Tag Archives: power endurance

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!

Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (C)

Training your body to recover on the rock is a key part of effective HIIT training.

Training your body to recover on the rock is a key part of effective HIIT training.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Tactic 2: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) outside. This is very similar to the indoor training paradigm outlined in last week’s entry, but instead, you’ll use your outdoor project or projects as the training ground rather than an indoor climbing wall. Once you have the beta worked out, at least enough to start trying to put sections of the climb together, you can start employing a HIIT approach to your project(s) outside – keeping an open mind that you might need to rework beta sometimes, too. Note that you can also work on HIIT on still-challenging routes that you have already sent by pushing the pace and decreasing the resting intervals, so long as this presents an actual challenge for you and pushes you into a place where you feel you are fighting to maintain technical/tactical control, struggling to recover, and pushing the pump away.

Step 1: Overlapping sections. Breaking the route up into sections between rests just like you did inside can be an effective way to train HIIT on the route. Work to climb to a given point where you’ll get a shake on redpoint, and then allow yourself to take there rather than trying to shake out on the hold right away. But, if you have a particular place where you “always fall” (a crux for you), do NOT train the fall (i.e. don’t make that a standard take-‘n’-shake place) – what I mean is that you should not just get back on from where you fell and continue, but rather, you should lower down a few moves prior to the fall point and attempt to climb into and through the move(s) in question (assuming you can do them!), and on to your designated shake point.

If I hang at the shake point, I usually try to get back on and start there with a few shakes to simulate that I’ll be moving out of this place from a rest, and then carry on to the next shake-out spot (again, if I fall, lowering down and trying to climb through rather than training the fall). You’ll never get to rest right before the place you fall while you’re climbing the route (unless it’s right after a real rest), so you don’t want to train your body to be recovered when you go into the move – once you’re able to hit the move consistently from a hang right before it, which this training regimen assumes you can, you will not want to keep repeatedly ingraining the rested execution of the move.

Step 2: Linkage of sections with shakes. After you’re able to do the route with the designated take-‘n’-shakes, you can start to link longer sections with the shake outs taken on the actual route rather than taking hangs at each shake. You’ll still stick with the falling and lowering part approach to cruxes, and you should take care to reduce all hang-time on the rope during this portion of your HIIT training on the project – so you won’t lower down a few moves and hang until you’re totally de-pumped and then attack the moves into the crux and the crux again. You’ll rest while you’re lowering, and then immediately get back on and tackle the moves and the crux, and then continue.

Step 3: Send the route and find a new project! Start the process over again. I actually usually have a few projects going, indoors or outside, so that I’m never too specific in training on only one angle/set of holds/movements/length of sequences or route, etc.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Tactic 3: Consider undertaking a program of climbing-specific resistance (weight) training. Resistance training has been shown to help improve lactate threshold. But this is the topic for a different series of articles entirely, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Up Next Week: Move of the Month 5: Initiating Movement (Improve Your Climbing Series)

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!

Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (B)

Include moves that make you uncomfortable when you encounter them on a route after a bunch of other moves -- like dynos are for me.

Include moves that make you uncomfortable when you encounter them on a route after a bunch of other moves — like dynos are for me.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Tactic 1: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) in the gym. In HIIT, you train your body to climb hard at a relatively quick pace without losing your ability to maintain solid technical and tactical maneuvering (i.e. maintaining control while pushing at your limit). If you have route goals outside (and you know the routes or can obtain information about them), this can help you structure these workouts more specifically (recall the SAID principle of training – specific adaptations to imposed demands) to your advantage.

Step 1: Create several boulder problems or routes inside that have roughly the same amount and types of moves you have to perform between rests/shakes on the route(s) you wish to redpoint. If you don’t have any projects in mind, then try to create problems (or routes made up of several “problems,” as so many routes are outside) ranging from 10 to 30+ moves, focusing on the types of moves or sequences of movements that you routinely struggle with. One way to do this is to create problems with themes, such as dynamic movement, slopers, small holds, lots of one-foot-only on moves, etc. You want these problems to be challenging, but not ridiculous. For known projects, you may start with moves that are slightly easier than the moves that challenge you outside. You can also start with slightly harder sequences or moves than those you encounter on the route(s) – so long as you can do them inside without falling at least one time per session.

Your aim is to be able to climb several of these problems per session cleanly, with no shaking out or resting as you climb them (anywhere from 4 to 20 laps total per session, depending on the intensity/difficulty/length of each problem), taking timed rests in between the problems. I usually start with 5 minutes and work down from there. As you improve at sending each problem multiple times, you’ll want to start decreasing the rest times between efforts, which will eventually lead to you to Step 2.

Step 2: Linkage with shakes on the wall. Once you’re able to handily send all the sections of your redpoint route project recreated indoors (or your imaginary route project made up of several long boulder problems created to target all of the areas of your climbing that need the most work), you’ll ideally want to start trying to sew it together without rests off the wall. So you’ll climb the first part of the route (the first boulder problem) to a rest – preferably one that mimics the rest you’ll get outside – and shake out there until you feel ready to move into part two, and so forth, until you send.

Step 3: Take it to the project outside (see next week’s entry for details). Or, if the moves were slightly easier to start with, now you’ll incorporate harder moves into your HIIT training routine, perhaps ending up sending a route that is even harder than your outdoor project.

Note that it’s important to not fall into a “too-specific” training rut here – you want specificity, but not to the point that you forgo all other types of climbing-related movements that challenge you because of training for a single project (unless that’s all that’s really important to you right now and you don’t care if you lose some ability in other areas). The simple solution to this is to have more than one mix of problems you can try (i.e. more than one full boulder-problem route that you’ll eventually link), or even more simply, to change the order of problems (if it’s not a specific route you’re training for) from session to session.

Also note that this is high-intensity training, meaning that quality and intensity of the sessions count for more than volume/frequency. If you’re training at a hard enough level to elicit training gains, you should aim to do this type of training two or three times a week, tops. If you have other training elements in your training program right now (such as power-focused bouldering/training or weight/strength/resistance training, for example), once or twice a week will likely be more effective and efficient in helping you see quicker gains while avoiding overtraining or “plateau-area” training, in which you can’t truly push hard because you’re never recovered enough to truly push hard.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (C)

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!