Professional climber Paige Claassen gave birth to her daughter, Larkin, in June of 2022. Less than a year later, she’s back to climbing 5.14.
Claassen recently sent Slice of Time, a highly technical 5.14b in Eldorado Canyon and her first big project
since adding “mother” to her long list of accomplishments. Both pregnancy and childbirth take a toll on female athletes, and it’s no easy feat to get back to where you were. But Claassen implemented a few key strategies during pregnancy and after childbirth that helped her regain her strength on the wall.
Training Through Pregnancy
While Claassen was pregnant with Larkin, she continued to climb. “I’ve been climbing for 23 years,” Claassen explains. “Climbing is like walking for me.” Maintaining her climbing routine kept her grounded amidst all the unpredictability involved in pregnancy. It would also make it easier for her body to adjust after the fact.
Of course, Claassen couldn’t approach climbing the exact same way as she always had. Certain changes needed to be made for safety’s sake. She switched to a full-body harness, made sure to avoid anything that could aggravate her abdomen: steep climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing. Sticking to top rope laps may have bruised her ego after so many years of pushing her limits on the sharp end, but it was well worth the sacrifice to keep climbing in her life.
Claassen also prioritized strength training while pregnant. She stuck to a weightlifting routine that targeted her upper body and core especially. Upper body exercises helped make up for any lack of intensity in her climbing training on the wall, and core exercises prevented losses in strength as her abdominal muscles separated to accommodate a growing fetus. To maintain finger strength, Claassen turned to hangboards and weighted blocks as a safe way to challenge her tendons.
Claassen paid special attention to form when executing these exercises. Poor posture would put undue pressure on the already strained pelvis and abdomen. Sometimes this meant going down in weight or changing positions for more support. Claassen recorded each of her strength workouts to keep tabs on her posture, since her body was in such a state of flux that it was difficult to establish a baseline. She had no sense of “normal” that she could refer to. Video offered an outside perspective that Claassen couldn’t get from internal cues at this time.
Returning to Climbing Postpartum
Claassen treated pregnancy like an injury as she recovered from giving birth. “Just like in the aftermath of an injury,” she relates, “it’s important to pick climbs that won’t aggravate your body in the wrong way. I continued to avoid steep climbing in the five to six months postpartum, and took the time to get to know my new body so I could distinguish between what felt right and wrong on the wall.”
Claassen focused on the little wins, another lesson learned from injury. “Coming back from an injury, every day brings tiny little improvements. Pinpointing those little things that feel better day by day makes it easier to keep moving forward. It’s the same with pregnancy.”
Above all, Claassen gave herself permission to feel it out. She didn’t put any pressure on her return to climbing—life with a newborn was stressful enough. She knew that a few months were only a blip compared to a lifetime of climbing. Patience now would lead to a more resilient body in the long-term.
But eventually, Claassen craved the gifts that only climbing could give her: energy, passion, and patience. She rekindled her motivation for climbing by setting concrete goals at the intersection of inspiring and realistic. Slice of Time, a vertical climb that demands more finesse than brute strength, fit the bill perfectly.
Dive even deeper into Claassen’s pregnancy journey in LOVE, a film about motherhood, strength, and climbing presented by Eddie Bauer.
After a miscarriage and a historic ascent of the famous sport climb Dreamcatcher, Paige Claassen follows her own path as a professional athlete training through pregnancy, finding new meaning in strength and identity through the early days of motherhood.
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