Improve Your Sport Climbing (10): Power Endurance, Part 8 (HARD)


Is it truly power endurance if you do a bunch of easy climbing and then have a shake and then have to do one or two or three (or even six) really powerful moves? Not really…not technically by the definition I gave in the first entry of this series, I suppose. This would be sort of like doing some weight-off pull-ups that feel really moderate for 2 to 5 minutes, then just hanging there on the bar with the weight off for a few more minutes, shaking out each hand until your breathing and heart rate go back to normal or close to it, and then removing the weight off and maybe adding a weight vest and doing two to six explosive pull-ups. The question is – how well did you recover after the weight-off pull-ups and hangout, and did the former impact your ability to do explosive pull-ups at all, and if so, how much?

Nor is it truly power endurance if you do a few hard moves, then have a really great shake, then do a few more hard moves, then another great shake – not by the definition I’ve used throughout this discussion. That’s more about your ability to put out a few strength-sapping moves, combined with your ability to recover well on a shake afterwards, and to perform reps that way – kind of like doing a set of four really strength-sapping dumbbell curls, say, and then standing there with the weights in your hands (or better yet, setting one down every five seconds, then the other) until you feel strong enough to do four more reps. You’re getting a rest while you hold the dumbbells, but it’s not a real rest – the question is, how restful can you make it? Restful enough to do a few more strength-sapping moves?

I’d label the two examples above to be more about power PLUS endurance rather than true power endurance – maybe splitting hairs, but when you’re looking to identify and train weaknesses, understanding these types of differences can become really important.

If you can’t recover on shakeouts and/or really easy sequences of moves get you so powered down you can’t pull even a slightly harder move for you, even after a shake (much less a truly powerful move), or you just pump out and fall randomly on super-easy terrain, you have an endurance issue in my book. If powerful moves/short sequences kick your butt pretty much whenever/wherever they occur, you have a power issue. If you can’t consistently deliver decent portions of your power base throughout a longer series of moves, it is indeed power endurance, for real. If all of these issues crop up routinely, then you can and should work on all of them – or be more specific and choose to work on the ones in play on the routes you’re trying to send right now.

Obviously climbing, being acyclical, isn’t exactly like either of the examples I gave above, but I’m just giving these loose correlations of what it might feel like to help illustrate the point. Nonetheless, both of those (common) scenarios occur frequently in sport climbing, too…as do a bewildering combination of all of these skills/energy usages (power, true power endurance, short-term muscle endurance that we often label/think of as power endurance or that often occurs in tandem with power endurance/power, as well as other facets of climbing-related endurance).

Confusing, right? How do you train for all of them when you want to be good at all of them? As I mentioned I’ll discuss the more endurance-y components of climbing training in the next series of entries after these ones on power endurance…but the idea behind training for them (as you might suspect) is much the same, regardless of which one(s) are stopping you in your tracks. It’s SAID and overload (to repeat them again); you will gain what you train, so long as you rest enough for your body to adapt. These principles make it relatively simple to work on pushing your power endurance/other skill related/intertwined skillsets, so long as you select routes that challenge you to push hard in appropriate areas.

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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