Improve Your Sport Climbing: (10): Power Endurance, Part 1 (HARD)


“I can do all the moves but I just can’t seem to put them together.”

Welcome to sport climbing!

This situation crops up as a major source of difficulty – particularly on projects – for so many sport climbers. And we’re quick to label the source of our problem as “power endurance,” saying how if only our power endurance was better, we’d be sending (ah, yes, but then we’d probably only be lured onto the next route, maybe something a bit harder, with moves that felt doable and again struggle to put them together, right?).

This is so often the challenge of sport climbing: We may have the power to do all the individual moves in a sequence, and we might even be able to string some of them together, but if they cumulatively dig too deeply into our power base, we simply cannot put them all together – we can’t send. Even more infuriating for some climbers is the fact that these series of moves by themselves might not even feel all that hard – so what’s the problem here, and more importantly, what can we do to make it better?

In this next series of entries, I’ll do my best to make sense of this actually rather complex concept and provide insights on how to train to improve it. The series after this lengthy dip into power endurance will discuss its closely related companion, muscular/high-intensity endurance (in other words, the kind of endurance most often needed to succeed on difficult sport-climbing efforts). It’s often hard to distinguish clearly between the two. However, in the end, the labeling doesn’t matter so much as the comprehension of how to most efficiently and effectively recognize weaknesses and train to improve them in both of these departments.

Let’s open this discussion by defining our term.

Power endurance in climbing is term/concept that’s bandied about in sport-climbing circles, but it’s hard to get a precise or consistent answer about what, exactly, we mean by power endurance. I think we often say “power endurance” imprecisely, using it as a catchall term for many of our failures on routes, whether they’re truly about our power endurance, or in reality more about our absolute power, or our ability to shake out and recover on holds, or our ability to not have relatively easy climbing turn into a power-depletion situation more quickly than it should given our actual power level. I also think power endurance is one of the hardest areas to really be concise about in discussing aspects of sport climbing and climbing training, given the variability of climbing terrain and angles and the fact that no two climbs, or climbers for that matter, are the same.

To help come up with a working definition, I’ll start (and leave you for today) with the definition given in Sport Fitness Advisor’s article called “Muscular Endurance Training” (which is worth reading in its entirety as well):

“Power endurance is typically characterized by intense, repeated efforts for a relatively short period of time (less than 30 seconds)… Once maximal strength has been developed (earlier on in the annual strength program) it can be converted into explosive power through various methods of power training. Now power endurance training can be used to train the fast twitch fibres to resist fatigue allowing explosive power to be maintained for longer.”

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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