Tag Archives: climbing project

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!

Release Your Expectations and Embrace Your Inspiration

Photo courtesy of Jody Sanborn/Jay Em Photography

Photo courtesy of Jody Sanborn/Jay Em Photography

“Action based on inspiration and not bound by expectation is truly free.” (from The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga, by Nicolai Bachman)

Staying present from moment to moment, being fully engaged in whatever activity you’re involved in, without anticipation about or stress over the potential reward or outcome…how often do you experience this type of timeless existence in your daily living?

Yoga asana practice can help focus the body-breath-being into one coherent whole, providing an opportunity to enjoy a worry-free, all-consuming experience of being wholly alive and unified mentally, physically and emotionally. Silencing the mental chatter, letting go of stress or concerns about the past or the future and staying present with where and who you are at this exact moment in time on the mat provides an outlet, a release, a freeing space and time in which you get to just be, without judgment from inside or from without. In yoga practice, you carve out a sacred personal space and time in which you do not allow media to bombard and barrage the senses, disconnecting from the otherwise often nearly constant slough of emails and texts and messages and social media that keep our minds hyped up and overstimulated.

Many other activities can provide this same opportunity for release, freedom from the stressors and stimuli of daily living, a chance to “get away from it all” without actually needing to escape to some far-flung island retreat. People find this type of release in running, climbing, dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, and playing any sport – a wide variety of such outlets exist. These outlets enable you to take the time to honor yourself by making the space in your world to give yourself an experience of just being whole and present and fully okay with who you are in the moment, not bringing extraneous “stuff” into that moment with you.

It’s the “stuff” that can actually violate or diminish your experience – if you invite expectations (thoughts of future gain or reward or frets about a potentially negative outcome) into your current actions, you have already sacrificed some of your experience of presence in the now. Admittedly, it can be really hard to detach from craving certain outcomes or fretting about worrisome expectations. However, if you can let go of such restraints and express and be who you are in each moment – and be okay with it, whatever the outcome, knowing that you are there to experience exactly who you are right now, with all your capabilities and all your human fallibilities too – you will be able to embrace, accept and enjoy whatever each period of practice in your given activity yields, whether it’s a sudden newfound ability to do a headstand without assistance, or an inability to high point your climbing project, or anything in between. Just being there and being present with who you happen to be on any given day, letting your inspiration guide you rather than any future expectations, will be enough.

“…whatever happens as a result of our action is exactly what is meant to happen, even if it doesn’t match what we expect.” (from The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga, by Nicolai Bachman)

Move of the Month 9: Breathing (Improve Your Climbing)

Image courtesy of dream designs at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs at freedigitalphotos.net

A number of years ago, as I watched a very strong climber working on a 5.14+, I was amazed to hear this person let out a long, obviously held breath after plummeting off the climb. It appeared that the breath-holding had begun at the start of the difficult section, and that this breath had been held throughout about 12 challenging, explosive moves of climbing.

Does this happen to you in your climbing, too?

If it does, consider putting some time and energy into training an improved awareness of your breath. Harnessing and utilizing the breath to your advantage can make a tremendous difference in your climbing performance – and potentially in other areas of your life as well. For an excellent and detailed explanation on exactly how breathing contributes to athletic and general life performance, read Want to Improve Your Performance? Breathe! and also, check out Waiting to Exhale…and then return here for ideas about learning to use breathing to your advantage specifically in your climbing.

I start my rhythmic breathing before I even step off the ground onto a climb. I liken this to yogic Ujjayi breathing (What is Ujjayi?). When I reach a rest, if my breathing pace has sped up, I work to smooth and lengthen my breath back to my original pace, focusing all of my attention on my breathing. I use breath counts at each rest, meaning that on a familiar redpoint project, I will gradually come to decide on the ideal amount of breaths I need to take at each resting spot to prepare for the next section of the climb, and I will count off these inhales and exhales in my mind as I rest and shake out. If I need more breaths to recover on any given day on a familiar climb, this usually indicates that I’m not fully recovered for the climbing day itself.

If you struggle with breath-holding and regulating your breathing in climbing or just in general, consider taking yoga classes that encourage you to become more aware and connected to your breath and movement working together. Learning to coordinate inhales and exhales with specific and often increasingly complex asanas throughout a yoga class may help you become better at doing this in climbing situations. One nice aspect of asana practice is that it’s not generally performance or outcome-based (unlike sport climbing), so you can really take the time to focus on the breathing aspect of the practice if you so choose, and then work to bring this improved connection into your climbing bit by bit as it becomes more normal and natural for your inhales and exhales to flow smoothly while you move through a practice.

As with all relatively new climbing techniques and tactics, it’s easiest to begin working on them and employing them in non-peak situations, meaning that bringing your awareness to your breathing while you warm up or while you’re climbing more familiar, sub-threshold climbing efforts will be easier than immediately trying to breath in an ideal fashion on the most challenging climbs you’re trying at the moment. This is not to say that it’s not worth attempting to employ smarter breathing practices immediately – it is. But it’s always harder to break old habits when you’re trying as hard as you can. As with all training efforts, rewiring your breathing patterns will take time, effort and patience. Stick with it, and you will most likely be pleased with the results – such improved stamina, focus, and ability to recover on the rock, to name a few.