Improve Your Sport Climbing (13): Tactics, Part 9 (HARD)


Identifying and Effectively Training Your Weaknesses (B)

Climb to your weaknesses, using your strengths to your advantage while doing so, and also, train your weaknesses outside of climbing…it seems like a rather simple recipe for improvement, until you bring in what I discussed yesterday – that training your weaknesses after (or even worse, before) climbing to your weaknesses can cause overtraining and overuse injuries. This can happen especially when you first start trying to address weaknesses in training; it’s very easy to embrace a new training program with enthusiasm and quickly overdo it, and then to decide that training doesn’t work and isn’t for you.

Instead, make a conscious decision about when you’re going to climb to climb, and when you’re going to climb to train and train to improve your weaknesses and not put performance on the rocks first on the list of priorities. So when you climb to climb, you train your weaknesses by challenging them on the routes you choose to try (within reason, giving yourself some candy routes, too, that make you feel good and strong, as needed), but you don’t do much, if any, external strength training (beyond opposing muscle work, plus maintenance work as needed if you’re going to lose specific strength because of the style/angle you’re climbing on – like if it’s all jugs, you might train your fingers a bit, or if it’s fingery and vertical, you might try to keep your core work going).

You can get stronger with this approach, too – don’t get me wrong – you can see strength gains and adaptive power gains, both, from spending time climbing, especially if you climb mainly or solely on routes that challenge your weaknesses. In fact, I consider this a crucial part of the training plan, the conversion-to-power/climbing movement part of the plan, when you take any raw strength gains you might have made and refine/adapt them through repetition and conditioning into very real tools you can use on the rocks.

You have to mold strength gains; if you come out stronger from resistance training, your body-being doesn’t usually immediately understand them fully, nor does it get how to apply them properly in every situation. So (simplistic example again) if you’re stronger at general one-arm pulling motions, you might still have to spend some time on that big one-arm move specifically to adapt your strength to it, learning the timing, learning how to coordinate the take-off and connection, learning how to recruit the appropriate amount of explosive/dynamic power to execute, and building up the fitness to execute the move where it falls in the route.

For some period(s) of time in the year, though, it’s more efficient and effective for most of us (or for those of us who want to improve by training, anyhow) to put the eternal quest for sending on the back burner a bit and to bring those weaknesses front and center in training. I’ve talked about strength training a ton in previous entries, and I’m not going to go into which exercises you should select here and how many reps/sets you should do, as that’s beyond the scope of a tactical blog and depends largely on the individual (in terms of strengths and weaknesses, age, lifestyle, years climbing, and training background, to name a few). The point here is that a person needs to have self-discipline and a dedication to improving in the big picture in order to sacrifice climbing time and climbing performance in the here and now, and as a regular part of his or her yearly training program.

This may mean not climbing to your weaknesses as much, as hard, or at all when you’re training, depending on how much fatigue you carry as a result of the training. There’s absolutely no point of training if it makes you overtrained or injured, especially if you keep getting injured on a regular basis or repetitively in the same areas. Injuries do happen to most people who play hard at some point in their lives, so don’t feel badly if it happens to you or like you’ve failed – instead, try to learn what you can to avoid this in the future by making smarter choices (more on injuries in Improve Your Sport Climbing 15: Injuries).

But avoiding injuries during your training time(s) of the year should be your No. 1 goal – getting stronger and eventually climbing harder comes in just behind that, but again, no point to training if you get injured from training. If you can’t be disciplined about resting when your body needs it and making your decisions about what/when/how much to climb based on how recovered (or not) you feel from training, don’t train. It’s better to be able to climb injury-free than to train and get injured and not be able to climb at all OR train at all.

Be disciplined. Be smart. Know when you’re climbing to perform. Know when you’re climbing as part of your training plan. Letting go of your ego is often a huge part of this. Consciously decide when training trumps climbing performance and vice versa. More on this in the final entry on Tactics…

This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. 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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