Improve Your Sport Climbing (10): Power Endurance, Part 2 (HARD)


In my previous entry, I began this series of entries on power endurance for climbing by providing a starting definition of the term, as given in Sport Fitness Advisor’s (SFA) article called “Muscular Endurance Training” (which, as I mentioned, is worth reading in its entirety, if you haven’t already).

Here it is again:

“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 definition works pretty well for our discussion of power endurance. SFA goes on to stipulate that to train power endurance with weights, an athlete would perform 15 to 30 reps at 50 to 70 percent of their 1 repetition maximum, as this amount of reps would likely fall within the 30-seconds-or-less parameter.

But SFA also mentions the importance of specificity of training, i.e. replicating the circumstances/demands placed on the body by the sport. This can and will at times conflict with the less-than-30-seconds concept for sport climbing, since some sport-climbing sequences with little or no rest inherently take us longer than 30 seconds of nearly continuously powerful movement – sometimes up to 2 or 3 minutes, depending on the climber and their capacity for power endurance/other strengths and weaknesses that come into play.

In other words, climbing can force us (or some of us) to remain in a state of performing constant or near-constant, power-sapping motions for longer than 30 seconds  – even when we’re “only” performing around 30 rest-less, strength/power-sapping moves or moves that we perceive as powerful because of where they fall in the sequence or as consistently powerful – i.e., challenging to our power endurance. Depending on a person’s particular strengths and weaknesses, these types of sequences of moves can often lead to a feeling of being ridiculously pumped (whether in the forearms or elsewhere) or utterly powered out, or a little (or a lot) of both.

If you continue on in SFA’s article mentioned above, you encounter the next concept – short-term muscular endurance – which is explained as a lower-power output of consistent, muscularly taxing movements for 30 seconds to 2 minutes at 40 to 60 percent of an athlete’s 1-rep max.

Is this also part of what we mean when we say “power endurance” as sport climbers? My answer would be “yes, sometimes” – though some may beg to differ and place this squarely in the “climbing endurance” column. But the problem with this trying to compartmentalize these concepts separately is that it’s really hard to be so systemic when we talk about the power output involved in a long series of sport climbing moves, because it’s rarely so consistent – meaning you might do three moves at 40 percent of your power followed by a move at 90 percent followed by a move at 60 percent followed by 3 moves at 50 percent and so on – and those percentages don’t reflect a single muscle or muscle group, either – they usually tax your body with extreme variability from move to move, until one (or more) body part fatigues and fails you.

So where do you draw the line between power endurance and endurance, in terms of hard sport climbing?

Honestly, you don’t really have to, and it’s a blurry line for us at best. Because our sport is acyclical (meaning multiple different, complex movements done in quick succession instead of the same repetitive movement or close to it over and over again, at least for most sport climbs/climbing areas), we’ll be dishing out more or less power-per-move as needed – but hopefully, when our power endurance and our endurance are both trained up and at a good level for us (given our current peak strength/power levels), we’ll regularly be able to deliver just the right amount of effort needed for each move – i.e. we’ll have the power to perform powerful (for us) sequences of continuous moves with no real places to stop and shake out, even if the power dished out for each move in the sequence varies, as it usually does.

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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