Improve Your Sport Climbing (11): Endurance, Part 7 (HARD)


On to the final topic of this endurance for sport climbing series: e) Endurance for multiple efforts on the same route on the same day or two+ days in a row.

Let’s start with part one of this topic – endurance for multiple efforts on the same route on the same day.

How many times can you attempt a hard project (or multiple difficult onsights) and realistically hope to have a chance of sending it per day? And how much time should you rest between full attempts or even partial attempts (i.e., you climb to a certain hard part and fall off there and then lower down instead of finishing the route in an effort to save your energy for the next attempt)? And how many times should you have partial attempts before you get into full attempts on the route in a day?

As usual and as you might suspect, there is no hard-‘n’-fast rule or simple answer to any of these questions. Instead, I’ll try to give some general guidelines and advice.

First of all, for number of attempts on a hard project per day, this depends on how hard the project actually is for you (i.e. how close it is to your real physical limit/potential at the moment), how close you are to sending it (i.e. how much fitness and technical efficiency you have built up for this route in particular or for similar routes in terms of movement, style, difficulty, length, angle, and so forth), your current state of recovery (i.e. are you totally rested or are you feeling somewhat depleted), and on the general style of the route (i.e. is the route heavily weighted on taxing your endurance? Does it involve mellow climbing up to a distinctively hard crux and then more mellow climbing? Or does it drain all of your reserves – power, power endurance, and endurance?), to name some variables.

Add to this that conditions can play a role in the amount of worthwhile attempts you can have. When it’s really hot, your skin, fingers, and hands are likely to fatigue faster than in better conditions – your sweatier skin gets more torn up (more flappers and tender fingertips), and you tend to hang on harder to compensate for the diminished friction, both between your fingers/hands and the holds, as well as your shoe rubber and the holds; it’s more common for feet to unexpectedly pop off in hot weather or for edges to roll. It’s harder to maintain mental focus as well – the discomfort of heat (or heat and humidity) can kill all desire to climb.

Similarly, very cold conditions can make it hard to warm up and to hold the warm up, difficult to keep fingers and toes from numbing out, and make (again) for poorer friction, leading to dry firing (when dry, cold, numbed fingers inadvertently slide out of position or right off a hold when you go to move). Muscles also move more slowly when they’re cold, which can decrease the climber’s efficiency of movement. Cold conditions can force a climber to have to repeatedly rewarm up to avoid numb appendages, possibly performing mini warm-ups by climbing with extra clothes on before every real attempt in order to rewarm the body, particularly the fingers and toes. Rests between routes might have to be shortened in order to maintain a warmed up body, despite the relative lack of recovery between attempts.

I mention conditions here because they really do play a huge factor into hard route attempts – but generally speaking, the easier the route is for you relative to your maximal physical ability level, the less conditions will affect your performance or chances of sending on any given day, though some of us may be more sensitive/susceptible to certain variances in temperature than others. It’s best to be aware of accepting of your own individual response to severe weather conditions, understanding that one man’s “perfect sending temps,” might be another lady’s “I can’t climb my warm-up” conditions. Instead of fighting this, just acknowledge your own body’s abilities to handle or not handle the given conditions, and adjust your mindset/expectations (best not to have any anyhow, right?) and climbing plans for the day accordingly.

In the next entry, I’ll get to the point – how to calculate an appropriate number of attempts on a hard climb per day, in conditions that suit you, and how much rest you might want to take between efforts.

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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