Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 8 (IYC 17)

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Plateaus (5): “Just Climbing” Probably Isn’t the Best Training for Climbing…for Anyone

Let’s say you’re well on your journey with climbing like I am and you’ve hit the plateau. You might find validity in the reasons I discussed in the past couple of entries as potential causes for your plateau, but you might also want to consider this possibility: b) the climbing being undertaken regularly does not offer the most efficient/effective 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.”

Obviously this is closely related to the last few weeks’ entries, but it warrants its own discussion, regardless, as it brings in the idea of using training outside of climbing to stimulate gains in climbing faster than just climbing – or any type of training involving climbing – likely would.

What I wish I’d personally done is to start a basic strength training program when I first started climbing, laying the groundwork for more sport-specific strength training that would have come in later. Though I’d played sports all through my childhood, I know that I came into climbing with a relatively weak upper body, though I had relatively strong fingers and forearms. My core (not just abs but also, upper/lower back and hips and glutes!) was probably pretty weak as well. It would have been great to start working on developing more strength in these areas early on, as I believe that my relative weaknesses in these areas (along with my strength in my fingers/forearms, plus my flexibility, plus my fear of heights/exposure) led me to prefer vertical crimpy terrain and to avoid steep, thuggy climbing for so long – and the more I avoided and didn’t address these areas of weakness, the more they didn’t get stronger. That’s how it works! Not training something is a great way to never get better at it.

Another reason that I never got remarkably stronger in the areas of relative weakness I brought into climbing has to do with the compensatory technique and tactics I developed along the way. In addition to avoiding steep, gymnastic climbing, I also tended to try to find ways around powerful or dynamic movements on any route or boulder problem – and if I couldn’t tech my way around it with crappy little imaginary holds, I’d usually just give up and repeat my decade-long mantra, “I am just not powerful.”

More on this in next week’s entry.

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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