Improve Your Sport Climbing (13): Tactics, Part 10 (HARD)


Planning Peaks and Plotting Progress

One of the craziest things about climbers and boulderers is that virtually all of us want and almost seem to expect that our performances on the rocks should be consistent and linearly progressive – in other words, that we should be constantly peaking in performance as well as constantly improving our ability levels.

This is completely misguided and actually impossible: a totally unrealistic expectation. If you truly push yourself to climb or boulder at your true physical limits frequently, you will not experience this type of consistent performance output, nor will you feel awesome and like you’re ready to crush on every single day you climb. If you don’t climb at your true physical limits, you may always feel consistent and energetic – but that’s because you’re not actually taxing your body on most, if any, days in the same way that someone who does push this hard regularly does.

Being tactically intelligent about this reality and comprehending how it works is a key to maximizing your successes in both climbing and training, minimizing your risk of injury and burnout, and enjoying the sh#$ out of every climbing day and training for climbing, too. More about that last bit in the next series on mental training. I’ll finish this series by giving you 10 takeaway points to remember about how peaking and progression work and go hand-in-hand:

  1. True athletic peaks can only last for two or three weeks, tops.
  2. To stimulate a peak, you need to taper (or unload) your current climbing/training regimen. This means that you need to do less than what you’ve been doing and rest more.
  3. Decreasing the volume of training/climbing for one or two weeks may be the best method of tapering, meaning you use shorter sessions but maintain the intensity and possibly the frequency of climbing/training.
  4. You’re better off doing less than you think you should before a big climbing competition or redpoint attempt than doing more than you think you should – or probably by even doing what you think you should. Three or four or even five days of rest can actually be a magical ticket to sending if you’re well prepared to send but haven’t dissipated fatigue or had a bunch of rest days in a while, but only if you can handle it and not feed yourself negative messages about losing fitness. What the mind believes, it achieves, You have to have faith in this process.
  5. After peaking (send or fail, win or lose), no matter how stoked you are to start training hard or climbing hard again, it’s not uncommon for the body to crash a little or even a lot, depending on how hard/how long you pushed during the peak. Be careful with getting back into climbing or training and move more slowly back into it than you might want to. Listen to your body and let your level of recovery and psych be your guide. Taking some time off (up to a month) and doing something different for exercise/fitness can help prepare you to resume training and/or climbing again at full recovery/energy levels.
  6. The best-made training program does not result in linear progression; undulating ups and downs in performance and ability are normal.
  7. A slight downturn in performance in training or climbing is not an indicator that you should train harder or more; it indicates that you need to rest more and focus on recovery. Training regularly or harder than usual in an already downturned-performance state can lead to overtraining, burnout and overuse injuries.
  8. Training programs usually take more time than you want them to take to generate visible results; seeing tangible climbing performance results after three or six weeks of training is the exception rather than the rule.
  9. Most of the time, progression from training happens so gradually that you won’t really notice it until you think back a year or two and realize that you’ve come a long way from where you were when you started.
  10. Because of the gradual nature of performance improvement for most people, deciding to sacrifice climbing time for training as a part of your regular training program requires an incredible amount of discipline and faith. It is an efficient and effective approach in the big picture for most, meaning it leads to faster overall gains that just climbing would, especially if you’ve never tried to train your weaknesses or address them outside of just climbing before, and especially if you have some pretty glaring weaknesses holding you back. However, because it takes so much time to see results and because it limits your climbing and climbing performance during some of the year, it can be intolerable for some people. More on this in the next series…Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training (HARD). It will start up on January 2, just in time for the New Year. Until then, safe travels and Happy Holidays!

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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