Tag Archives: climbing project

Seasonal Transitioning for Sport Climbers – Building Fitness, Planning Peaks and Preventing Plateaus

Did you boulder all winter to train your power? Don't expect to come out with awesome route-climbing fitness!

Did you boulder all winter to train your power? Don’t expect to come out with awesome route-climbing fitness!

You trained your weaknesses with dedication during your off-season, focusing on strength development in the areas you struggle with the most. And yet, during your first forays onto the rock this season, you feel worse than you did before.

What did you do wrong?

The answer, in all likelihood, is nothing.

Nothing, except for setting an unrealistic expectation that you would reap immediate and profoundly overwhelming results from your training in your rock climbing performance.

Those types of results are the exception rather than the rule.

For most of us most of the time, the results from training come much more gradually than we’d like them to, and it takes time to mold and adapt raw, gym-begotten strength and power gains into noticeable, usable gains in route-climbing performance. This tends to be true, too, for bouldering power gains, if you spent your winter season bouldering as your main training modality for working toward route-climbing power gains.

It will take time to build fitness into your strength gains, and it will also take time for your mind to fully understand how to utilize those gains to your advantage while you climb – in other words, old habits die hard, and you will probably have to work to make your body understand that it is stronger and indeed capable of doing moves that it may not have been able to do previously.

This need to build fitness into strength gains is also why I don’t recommend dropping all route-climbing training out of a program entirely during the off season, if climbing hard sport climbs is your top interest. Use it or lose it is always in play in athletics, so multiple months of not doing any type of power endurance or endurance training for climbing will leave you with a much bigger hole to climb out of than keeping those skills in play to a certain extent, even while you are primarily focused on strength training.

Having done this in the past – only trained strength – I can certainly affirm from my personal experience that it took more months to work my way back into route-climbing fitness after doing this. Keeping a little bit of fitness work in there while I focus on strength training helps make the transition easier and smoother.

For the same reason, once you start route climbing again as your main focus, you should try to avoid giving up on all strength training throughout your main climbing season. A shorter, more targeted maintenance program done less frequently can help you maintain the gains you have made in your off-season, rather than gradually detraining from your peak strength levels over the course of months and months of route climbing.

The maintenance strength-training program may also help prevent injuries, because of course, you will include opposition muscle work in the program to keep your body balanced. Keeping strength-training in play every two to three weeks can actually boost your performance over the season, as you may find yourself STILL gaining strength, even while it’s not the primary focus of your training.

This approach can also help you prevent plateaus by providing variety to your training – especially if you’re working on the same project or projects for much of the season. Remember, in training we want consistency, but not too much consistency. The body adapts to the demands placed on it, and if everything becomes too routine, that can be a perfect recipe for plateaus.

Also, keep in mind that the body can only hold a true performance peak for about a week, tops – something I will mention again and have mentioned before. It would be a wonderful thing if we could peak all of the time, or at least force the body into peaking exactly when we wanted it to whenever we wanted it to, but the reality is that it’s not an exact science. You’ll have to experiment to find the right balance between training, resting and peaking for yourself.

In general, if you are training hard and climbing hard but you start to feel your performance slip a little bit OR you are getting close to sending your project but just can’t seem to get there, you might be on the brink of having a performance breakthrough – if you can handle resting to stimulate a peak at this point.

This is counterintuitive for many of us, who want to push even harder to eke out the send. While this can happen, you might find that a few days off will lead you to emerge at a higher level of performance, allowing you to peak (send), and then moving into a new training cycle after that effort is complete.

Remember that it’s our minds that want and cling to weekly routines – but our bodies actually will respond better in most cases to a little less routine and a little more randomness. Undulating periodization, in which you stagger what you work on, how hard you work, how many days you climb and train, etc., can be perhaps even more effective in stimulating climbing-performance gains than a predictable exercise routine from week to week.

