Tag Archives: climbing training

Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (B)

Include moves that make you uncomfortable when you encounter them on a route after a bunch of other moves -- like dynos are for me.

Include moves that make you uncomfortable when you encounter them on a route after a bunch of other moves — like dynos are for me.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Tactic 1: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) in the gym. In HIIT, you train your body to climb hard at a relatively quick pace without losing your ability to maintain solid technical and tactical maneuvering (i.e. maintaining control while pushing at your limit). If you have route goals outside (and you know the routes or can obtain information about them), this can help you structure these workouts more specifically (recall the SAID principle of training – specific adaptations to imposed demands) to your advantage.

Step 1: Create several boulder problems or routes inside that have roughly the same amount and types of moves you have to perform between rests/shakes on the route(s) you wish to redpoint. If you don’t have any projects in mind, then try to create problems (or routes made up of several “problems,” as so many routes are outside) ranging from 10 to 30+ moves, focusing on the types of moves or sequences of movements that you routinely struggle with. One way to do this is to create problems with themes, such as dynamic movement, slopers, small holds, lots of one-foot-only on moves, etc. You want these problems to be challenging, but not ridiculous. For known projects, you may start with moves that are slightly easier than the moves that challenge you outside. You can also start with slightly harder sequences or moves than those you encounter on the route(s) – so long as you can do them inside without falling at least one time per session.

Your aim is to be able to climb several of these problems per session cleanly, with no shaking out or resting as you climb them (anywhere from 4 to 20 laps total per session, depending on the intensity/difficulty/length of each problem), taking timed rests in between the problems. I usually start with 5 minutes and work down from there. As you improve at sending each problem multiple times, you’ll want to start decreasing the rest times between efforts, which will eventually lead to you to Step 2.

Step 2: Linkage with shakes on the wall. Once you’re able to handily send all the sections of your redpoint route project recreated indoors (or your imaginary route project made up of several long boulder problems created to target all of the areas of your climbing that need the most work), you’ll ideally want to start trying to sew it together without rests off the wall. So you’ll climb the first part of the route (the first boulder problem) to a rest – preferably one that mimics the rest you’ll get outside – and shake out there until you feel ready to move into part two, and so forth, until you send.

Step 3: Take it to the project outside (see next week’s entry for details). Or, if the moves were slightly easier to start with, now you’ll incorporate harder moves into your HIIT training routine, perhaps ending up sending a route that is even harder than your outdoor project.

Note that it’s important to not fall into a “too-specific” training rut here – you want specificity, but not to the point that you forgo all other types of climbing-related movements that challenge you because of training for a single project (unless that’s all that’s really important to you right now and you don’t care if you lose some ability in other areas). The simple solution to this is to have more than one mix of problems you can try (i.e. more than one full boulder-problem route that you’ll eventually link), or even more simply, to change the order of problems (if it’s not a specific route you’re training for) from session to session.

Also note that this is high-intensity training, meaning that quality and intensity of the sessions count for more than volume/frequency. If you’re training at a hard enough level to elicit training gains, you should aim to do this type of training two or three times a week, tops. If you have other training elements in your training program right now (such as power-focused bouldering/training or weight/strength/resistance training, for example), once or twice a week will likely be more effective and efficient in helping you see quicker gains while avoiding overtraining or “plateau-area” training, in which you can’t truly push hard because you’re never recovered enough to truly push hard.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (C)

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 & Training Helpful Hints & Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (A)

Smart lactate threshold training starts with establishing a solid base of consistent and challenging climbing.

Smart lactate threshold training starts with establishing a solid base of consistent and challenging climbing efforts.

Continuing last week’s discussion about lactic acid and lactate, this week’s entry turns to practical advice based on the concept that lactate is an athlete’s friend, not foe. And it turns out that despite having the science behind lactic acid/lactate incorrect (i.e. it’s a help rather than a hindrance to working muscles), lactate threshold training – something that has long been employed as a sports training tactic – still holds great value for athletes, but for a different reason than used to be assumed.

“The aim is to teach your body to consume lactate more quickly, not to avoid ‘poisoning’ your muscles with too much lactate,” as Alex Hutchinson explains in “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise.”

To put this very simplistically into climbing terms: If you train your body to use lactate faster, you can potentially resist fatigue for longer when you’re climbing, meaning you can do more moves at a higher percentage of your maximal ability level for a longer time, and you can recover and do this again with greater ease – a major goal for most sport climbers out there.

