Tag Archives: climbing project

Sport Climbing Tips: Picking Out Your Projects


Do you love to project hard routes as much as I do?

If your answer is, “Heck no, I just climb for fun/exercise/recreation and get on whatever,” then this article is not for you!

However, if you love to project routes (i.e. give multiple attempts on routes until you redpoint them…or not, as the case may be!), or you want to give projecting a shot, read on.

As a longtime project climber, I have found that the following approaches work best for me:

  1. Sample what is out there before you settle on your project(s). Even on a super-short trip, getting on more than one route will give you more of a taste of what an area has to offer. Of course, if the first potential project you try is the most awesome climb you’ve ever tried…well, go ahead and stick with it if it makes you happy. I still usually like to try a few routes before I project anything, though – that’s just my preference.
  2. I think it’s good to have more than one project at a time. I like having a number of projects going that involve different styles, skills, and difficulty levels. I usually have shorter-term, easier projects (routes I know I can do fairly quickly), and I save those for the days when I don’t feel super awesome, actually. This works for me, because I want to put my full-energy, best days into my dream projects, the routes that push me and that I’m not sure I can ever send. I climb to push my limits more than anything, so I enjoy having one or two long-term projects like this.
  3. Having more than one project at a time keeps boredom at bay and helps me avoid repetitive use injuries, too. It also helps me avoid stagnating/plateauing on any given project (mentally and physically). Having just one project can lead a person to develop the skills and strengths for that route and that route alone, and then when they get on something else of a similar difficulty, even in a similar style, they might find themselves stymied. Keeping diversity in the projecting can help keep this from happening.
  4. About those “dream projects:” I think these are a great idea so long as you don’t get frustrated or pissed or put expectations on yourself about when you “should” send them by. For a dream project to work for me, I must absolutely love the climb from start to finish. No moves that I loathe or dread – even the hard moves are amazing and fun. Because we’re going to have such a long relationship, I feel that it’s important to love a project like this. A dream project pushes me harder than the projects I can send in a reasonable amount of time. Dream projects make me a better climber; they also teach patience and perseverance. Progress is measured in small ways, and this can become a beautiful process of learning, patience, and self-discovery.
  5. I always try to include a project or two, dream project or no, that really test and work my weak links – providing me with a steady stream of stimuli to try to improve those areas every time I get on those routes. I also always try to include a project or two that cater more to my strengths – because it’s fun to feel strong and to climb to your strengths.
  6. I don’t feel obligated to stick with a project if I start to get bored with it or don’t like it or something else captures my attention more. Climbing is supposed to be fun (right?), so if a project is not enjoyable for you to try anymore, you might want to take a break – maybe just for a few days or weeks, or maybe forever.
  7. I do what I feel like on any given day of climbing, and it’s totally my choice. Above all, never forget that it’s up to you; it’s your climbing. You do it for you and for nobody else. Do what you like!

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.