Ways to Improve Your Sport Climbing/Bouldering (7): Using Two Key Training/Exercise Principles – SAID and Overload, Part 2 of 4 (MEDIUM – HARD)

On to how I now use SAID/OP these days to inform my training choices differently than I used to. For sure, if I’m struggling with linking specific sequences or performing specific moves on a route, I’ll still start any outdoor climbing season with training those sequences on the route regularly, within reason (enough rest between efforts/days on the route in question). I’ll also work on refining the rest of the route and building up my power endurance/stamina (topic of a future entry) and endurance (topic of yet another future entry) if necessary in the process. If and when I feel that I’ve mastered the problematic moves (otherwise known as cruxes, haha) sufficiently on their own, I’ll then steadily work on trying to incorporate the problematic or challenging moves/sequences into the rest of the route.

But – and this is where the big learning curve and training outside of climbing for climbing part of SAID/OP has come for me – if I am attempting a route that I can’t seem to put together after a ton of effort and refining and too many tries to count at building up the necessary power endurance or endurance or even just percentage on specific moves, these days, I have learned a different way to apply SAID effectively and to enhance the effect of the OP. With the help of my partner, I try to break down and then specifically strengthen the muscles or muscle groups responsible for movements on the route(s)/sequence(s)/moves(s) that consistently shut me down.

This means that now, instead of beating my head mercilessly on whatever (obviously too-hard-for-my-current-strength-level) route I might have decided to try my hand at, which was my former not-so-fun approach, I’ve learned to take this information with me into winter training season and use it to my advantage. My strength-training routine involves exercises replicating the movements we’ve noticed as being most responsible for my shutdowns or difficulties throughout the previous season and/or on specific long-term projects. I work these using the overload principle (OP), gradually progressing the levels I can lift in a strength-building scheme designed to make the needed muscles stronger so that the overall drain on my strength will be lessened when I return to the route(s) in question — so those troublesome moves and sequences hopefully won’t feel quite so hard in and of themselves.

Also, consequently, my power, power endurance, stamina and endurance will all have the potential to be built up to a higher maximal level as I gain strength (since all these are subsets of absolute strength). Strength, as I’ve mentioned before, also impacts your technique – a lesson that I was loath to learn, but that I accept fully now. When I deliberately strengthen the weakest muscles in play on specific moves, my technique improves, too – I can better hold positions and execute complicated maneuvers more deliberately and precisely.

The problem/downfall I’ve repeatedly experienced with trying to train these muscle groups specifically just with climbing is that often, multiple other factors will play into an inability to execute movements before the muscles or muscle groups in question have actually been trained to their full capacity – so if my fingers get tired on a hold because they’re tired from all the other climbing I’ve been doing, but part of the problem in the move is locking off and contracting my biceps fully, I won’t get to overload my biceps enough to get the gain I can from doing biceps curls regularly over the course of months of training them specifically. In other words, it’s just not as efficient, because whatever is the weakest link on any given day makes me fail on the climb, whether it’s my biceps or my delts or my core or my legs or my skin or even my brain – but when I isolate the elements in resistance training, I choose to fatigue them and push them consciously and systematically, without having all of the other elements in play potentially interfering. And, then, those elements inevitably get stronger – and the more appropriately I choose which areas to apply SAID/OP to, the greater impact it has on my overall climbing ability (meaning if I train my areas of relative strength, I lose out on the potentially greater gains I could make by training my relative areas of weakness).

(To be continued)

This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up. Remember that my designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20 years of climbing along with my observations from climbing coaching throughout the past four years. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change than I do/did. You also 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, bouldering and training!

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