I don’t want to get into a nitpicky, overly analytical prescription here involving target heart rates and training zones and such. What I want to do instead is to give a few general, highly employable training tactics that you might find will help you increase your body’s ability to use lactate for fuel – or in other words, to avoid the pump for longer and longer periods of time/numbers of moves.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Preparatory Training: Lactate threshold training is quite uncomfortable and taxing (you’re working on getting pumped on purpose!), and it should not be pursued without a solid training base. Establish a solid base level of climbing/training volume that you can manage in every week, with a rest week thrown in once every four to six weeks. One of the biggest reasons that new training regimens fail is the “too much, too soon” paradigm, in which the excited climber (or other athlete) jumps full-on into a new, more difficult training regimen without taking the time to establish a solid base level of sport-specific fitness. Note that for climbing, this does not include cyclical endurance exercises like running, cycling or swimming; you want to build a fitness base for climbing – so CLIMB!

Developing a suitable base for more structured/intense lactate threshold training for climbing involves a regular amount of time spent climbing or training for climbing in each week (2 to 4 days, depending on intensity of sessions), and, please, not just climbing laps on routes that are easy for you. Your workouts should include challenging moves and challenging series of moves that take you out of your comfort zone. You may already have a base like this – but if you don’t, it’s a good place to start before taking on a more regimented plan to push beyond your comfort zone.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (B)

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 & Training Myths & Misconceptions 1: The Lactic Acid Myth (IYC Series)

Mean-spirited lactic acid creeps into your muscles to burn them and render them useless...right?!  Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mean-spirited lactic acid creeps into your muscles to burn them and render them useless…right?!
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just the term “lactic acid” resonates with evil, conjuring up the image of acid pouring into working muscles and eventually burning them into submission. Lactic acid seems like such a perfect culprit to blame for pumped forearms or even for delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS – the topic for the second set of entries in this series, coming up a few weeks down the road).  This supposedly villainous substance can rise to such concentrated levels when we exercise that we can no longer use our hands and arms properly.

Right?

If you listen to plenty of climbers, announcers for other sports, athletes and coaches, and even (most surprisingly to me) to a college-level course that I recently took, this is dead-on. According to these sources, when we work out at a high level, after a certain period of time, lactic acid eventually just saturates our muscles, and then we’re done.

Only, this isn’t really the case.

“Lactic acid [actually, lactate] is in fact a crucial fuel for your muscles, not a painful waste product,” explains Alex Hutchinson in his excellent book, “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise.” This book compiles numerous interesting discoveries and clarifications emerging from recent exercise science research. Grab a copy and read the third chapter for more details about how the lactic acid myth came into being (in 1907), and how long it has taken to get it out of currency (well, it’s still out there, providing a perfect example of how common knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean correct knowledge – something that is very important to keep in mind when evaluating all things related to training, exercise and trying to improve your climbing!).

Lactate is a friend for working muscles, not a foe. Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lactate is a friend for working muscles, not a foe. Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“In fact,” Hutchinson clarifies, “you’re constantly converting your carbohydrate stores into lactate, even when you’re at rest.” And right away, your body converts roughly half of this lactate into ATP. This conversion doesn’t require oxygen (it’s anaerobic). When you exercise, that number can rise to 80 percent of lactate generated being used to power working muscles. Fit athletes, while churning out about the same amount of lactate as unfit folks, can use that lactate more effectively for fuel.

High levels of blood lactate during intense exercise signify a body that’s not as efficient at using lactate for fuel – not muscles drowning in copious amounts of lactic acid that’s eating away at their ability to function.

So what does account for that burning pump that makes it so hard to hang on for one more move for so many climbers?

Until recently, scientists had yet to come up with solid evidence for the causes of this – but (very!) recent research has shed new light on some of the possible physiological mechanisms responsible the fatigue and pain that can force us to call it quits, whether we want to or not. Check out “What Causes Muscle Pain During Hard Exercise?,” a June 2014 article by Hutchinson published in “Runner’s World,” for details on one possible explanation – that it’s a specific mix of metabolites (products of metabolism) that, when they build up together, prompt this type of muscle fatigue and pain, as evidenced by a study published in the April 2014 issue of “Experimental Physiology.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this study is the fact that none of the metabolites on their own led to feelings of fatigue or pain; it was only the combination of metabolites together that did this. As the authors of the study concluded, “This is the first demonstration in humans that metabolites normally produced by exercise act in combination to activate sensory neurons that signal sensations of fatigue and muscle pain.”

The jury is still out, though, on whether it’s these feelings of pain and fatigue that cause you to stop being able to function continuously at the same level, or if there’s another (or several other!) mechanism(s) involved that actually slow down the muscles and makes them less responsive that’s independent of the pain and fatigue messages being sent to your brain via your metabolite-sensitive nerves.

Want to read more? Check out “Lactic acid restores skeletal muscle force in an in vitro fatigue model: are voltage-gated chloride channels involved?” and “The Myth of Lactic Acid Refuses to Go Away!” (the latter has numerous links to more articles about this sports myth as well).

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints & Suggestions 1: Lactate Threshold Training, Part 1

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!