Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 6 (IYC 17)


Plateaus (3): Climbing (Relatively) Easy Stuff and/or Only Stuff That Plays to Your Strengths Is Not

Let’s say you’re well on your journey with climbing like I am and you’ve hit the plateau. You’re not overtraining or undertraining – you’re recovering just fine between sessions, and you’re climbing three or four+ days a week on routes that feel hard for you. Perhaps what’s happening here, at least in part, is that a) the climbing being undertaken regularly is too easy (i.e. lacking in intensity) and/or plays to the climber’s strengths/comfort too much (i.e. too much familiarity/routine) to illicit any further notable adaptions in terms of visible, chartable progression in climbing ability level (or a little bit of both, as the case may be, along with other factors, too!).

This factor in plateauing ties directly into two well-known training principles that I’ve mentioned before – SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands), and the overload principle (OP). And yes, you can still feel like you’re giving it your all every day you climb or train, but still stagnate due to the factors involved in this sort of plateauing.

Great ways to stimulate a plateau from this approach include the following:

  • Assuming you want to climb harder grades, climbing for volume rather than for intensity can place you on a plateau. Generally speaking, the more days/pitches you climb, the less hard you can expect to climb (within reason – obviously you need to climb sometimes!). Volume and intensity are inversely related. So if you regularly climb 15 pitches a day, 5 days a week, you’re probably not climbing as hard as you could. Climbing for difficulty in sport climbing and bouldering in general tends to require supreme outputs of power and strength. If you’re putting out maximal amounts of strength and power (or even close to them), you will need to rest regularly in order to recover and make gains in those areas. Bodies only get stronger with rest. If you’re climbing really hard and can still climb at such a high volume as I mentioned before – congratulations. But I’d also be willing to bet that with more rest (especially with a training plan with resting periods built in to stimulate peaks), you’d be able to climb even harder. Though everybody needs different amounts of rest time to recover, it is true for everyone that rest is required for recovery and adaptations to new levels of performance…and not just a few hours of sleep between every climbing session.
  • Working on one project and only one project, ever, for months or years on end and rarely or never trying any other climbs that challenge you at all (i.e. only doing easy warm-ups and cool-downs). Your body might adapt just enough to make incremental progress on the project, or it may ultimately plateau on the project if the project is near your real potential (genetic potential), and/or you can’t effectively/efficiently stimulate the gains required for the project by training only on the project (this can happen especially if you have multiple factors contributing to your inability to send – which is often the case – i.e. your shoulders aren’t strong enough but also you’re getting pumped, and you always get so pumped that you don’t really get to work your shoulders enough on the project to get them stronger enough to make a difference, etc.). You might also find that when you’re done with the project, you can’t climb anything else nearly as hard – you’ve conditioned yourself to be adapted for JUST the moves on the project, a beautiful example of SAID in action.

Next week’s entry will discuss more possible causes for plateaus of this kind.

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!

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