Maintaining Strength During the Climbing Season

Climbing outside is so much fun that it's easy to ditch training for months on end -- but you might regret it if you do.

Climbing outside is so much fun that it’s easy to ditch training for months on end — but you might regret it if you do.

Do you ditch training entirely during the climbing season, and just climb for months on end as your training?

Let me start by saying that if you just want to climb and you don’t mind a) losing strength gains gradually over the course of the season; and b) potentially incurring some repetitive use injuries or muscle imbalances, you should go right ahead with this plan.

However, if you would like to avoid a) and b) both, you’ll likely want to keep some of the strength training elements from your off-season training plans in play during your on-season. You will just want to severely taper down the volume of each workout as well as the frequency of workouts. You do this to avoid cutting into your actual climbing performance as much as possible.

The question changes from “How much of this type training can I get away with and still make gains?” to “How little of this type of training can I get away with without losing my gains?”

You shift the focus of your lens to performance climbing, but strength work has to stay in the periphery, as does opposition muscle work, for best results in terms of strength maintenance and overall body balance.

The steps I take in my program involve the following:

  1. Examine my list of strength-training exercises I do in the off season, and try to whittle out any that I don’t deem completely necessary. This is hard for me as there’s a reason for each exercise I do!
  2. With that list in hand, I prioritize the exercises, and split them into two or three shorter lists of 3 to 6 exercises that can be done together. Each list represents one short workout. I am free to combine them if I want to stack workouts, though – it’s up to me!
  3. In each workout, I do way fewer sets of each exercise. I still try to lift heavy, though – this is strength maintenance, after all.
  4. I try to not go to failure. I definitely try to leave one rep in the tank, lifting to fatigue rather than failure. I lift the same weight I have been lifting throughout my strength-training cycle. Sometimes I even add weight, as I have consistently gotten stronger during my climbing seasons the past few years, too.
  5. I lift far less frequently. I aim to get a lifting session in at least once a month (working to hit all lifts on my list at least 1x a month), but no more than 2x a month.
  6. I try to lift when it interferes with my outdoor climbing performance the least – when I know I’ll have a bunch of rest after lifting. But at the same time, if that month deadline looms, I bite the bullet and lift anyhow (usually!).
  7. I understand that lifting during my performance season may negatively impact my performance in the short-term, immediate future. Over the long-term, the benefits of keeping my muscles strong and balanced outweighs this short-term drain on performance.

By keeping lifting in play through the climbing season, you may actually end your season stronger in terms of pure strength than you started it. You also will be working more on climbing fitness, movement, tactics, and technique throughout your season(s) outside. This means that by the end of your season, you may be experiencing new peaks in performance that weren’t possible the previous season. And then, you’ll repeat for better results in the future.

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2 thoughts on “Maintaining Strength During the Climbing Season”

  1. Alli, your blog has really grown on me. Thanks for making the effort! Much appreciated.

    Just wondering if you do any maintenance finger work during the summer? Hangboarding in particular. I feel I need to continue 3-4 times a month or my fingers gradually get weaker over the summer season.

    1. Hi, Mark, and thanks for your comment. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the articles! I personally do strength maintenance work on all areas that are related to climbing performance during the summer, so yes, I work on maintaining finger strength. How much I work on them (and other areas) really depends on how fatigued and sore I am from climbing outside (in other words, how much have they already been worked on via climbing?). However, I always aim to do a strength session for every relevant area a minimum of 1x a month during my busy climbing season.

      Since every person is different, you may find that working on them 3-4x a month is necessary for you to maintain strength. Where and what you climb on will also impact this need, of course — the more finger-intensive the area and the more finger-strength-intensive the area, the less likely you are to lose ground by not strength training outside of climbing.

      It sounds like you already have a strong sense of what you need to do to maintain your finger strength, and you’re doing the right thing for yourself to make that happen. Hope you have a great summer of climbing!

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