Plateaus (4): Climbing (Relatively) Easy Stuff and/or Only Stuff That Plays to Your Strengths Is Not (cont’d)
This entry continues the discussion started in last week’s entry about a climbing plateau being cause (in whole or in part) by: 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.
Again, 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.
More great ways to stimulate a plateau from this approach include the following:
- Always doing the same routine at the crag or in the gym (i.e. having a circuit) where you can go in and easily send/run laps on the same routes or styles/difficulties of routes. This may be good from a general fitness maintenance standpoint, just like running the same route an hour a day, five days a week would be decent for long-term fitness maintenance, but if you want to improve, you need to impose OP – the overload principle. In other words, you need to change up the routine and make it harder to continue to see gains, and the better you get (the more fit you get), the harder (more intense!) your workouts need to be if you want to continue to see improvements instead of staying where you are (or even decreasing a little – bodies are really adaptable and efficient!). You need variety and intensity to keep improvements going, not a plodding routine of the same old difficulty, length of workouts and terrain, day in and day out.
- Always climbing at the same area or seeking out climbs of the same/similar style while avoiding those with holds, angles, styles and lengths you’re less comfortable with. Of course, this is fine if you don’t care about climbing anything but your favorite style or only at a particular area. This phenomenon might be what’s happening if you find you can climb a certain grade at your home area or on a particular angle or style of climb, but nowhere near that grade on another style/angle or at a different area. Grading discrepancies aside, this can often be accounted for by the fact that if you never climb on a particular style or angle of climbing, you will be less likely to do well on it or be adapted to it than you will be to your preferred angles, styles or areas. If you changed it up more, you might actually develop new skill sets, strengths and tactics that would help you improve at your more familiar terrain as well. Predictable routine is the enemy of improving athletic skills and strengths, both.
- Never trying anything really hard (and I mean really hard!) or understanding how to push the body in climbing (or training) to failure. You might find this surprising, depending on who you are, but I’ve definitely seen this in action – when climbers don’t know what their body is capable of so are prone to giving up long before they’ve actually pushed the body hard enough to make any desired adaptations. This is actually really common in general training as well – people tend to select weights that are too light to actually stimulate any changes in their strength when they lift (far more often than they pick weights that are too heavy for them). Intensity in training is HUGE – and not only in terms of physical adaptations, but also helping your brain to learn that it can usually go farther than it “thinks” it can (i.e. you can often climb a lot farther than when you initially think you’re coming off a route; if you can harness that and push until you really do fall, you’re into the OP territory and can stimulate training gains from that type of intensity). Also note that by “failure,” I don’t mean climbing 20 easy or moderate routes until you can’t hang on anymore because your skin hurts so much or you feel tired, but rather, I mean climbing routes with movements and sequences that are really challenging to you – and pushing really hard to get through those moves and sequences.
These are just a few examples of how a plateau can happen (in whole or in part) by: 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.
More on what might cause a plateau next time, when I discuss b) the climbing being undertaken regularly does not offer the most efficient means by which to address the climber’s specific and personal weaknesses, meaning that he or she may get tiny, incremental bits of progress here and there from this climbing, but that if a more specific program of training were undertaken, gains would likely come more quickly and efficiently than they would through continuing the program of “just climbing as training for climbing.”
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!