Improve Your Sport Climbing (11): Endurance, Part 8 (HARD)


Continuing with part one of the final topic of this endurance for sport climbing series – endurance for multiple efforts on the same route on the same day.

So the conditions are perfect and you’re going to try to send or have a good, solid effort on your project. You’ve warmed up well, using your normal warm-up protocol, and you feel great. How long do you rest before trying the project the first time?

Usually 20 to 45 minutes suffices, just to be sure that you’re not carrying residual fatigue from the warm-up (which shouldn’t leave you flash pumped, or with a super-painful and hard to dissipate pump, or feeling very fatigued – if you’re very fatigued after your warm-up, it wasn’t a true warm-up!).

What if you get on the route, and it has a hard, powerful crux right off the ground, and you fall off of the second move?

If this happens, try hanging for a few seconds, performing the second move properly (which can help you warm up for the specific movement in question), and then lowering down, popping your shoes off, and resting for 5 to 7 minutes. Walk around and stay warm, and then tie back in and try again. (Of course, if your partner’s not game, you’ll have to adjust to his/her schedule and what they’re okay with). The point of this is that falls low on a route due to an early power outage (often meaning your muscles aren’t quite warmed up) or inefficiency in delivering power (i.e. movement error) don’t usually require a huge recovery period before you try again, especially if you lower off instead of continuing to climb for the rest of the route (then your recovery period will depend on the demands the rest of the route places on you).

Even if the powerful section is higher on the route or longer, if a route is not really draining your endurance (or power endurance) and is more about straight-up power delivery with some much easier climbing for you before and after, you can rest less and still recover enough to try again in a relatively short time – usually 20 or 30 minutes works well for me.

When you start to dig into your power endurance and endurance reserves – when you’re on the route, breathing hard and trying hard consistently or repetitively at or near your limit for 10 minutes or longer (including rests while en route, of course), most people will need longer periods of time to recover between efforts. This holds true for routes that place huge demands on your power along with power endurance and endurance as well. It can take 45 minutes or an hour or even an hour and 10 or 20 minutes to recover enough from monumentally sapping routes at the edge of a climber’s physical ability level.

Added to this complexity is that if the route has powerful moves near your limit AND requires a high output of power endurance and/or endurance as well, you might only have one solid, full attempt in you on the route per day, especially when you first start to project it. If you get on for a second effort after a lengthy rest and find that you’re too fatigued to perform the powerful opening moves or the powerful crux correctly anymore, be okay with calling it a day on that route – instead of getting frustrated about why you can’t do the moves again. You can’t because you’re powered out; all you will do by persisting in your efforts to force your body to continue trying is further exhaust the muscles involved while training and engraining incorrect, inefficient movements and techniques instead of the refined, perfected movements you want to teach your body, encouraging injury and prolonging your recovery time.

As you build up the fitness for this project, you may find that eventually, you will start to be able to put in two solid, real, valuable burns on the route per day, or even three – especially if you start lowering down when you fall instead of completing the route. Of course, the flipside of this approach is that if you lower down after every effort that results in a fall at the same place and you never complete the route after the fall, you could wind up losing the fitness required to complete the route should you make it through the troublesome spot (your crux).

So you’ll have to balance your desire for multiple attempts per day with the bigger-picture need to maintain/build enough fitness to complete the rest of the route once you’ve made it through the crux. The importance of climbing to the top of the route depends largely on how difficult the climbing is for you above the sticking point – i.e., on your 5.13a project, is it a bunch of 5.10 jug hauling that you’d never fall off in your life? Or is it spicy 5.11+ climbing with a couple 12a moves in there that exploit your weakest link in climbing? Obviously, repetitive practice on the latter is far more important to prevent post-crux falling than it is on the former.

If the route isn’t near your actual physical ability limit, however – if you’re still refining beta and making your movements more and more efficient with each subsequent attempt – you can get away with more solid efforts at real sending on any given day. It’s not uncommon to send a route on the third attempt of the day – or even fourth or fifth – when this is the case.

So it appears that the less absolute power (followed by higher-level power endurance) a route scrapes away with each effort, the more chances you have of doing it on a later attempt per day. And yet, it also seems that the longer the difficult route effort (in terms of time spent on the rock), too, the less chances a person has of doing it on later attempts (I’m talking here about go’s four and five, and sometimes even go three) in the day, as the accumulation of fatigue will be greater for longer periods of time spent on the rock than for shorter periods. You’ll need longer rest periods to recover from these longer efforts, and eventually you’ll start hitting a point of diminishing returns (usually indicated by getting pumped earlier on the route than before or failing on relatively easy sequences), meaning your endurance isn’t recovering enough for you to continue making gains on this route on this day.

Key Points:

1)      The easier a project/route is for you in terms of your current maximal physical ability level, the greater the number of productive, realistic sending efforts you can have on it on the same day.

2)      The opposite is also true, meaning the harder a project/route is for you in terms of your current maximal physical ability level, the fewer the number of productive, realistic sending efforts you can have on it on the same day. By maximal physical ability level, I’m not talking about routes you can send in 5 or even 15 or even 30 tries. Routes that are truly at or just slightly above your current maximal physical ability potential will take many more days and efforts than this, because even after you’ve refined the beta, you’ll still need time to build up your power endurance and endurance to the specific demands of the routes (possible also needing to mold your current raw strength into coordinated power for specific difficult movements as well).

3)      As your fitness and efficiency of movement improve on a long-term, extremely difficult project, you’ll gradually increase the number of productive, realistic sending efforts you can have on it on the same day.

4)      Lowering down instead of continuing on when you fall can increase your number of productive, realistic sending efforts per day, but this must be balanced with maintaining appropriate fitness for and knowledge of the terrain you’ll have to climb in order to complete the route once you make it through the sticking point.

5)      The more a route detracts from your maximal power base, the fewer realistic sending attempts you’ll have on it each day.

6)      Generally speaking, the longer the time you spend on the rock in each hard redpoint effort, the longer the rest period you’ll need to be recovered enough to make another solid attempt.

7)      Time your rests and come up with a formula that works best for you and your body. Be willing to experiment with longer and shorter rest periods. What works best for your body to optimize sending may vary according to terrain and route style, and it definitely varies from individual to individual.

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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