Improve Your Sport Climbing (11): Endurance, Part 9 (HARD)


Second-to-last entry on 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. Today I’ll start to tackle part two – trying hard projects more than one day in a row.

Do you want to climb the most difficult sport route or routes that you can possibly climb, picking a project or two that lie just at the edge or even slightly beyond the edge of your current ability level?

If the answer is yes, prepare to log a lot of couch time to optimize your chances of sending.

Many sport climbers never rest enough to really see or understand or climb to their full potential in terms of sending the most difficult project(s) they possibly could. And if that’s not important, and climbing more at a lower level (even if it’s relatively high compared to others – comparing, which for our own happiness and sanity, we really shouldn’t do but we all do anyway; such is the human condition) is more fun and important to you, this is a fine and admirable and totally acceptable choice, of course! Nobody should judge anybody else’s choices in climbing reasons or goals – we all have the freedom to prioritize and climbing decisions are totally personal, so if you hate training and love climbing as much as possible, that’s awesome.

The point of this part of the series is not to insist or even to suggest that you should change what you’re doing, but rather, to help you make an informed decision about your choices in terms of days on and days off – especially if you really do want to climb at your current physical limit or push that limit higher, faster (big-picture faster). And if you really want to climb at and tap into your full potential, you’ll likely need more rest days or at least, more light-to-moderate days interspersed with your high-intensity project days in order to achieve truly peak sends. In other words, if you can sustain three or more days on climbing at the same level pretty handily, you’re most likely not pushing your upper ability limits – because no matter what level of climber you are, you’re still a human being. And human beings cannot recover from truly maximal intensity athletic efforts that challenge their peak levels overnight, day in and day out.

Sure, you can find some “hard” routes that play to your particular strengths, and you can also refine the movements on routes that might feel hard at first and come back the next day and climb them more efficiently and send them while carrying a little fatigue – but you cannot dish out repeated maximal performance efforts over and over and over again all day, and then do the same the next day and the day after that. If you’re projecting powerful, draining routes that are truly at your limit, you simply cannot sustain a three-day on pace, or even a two-day on pace when you first start trying the route (and maybe not ever, depending on how much each effort takes out of you). You will need more rest to make the progress and gains you’re after.

Many climbers choose not to take this approach to climbing because it limits how much you can climb and makes it hard to schedule your climbing days regularly. Say you put in a huge intensity effort on a really powerful, long route for you. If you wake up the next day absolutely destroyed, you’re probably not going to be recovered fully even the next day after that, and sometimes even for the next day. Where’s the fun in that, right? If you get to climb one or two days on, and then need two or three days off in order to make progress, it can definitely be frustrating and feel like not enough climbing, and it can take a lot of willpower to have the discipline to stick with a project like this without sabotaging your efforts by doing too much. If this isn’t fun for you, definitely don’t do it!

Even if you ARE a person like me who enjoys flirting with that absolute-limit-or-just-beyond-it line in sport climbing (I love to take what feels impossible and gradually make it possible for my body more than anything else in climbing), so much resting also often involves a huge mental challenge, trying to deal with the voices that scream those not-so-helpful things like, “Losing fitness!” “Getting fat!” “You should train!” “Still too weak!” and so forth. I’ve made the mistake too many times to count of listening to those voices even with an exhausted and unrecovered body and forced the next session of climbing or training, only to pay the price with even greater declines in next-day performance, overtraining, overuse, burnout and even injuries.

However, if your project isn’t so close to your true upper limit – meaning it doesn’t dig so deeply into your current physical capabilities – and you still have beta refining to do, including technical work, pacing, resting en route, and so forth, you can often get in more burns than one or two per day, depending on the route’s style. I’ve sent projects on my fifth go of the day, but they weren’t maximal projects; for me, this tends to happen on routes that are more endurance-oriented by nature (not draining my power that much with each attempt) and that I’ve been still refining beta on with each subsequent go (movements and tactics getting more efficient every time). But I’d say that nearly every severely challenging project has gone down first or second (full) go of the day for me – after that, my power is usually drained too much to maintain a solid effort (not counting misfired starts on bouldery-start routes, which I discussed in an earlier entry in this series).

Remember (to repeat myself) that by maximal physical ability level/potential, 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 level’s potential for performance will take many more days and efforts than this. Your relationship with a long-term project like this can last for months or even years, depending on how far you reach. You’ll have to slowly build up specific fitness (endurance/power endurance) and power (molded strength trained into coordination for specific climbing movements) for the sequences on routes that push your true limits. These are the types of routes for which training to get stronger in specific angles and motions away from the route can provide a more efficient strategy in the big picture, too. Such routes have the potential to be our greatest teachers and motivators, so long as we don’t get frustrated with the process and we intersperse our efforts with other, lesser beasts that don’t dig so deeply into our maximal physical performance capabilities in the present.

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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