Improve Your Sport Climbing (10): Power Endurance, Part 6 (HARD)


The big-picture answer to regularly improving your power endurance, as I’ve mentioned before, is to train to improve your strength, especially in your areas of greatest weakness, during the off-season (pretty much any lengthy period time you’re not trying to send hard routes/compete, often meaning the winter season here in the U.S.).

Along with its cohorts, power and endurance, your power endurance potential relates to your maximal strength level. Every climber has a certain level of maximal power he or she can generate for any single given climbing move (or explosive lift in the weight room). It’s physiologically impossible for anyone to dish out that entire amount of power repeatedly – that would be a 100 percent conversion of power to power endurance, meaning that you are superhuman.

But once you’ve spent a season (or longer) focused on strength training, you’ll likely need a break. You’ll want to spend some time building up your other climbing-related skill sets than can and should improve after a soundly planned and well-executed season of strength work. You’ll want to discover the new potential you have after building more strength — it’s exciting!

To repeat what I’ve mentioned earlier in this series: what we’re after when we talk about building up our power endurance for sport climbing is improving our ability to dish out a substantial portion of our current maximal power base repeatedly throughout a series of climbing movements with no real stopping or recovery. Depending on who we are, this type of effort can rapidly push us to or past our anaerobic threshold as well (or we may experience power failure before we get pumped). Thus, your power endurance depends ultimately not only on how much absolute power you have but also on a few other factors – including the following two major ones that I’ll touch on (one today, one tomorrow).

One factor is genetic (training) potential, or the natural limit your particular body can reach in this department given your current strength level. Genetic potential is a sucky reality of athletic training – some people are just born with more of it than others, in terms of some or all areas of athletic abilities pertinent to climbing prowess.

In terms of power endurance, the reality of genetic potential can play out as follows (for example): one person with a much bigger power base than another person may not – even with the same amount or even more of high-quality, targeted training – ever be able to dish out nearly the same amount of that power with any consistency as a person with a much more diminutive power base.

So while both of these people can train to increase the overall size of their particular climbing-relevant power bases via strength training and conversion-to-power training, the latter person (who actually has less maximal power than the former) will likely see greater improvements in their power endurance with less training time put into power endurance. After a winter of strength training, these types also often will net a bigger bump in their power endurance output than the former, even if their strength/power gains/levels are less substantial overall.

This doesn’t mean the former (often more power-based/usually higher percentage of fast-twitch comprised) person can’t improve their power endurance. It just means that it will be harder and take longer and should likely be a greater focus in the yearly training plan than it is for the less-powerful but naturally better-at-dishing-out-big-portions-of-that-lesser-power person.

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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