Summing it up:

  • It takes time for the body to adapt raw strength/power gains into route-climbing/fitness gains. Be patient. Enjoy the process of learning how to utilize new strength and power effectively.
  • Don’t drop your strength-training program during your route-climbing season. Lift at least every 2-3 weeks to maintain your strength gains and to stay balanced in your body.
  • Avoid plateaus by avoiding a completely regimented and predictable climbing/training schedule and routine.
  • Rest enough to stimulate peaks at appropriate times.
  • Understand that climbing at 100 percent of your potential 100 percent of the time is not possible.

Move of the Month 13: Resting on Routes, Part II – Managing Your Time

It's a total buttshot, yes, but here I am resting with body weight sunk down, chalking/shaking my left hand as I work to slow my breathing and heart rate.

It’s a total buttshot, yes, but here I am resting with body weight sunk down, chalking/shaking my left hand as I work to slow my breathing and heart rate.

Climber A steps off the ground in a hurry. He continues to speedily move up the rock without the slightest pause. Soon, he hits a point of no return, pumped and powered down. He falls off 20 moves into the route with an audible expulsion of breath.

Climber B pulls onto the rock very slowly. She pauses two moves into the climb to shake out. She makes two more moves. She pauses to shake out again, resting on handholds. She continues to climb like this, taking 10 times as long to reach the 20-move mark as climber A. She also falls, after shaking out for a while, about 20 moves into the route. She is not out of breath but is too powered down and pumped to continue.

You’ve probably observed both of these scenarios in your climbing experience. Possibly one of them resonates with you, reflecting your tendency when you climb.

Neither of these scenarios reflects an ideal climbing pace. Both Climber A and Climber B have not found the sweet spot for effectively resting while climbing.

Time management for resting on routes involves the following:

Where You Rest

The best rests will allow you to relax with straight arms on great handholds with awesome footholds directly under you. You can sink down and straighten your arms. You don’t need to shift your body position in the best resting spots. You can simply drop off one hand at a time, shaking it out behind your back or above your head, or alternating between the two. This is somewhat similar to jogging in place to recover from a sprint. Read more about this in the first MOM article on resting.

Of course, such perfect resting spots will not always be available. Work with what the route presents, always striving to find the most relaxed places to rest. Sometimes you’ll have to shift your body position for each arm to get a better shake out. Sometimes the footholds will be less than ideal. You may even find that you are resting with bent arms in certain situations. So long as you are truly getting something back, this can still work to your advantage.

If you’re Climber B, resting everywhere you can, work to wean yourself from taking rests you don’t really need. Build up comfort with doing more moves in a row. Rest when you actually have fatigue built up rather than wherever you can rest. This goes hand-in-hand with picking up your pace in climbing. I’ll discuss pacing in more detail in next month’s Move of the Month article.

If you’re Climber A, sprinting to failure, watch where most other climbers rest on the sequence in question. Then, try to rest there yourself, calming your breathing and bringing your heart rate down. Even if you get pumped there to start, with training, you will find yourself able to climb more effectively by incorporating rests into your climbing toolbox.

How Often You Rest

More endurance-oriented climbers like myself tend to climb more like Climber B. We cling to any holds we can hang on to, trying to make them into a rest rather than moving up.

Meanwhile, Climber A is sprinting, trying to outrace the pump.

A happy medium somewhere in between these two extremes usually yields better results. For me, choosing my rests wisely and spacing them out actually works better instead of preemptively resting on every hold possible. For Climber A, learning to slow things down will likely help in the long-term, though resting at all may seem pumpier at first.

In other words, Climber B will ultimately benefit from speeding things up a bit, while Climber A will benefit from slowing them down.

Training for the Rests (If Necessary)

“Resting just makes me more pumped!” argues Climber A, trying to explain the reason for the sprinting-to-failure approach. This indicates a need to train resting. Just like all other athletic skills, resting effectively is trainable. It’s simple, too. You just get on holds that you want to rest on, and you shake out there. You may need to play around with your body positioning to maximize the rest. Over time, you can usually transform rests that don’t feel restful into true rests where you get something back.

