Okay, so you’re strong, and you can do all the moves on your project, but you’re just too bloody tired to pull the last few “easy” moves and scream in frustration as you fall off with the anchors tantalizingly near to your face. Frustrating. At least the path is clear, you just need a little more endurance to keep chugging to the end. This is my favorite training phase, because the best way to get endurance is usually just through climbing more, and the only thing better than climbing… is more climbing!
What is Endurance?
There are actually two different facets of endurance, and this tends to send folks barking up the wrong tree in terms of training. Climbing laps at the gym will help you climb longer days outside, but your numbers won’t progress any higher in terms of maximum redpoint grade.
- 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 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 5/6 times in a day and still 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.
Reps, Sets, and Rest:
My standard rule of thumb for Muscular endurance is about 20-30 moves, more if your projects are on longer walls. The idea is to pump out in a number of moves that simulates the number of moves on your single-pitch projects. I’m still holding myself to a minimum of 5 minutes rest between runs.
For Cardio Endurance the best exercise is to find routes that are so easy you’re not really going to get pumped and run laps on them. This should be a fairly hot and sweaty routine, and you shouldn’t be falling. Rest should be kept to a minimum, as should intensity.
My Enduro-Masochism Routine:
My Muscular endurance routine consists of performing 5 hard things in a session. First, I warm up with easy bouldering or roped climbing, then gradually work up until I feel ready to try a project-level boulder problem. I find one that looks suitable and I give it a try or two, then move on. This is just to remind your fingers to stay strong, and to avoid losing gains in Strength and Power that you’ve made in previous weeks.
So five hard things right? For each “hard thing” you can choose whatever you want, just so long as it causes you to pump out and fall from fatigue in that 20-30 move range (or whatever your project length is). Below are the “hard things” that I’ll use for my personal routine, and suggestions for how to adapt them. Remember, you need at least 5 minutes rest between each “hard thing”, and what qualifies as a “hard thing” might change over the course of your session as you become tired. This is normal.
- Diet-Coke Projecting: It’s like projecting, but you really don’t care about getting to the top. The point of this training is to fall off, so if you send the route, that’s considered a mistake. Enjoy the falls! Some folks try to project gym routes by essentially falling up them, and asking for prolonged takes on the way up. If this is fun, and you’re stoked on trying hard moves high up, that’s fine, but it’s rather useless as training. The movement doesn’t last long enough to train endurance, and the rests are too short to help build strength. Instead, I go for a method that lets me work the moves and avoid hanging on the wall for half an hour.
- I find a route that will be challenging, and very unlikely for me to onsight.
- I allow myself two takes on the way up, and then push it until I fall.
- The takes should be limited to 60 seconds or less, if you need more rest, then the route is too hard for this exercise.
- If you find one day that you call for two takes and then clip the anchors, start climbing with one take and one fall.
- If you call for one take, and then manage to climb to the top, start going for redpoint burns, climbing up from the bottom until you fall off.
- When you fall off, lower to the ground and begin resting.
- 4×4’s: Folks are becoming more used to these, but the idea is to climb four boulder problems back to back and carefully select problems so that you pump out and fall off of the last problem. Problems are between 5 and 8 moves typically, if you multiply that by four we have 20-32 moves. That’s perfect!
- Campus laddering: I’m a complete masochist, and I’ve been campus training for a long time. As a result, I can ladder hand over hand to the top of the medium rung campus board, back down, and then back up. 30 moves. As my training session progresses, my high point starts moving lower down the board until I’m cranking about 22 moves. That fits. Most folks can’t do this, however, you could use a foot jib or something of the like to reduce intensity, and ladder up and down the first three rungs of the board to hit the same target. There are three sizes of campus rungs (S-M-L) so you can vary the finger intensity. Make sure the intensity is more on the fingers than the biceps, you don’t want to shortchange your session by falling off because of burning arms. We are targeting failure in the fingers for this exercise.
For Cardio Endurance it basically comes down to climbing as much as possible. There are a couple routines that I’ll try, but they all basically come down to “CLIMB EVERYTHING!” It’s my favorite part of training, because the only thing better than climbing is more climbing and that sums up the workouts in this section. In all these sets I’ll typically climb blocks of three or four laps, then let my partner climb a lap, and then repeat until the goal has been achieved.
- Pitches per hour: I’ll set an interval of time, and try to climb as many pitches as possible in a set timeframe. You can track progress by simply counting how much climbing you do in terms of vertical feet for your session.
- Points Game: a 5.8 becomes 8 points, a 5.9 becomes 9 points, a 5.11 becomes 11 points, etc. Things get hard in the double digits, but that doesn’t matter. To score your points, you just have to get to the top of the route in any style, hang-dogging is allowed but it slows you down and makes it harder to score higher. I’ll set a goal (say 10, 20, or 30 pitches) and try to score as many points as possible with a fixed number of laps. 20 pitches of 5.10 scores 200 points, but 20 pitches of 5.11 would score 220 points, so you can track progress based on the total score.
Rest and Recovery:
Typically I have to rest at least 48 hours after an endurance session, I can handle this training three to four times a week. It’s okay to perform a very light Cardio Endurance session when you’re slightly sore, and this can sometimes speed recovery if you do it right, but you still have to be careful. A light Cardio Endurance session is basically just a proper warmup. Meanwhile, Muscular endurance should be treated with a similar respect to strength training, and I avoid training Muscular endurance when I have sore muscles. Remember: Nobody ever built strength in a gym. They built strength asleep at night afterwards, and recovering with light activity when their muscles were sore from exertion.