Happy New Year 2015! Improve Your Climbing Turns Two

3aWhen I first set out to write a series of entries here aimed at helping others improve their climbing two years ago, I never thought I’d still be writing these entries two years later. I set out with the intention to try to set down and summarize what I’ve learned and concluded from all of the research I’ve done both via reading and in the field about training for and improving at climbing. My aim was and continues to be only to provide information about effective and efficient ways for others to improve their climbing.

Of course, along the way, I’m sure my views have shifted here and there from what I originally wrote even a couple years ago; such is the nature of learning and being open to new ideas as they come along. Still, though, I’ve enjoyed trying to put into words what I feel may help others on their journeys to being improved climbers, while also recognizing and realizing that all things do not apply or work for all people — such is the nature of human individuality in all things.

As Improve Your Climbing turns over into year three, I am not certain how much longer this series will continue (though there are definitely still 3-4 more entries left in the current series about climbing being the best training for climbing and plateaus) — from the start it was an open-ended endeavor, and again, I never thought I’d be writing it for as long as I have!

In any case — Improve Your Climbing returns next Friday with Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But…Part 8. I hope you’ve enjoyed whatever parts of the series you’ve read, and that you’re excited to improve your climbing in 2015, or if not, to just have the most fun this year you’ve ever had doing whatever it is you love! Happy New Year!

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 7 (IYC 17)

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Plateaus (4): Climbing (Relatively) Easy Stuff and/or Only Stuff That Plays to Your Strengths Is Not (cont’d)

This entry continues the discussion started in last week’s entry about a climbing plateau being cause (in whole or in part) by: a) the climbing being undertaken regularly is too easy (i.e. lacking in intensity) and/or plays to the climber’s strengths/comfort too much (i.e. too much familiarity/routine) to illicit any further notable adaptions in terms of visible, chartable progression in climbing ability level.

Again, this factor in plateauing ties directly into two well-known training principles that I’ve mentioned before – SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands), and the overload principle (OP). And yes, you can still feel like you’re giving it your all every day you climb or train, but still stagnate due to the factors involved in this sort of plateauing.

More great ways to stimulate a plateau from this approach include the following:

  • Always doing the same routine at the crag or in the gym (i.e. having a circuit) where you can go in and easily send/run laps on the same routes or styles/difficulties of routes. This may be good from a general fitness maintenance standpoint, just like running the same route an hour a day, five days a week would be decent for long-term fitness maintenance, but if you want to improve, you need to impose OP – the overload principle. In other words, you need to change up the routine and make it harder to continue to see gains, and the better you get (the more fit you get), the harder (more intense!) your workouts need to be if you want to continue to see improvements instead of staying where you are (or even decreasing a little – bodies are really adaptable and efficient!). You need variety and intensity to keep improvements going, not a plodding routine of the same old difficulty, length of workouts and terrain, day in and day out.
  • Always climbing at the same area or seeking out climbs of the same/similar style while avoiding those with holds, angles, styles and lengths you’re less comfortable with. Of course, this is fine if you don’t care about climbing anything but your favorite style or only at a particular area. This phenomenon might be what’s happening if you find you can climb a certain grade at your home area or on a particular angle or style of climb, but nowhere near that grade on another style/angle or at a different area. Grading discrepancies aside, this can often be accounted for by the fact that if you never climb on a particular style or angle of climbing, you will be less likely to do well on it or be adapted to it than you will be to your preferred angles, styles or areas. If you changed it up more, you might actually develop new skill sets, strengths and tactics that would help you improve at your more familiar terrain as well. Predictable routine is the enemy of improving athletic skills and strengths, both.
  • Never trying anything really hard (and I mean really hard!) or understanding how to push the body in climbing (or training) to failure. You might find this surprising, depending on who you are, but I’ve definitely seen this in action – when climbers don’t know what their body is capable of so are prone to giving up long before they’ve actually pushed the body hard enough to make any desired adaptations. This is actually really common in general training as well – people tend to select weights that are too light to actually stimulate any changes in their strength when they lift (far more often than they pick weights that are too heavy for them). Intensity in training is HUGE – and not only in terms of physical adaptations, but also helping your brain to learn that it can usually go farther than it “thinks” it can (i.e. you can often climb a lot farther than when you initially think you’re coming off a route; if you can harness that and push until you really do fall, you’re into the OP territory and can stimulate training gains from that type of intensity). Also note that by “failure,” I don’t mean climbing 20 easy or moderate routes until you can’t hang on anymore because your skin hurts so much or you feel tired, but rather, I mean climbing routes with movements and sequences that are really challenging to you – and pushing really hard to get through those moves and sequences.

