Category Archives: Training Talk

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 11 (IYC 17)

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

For those wishing to improve their climbing effectively and efficiently, the ideal amount of time spent “just climbing” vs. structured climbing training (i.e. employing drills and exercises focusing on areas that need work in a climbing context) vs. strength training outside of climbing is a matter of figuring out the appropriate amount of time to dedicate to each activity, given where you are in your life as a climber and where you are in the training year, too.

This will involve some trial and error, for sure, and what will be most effective for you really depends on your particular situation. In general, though, those interested in engaging with training for climbing beyond “just climbing” should keep in mind the following:

  • Beginner climbers should spend the largest portion of their training time dedicated to “just climbing,” but ideally always with a mind to learning and improving tactical/technical skills. Getting feedback from others and observing more experienced climbers is a great way to hasten this process. Training off the rock most or all of the time will not teach you how to rock climb or make you much of a better climber without a lot of time spent on the rock, too.
  • More experienced climbers/trainers should spend proportionately more time working on less-strong areas that hold them back using outside of climbing strength-training methods than the beginners should, and beginners should spend more time climbing and less time training such areas of concern – though they should definitely still give them some attention.
  • The less you’ve trained a specific area that holds you back, the more potential gains you are likely to make in that area, whether it’s technical, tactical, physical (strength, power, power endurance, endurance), or mental.
  • The more you’ve trained a specific area that holds you back, the fewer potential gains you are likely to make in that area, whether it’s technical, tactical, physical (strength, power, power endurance, endurance), or mental.
  • If you’ve been climbing for a long time and you’ve utterly ignored an area of climbing or training, you have way more potential to improve than someone who has trained all relevant areas equally and efficiently and effectively right from the get-go.
  • Neither beginning climbers/trainers nor experienced climbers/trainers should spend all their training time strength training a particular area (for example) in every workout all year long, even if it’s their weakest link. Training should be varied enough to avoid overtraining, burnout, overuse injuries and boredom.
  • Both groups should spend plenty of time training by using climbing as training, but viewing almost every day as a training opportunity when you’re aware of your areas that hold you back and choosing moves, routes, angle, sequences and styles that push you is a great way to implement more focus and direction into your climbing without making it all about training, all the time.
  • Don’t do any of this if it makes your climbing too serious and never fun, unless you enjoy being too serious and never having any fun. Balance training days or months with days or weeks or even months dedicated to doing whatever you want at whatever level you want. Training is a big-picture, long-term prospect, and most sports do have an off-season for refreshing and renewing psych. Climbers would do well to remember this! 100 percent peak performance all the time is impossible, no matter who you are.

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!

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!

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 9 (IYC 17)

DCIM101GOPRO

Plateaus (6): “Just Climbing” Probably Isn’t the Best Training for Climbing…for Anyone

This week’s entry continues the discussion from last week about a climbing plateau caused by b) the climbing being undertaken regularly does not offer the most efficient/effective means by which to address the climber’s specific and personal weaknesses, meaning that he or she may get tiny, incremental bits of progress here and there from this climbing, but that if a more specific program of training were undertaken, gains would likely come more quickly and efficiently than they would through continuing the program of “just climbing as training for climbing.”

What I’ve learned as I’ve gained and continue to gain strength and power (strength gained largely through a targeted program of weight/resistance training, which I then mold via climbing training into climbing-specific power, etc.) is that what I thought were solid technical/tactical solutions were actually more often than not just my way of compensating for my lack of ability to perform the move(s) the way a stronger climber would – in other words, being stronger from the start (or closer to it) would have opened up different techniques to me more quickly, and many of these techniques would likely be considered the most efficient or effective solution to the move(s) in question by the majority of climbers.

I just use myself here as an example of when I feel, in my case, that basic strength training would have been appropriate to add into my climbing world, and I feel that I would have benefited from it right from the start, given the set of strengths/weaknesses I brought to the sport and that I was an adult when I first started climbing. But still – if I had to pick only one training component to include for someone like me back when I started, I would still say that climbing was MORE important – again, because without actually climbing, how could a person learn to climb and develop all of the complex technical and tactical skills necessary to grow and improve as a climber?

That being said, though, sport-specific strength (or a lack thereof) can eventually limit/constrain technical and tactical development, too (as I’ve learned); you can develop your own weird technical/tactical solutions that aren’t really that efficient for most folks to compensate for your weaknesses – but then if and when you do get stronger in those areas of weakness, you might find yourself forgoing those techniques/tactics and understanding that, “Hey, I just wasn’t strong enough to do moves like this this way before, but now that I am, I can see why it’s considered ‘good technique’ by most climbers.”

So to sum this up – if you’re plateauing from “just climbing,” it might be worth looking a) at the content, structure, intensity, volume, frequency, and routine components of your climbing sessions, and making some adjustments there; and b) adding in some specific, personalized climbing training exercises AND outside-of-climbing strength-training elements to your training plans to try to more efficiently and effectively stimulate the gains you’re after and to bust that plateau. More on both of the above next time!

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!