Improve Your Sport Climbing (11): Endurance, Part 4 (HARD)


Today continues to build on the concepts of a) straight-up endurance for a single series of climbing moves, plus b) the endurance involved in shaking out.

Okay, so how do you position your body in a rest? It’s also a common theme that I see people “rest” without actually taking the most restful position possible. In general, you want to look for rests that allow you the ability to hang straight-armed on similar, good handholds with both hands at roughly the same level, allowing you to easily let go and shake out first one hand, then the other. I shake out both above and below my head, first one arm, then the other, then back to the first arm, and so forth. I’ll also cycle my grips (change my finger/hand position on the hold with each shake out) or deliberately avoid whatever grip is coming up on the route. Achieving a straight-armed position often includes bending your legs so that you feel like you’re crouching. On vertical terrain especially, people often keep their legs straight and arms bent while they “rest,” but in doing so, they’re losing out on the full value of the rest by not bending their legs and lowering their body weight, thereby straightening their arms (though sometimes this isn’t possible, of course).

At some rests, you may find that to rest each hand/arm, you need to change your body position somewhat or entirely, shifting footholds or handholds or the way you’re turned in order to shake out each hand. Obviously, this is more stressful and less restful than more obvious rests, but it can be helpful nonetheless. You may also find a brief but crucial rest that involves only one hand/arm getting a quick shakeout, or a rest that happens mid move (a quick hand shake before grabbing the next hold), and so forth. Point being, rests are technical and should be part of the beta, particularly on hard projects.

You’ll also have to learn how to not overuse/abuse resting – in other words, resting more than you need to, or overresting. Just because you can shake out on a hold doesn’t mean you should or that it’s necessarily the right choice for you. If you’re not tired or pumped or powered out, sometimes it’s better to just keep climbing, to move more quickly through the moves rather than to stop and donate some energy to shaking out when you don’t really need to (yet). It can feel good mentally to take rests we don’t need sometimes, but it can also ultimately sabotage our performance. Having discipline and learning to discern when you really need to rest vs. when your brain wants to cling to the rest like a security blanket is a good thing to learn and master early.

In addition to learning how to find and use rests, you’ll also need to develop a sense of how long to stay at each rest to make it effective for you. This varies from individual to individual and ties in with your body’s genetic potential/muscle composition (i.e. natural predisposition) as well as your training.

A good starting guideline is to try to shake out until your breathing returns to normal and your forearms (or other fatigued body parts) don’t feel as worked as they did when you arrived at the rest (ideally, not worked at all, but this isn’t usually possible). For some people, longer rests can be really effective in certain situations, depending (among other aspects) on the upcoming moves, how drained the climber is when he/she arrives at a rest and that climber’s ability to recover on the rest without losing ground in crucial areas needed for the next series of moves – so it’s something to experiment with and learn about on an individual basis.

Every climber has to play with the rests and figure out what’s optimal, and not spend more time on each rest than he or she needs to recover enough to do the rest of the moves. One really powerful climber may need only 10 seconds or may only have 10 seconds to recover before he starts to feel more pumped than rested, while another not-so-powerful but endurance-gifted climber might need 5 minutes or more of shaking out to recoup enough power to perform the next sequence. And both of those climbers might be able to train to improve on these relative extremes, so that the powerful climber might be able to train his body to effectively rest without getting more pumped for 30 seconds, getting more back, and thus potentially be able to perform harder sequences of moves after rests on harder routes – and the endurance climber likewise might be able to train to become more powerful, showing up at these rests less powered out, needing less time to rest and being able to continue on – or to do more powerful moves, rest the same amount of time, and then again do more powerful moves.

This leads us to the next area of discussion in these endurance entries: c) repetitive, same-route endurance efforts (which also often contain and depend on power and power endurance as well as endurance).

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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