31 August 2006

Lactic Acid and Pumped Forearms

Lactic Acid and Pumped Forearms

Wouldn't it be a nice feeling if lactic acid and pumped forearms didn't exist, like it is for kids*. Athletics have been fighting with lactic acid build up for decades, but there is no universal solution. It is a bummer for us climbers, even less is known. This article takes a brief look at the "pumped" syndrome, what lactic acid is and how you can deal with it. If you have ideas or know more than us, email 8a.nu now! We always want your feedback.

Practise - What is a pumped forearm and how to avoid it?
There are three possibly reasons why your arms feel like lead and have blown up like balloons. Firstly, lactic acid has been left in your arms which makes the muscles swell, secondly the contractions in the muscles have a hard time to let go and thirdly there is too much blood into your arms. Below three methods to prevent getting pumped forearms is presented.

A pulsating or tickling gripping technique
Based on the theory below, pumped forearms are the result of long constant contact time with the holds. One way of avoiding this is using a pulsating gripping technique. It helps liberate the muscle contraction to make blood supply possible, even for just a couple of short time windows. It means that all your body weight will have to be carried by only one hand at the time. The circulation in both your forearms is low when both your hands are used for holding on. Remember that the blood supply is completely shut when the muscle is at 50% of its maximum load. Most probably you are already unconsciously doing this as all top climbers are using it, but keep it in mind and develop your technique to make it more efficient.

Hands up and squeezing
Often the strongest feeling of a pumped forearm occurs immediately after you have finished climbing. To avoid blood being pumped and pushed downwards into your forearms, you should hold them above your head and lean them against the wall immediately after you have climbed. By doing this you will make it harder for the arteries to flood your forearms and increase the possibility for the blood to flow in the veins. The time of holding your arms above your head is individual and depending of how pumped you are. Another way of assisting the blood circulation is to squeeze your hands in order to increase the blood flow in the veins.

Running - Dilution and Purification of lactic acid
Once you have lactic acid in your forearms you need to speed up the recovery to remove it. One way of doing so is to increase the supply of blood by mildly activating other bigger muscles in your body. It will even out the spread out lactic acid in your body's muscles and the high concentrate of acid in your forearms will be diluted. The other reason for increasing the blood circulation is because your liver is a purification plant. It turns waste products, lactates, into usable energy. A faster blood flow through the liver causes the level of lactic acid to diminishing more rapidly. In general, most of the lactic acid in your forearms is broken down within two hours, but some of these measures can halve that time.

Theory - What is lactic acid and how is it created?

In brief the oxygenated blood which is flowing into your muscles can be insufficient and lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid is a product of a non-oxygenated muscle process and called anaerobic metabolism (Gr. an- means "without", aer- means "air"). When there is a steady supply of oxygenated blood in your muscles, it's called an aerobic process, and you can't get pumped. One reason for why the oxygen in the blood is insufficient is that when a muscle contracts it squeezes the capillaries within it closed. This is a problem as these capillaries supply the muscles with oxygen rich blood. It is believed that if you load your muscles to 50% of their maximum strength the capillaries are completely closed. A lighter load makes it possible to gradually open them and continue the blood supply. If the load is below 20% they will be more or less fully open.

Another factor is the intervals in which a muscle has to work. When a muscle is working and is being interrupted by a relaxation contraction, every couple of seconds, lactic acid production will be avoided. New oxygenated blood is being supplied, to the muscle, in-between these working intervals. This has to do with something called ATP which the muscles have restored for some five seconds work. Longer contractions than five seconds, or repeating contraction intervals with minimum rest, means that lactic acid starts to be produced as the ATP has to be made anaerobically, without oxygen.

The muscle fibres creating the contraction, are working like mousetraps, either loaded or burnt off. No energy is needed for the contraction of the muscle, but for the relaxation loading procedure energy is needed. If no energy is provided the contraction goes on forever and the ultimate stage is called rigor mortise. A softer stage of a continuous contraction is cramp. Once here you are in a vicious circle as the contraction cuts the capillaries flow and no oxygenated blood can be supplied to the muscle.

When there is too much blood in your forearms this also end up as a hindrance more than a benefit and limits the supply of blood. The reason for this is the arteries in the forearm are flooding it. The corresponding veins are unable to remove the surplus blood as the arteries have a higher pressure continually forcing more blood into the arm. This situation occurs after you have climbed and your arms is hanging downwards. Blood flows in easy to pump them up but, at the same time makes it difficult for the veins to squeeze it back.

*Children have a higher ratio of capillaries to muscle fibres and a low ability to maximum recruitment (contraction) which means that their blood supply to the muscles is constant.

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