I love winter training season! Not because I enjoy the cold (sometimes subzero) temperatures, but because I have learned through these past few years of trial and error that the key to a successful strength-building program involves months – not just a few weeks – of dedication in the gym. Winter here in Wyoming provides me with much fewer distractions (compared to the rest of the year) like good weather and good partners. But still, until last winter, I floundered and flailed a little bit due to the year-round climbing opportunities available to me here – if you live in Wyoming, you can juggle your schedule to accommodate the spells of good weather that are regularly interspersed among the bitterly cold times. Even worse, though, you can get suckered into taking way too many rest days by a forecast that looks good, but then keeps changing as the good-looking days get nearer. I did this for years, sorry to say.
Anyhow, to make a long story short, last winter I decided to not be swayed by the whimsies of the weather forecast, and to instead make my weight-training (strength-building) program the number one priority for six whole months. And then, following guidelines I’ve intended to follow for years, I also made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let go of my weight training for the other six months of the year. I would shift the focus away from it, but I would routinely keep maintenance strength training in my world throughout my climbing season. I succeeded on both fronts, and I am so happy that I did!
I already knew how effective strength training could be, but I didn’t know how effective it would be with so much more dedication on my part. The results were amazing for me, though – and immediately apparent at the start of my outdoor season this past year. I could do moves I couldn’t do previously, and I recovered way more quickly from hard climbing days (meaning more climbing days!). I also stayed strong and got stronger through the season, just by including my maintenance strength program in my world, never letting more than three weeks pass without doing a maintenance lifting session. I actually made some strength gains during my climbing season instead of losing peak levels of strength, which is what had happened in the past – detraining gradually from peak levels over the six, seven, eight, or even nine months that I climbed outside and made that a focus.
No more. Now I know better…and the mental shift was so much easier to make this year than last year, even. This because I know the kind of results I can look forward to with another six months of dedication to prioritizing my strength development. But also, I know that this doesn’t mean I don’t get to climb or try hard in climbing or have fun – I do, and I managed to make it work last year quite well. Sometimes I’d have 10 or even 14 days between strength sessions to accommodate weather or trips; other times only four days would separate my strength work to make up for those days away. The key was not missing any scheduled sessions and not letting climbing performance be the top priority. Plenty of time for that in the other six months of the year, during which I managed to stimulate several peaks, including one magical week in the perfect fall conditions when it seemed like I couldn’t tie in and step off the ground without sending or high-pointing/reducing hangs on a climb that had some meaning for me (I attribute this entirely to my lucky belayer, really; obviously this had nothing to do with a taper and a peak).
As I move into winter training this year, I am so psyched and ready to get stronger again, to devote this time to pushing my strength levels even higher as a top priority. This improved sport-relevant strength will support and drive improvements in power, power endurance, and endurance (and all of these skills will be concurrently trained, as well as technique and tactics, of course). Starting in January, I plan to share a number of my favorite weight-training exercises that other climbers might consider including in an effective weight-training program aimed at improving climbing strength. This series will be called “Lifts I Love” – though I promise I do not love them all in the moment I am doing them, but I do so love the outcome.