Training for a project is like a mixing a great cocktail. A variety of ingredients, well-synthesized and carefully planned will yield great results. In this article we’re going to go over the different bases, modifiers, and huge cocktail-shaking forearms you need to make the ascent of your goal route both smooth and delicious.
Let us start with a quick exercise. Grab a beer and enjoy the short film below of Michaela Kiersch sending Golden Ticket (14c) at my [former] home crag–The Red River Gorge.
For starters, this route is 85 feet tall and has many challenging moves and holds. Note that Michaela has the endurance to deal with marginal crimps for all 85 ft. She has the power and strength to accomplish the move, recover from it, and clip the anchors. In addition, she has to have the stamina to try this route many times in one day since she is in school and is only able to make it down to the crag on the weekends.
Summarily, in order to redpoint this route, she needed to:
1. Be able to do all of the moves.
2. Be able to link all of these moves together.
3. Have the capacity to make put in multiple burns on it in one day since she is short on time.
4. Not get injured in the process
We may not all be intensely projecting 14c, but if you are reading this blog, you probably have a goal route–or a few–in mind (if you don’t, see How to Make a Training Plan Part 1: Goals You can Point To). It is natural then, that you would want your training program to address all of the above. After reviewing some of the most popular training regimens by a variety of authors and doing a few of them myself, it seems that training for single pitch sport climbing can be summarized by these 6 components:
strength, endurance, power, skill, power endurance, and injury prevention.*
*Note that my training and goals are primarily for single pitch sport climbs, at this time. The cruciality of these components will vary for other styles of climbing.
The concept of strength is pretty simple–you either have the physical capacity to do something or you don’t. In climbing, a good program will focus on the following, in terms of strength:
- Finger strength
- Antagonist strength
- By definition, an antagonist muscle is a muscle that directly opposes another muscle. In climbing, we use all of our muscles; however, climbers tend to overdevelop certain muscle groups. Therefore, a good program will have you develop the lesser-used muscles. Read more about antagonist muscle strength from The Climbing Doctor!
- Selection of exercises with a focus on climbing specific movement
Whether you are too pumped to clip at bolt 3 or at bolt 11–if you don’t have the endurance to recover from the crux and finish the route, you are never going to send. Building up your low-end endurance capacity is important.
See Guide to Endurance Training for more details.
Let’s talk physics. See equation below.
Power = Work/time
Now let’s look at a practical example from my personal life.
My boyfriend, Mike, is very tall–about 6’3″. He is able to reach things that I cannot and thus, some moves work better for him when they are done statically. I am not tall, and there are some holds that I will not be reaching unless I start moving dynamically.
If Mike and I both do the same move, but he take 5 seconds to do it because he can move slowly, and I take 1 second to do it because I jumped–I have done the same amount of work in less time, and therefore I have displayed more power.*
A good training program will set you up to increase your power so that you can efficiently do those big powerful moves on your project without letting one big throw bust your whole send.
*if we are being extra nerdy, technically Mike has more mass than me, so technically he has done more work than I have. However, let’s not get too detailed.
This is where things get whacky. Experts get into debates all day about whether or not power endurance is even a real energy system–this is fine. As climbers, I think the term “power endurance” is a term that makes sense to many of us, so we are just going to take it and run with it. Let’s look at another example.
Climber A can climb v8 in the gym. Once he tries on it for a week or so, he can get warmed up, rest properly, and do the problem. If he wanted to do it again, however, he’d have to wait at least 5 minutes to rest and he may or may not have the capacity to do so when he tries again.
Climber B can also climb v8 in the gym. However, climber B has a different rest requirement to do this problem. She is able to place this problem in a circuit. Climber B can start on this v8, climb down a v3 to recover, stay on a jug for a nice, active rest and do the v8 again.
Both climbers exhibit the power to do the moves on this problem; however, Climber B has the power endurance to repeat these powerful moves without a full resting recovery. Climber A does not.
Power endurance is the ability to exhibit near-maximum power over and over again. It is the ability to maintain a prolonged display of near-maximum power. A quality training program will also focus on improving this element of a climber’s skill set.
If you want to learn more about this, give TrainingBeta Podcast Episode 101 a listen–one of my favorite trainers, Steve Bechtel, explains power/strength endurance very well.
At its core, climbing is a skill sport. If you want to get better at it, you will not do so by doing tons of pullups. You must learn lots of moves and hone your skills to improve as a climber. I think this point is summed up very well by Eric Horst in his book, How to Climb 5.12.
The best climbers [climb at] an exceedingly high level because they have internally programmed gazillions of different moves that are on call at a moment’s notice.
Essentially, you can be great at hangboarding, campusing, and doing pull-ups, but if you never improve your technique you won’t be getting better at climbing. A well-planned training program has plenty of on-rock time in which you can hone your skills.
If you are run-down, your shoulders feel like trash, and you slept three hours last night, you aren’t going to be performing or training optimally.
However you train, the first priority should be to avoid injury. Generally, if you can’t climb you can’t get better at climbing.
Overall, a quality training program will focus on improving your strength, power, endurance, skill, power endurance, and preventing injury. Blend all of these