Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 5 (IYC 17)

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Plateaus (2): Climbing Without Any Thought to Specifics Training Is Not

Another crucial aspect to keep in mind with plateaus is that the more you do an exercise or physical activity, the more your body adapts to that activity (called the SAID principle: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands), and at some point for pretty much everyone (thanks to genetics and training potential), it becomes more and more difficult to make remarkable improvements/adaptations in that activity. In other words, as you near your absolute potential, gains will become smaller and smaller and harder and harder to come by. This sucks, for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily sound the death knell on your potential for improvement.

As I discovered in my personal journey, what could be lacking and causing the plateau, and what I believe is fairly regularly the culprit in climbing plateaus, is a lack of what I’ll call here “specifics training” – meaning that:

a) the climbing being undertaken regularly is too easy (i.e. lacking in intensity) and/or plays to the climber’s strengths/comfort too much (i.e. too much familiarity/routine) to illicit any further notable or efficient/effective adaptions in terms of visible, chartable progression in climbing ability level;

and/or that

b) the climbing being undertaken regularly does not offer the most efficient means by which to address the climber’s specific and personal weaknesses, meaning that he or she may get tiny, incremental bits of progress here and there from this climbing, but that if a more specific and targeted program of training were undertaken, gains would likely come more quickly and efficiently than they would through continuing the random program of “just climbing as training for climbing.”

More on this in next week’s entry, starting with the various ways in which a) (above) can manifest in a climber’s world.

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 4 (IYC 17)

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Plateaus (1): Too Much Climbing Is Not

What seems to happen often is that climbers experience the dreaded plateau at some point in their climbing development – that place where improvement slows down to a trickle or a standstill – after months or years of spending most of their climbing time (whether they label it training or not) “just climbing,” without any real thought to form or structure.

Or perhaps they label it “training,” but it doesn’t go much (or at all) beyond rather vague ideas such as, “Hey, maybe I’ll boulder for a couple months and that will make me stronger/more powerful,” or “If I climb a bunch of laps on an easy route I have dialed for a couple months, perhaps my endurance will improve.”

Regardless, you could actually be doing the exact same routine that has been churning out sweet results and consistent improvements for months or even years on end, and then – BAM – suddenly you realize you’re stagnating, no matter how much more you climb or how many days off you take between climbing sessions. Are you overtraining? Undertraining? What is happening here?

Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer to what causes or will bust a plateau. And it could indeed be overtraining (too much volume and/or intensity, and/or not enough rest) or undertraining (not enough intensity and/or volume, and/or too much rest). Note that most fitness experts tend to agree that on the whole, it’s best to be a bit undertrained than overtrained, since overtraining can lead to performance declines, overuse injuries and burnout. Meanwhile, all too often, avid sportsmen and women tend to respond to overtraining by training harder as they fail to recognize that their performance decline is a result of too much – rather than too little – activity.

So I would recommend first and foremost that if you find yourself plateauing, you take a good look at how much you’re resting from climbing, and if you’ve been logging lots of climbing days and little rest for weeks or months or years, try taking a week or two off (or much lighter). You might be surprised at the results – and that might all that you need to get out of your rut and back onto the road to improvement.

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, Part 3 (IYC 17)

Gym climbing

In this week’s Improve Your Climbing entry, let’s go back to climbing, then, drawing correlations with last week’s extremely simplistic discussion of how one might learn to play football, and then continue to improve at it after mastering the basics.

When you first start climbing, spending lots of time on the rock, in the climbing gym, or both, is absolutely essential to developing a solid general understanding of the activity. In other words, placing a high priority on developing efficient and effective technique and tactics from the start on all types of climbing terrain you’re interested in being proficient on should not be undervalued. This can be worked toward not only by climbing a lot on varied terrain but also:

• by asking for feedback and advice from more experienced rock climbers with solid technique that you admire;

• by observing how these climbers move and trying to mimic their movements;

• by hiring a trainer/coach to observe you and give you feedback and advice on how to improve your technical/tactical skills; and

• by getting a friend to video you and then watching the video to look for technical and tactical flaws,

…among other ways to work on tactics and technique (detailed much more in an earlier IYC series of entries on technique).

In other words, when you start climbing, to progress and improve, you will likely need to climb more than anything else you do for training. You need to dedicate time to developing solid tactical and technical skills on the rock, and you will also start to gain sport-specific strength, power, power endurance and endurance just by participating in climbing during this phase of your life as a climber. The majority of your training time should most likely not, at this point, be spent trying to make sport-specific strength (or other) gains by using resistance training methods or other off-the-rocks/distilled training methods, as these will not help you develop and refine the technical and tactical skills required to progress at rock climbing. In fact, too much attention to these areas too soon might actually impede your potential progression as you dump valuable training time into areas that aren’t (yet) holding you back instead of putting the time into learning the nuances of climbing.

However, all of the above does not undervalue or devalue the benefits you might see in your climbing (both at the start and later) from introducing structured training for particular areas that may need more attention (commonly called weaknesses) right from the start of your engagement with climbing, whether through more structured climbing exercises/drills or through the intelligent, individualized application of outside-of-climbing training. By recognizing and working on these areas earlier, you might experience more rapid improvement, close in on your peak potential more quickly, avoid some plateaus, and avoid having relatively minor weaknesses or imbalances grow into major hindrances later on in your life as a climber.

More on this next time…when I start with the more experienced climber and a discussion on plateaus, which will take us right back to the concept I just touched on above: the intelligence of identifying and training areas that need attention in your climbing right from the start rather than waiting until you plateau at some point in the future.

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

Climber. Writer. Aspiring Yogi. Climbing Coach/Trainer. Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200). ACTION Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Avid Lifelong Learner.

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