Improve Your Sport Climbing (10): Power Endurance, Part 9 (HARD)


Let’s say you’re working a hard redpoint project that requires power endurance for you – that it has at least one segment that requires that continuously high-output power delivery and nearly constant movement for 8 to 30 moves (give or take). You’ve taken the time to refine the beta to perfection and all the moves appear to be sorted out to their technical best for you at this point (though I’m a big believer in the wonders of technical refinement, and I will take the time to hang/reexamine moves late in the game if I still “don’t like” them – this sometimes really does pan out in me finding a new way to do something or a subtle shift that helps). You’re even now hitting the moves that perhaps at first seemed really powerful on their own regularly. You move your high point up for a few days, and then you start falling regularly and consistently at the same place.

Instead of just getting back on where you fell and doing the move and continuing on for yet another one-hang, your job now is to try to break your body of this habitual pattern of failure, to try to push it to have the power endurance and the mental belief that you can eke this out. This isn’t likely to be an experience without some pain involved – but it can be very rewarding. After a single one-hang, if I don’t high point by my final go of the day the next time I’m out (i.e. I fall at the same place), I start this somewhat punishing portion of redpointing by getting right back on where I fell off with no rest, and attempting to continue and finish the route (after all, this is what it will feel like, most likely, when I do stick the move on the first try, right?).

I won’t do this on every attempt if I feel like I have more than one go in me for the day, though (and I usually do). If I fall on my first go(s), I’ll hang briefly, do the moves into and out of where I just fell, and then lower off and rest, saving my energy for another attempt.

After that, if I’m still at the same sticking point by the end of the day the next day out, if I have the energy/skin/muscles left, I usually will lower down several moves below the sticking point and attempt to climb through these moves, including making mock clips of already clipped draws so I mimic the energy output as exactly as possible. I’ll try to climb all the way up the rest of the route to the anchors – so I’m not training my body to fall off consistently at the exact same place every time – and I also leave with the “body memory” of having climbed through the sequence and to the top of the route. Another approach that can be effective to break “training the fall” is to deliberately take at some point before the section that causes difficulties and to take a rest on the rope for a minute or two (maybe where you can shake out, so it’s just a matter of degrees of resting), and then to get back on and attempt to climb all the way through the sequence and to the top of the climb.

The idea behind all these methods is to push your power endurance/everything else involved up to the level you’re asking your body to be at, and the beauty of sport climbing is that you can actually often do this on the very terrain where you want to excel and perform. Your project thus becomes your training tool to promote your peak performance. Note that this approach can and does work for less power-endurance specific routes as well – meaning you can use this to train more effective shaking out, endurance, power + endurance, and so forth – whatever you need to accomplish your goals on the rock. You simply want to train your body to feel what it feels like to succeed instead of training it to be strong just to the point of failure, and then leaving it at that without pushing it to go beyond that point.

Of course, you can easily overdo it with this, as with any training method – if things start to get messy and you can’t even do the moves again cleanly and your technique is falling apart, it’s time to call it a day on the proj, regardless of what you managed to do – you’re not going to help matters by training poor muscle movement or trying to push a body that’s exhausted to absorb more power endurance (or power) on the route. As with all training, you have to delicately walk the fine line of pushing hard without overdoing it and making room for enough rest and recovery before you go out and push it again – so you don’t fall into the pit of diminishing returns despite your solid efforts to push harder.

Remember, too, that tunnel vision on one hard route may not be the most effective and efficient way for you to push your power endurance (or any climbing skills, for that matter) to new levels. It may also rob you of the fun and joy of climbing. Having several varied projects in terms of level, skills needed (both technical and physical), angle and holds can be really helpful in keeping your interest up and your body adapting and molding your strength into climbing-valuable tools.

If you do have only one hard project (or no projects, for that matter), challenging onsighting days requiring various skills can also help you remain more balanced and less one-track-minded. I don’t suggest being super scattered if you’re projecting (like having 10 active projects that are truly hard for you); this makes it hard to reach your peak for any one of them as the focus is too dispersed and the movement-specific adaptations for peak performance at your real potential are unlikely to happen. But having 2 to 4 harder, project routes in play (maybe a couple in the gym and a couple outside) can help you stay diverse, challenging your body in different ways on different days. This can also help you avoid overuse/overtraining injuries, neuromuscular fatigue and sheer boredom.

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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