These are just a few examples of how a plateau can happen (in whole or in part) by: a) the climbing being undertaken regularly is too easy (i.e. lacking in intensity) and/or plays to the climber’s strengths/comfort too much (i.e. too much familiarity/routine) to illicit any further notable adaptions in terms of visible, chartable progression in climbing ability level.

More on what might cause a plateau next time, when I discuss b) the climbing being undertaken regularly does not offer the most efficient 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.”

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 6 (IYC 17)

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Plateaus (3): Climbing (Relatively) Easy Stuff and/or Only Stuff That Plays to Your Strengths Is Not

Let’s say you’re well on your journey with climbing like I am and you’ve hit the plateau. You’re not overtraining or undertraining – you’re recovering just fine between sessions, and you’re climbing three or four+ days a week on routes that feel hard for you. Perhaps what’s happening here, at least in part, is that a) the climbing being undertaken regularly is too easy (i.e. lacking in intensity) and/or plays to the climber’s strengths/comfort too much (i.e. too much familiarity/routine) to illicit any further notable adaptions in terms of visible, chartable progression in climbing ability level (or a little bit of both, as the case may be, along with other factors, too!).

This factor in plateauing ties directly into two well-known training principles that I’ve mentioned before – SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands), and the overload principle (OP). And yes, you can still feel like you’re giving it your all every day you climb or train, but still stagnate due to the factors involved in this sort of plateauing.

Great ways to stimulate a plateau from this approach include the following:

  • Assuming you want to climb harder grades, climbing for volume rather than for intensity can place you on a plateau. Generally speaking, the more days/pitches you climb, the less hard you can expect to climb (within reason – obviously you need to climb sometimes!). Volume and intensity are inversely related. So if you regularly climb 15 pitches a day, 5 days a week, you’re probably not climbing as hard as you could. Climbing for difficulty in sport climbing and bouldering in general tends to require supreme outputs of power and strength. If you’re putting out maximal amounts of strength and power (or even close to them), you will need to rest regularly in order to recover and make gains in those areas. Bodies only get stronger with rest. If you’re climbing really hard and can still climb at such a high volume as I mentioned before – congratulations. But I’d also be willing to bet that with more rest (especially with a training plan with resting periods built in to stimulate peaks), you’d be able to climb even harder. Though everybody needs different amounts of rest time to recover, it is true for everyone that rest is required for recovery and adaptations to new levels of performance…and not just a few hours of sleep between every climbing session.
  • Working on one project and only one project, ever, for months or years on end and rarely or never trying any other climbs that challenge you at all (i.e. only doing easy warm-ups and cool-downs). Your body might adapt just enough to make incremental progress on the project, or it may ultimately plateau on the project if the project is near your real potential (genetic potential), and/or you can’t effectively/efficiently stimulate the gains required for the project by training only on the project (this can happen especially if you have multiple factors contributing to your inability to send – which is often the case – i.e. your shoulders aren’t strong enough but also you’re getting pumped, and you always get so pumped that you don’t really get to work your shoulders enough on the project to get them stronger enough to make a difference, etc.). You might also find that when you’re done with the project, you can’t climb anything else nearly as hard – you’ve conditioned yourself to be adapted for JUST the moves on the project, a beautiful example of SAID in action.

Next week’s entry will discuss more possible causes for plateaus of this kind.

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!

Climber. Writer. Aspiring Yogi. Climbing Coach/Trainer. Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200). ACTION Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Avid Lifelong Learner.

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