I am a recovered cross trainer myself. For a long time I believed that, even if I trained really hard for climbing, I must incorporate some cross-training into my climbing training for my “cardio fitness.” I used to cross-train numerous days a week, and this commitment to cross-training used to be a cornerstone of my “climbing training” for many years.
What was my cross-training? Running. Running for “cardio,” because for some reason, conventional wisdom said that I must do something besides specific climbing training in order to keep my “cardio” up. Never mind that climbing DOES involve cardio, or that steady-state cardio training probably isn’t the best tool for weight management (for those who argue that they must run in order to keep their weight down).
In fact, too much “cardio” of this type can actually promote the loss of sport-specific lean body weight (LBW — or in other words, climbing muscle). Steady-state aerobic exercise, even in relatively small doses, also can sabotage your sport-specific strength and power development. Perhaps even worse, it might make you gain fat! (See: Why Your Cardio Workouts Are Making You Gain Weight and Body Fat) What climber would want this type of result from their training regimen?
If you regularly climb at a high or fairly high intensity for yourself – meaning that you get your heart rate up and are breathing hard – you already are benefitting from an effective form of cardio training called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), one of the latest exercise trends. HIIT for the general population involves performing a series of specific exercises at a quick pace that together involve the whole body, rather than HIIT for climbers — which would feature challenging rock climbing that involves intense full-body movements followed by shake-outs on or off the rock to try to recover, followed by more intense full-body movements. If you’re lacking this type of intensity in your climbing – and your priority is improving at climbing – it’s a good idea to add in sport-specific efforts that take the principles of HIIT into account.
Note that these principles include only performing this style of exercise two or three times a week for optimal fitness, as explained in “How to Get Fit in a Few Minutes a Week.” Despite the “more is better” idea that seems to hold fast in our mindsets (similar to the myth of lactic acid), this recent research supports the “less is more” concept. This means that you can probably reap greater gains in less time by decreasing your training/climbing volume and increasing your training/climbing intensity. (Again, resting is a key part of training effectively and efficiently). See Climbing & Training Helpful Hints & Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (A) for guidance on implementing HIIT in your climbing.
As the authors of “Body by Science” note, “If you want a specific metabolic adaptation, you can produce it only by practicing that specific metabolic adaptation.”
In other words, if you want to get better at climbing, you definitely need to climb, and you need to tailor any outside-of-climbing training to directly correlate with what needs work in your climbing game. And if you want to improve at climbing hard for your body – you must invest much of your training energy into climbing hard for your body. Then rest, recover, and repeat.
Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (3): The Sport-Specific Training Approach
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!