Climber B may have to train for certain rests, too. I certainly have had to train for too many rests to count. This experience helps me know that even if a needed rest on a route doesn’t feel particularly restful at first, I can train it.

How Long You Spend Resting

Climber A and Climber B may never meet in the middle on this point. Knowing how long to rest for the best benefits in your climbing will be highly individual. One climber may be literally able to “get it all back” spending 5 minutes shaking out. A different climber may find that after 15 or 30 seconds at a particular rest, he or she has to keep climbing, as the rest is no longer restful.

I use my heart rate and breathing as my first measure. I wait for them to slow down before proceeding on the climb, so long as the rest feels restful. Of course, using the feedback from your arms and hands and the rest of your body is part of resting, too. If you are getting more pumped from resting at what everyone else thinks is a good resting spot, you almost assuredly need to train your resting more!

For hard redpoint projects without awesome rests, I almost always have to train the rests as well as the moves. I experiment with lengthening and shortening the rests, seeing how this changes my performance on the next sequence of moves to the next rest. I usually settle in after a few tries on what feels like the best breath count for each rest. I count my breaths as I shake out at the rest. Then I move on from the rest into the next section of the route. The breath count can range from 10 to 500 breaths. It really depends on the quality of the rest!

One thing I’ve noticed is that as I’ve built strength and worked hard on climbing faster between rests, I don’t usually rest for as long as I used to on holds. I haven’t had a 500-count rest in a long time. These days, my rests tend to fall in the 10- to 100-breath range. Most often, they’re at about 30 to 50 breaths. How long I stay depends both on how taxing the rest is and on what’s coming up on the route.

Summing It Up

Choose your rests wisely, don’t be afraid to spend time training your rests, and learn how to use feedback from your body to effectively determine when it’s time to leave the rest and continue climbing. No matter who you are and what your climbing style is, focusing on time management when resting can make a huge difference in your climbing.

Winter Training Strategies: Looking Beyond Simply Strength Training for Climbing

My winter training season makes strength building a priority – but this doesn’t mean that I strength train in a void and stop training other relevant areas of climbing entirely. (Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo)

My winter training season makes strength building a priority – but this doesn’t mean that I strength train in a void and stop training other relevant areas of climbing entirely. (Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo)

There’s a tendency in those who utilize periodization methods for training to overemphasize whatever the focus of the current period of training is, neglecting other key areas of a person’s sport. This is not true just in climbing, but in other sports as well. I’ve done it myself – focused pretty much solely on one area of training for six weeks or six months or even longer – both with strength training and with using climbing as the top method of training for climbing and neglecting strength maintenance entirely.

Neither of these scenarios will yield optimal performance results, though. To excel at any given sport, you will want to keep all relevant skills and strengths in play to some extent at virtually all times throughout the training year, unless you happen to be involved in a sport that has a distinctive off-season in which no sports skills are practiced whatsoever. Even then, this off-season with no sport-skill practice will likely be relatively short – and when you resume training, you’ll want to get back to a smart and integrated training plan as quickly as possible.

Employing periodization effectively involves shifting the focus and priority of your training/climbing plan throughout a given training period, depending on when you wish to have peak performances and when you are more willing to dig in and work hard, sacrificing some performance in the short-term for longer-term results. Seasons can help make for relatively easy structuring of a training plan, whether these seasons are established via a competitive schedule or (in my case) by the changing of the weather. As I’ve mentioned before, my winter training season makes strength building a priority – but this doesn’t mean that I strength train in a void and stop training other relevant areas of climbing entirely. It simply means that I focus the lens of my training tightly on building sport-specific strength, and the other aspects are less important but are still in the frame of the picture, albeit a bit less in focus.

