Improve Your Sport Climbing (11): Endurance, Part 3 (HARD)


Today I’ll continue the discussion about a) straight-up endurance for a single series of climbing moves, adding in now, b), the endurance involved in shaking out.

One aspect of the getting pumped and not recovering even on easy terrain involves the inability to adequately recognize, use and recover on rests. People can fall on both ends of the spectrum – resting/shaking out too often for their own good (when moving makes more sense; again, the topic of pacing comes up here) or for too long a time, or alternately, not shaking out ever or not taking enough time at rests to recover adequately to continue.

Resting on routes is a critical endurance-related sport climbing technique that shouldn’t be overlooked or undertrained. Being able to utilize rests effectively involves building up the endurance to make rests truly restful – restful enough that they contribute to your success. So, resting on routes represents another key aspect of training for sport climbing. You need to train to recognize, use and recover on the rests, just like you train your body to move.

When I teach climbing clinics at events, this – along with poorly fitted shoes (usually way too big and often not conforming to the person’s individual foot, leading to poor footwork) – often pops up as one of the biggest issues for people. Sport climbing isn’t a race, and learning how to manage fatigue by effectively finding and using rests en route is a huge part of succeeding on difficult climbs, both onsights and redpoints. Sometimes even the briefest of awkward hand shakeouts can be the difference between success and failure on a route – but for the purposes of these entries (to keep from going way off on a tangent here), I’ll stick to a more basic concept of how to train resting.

Resting on routes cuts into your endurance because (unless you have a no-hands sit-down rest), you will still be taxing your whole body at some level while you rest. In other words, resting on routes almost always involves energy expenditure and endurance, and this includes no-hands kneebars (which I won’t discuss in depth here – too advanced – but they tax your body even while they give your hands and arms a rest). Think about the difference between sprinting for 30 seconds, then jogging hard for a minute, then sprinting for 30, vs. sprinting for 30, then jogging lightly or walking for a minute, then sprinting for another 30. Not quite the same as climbing, of course, but you get the picture, I hope. You’re still using your legs while you jog lightly or walk, but hopefully, you’re trained enough that the light jogging or walking helps you recover somewhat between sprint efforts, more than harder jogging would. Ditto for climbing rests – you want to train enough so that the rests are in fact rests, not draining you so that you just get more and more pumped or fatigued as you shake out in an effort to recover and continue climbing.

If you are getting more pumped or tired at a route’s clear rests, you need to train your body to learn the rest and to recover – and this can also take time. I have encountered rests too on routes too many times to count that have made me think, “Seriously? I’m going to rest here?” But with training and effort – meaning climbing up and shaking out in the rest and learning how to best position my body in the rest, my body has adapted these into rests as I worked the route. I’m sure most seasoned project climbers have felt the same adaptation occur. It takes an open mind, patience and repetition to make this happen.

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 observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. 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 and training!

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