You may think that as a climbing coach, my primary job is to load a ton of work onto my clients. You might be surprised to hear that when new clients come to me I often have to reduce their training quantity. Many climbers are doing too much. As a coach, I help my clients pare down their routines and figure out what to focus on.
There is nearly an infinite amount of training information on the Internet and about a million different protocols. And you may often feel as if you are missing out on something important or aren’t doing enough to push yourself toward your goals. But the reality is that you likely need to eliminate some training protocols and narrow your focus.
Here are three questions I ask my clients that you can ask yourself to simplify your training and create an effective plan.
What are your goals?
A favorite quote of mine when it comes to goal setting is, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” —Yogi Berra
Without laying out your goals for a training program, it’s impossible to productively direct your energy. You may work tirelessly for a couple of months without being able to see what came of your effort. Goals give you clarity on the what, when, where, and why of your training. Setting goals also has psychological benefits that improve performance including increased motivation and confidence.
For example, let’s say you have a climbing trip coming up that you want to prepare for. You heard that max hangs on the hangboard were really helpful for gaining finger strength, so you’ve been prioritizing heavy half-crimp hangs. Also, your friends love to Moonboard so you’ve been joining them there twice a week. Your fingers are feeling super strong and your power is on point. But when you show up to your 90 foot resistance sport climbing project at the Red River Gorge, you pump off the open-handed mini jugs before you even get to the crux.
Because your training effort wasn’t organized around your goals, you are now on your trip in the best bouldering shape of your life, but without the necessary endurance or fitness for your objectives.
Before you begin a training program, spell out what climbs or what types of climbs, you want to succeed on, and tailor your training to focus on that style of climbing.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Another important factor in deciding where to focus your training is identifying what you’re already good at versus your areas needing development. Continuing to work on only your strengths puts you in the land of diminishing returns: the same amount of effort yields fewer and fewer results. Instead, that effort could be focused on your weaknesses. Working on this low-hanging fruit will more quickly help you become a well-rounded climber and better athlete overall.
For example, maybe you’re a really good competition climber. You can read complex sequences and have great body awareness. You are able to flash tricky dynos and are technically proficient. But when you encounter pure strength moves, you struggle. Though you’re able to contort your way past some moves, your general strength is lacking. You find that you’re able to do the climbs that fit you quickly, and get shut down on the ones that don’t. Though you could keep spending three hours on each new set that goes up, one of those hours could be better spent building foundational strength where your gains will be noticeable and can soon be applied back on the wall. Working a weakness will ultimately be a more productive use of your time.
What are your non-negotiables?
Committing to a training plan inevitably means making some sacrifices. But you shouldn’t dread each time you go to the gym for your workout, or loathe everything you’re doing. A negative attitude can lead to burnout. Showing up consistently is one of the most important parts of training, so think of what is necessary to keep your stoke alive.
As an example, perhaps one of your favorite parts of climbing is connecting with others. While not every session can be a social one during your training program, you can decide that the bouldering meetup you and your friends do every Thursday is non-negotiable. Based on this, you plan your workouts so that your limit bouldering session is on Thursday. This way you can work on projects with your friends and use your conversations to take the necessary longer rests between attempts. Knowing you get to climb with your friends helps you push through the tougher workouts and keeps you motivated throughout the program.
To create your training plan, start by choosing two to three priorities based on your goals, strengths/weaknesses, and non-negotiables. Perform these priorities consistently for at least three to four weeks before trying to add more. If you feel like you have the capacity to take more on, you can introduce other training activities that support your priorities. However, if these items start to take time and energy from your original priorities, you’re better off paring down.
Simple does not always mean easy and sticking to two to three priorities over time will yield better results than doing too much and burning out after only two weeks.
Juliet Hammer (julietamanda.com) is a remote climbing coach based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She helps climbers of all levels reach their goals through technique and strength training.