Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 10 (IYC 17)

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More Specific Training Can Help You Climb Off of the Plateau or Perhaps Avoid it Altogether

So by now you know that even if it’s true in one sense that  “climbing is the best training for climbing,” this statement is misleading and often misapplied or used as a reason to avoid any structured training for climbing. While you definitely need to climb — and climb a lot, and climb regularly — to get better and stay proficient at climbing, the reality is that most (probably all) climbers who wish to improve at climbing would likely benefit from adding some structured and specific strength training, along with some personalized drills and exercises and focus areas, to their training/climbing routines, regardless of how much climbing experience they have.

It sounds so simple on the one hand – if you’ve read the last nine entries here, perhaps you are already on the way to busting out of a plateau or have implemented strategies to help you avoid a future plateau. But it can be confusing to evaluate and establish what is causing a plateau or how to get out of it, for sure. I’d suggest being patient as you go through the process of working to bust a plateau, starting with the simplest solution that makes sense for you, and also keeping in mind that new training protocols should be introduced gradually and incrementally, with expectations for tangible results in months or years, rather than days or weeks.

Examples of how to approach busting a plateau include:

  • If you’re climbing at a high volume (by default meaning a relatively low intensity), try climbing less (fewer days and less time per workout in each day) and intensifying your workouts (making them harder in terms of difficulty).
  • If you’re exhausted and feeling burnt out, you’re probably overtraining; try resting more and recovering. This is a big factor in how hard you can train and climb, both – if you’re never fully rested, you cannot train as hard as possible (nor climb as hard as possible), and you therefore can’t make gains as quickly as possible either.
  • If you struggle with strength and power and/or have pronounced muscle imbalances, try adding a day or two of sport-specific/oppositional strength work to your training plan. Though you can effectively train numerous athletic skills using weight training, I’ve come to believe that for climbers, weight/resistance training is most applicable for pure strength gains, and that the other sport-specific skills/areas tend to be more effectively and efficiently trained for most climbers in a more climbing-specific way (i.e. through actual climbing drills rather than using nonclimbing terrain/equipment for training).
  • If you struggle with particular techniques and tactics, make these the deliberate focus of your climbing workouts or even days outside. Slow it down, refine the skill, drill it, and work on it consciously until it’s perfected. If you don’t address technical/tactical deficiencies, they will not improve and can get even more ingrained and more difficult to undo later.
  • Choose the climbs or climbing areas with the holds, angles, lengths and styles of movement that appeal to you the least (or that “suit your style” the least) three or four more times often than you choose the ones that cater to your strengths. Reward yourself with style-friendly climbing one day a week or one or two climbs per session.
  • Make sure you’re trying climbs that actually challenge you regularly – and that challenge you in all relevant dimensions. Mix it up. Get pumped, go big, work on shaking out and getting it back, move dynamically, do a bunch of hard moves on small holds in a row, and so forth. Keeping all of the elements that go into climbing in play in your climbing – at a level that’s challenging for you (regardless of how hard/easy they are for others) – will go a long way to helping you develop and push your skills and strengths forward evenly in this incredibly diverse and demanding activity.

How much time you dedicate to each of these areas of training, how specific your training needs to be, and what area(s) your training should be most focused on during different times of the year (i.e. periodizing your training program) depends on you as an individual. This is why one-size-fits-all climbing training can be a total shot in the dark; it may help you if it happens to target an area that’s really holding you back, but it may have little or no impact on your climbing if it works an area of relative strength while disregarding an area that would have a far greater positive impact on your climbing with more attention put there.

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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