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!