Prof. Dr. Volker Schöffl: “The game is still on!”7 min read
Prof. Dr. Volker Schöffl is a force of nature and a leading specialist on sports medicine, with particular emphasis on climbing. Having written more than a hundred papers on climbing and outdoor medicine, his book “One move too many“ is a must-read for every climber out there. Dr. Schöffl has been the physician of the National German climbing team for over 20 years now and knows well the importance of your healthy and strong fingers.
There is barely a climber out there who hasn’t experienced the awkward moment of staring and investigating his/her fingers while other people look at him/her will bewilderment. Well, if Prof. Dr. Schöffl looks at your fingers they will be in good hands. While he also serves on the medical commissions of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation and the International Federation of Sport Climbing, Volker is quite the accomplished climber, too.
Back in the 90s he flew down to Thailand where he found the vast amount of unexplored rock formations as the perfect playground for opening new lines. And he opened quite a lot. His journey continued further to Laos, China and Borneo, only to send some heavy-weight projects in Frankenjura nowadays. His sports lifestyle includes also ski-mountaineering, trail running, cross-country skating and ice climbing. Balancing between work, his passion for sports and love for his family, Prof. Dr. Schöffl is very strict with discipline and dedication.
We meet at this year’s Bansko Mountain Film Fest and catch up on some topics.
Dr. Schöffl, who do you see when you look in the mirror?
An awesome good looking guy… Well, being serious a 53-year old climber who still wants to be like a 25-year old one.
And if you look at your MRI, what will you see?
Many orthopedic conditions, degenerations, and osteoarthritis.
You are a very active person – climbing, ski-mountaineering, ice climbing, trail running, cross-country skating. How did you fall in love with the vertical and uphill sports?
I always wanted to go rock climbing. When I was a kid, like 7 years old, I used to play with the rope and carabiners of my granddad. I loved these and wanted to climb with them. My parents also took me into the mountains very early, let’s say at the age of four. I started skiing when I was 3.
Do you have a special formula to sustain a body free of traumas?
No, I have had many traumas and surgeries. Nowadays I try to be a bit more careful with what I do, but hell – once in a while the mind of 20-year old kicks back.
Your book “One move too many” has become a must-read to all those involved with the sport. From your experience what are some of the most common mistakes climbers make when it comes to injury prevention?
Just focusing on finger strength training, and neglecting antagonist training and general muscular built up. If you want to hold a small edge, you must not only have finger strength but also upper arm, shoulder, and core muscles to keep everything in place.
And the most common injuries that you treat?
Finger and shoulder injuries. But this has a bias, as I am a specialist in finger injuries in climbers and mostly do surgery of shoulder conditions, thus, obviously, I will see more of those patients than other.
What advice would you give to those who are just starting, and not only?
Have an overall approach to climbing. Train the whole body, and don’t neglect general fitness (e.g. aerobic fitness) and recreational training (stretching, yoga) etc.
Not only do you take care of the German national climbing team but you are an accomplished one yourself. How do you keep in shape?
Well, I mostly train daily, either climbing or trail running and in winter ski-mountaineering. Doing this, being a father of 2 kids and a sports orthopedic surgeon, involves a lot of planning and structure throughout the day, e.g. early morning 5.30 runs and a partner who is as dedicated as me. We are a family of athletes, so sport is what defines our daily live.
Being a sports family with two kids, how do you feel about them picking up a sport? Are they into climbing? How do you approach their bringing up?
That is difficult to answer. They are 7 right now (twins), so it is all still in a more playful manner. We will not force them into anything. They climb a bit, love to boulder in Fontainebleau, and do all the sports kids do at their age. We ski a lot with them, something they love and are quite good at for their age. But overall, we do not push them to become world champions in any sport! It´s their life. We just want to show them the opportunities which are out there and that sport is an important and rewarding thing in life.
What do you believe is the ratio between the physical and psychological aspects of climbing when it comes to sending a project?
In the beginning, it is mostly physical. But it can become very psychological in the process. To such an extent that it ends up being mostly psychological as you gain the power to do it already. A game I’ve sometimes won and red-pointed, but have also many times lost by falling at the last hard move.
What do you believe is the impact of climbing as a behavioural training?
Stay focused on a goal, dedicate a lot to it and stick to the path.
And what is climbing to you?
Now that I am 53 – mostly fun, which includes a bit of pain, especially if working on harder stuff in Frankenjura. Some days I still need to work on that aspect of considering it as fun. If I am not climbing as good as I want to, I get pissed about myself. So yes, the game is still on! I actually climbed my hardest 2 boulders this year (at the age of 52).
I have this concept that climbing creates a chronic inflammation of your existence – once you are hooked, it is forever. But let’s talk a bit about real inflammations, which can be real bastards. Apart from the famous RISE solution, how else could we cope with those?
There are many ways, and it really depends on the inflammation and the joint affected. There is, unfortunately, no general formula. Sometimes it is NSAIDS, sometimes acupuncture, shock wave, cortisone injection, surgery, medicinal leech therapy or others. We are constantly scientifically evaluating our treatment protocols to get better and avoid side effects. Also, a bit of neglect and not indulging on the injury could be a good deal.
Are you pro-supplements and what would you recommend as prevention intake?
There is no real scientific proof on the necessity of supplements. Thus, no – I don’t
recommend a general intake.
Do you have a current project?
Yes, of course… a couple of them!
Could you share which are some of your current projects in particular?
If you could give your 16-year old self an advice, what would you say?
Be open-minded, question everything which you are told, don’t believe in any “guru” teachings and try to become an all-around climber and athlete. Accept the fact that there is always someone who is better.
Photos: Courtesy of Prof. Dr. Schöffl