Improve Your Sport Climbing (11): Endurance, Part 5 (HARD)


Today’s topic: c) repetitive, same-route endurance efforts (which also often bring in power and power endurance as well as endurance).

Routes that demand repeated high-level power and/or power endurance efforts separated by rests (especially somewhat draining rests) represent the greatest challenges for me. I’m better off if the route is more about endurance plus power or power endurance or even more endurance – meaning that I climb through a bunch of submaximal moves (40 percent of power moves or thereabouts) for a long time, then I get a good rest, then I have to do more endurance climbing or alternately, something somewhat powerful or power-endurancey, I’m okay or even better off than a lot of other folks – because I start into the crux fresher with a greater percent of my power recuperated than a climber with less endurance for recovering at rests. (Back to training your body to recover at rests and how important this skill is to cultivate).

But if I drain my power and power endurance down to almost 0 in an 8 to 30-move sequence, then hit an okay but still taxing rest, and then I have to do another sequence above this that involves another 8 to 30 moves at a fairly high power intensity for me with little or no rest – ugh (or two or three of those – double or triple ugh!). So hard and painful, so difficult to take, whether a climber’s battling forearm fatigue/pump or (as is more often the case for me), the inability to pull through the complete range of motion anymore, meaning I’ll get repeatedly kicked off whatever long, powerful, lock-off or dynamic move is involved – or if I complete that move, I’ll likely then get frozen in the “finished” position, meaning I’m handcuffed and can’t move any limb without falling – no strength left to pull or even pick up a foot. Lovely situation, that. 🙂

The difficulty builds rapidly in these situations when enough moves in the sequences at hand cut into a climber’s power enough times to start to put them into a depleted state, drawing too much on the anaerobic system for them to be able to recoup enough to continue climbing even at the rests – that dreaded “just can’t get it back enough” feeling that can stick with you even while you shake out (or that sticks with me), when I know that I’m not recovering. Of course – again – the only solution to this that I know of is to follow all of the same guidelines I’ve been outlining – to train for what you want to gain. Refine the beta to the most efficient and least wasteful movements possible, train the rests as hard and as much as the climbing, and push your body to build up the required specific power, power endurance and endurance combination needed with reasonable repetition at a high intensity level.

And once again – that same old big-picture, long-term solution emerges, that if you’re getting too much of a depletion going on the specific sequences of moves – so much that you can’t build up enough to recover and continue climbing at a rest on a particular route or on route after route after route of similar difficulty with similar movements or series of moves – it might be worthwhile to identify areas of weakness (always the reason for falling – we don’t fall because of what we’re good at!) and to strengthen those with targeted training in the off season so that you can return to these types of routes or a particular project with improved strength. That increased strength can be molded into climbing-specific power, power endurance and endurance – meaning you should be able to build up to making it to the rest in fewer attempts (because you’re using less power on every move); you should also be able to recover better on the rest with training as well – because you’ve taken less out of your power base in the previous sequence, meaning you don’t need to recover for as long a time before you’re ready to tackle the next hard sequence.

So if before the route required 8 hard moves before a rest that required the following percentages of your power: 50, 40, 85, 70, 60, 40, 40, 60 – if you can change that to 45, 35, 80, 65, 55, 35, 35, 55 – that 5 percent difference can make all the difference in the world on a rest, allowing you to recoup enough to do another series of hard-ish moves above. (Of course it’s never so linear or perfect – but you hopefully get the idea!). Remember, though, that this conversion isn’t immediate; after you strength train your body needs time to adapt new strengths into your climbing performance, meaning you’ll have to spend time specifically training your body to climb hard, rest and shake, climb hard, rest and shake, and so forth.

This is high-intensity interval training (HIIT), by the way – a cardio-intensive workout. More about this next time.

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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