Now, I’m not a certified expert on the subject of training, but I do have a lot of tips to give. I train like a complete masochist, pouring every ounce of my being into each session as if my life depends on it, because it does. Lets be blunt, when I’m soloing 200’ in the air there is nothing between me and the ground except for my fingers and my mind. They simply are not allowed to fail, so I put a lot of thought into training them properly. This blog mini-series will counteract a lot of myths and mistakes I’ve seen folks ascribing to in gyms around the nation, as well as outline the ideas and theories I use to come up with my routines so that you can hopefully make a program that works for you as well. Don’t copy what I do, but rather use these ideas to tailor a regimen that’s geared towards your fitness level and goals.
I’m not going to tell you what to do for your training routine. I want to tell you how to develop your own.
The most important thing is to have a goal. What do you want to climb? Hard bouldering? Hard lead? Onsight? Comps? Or do you perhaps want to climb 5.6 trad all day? Each one of these requires a different focus for training. If you do not set a goal there is no way to train for it. Without focus you will not be able to progress effectively. Think of it this way: If you don’t have a target, how can you hit it? Just as you need a goal for your training overall, you need to have an intent for each session. Is this a recovery day, a training day, or a day for fun? You can’t train properly without a little forethought.
The main reason people tend to stagnate is due to the fact that it’s easy to come into the gym and randomly climb whatever looks fun. There’s nothing wrong with that, but without focus your training will stagnate eventually. Even if your training is “just climbing” and you’re not a fan of fingerboards or other tools, you still need to focus your efforts to make progress.
In order to train one facet of your climbing, you must remove as many variables as possible and only focus on the one thing you are attempting to improve. The biggest mistake I see in climbers attempting hang-board routines is that they lack specificity. Walking up to a fingerboard and doing tons of pull-ups on two-finger pockets has next to no value as a training tool, because it’s not specific enough. Climbing hard sport to up your mental game doesn’t work because you have the variables of difficulty, and clipping in addition to fears of falling. To truly work on a goal, you need to target one thing at a time. If you want to get better at clipping, perform lots of clips. If you want to work on falling, stay on easy climbing and fall when you chose to instead of adding extra stresses. If you want to work on finger-strength, don’t engage the biceps. If you are terrified of falling, adding difficult climbing into the mix might be too much stress. Just take it one thing at a time, and remember you can train multiple things in a session if you plan well.
Rest and Recovery:
Nobody ever built strength in a gym. Or on a rock for that matter. Your strength is built at night when you’re sleeping after a good session. Without proper recovery time your workout will be wasted because you didn’t have enough time to build strength before your next session. Drinking excessive alcohol, sleeping too little, and stressing your body in other ways that prohibit recovery will only exacerbate this and can lead to injury in the long-term.
When I’m training hard, I can only stand a maximum of 3 training days per week. That drops down to 2 days per week when I’m working on more severe strength/power exercises. Jan Hojer progressed incredibly rapidly through the grades, and currently has several V15’s under his belt. His training schedule rarely exceeds 12 hours per week.
I’ve been training like a masochist on fingerboards and campus-boards for nearly seven years now. I’ve never had a single over-use injury. No tendon tweaks, no tendonitis, no pulley tears, no shoulder injuries. You must respect your body in order to progress. Frequently you must make an active decision between climbing NOW and being able to climb tomorrow. Always exercise caution, and keep your entire body fit to prepare for the stresses of training. If you’re sore, you might want to lay off. Muscle soreness is a wonderful thing because it means your most effective training for the day is just sitting around and relaxing, or doing all that housework you’ve been putting off because of climbing!
Also try to reduce the number of sets on an exercise to a reasonable level. You wouldn’t attempt the crux move on your hardest boulder problem 20 times a session, multiple days a week and expect to get away un-injured. Why would you apply different logic to training?
Most people warm up improperly. It’s called a warm-up for a reason, your body temperature and heart rate are both supposed to elevate. If you haven’t begun to perspire ever so slightly, the odds are high that you haven’t been warming up on easy enough terrain. The ideal warm up is so easy that your muscles don’t get pumped on any of the moves, and for this reason it is difficult for most folks to warm up properly by climbing boulder problems unless your body is already highly trained. Climbing is hard, and bouldering is just the hard part, make sure you keep it easy in the warm-up. Personally, I love warming up on 5.6 auto-belay routes and V0’s.
Types of strength:
We tend to use the term “finger strength” to include anything that will help us claw our way to the top of a problem, but what is that comprised of really? It boils down to four important aspects.
- Strength: How much force can you apply with your fingers, what is the smallest hold you can grab? This is the limiting factor on boulder problems and stopper-cruxes. If you find yourself failing on a problem/route because you simply can’t hang on the crux holds, even when fresh, then training strength might break your plateau.
- Power: This is a climber’s zero-to-sixty rating. Right now, as you’re reading this, make a fist. Now squeeze as hard as you can. Do you feel how it takes a moment to engage all of the muscles in your forearm? Power is a term we use for how quickly your climbing muscles will engage. Power is the ability to snatch a small hold on a desperate move and apply full strength before you are overcome by momentum and swing off. If you have difficulty latching the hold on crux lunges, or your fingers slip off even after your fingers stick the hold, perhaps you could benefit from increased power.
- Muscular endurance: This is your ability to keep pulling one hard move after another without pumping out, think in terms of 15-30 difficult moves with little rest. Commonly this is referred to simply as “endurance,” but endurance is more complex than that. If you fall off the crux of a route because your forearms feel like they’re filled with concrete, and you can do the moves when you’re fresh, then working on muscular endurance might bring the send!
- Cardio Endurance: This is your ability to keep climbing hard routes/problems all day long at the crag. This is what separates folks with the ability to give one good project burn, from those who can work a hard route 5 to 6 times in a day and still make progress. It’s your ability to recover, and it’s what gets blood flowing in your muscles. This is essential for recovery between moves, between routes, and between sessions. If you find yourself overly fatigued after a short session at the crag, lack the ability to keep climbing “easy” routes at the end of the day, perhaps your days could be extended with a little cardio that’s specific to climbing.
Coming up Next:
Warming Up for Gnar