Tag Archives: overtraining

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!

Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (1)

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Taking time off might be the very last thing that a plateauing project climber might want to consider doing, but for me, it’s become one of the first lines of defense when a project seems to come within reach for a day or two, and then that reach starts to feel like it’s slipping away. The classic response to diminishing returns on a project is to start putting in more attempts on the project and refusing to take days off from a set-in-stone climbing schedule, but this can be entirely counterproductive and can lead to even more frustration and greater diminishing returns. You might eventually sneak away with a send by continuing with this approach, but chances are that if you stop this struggle sooner and employ some of the following suggestions, you would in actuality send sooner than you would by carrying on with your stubborn schedule.

If you start to low-point your project or have difficulties with moves you have been consistently doing or that used to not feel as hard to you, you are most likely in need of more rest – more days off or days away from this particular project, or both. You might even benefit from a week away from your project climbing on something else – this can allow your muscles to recover from the specific movements your project demands, while also refreshing you mentally.

More than once, I’ve lived real-world examples of this – taking a week or so away from a project that I’m close to doing, maybe climbing on some other routes, coming back much more recovered and relaxed, and sending the climb. It works, if you can calm your mind and condition it to accept that you’re making a smart big-picture decision and likely expediting your sending process. I often will also climb fewer days total during this week (give or take) away from a project. This is actually nothing remarkable to recommend; in fact, it falls in line with the idea of tapering for peak performance – something that is well understood by expert trainers for all types of sports worldwide. To stimulate a performance peak, try decreasing frequency, volume, and/or intensity, or a combination thereof, for eight days to two weeks before you want to peak.

The general expectation of far too many climbers that they should be able to maintain peak performance capabilities 24/7/365 is utterly ridiculous and unrealistic. If a climb is at or near the edge of your current athletic ability, an undulation in performance on that climb from day to day (or week to week) is natural and nothing to freak out about. The best training/climbing/performance plan will involve undulating peaks and valleys – you just want to make sure that each peak is higher than the last one, not lower, which indicates overtraining or erroneous training or detraining. If you start to experience weeks of decreasing returns, try the resting/tapering protocol suggested above. Ditto if you want to stimulate a performance peak.

Summing it up – if you’re plateauting on your project, try taking more rest days. Climb something else. Break your routine. Taper. Develop a deeper understanding of stimulating peaks and how this process plays into enjoying periodic peaks in athletic performance.

Next Up: Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (2): Tactical Changes Off-Route

Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Prevention and Attenuation Tactics (IYC Series), Part 5

Reducing DOMS makes for more productive training sessions and climbing days -- not to mention a better quality of life overall.

Reducing DOMS makes for more productive and enjoyable training sessions and climbing days — not to mention a better quality of life overall.

My DOMS reduction list continues below with the final items, items 8 to 10, now added to the interventions discussed already in previous entries as potentially contributing to my lessened post-exercise soreness: resting enough, sleeping enough, reducing stress, engaging in light physical activity, getting stronger, hot tub (or bath), and massage/self-massage. To these, I add the following:

8. Eat right. How’s your diet before, during and after your workouts? Do you make a point of eating and drinking regularly throughout every climbing day? Are you obsessing over every pound you lose or gain? Are you starving yourself or severely restricting your food intake while simultaneously working out hard to make climbing/training gains? Engaging in sound, sustainable nutrition practices can go a long way to help promote faster recovery from difficult workouts or climbing days – and food deprivation is not part of that equation. Check out the 10-part Improve Your Climbing Series on nutrition for details on shaping up your diet for climbing and training .

9. Ingest natural anti-inflammatories regularly. Tying into eating right, including foods in my diet that have known anti-inflammatory properties is kind of a no-brainer. If I like them anyway, and they might help alleviate DOMS, why not? Numerous natural anti-inflammatories/pain reducers are readily available that for the majority of us carry little or no risk by adding them judiciously to our diets. These include (to name a few) tart cherry juicefish oil/omega-3s, turmeric/curcumin and caffeine, which you might consider taking in via green tea for additional benefits. What about protein supplementation for lessening post-exercise soreness, you might ask? Well – check out this review for more on the relationship of protein intake and DOMS reduction.

10. Curtail vitamin I usage. In my non-medical opinion, taking ibuprofen regularly as part of your pre-, during or post-training routine may do you more harm than good. I don’t regularly use any over-the-counter (or prescription!) painkillers. In the event of an acute injury, I might consider using an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) to help reduce acute pain and swelling. But the potentially negative effects of regularly using vitamin I or other NSAIDS – including gastrointestinal problems, masking pain signals that would otherwise alert you to potential overuse injuries in the making, and possibly interfering with muscle repair post-exercise – keep me from using them routinely. For more on this check out “For Athletes, Risks From Ibuprofen Use” and “Ibuprofen Before Exercise?

This concludes my top-10 list of interventions that I feel may have contributed to the gradual lessening of my DOMS intensity. Know, too, that there are other interventions out there that may work for you or that you may wish to test out to help with DOMS – such as kinesio taping, vibration therapy, and contrast baths, to name a few. The key is really in finding the combination of ingredients that works best for your body and your being – which may or may not include some or all of the components of my DOMS-busting recipe, plus some of your own.

As with all things training-related, what works perfectly (or at least, fairly well) for one person may have a very limited or zero impact on another. But if you’re struggling with debilitating post-exercise pain regularly, I encourage you to not just accept the pain and think you have to live with that level of discomfort regularly in order to see gains. It’s worth looking into some interventions that, at worst, will have no impact (positive or negative), but that at best, may leave you in a little (or a lot) less après-climbing/training pain than you have been enduring.

Up Next Week: Move of the Month 6: Straight-Arming Moves

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!