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

A great way to train for specific moves or sequences on a project route right now, if you’re at the start of your season, is to repeat them regularly (i.e. work the route, a great application of SAID — specific adaptations to imposed demands) to see if you can build up to doing them on the route (more on this when I talk power endurance and endurance). If you do happen to have lots of time midweek, and you’re recovered, and you can’t climb outside or you don’t want to or can’t replicate those moves on an indoor climbing wall but you want specificity in training, you can also try to break out any specific areas of strength that are lacking and train them in isolation with weights or resistance work.

This can lead to accumulation of fatigue for those specific moves, though, so use this method with caution – what I mean is that you can sabotage your efforts by tiring out the muscles you’re working to strengthen, and then carry that fatigue into your climbing days. I did this a lot last year, but I did it consciously, as I was working on a bigger-picture goal – trying to build and balance my injured left side back to and then beyond where it was before, while also noting what areas were really lacking on my long-term projects in terms of strength deficits. So I sacrificed the short-term satisfaction of trying to send for the (hoped-for) long-term gain of having a body that could take on the training plan, without injury, that I wanted to pursue this past winter, and hopefully come back stronger and send some routes more quickly while feeling better doing it as a result.

But for most people right now, it’s most likely too late if you’re smack in the middle or just starting your performance season to pick out your areas of weakness that hold you back or cause routine failure in terms of muscle strength and to implement a new weight-training program at the moment, unless you want to devote some or all of your season to training rather than performance, of course. And it’s honestly probably too early on for most folks to have hit their stride in terms of routes fitness yet, too – I know I’m not there yet. But SAID/OP is something to keep in mind as you go through this season, just taking note when you struggle on specific moves OR get a project dialed but still have trouble with a certain sequence or move despite knowing how to do it – and to try to figure out what muscles/muscle groups/motions are in play when you fail to execute.

And let’s say that you do happen to work on a project for a month, two months, three months, or more – and you just hit a sticking point, a move or sequence you can’t seem to put together or perform in sequence no matter how hard you try or train on the route. You’ve refined the beta ad nauseam, and you have nothing left to work out given your current strength level. Now, you have a choice – you can 1) try to stick with the route and hit that one lucky peak day where you’ll crest the wave and nail all the sequences, which does happen sometimes or 2) you can walk away – or perhaps the weather or your trip coming to an end will force you to walk away, ending your season despite your psych – armed with awesome training knowledge, so long as you can take it in that way (instead of “I’m a failure for not completing my ultra-hard-for-me project.”)

Before you walk away from the project, though, whether you intend to abandon it forever or just for now, if you want to get the most out of your efforts, take the time to ask yourself and those around you, “What muscles or motions am I specifically lacking strength in that hold me back from executing these movements more easily?” This sounds simple, but it often is more complex than the obvious (i.e. “I need to be able to pull harder.” But pull in what direction? Are there leg/core muscles involved? Is it about finger pull or lats or biceps or triceps? And so forth.). If you’re in the realm of No. 2 (which I have been for many of my long-term projects around here), it might in the end be more effective and rewarding (or less tedious or infuriating — two terrible ways to feel about rock climbing, for sure) to break out those motions and muscles and train them in isolation over a longer period of time to build up more strength so that you DO feel more secure and less drained when executing challenging movements and sequences as a result.

So to sum it up, unless you want to sacrifice some potential climbing performance now (or your season happens to be ending instead of just starting), routinely applying SAID/OP methods outside of climbing is something that you’re more likely to start looking at toward the end of the season. But it’s worth thinking about now and starting to take note of in the present (for example, though my biceps are stronger, they still aren’t strong enough, something I already recognize and am psyched to train again through another training season, which will happen whenever I decide I’m over this whole “climbing outside” thing — right now it’s all I want, though!). At the end of this season, then, you’ll round up what you haven’t been able to do or the moves/sequences that have given you the most trouble, and assess the motions, holds or angles that you struggle with – and then you can adjust your training program accordingly to address those areas. Strength training outside of climbing for specific climbing-related gains – applying the principles of SAID/OP to specific areas of weakness that hold you back – can and should get more and more route- and movement-specific the more you do it, allowing you to pinpoint your areas of weakness and strengthen them accordingly.

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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