Keeping other skills in play means that a climber focused on strength training can have several other workouts each week (or in two-week cycle or month, however it makes sense to divide it up), in which they can shift the focus of the workout as follows:

  • Working on specific techniques or tactics that have emerged as needing improvement (moves, holds, angles, resting, workout fueling, mental approaches, etc.)
  • Building power (i.e. speed) into strength gains; working on explosive recruitment of muscles (via bouldering, drills, campusing, weight training)
  • Power endurance and endurance workouts, including workouts involving continuous high-intensity climbing movements for 12 to 20 or more moves (i.e. rest-recover-repeat workouts often structured as 4x4s and the likes), linked 4×4-style workouts where rest is taken on the wall rather than off, onsighting days, repeat redpoint effort days, competition practice days, pacing/breathing-focused workouts, etc.
  • Specific redpoint project training, if project(s) are known quantities, either inside or outside (or both), or area-style training (angle/hold/move/route length/route style specificity in training)
  • Recovery workouts, or climbing at a minimal effort level for a short time to facilitate recovery
  • Flexibility training

And so forth. But how do you decide what else to focus on in training, if strength is the primary area of focus? I suggest checking in with yourself and asking for feedback from others (or a coach/trainer if you have one) about the area(s) that stymie you the most – what is keeping you from reaching your climbing goals? This can help guide you in prioritizing what you work on next, assuming that you’ve made strength development a primary focus for your off-season, since strength gains usually take the most time to see significant improvement in for most people, and sport-relevant strength gains tend to have the most profound impact on other areas of skill development. Figuring out what’s next on your list is key to implementing an effective training program – and keeping the principle of SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) in mind can really help with this. The more you know about your goals, the more you can customize your training to support those goals – so if you know you want to crush a certain route of a certain angle and a certain number of moves and types of holds and so forth, you can really focus on developing the ideal skills to enable you to do that. You can do this not just by increasing relevant areas of strength to make the hard moves easier, but also by training similar numbers of moves on similar angles and holds, training the rests, the pacing, the breathing, and so forth, on your other training days during each weekly cycle. You can make up boulder problems that simulate the route cruxes and make them harder than the route cruxes. You can try to work those into routes in the gym. Creativity will help keep training interesting while specificity can help yield desired results faster. Of course most climbers won’t be training just for one route in particular, and this is a good thing – because too much consistency and little variety can lead to stagnation, overtraining, plateauing and overuse injuries.

My winter training plan is relatively flexible, taking into account the value of both consistency and variety within that consistency. I don’t adhere to a rigid schedule for weight training – meaning that while I won’t miss a weight-training workout that is on my schedule, I’ll adjust my schedule according to how I feel. Aside from that, I try to keep all the relevant skills in play at least once every couple of weeks, if not more. I try to prioritize these areas according to what I feel needs work/maintenance for me personally at this point, while at the same time making sure nothing gets left out for too long.

Keeping a training journal can really help you make sure you’re not neglecting any relevant area of training for climbing – if you look back and realize you’ve spent the last three weeks only bouldering, and only trying problems of 10 or fewer moves, and if you like to climb long, challenging routes, it’s probably a good idea to add in a power endurance/endurance focused session next time around. If you are only training longer routes for three weeks, consider adding in a power session next time around. It doesn’t have to be an exact science – and it may actually be better if it’s more random than that given the adaptability of the body to routines (which I’ve mentioned before), but it is important to keep challenging the body with enough regularity to maintain fitness in all the different directions that play into peak performance in your sport, or you will start to lose ground in those areas you neglect. Likewise, it’s key to prioritize your focus in training and to shift that focus regularly according to your preferred performance peak time – meaning that you have plenty of time each year in which you mold your strength gains into higher levels of power, power endurance and endurance, while still keeping strength training in play enough to maintain. And of course, you make room in your schedule for performance peaks, too – those awesome times when you reap the rewards for all your hard work!