
I steady the draw with only the first pad2 of my middle finger. Using my thumb and forefinger, I guide the rope through the gate — careful to ensure none of my fingers ever pass over the closing mechanism3 — and pull.
A gratifying metal-on-metal “click” tells my partner all the way back on the ground
The next hold in the sequence looks pretty sturdy. I reach and squeeze. But no matter how hard I try to grip, my fingers won’t close tight enough. The strain is too much.
“Take,” I yell.
My partner yanks in as much slack as she can. “I’ve got you.”
The moment the rope tugs taught around my waist, I let go of the wall.
The next move in the climb would have brought me up and over the hanging section, back to move stable footing. Two or three moves after that was the top of the wall.
Still, it pays to know when you need a break.
Remind someone in your life that it’s okay to take it easy once in a while.
We Climb Varied Terrain
During another climbing session, I faced off against an entirely different kind of problem. The wall looked like a beehive, with large hexagonal sections recessed and protruding at random.
As I scaled, the problem alternated between deep leans and reaches that taxed my forearms, and slabs to test my footwork and balance.
I set out to push the limits of my skill, and forced myself to plan accordingly.
“I’m not going to want to once I’m on the wall. But I need to take breaks to get through this,” I told my belay partner. I pointed to a large, easy-to-grab hold, just beneath a large overhang. “There. Looks like the last good spot to rest for a while. Remind me, would you?”
I arrived at the agreed rest point feeling strong, energetic, and capable. It surprised me when I felt my belay partner pulling in my slack, preparing to support me.
“I got this. Feed me slack,” I demanded.
“You wanted to stop here,” She replied.
“I can make this one, I’m feeling good!” I turned my attention to the next move in the sequence, and cursed under my breath.
The holds had looked much closer from the ground. What I assumed to be an easy reach was far beyond my fingertips. My eyes scanned the wall looking for something, anything I could use to get myself up higher to make my move. I found nothing.
I relented. “Take!”
Are you good at knowing when you need to take breaks?
“Life is just saying, ‘If I can just make it through these next few days…’ every week, over and over, until you’re dead.”
I recently heard this expression, an have since latched onto it as an axiomatic truth. We lead busy lives to such an extreme, many of us seem almost afraid of the still and the silence.
Whether we’re bad at resting because of how busy our lives are, or we stuff our schedules because we’ve come to hate feeling at rest — the result is the same.
We tend to underestimate just how much benefit we get from a good rest. During both of these problems, my fatigue and confusion faded almost immediately after a few deep breaths.
And yet, instead of slowing down for a moment for a brief respite, we’re constantly reaching for that next hold, hoping it will be the one that brings us to the top.
On the wall, it’s easy to know how much farther you need to push yourself. But outside the gym? Good luck getting a clear indication.
Still: some stretches of our life offer better opportunities to take a breather than others. Learning when to press pause instead of pressing on is a skill of incalculable value.
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Next Time on Cole’s Climb
I sit down with Taylor Radigan, a member of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative trail crew, and seasoned mountaineer. Taylor claims to have the first known completions of several grueling and impressive thru-hikes.
During this episode of Trail Talk, Taylor shares the joys, challenges, and unexpected details of long-term life on the mountain during trail construction projects.
Look for that episode in your inbox — or any major podcast distributor — Sunday, October 10th.
I Want to Hear from You
Have you run into a problem that you couldn’t have competed without a good rest?
In climbing, we call this build-up of lactic acid “pump.” It leads to tightness in the forearms, and degrades your grip strength and motor skills. A brief rest is enough to fix this. But that’s easier said than done when you’re hanging upside down.
When steadying a quickdraw, it’s best to be sure you’re only using a tiny piece of your finger — no further than the joint. This way, if you fall while clipping, your hand simply glides off the metal. If you get stuck, your finger will absorb the full force of the fall, potentially breaking it.
The gate of the carabiner features a lot of angular metal parts that fit together nicely. Makes for great support and security. Again, just in case you fall while clipping: you want to ensure your hand doesn’t get snagged in anything. In this case, it could result in something particularly nasty called a “de-gloving injury.”