Plateaus (1): Too Much Climbing Is Not
What seems to happen often is that climbers experience the dreaded plateau at some point in their climbing development – that place where improvement slows down to a trickle or a standstill – after months or years of spending most of their climbing time (whether they label it training or not) “just climbing,” without any real thought to form or structure.
Or perhaps they label it “training,” but it doesn’t go much (or at all) beyond rather vague ideas such as, “Hey, maybe I’ll boulder for a couple months and that will make me stronger/more powerful,” or “If I climb a bunch of laps on an easy route I have dialed for a couple months, perhaps my endurance will improve.”
Regardless, you could actually be doing the exact same routine that has been churning out sweet results and consistent improvements for months or even years on end, and then – BAM – suddenly you realize you’re stagnating, no matter how much more you climb or how many days off you take between climbing sessions. Are you overtraining? Undertraining? What is happening here?
Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer to what causes or will bust a plateau. And it could indeed be overtraining (too much volume and/or intensity, and/or not enough rest) or undertraining (not enough intensity and/or volume, and/or too much rest). Note that most fitness experts tend to agree that on the whole, it’s best to be a bit undertrained than overtrained, since overtraining can lead to performance declines, overuse injuries and burnout. Meanwhile, all too often, avid sportsmen and women tend to respond to overtraining by training harder as they fail to recognize that their performance decline is a result of too much – rather than too little – activity.
So I would recommend first and foremost that if you find yourself plateauing, you take a good look at how much you’re resting from climbing, and if you’ve been logging lots of climbing days and little rest for weeks or months or years, try taking a week or two off (or much lighter). You might be surprised at the results – and that might all that you need to get out of your rut and back onto the road to improvement.
This multipart series of 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. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You 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!