Tag Archives: climbing

Maintaining Strength During the Climbing Season

Climbing outside is so much fun that it's easy to ditch training for months on end -- but you might regret it if you do.

Climbing outside is so much fun that it’s easy to ditch training for months on end — but you might regret it if you do.

Do you ditch training entirely during the climbing season, and just climb for months on end as your training?

Let me start by saying that if you just want to climb and you don’t mind a) losing strength gains gradually over the course of the season; and b) potentially incurring some repetitive use injuries or muscle imbalances, you should go right ahead with this plan.

However, if you would like to avoid a) and b) both, you’ll likely want to keep some of the strength training elements from your off-season training plans in play during your on-season. You will just want to severely taper down the volume of each workout as well as the frequency of workouts. You do this to avoid cutting into your actual climbing performance as much as possible.

The question changes from “How much of this type training can I get away with and still make gains?” to “How little of this type of training can I get away with without losing my gains?”

You shift the focus of your lens to performance climbing, but strength work has to stay in the periphery, as does opposition muscle work, for best results in terms of strength maintenance and overall body balance.

The steps I take in my program involve the following:

  1. Examine my list of strength-training exercises I do in the off season, and try to whittle out any that I don’t deem completely necessary. This is hard for me as there’s a reason for each exercise I do!
  2. With that list in hand, I prioritize the exercises, and split them into two or three shorter lists of 3 to 6 exercises that can be done together. Each list represents one short workout. I am free to combine them if I want to stack workouts, though – it’s up to me!
  3. In each workout, I do way fewer sets of each exercise. I still try to lift heavy, though – this is strength maintenance, after all.
  4. I try to not go to failure. I definitely try to leave one rep in the tank, lifting to fatigue rather than failure. I lift the same weight I have been lifting throughout my strength-training cycle. Sometimes I even add weight, as I have consistently gotten stronger during my climbing seasons the past few years, too.
  5. I lift far less frequently. I aim to get a lifting session in at least once a month (working to hit all lifts on my list at least 1x a month), but no more than 2x a month.
  6. I try to lift when it interferes with my outdoor climbing performance the least – when I know I’ll have a bunch of rest after lifting. But at the same time, if that month deadline looms, I bite the bullet and lift anyhow (usually!).
  7. I understand that lifting during my performance season may negatively impact my performance in the short-term, immediate future. Over the long-term, the benefits of keeping my muscles strong and balanced outweighs this short-term drain on performance.

By keeping lifting in play through the climbing season, you may actually end your season stronger in terms of pure strength than you started it. You also will be working more on climbing fitness, movement, tactics, and technique throughout your season(s) outside. This means that by the end of your season, you may be experiencing new peaks in performance that weren’t possible the previous season. And then, you’ll repeat for better results in the future.

Sport Climbing Tips: Picking Out Your Projects

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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!

Move of the Month 15: The Heel Hook (Improve Your Climbing!)

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I used to not use heel hooks much beyond just setting my heel on a hold to take some weight off of my arms and hands.

The more steep rock I’ve climbed, the more this has changed.

Using heel hooks to rest is an awesome technique, for sure. It can provide your upper body with a much-needed respite. To do this, you simply place your heel on a hold when you’re resting and shaking out your arms and hands. If it alleviates the strain on your upper body more, it’s probably a good choice for resting. This is usually a fairly passive heel hook, meaning your leg muscles won’t be working hard in the heel hook. Of course, there has to be a solid hold available to heel hook to make this work for you!

There are times when a resting heel hook will be extremely stressful on your leg(s), though. This can happen if you’re wrapping a heel around a corner and digging into the rock (compressing) with that heel to get weight off your hands and arms and upper body. It can also happen more often on steep rock than vertical terrain – that the rest position is stressful on the legs, whether you’re heel hooking or not.

Using heel hooks to help advance your progress up the rock adds another dimension to this move – and it’s a great example of how having strong legs can help your climbing.

If you’re sitting and reading this, extend your leg out rest your heel on the floor. Now, press into that heel and notice how all the muscles on the back of your leg engage. Drag your heel along the floor toward you and feel the muscles you use to do this motion. Those are the muscles that you’ll engage to help leverage active heel hooks to your advantage, whether you’re actually pulling your way up higher on the rock with that leg motion, or holding the heel hook in one spot so that you can advance your hands up to higher holds.

I didn’t really get how to use my legs aggressively in heel hooks when I started my journey into the realm of steeper climbing. As I learned how to do this – how to really engage and pull with my legs – it has helped me enormously. I’ve concurrently worked to strengthen the muscles involved in this motion, not just to be better at it but also, to help me avoid injuring my leg muscles.

Climbers sometimes get hurt by trying to use active heel hooks and not having the leg strength for them. This can lead to hamstrings strains and tears, among other muscle issues. To help prevent this type of issue, strengthen the legs outside of climbing using movements that mimic this motion. Hamstrings curls are a great choice. You can start with Ball Leg Curls and switch to doing one leg at a time when two legs gets easy. As you advance, move into hamstrings curls. Note that deadlifts work hamstrings, too.