If general, all-around fitness without boredom is what you’re after – and not reaching your personal potential in any one particular sport – well, by all means, you should go ahead and cross-train, especially if you like it! It can be a great way to develop total-body fitness, much more so than doing one or two activities that don’t necessarily incorporate your whole body/energy systems, or that might become boring and repetitive after some time, leading to a plateau, repetitive use injuries, or burnout. Cross-training can also be good for a mental break to assuage burnout and to allow the body to rest and recover (or help maintain general fitness) if you’re injured and can’t climb.
And yes, it’s possible you could make some gains from cross-training activities that might translate into a stronger or improved climbing performance or ability level. But you would be likely to make even greater gains if you invested that same amount of training time that you put into the cross-training activity into more specific climbing training aimed at addressing whatever areas need the most attention (or whatever relevant areas the cross-training activity might target). Never make the mistake of thinking that the time spent doing another activity that is not sport-specific is benefitting you MORE than training for that same sport (in your case, probably climbing) via more sport-specific training tactics would be.
Sport-specific training should include smartly designed and well-informed strength and conditioning exercise(s) that are part of an overall training plan. This is not cross-training. It falls into the category of sport-specific training. Since specificity is a key concept in efficient and effective training – the SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands) – having a portion of your training time being relegated to working on enhancing your ability to perform sport-specific movements using weights or other resistance/conditioning equipment is a major plus. This falls into the category of climbing-specific training. Each exercise selected should have a clear reason for why it’s a part of your training plan – in other words, what it’s supposed to help you with in terms of your climbing performance.
Keep in mind, though, that this does not mean that every single exercise must mimic a climbing movement exactly – because there’s a good reason to seek balance in your body. In other words, developing a hunchbacked posture for climbing is probably not the best way to reach your full potential as a climber. This is elegantly and succinctly explained in “Periodization Training for Sports-3rd Edition,” by Tudor O. Bompa and Carlo A. Buzzichelli, who write, “Misuse of specificity results in asymmetrical and inharmonious body development and neglects the antagonist and stabilizer muscles. Misuse can also hamper the development of the prime movers and result in injury.” To put it simply – if you don’t also train what climbers commonly refer to as “opposing muscles,” you stand to limit your potential to get stronger in your “climbing muscles,” and you also might end up injured as a result of your disregard.
The ideal climbing training plan is tailored to you as an individual, honing in on the precise areas that are holding your progress as a climber back. It also takes into account your training age, time spent climbing, biological age, overall lifestyle, job commitments, life commitments, workout style, stress levels, gender, etc. Summing it up: if you want to dedicate as much time as you can to efficiently and effectively improving at climbing (or any other sport), don’t fool yourself into thinking that cross-training is a better way to train for that activity in lieu of performing that activity itself regularly at a high enough intensity to stimulate desired gains, coupled with sport-specific training components (i.e. drills, lifts, etc.) directly correlated to the activity, each with a precise and unambiguous reason for being included in your particular training plan. And of course, don’t forget to rest!
Up Next: Move of the Month (7), The Grip Release/Relax Trick
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!