You’re likely very familiar with the feeling of your forearms pumped up like a grapefruit, your fingers uncurling high on your projects, and the pain of failure on something you know you’re theoretically strong enough to send. You’re probably also aware that this is a trainable element of your performance—it’s possible to hold the pump back and to still feel strong when you are fatigued. This is why many of you are already completing some form of power endurance training every season.
While many climbers know the basic methods for training power endurance pretty well, you may be missing the opportunity to fine tune your training and get the best results. Fortunately, this mistake is easily addressable and you can create mind-blowing improvements in grades in just a single year.
Also read: Climb Harder By Being Weaker … And Flexible
I’m going to break this into three areas for you. For each topic, I’ll describe drills and methods for making meaningful gains so there’s also practical takeaways. If you can dial in just a couple of these during a single season and combine them with the training methods you’re already using, then I’m going to be one happy coach.
Are You Training Too Fast?
No one ever really talks about this do they? Well let me give you an example of a classic case where I see training go wrong in countless climbers. Danny has a 5.12 project he’s training for and he’s using a 5.12+ project on his local wall to hone his power endurance. Each session, he breaks the 5.12+ project down in little chunks and week by week, he gets closer to linking it all together. This, I cannot fault. Finally upon sending, he then decides to dominate on his training project and each week aims to climb multiple laps on the 5.12 in a session, getting faster and faster and more efficient with his climbing (I see this a lot!). Eventually he’s able to do five laps on the 5.12+, taking just three minutes to top out each time and feels like he’s now going to cruise his project outside. Anyone spotting a potential issue here?
Yup, as you might have expected, he’s super confident with his power endurance, having lapped the grade he wants to climb outside and goes on his 5.12 at the crag. Suddenly, he realises that his climbing pace outside is way slower than indoors. He’s forgotten that clips need to be made, outdoor rock has a slower climbing pace, and his project has a midway shakeout that means you cannot be on the route any less than eight or nine minutes. Session after session, he feels great until a third of the way up the route, but pumps out at anything above three or four minutes on the route.
The solution to this is what we term “training speed” or “training pace.” It’s something that we spend quite a bit of time getting right at Lattice with our newest clients. It’s not always intuitive to realise the success of your training is going to be heavily reliant on the preparation, mimicking intensity, volume and duration of your project. It feels good to get faster and faster in training, but in many cases you are shooting yourself in the foot!
The action points:
- Make sure that there is an even spread (if you want a rule, then go for “thirds”) of three paces in your power endurance training. Fast, moderate and so slow that you’re shaking out on almost every hold. We would define fast as sub five seconds per move, moderate as six to 10 secs and slow as 11+. Eg. A training route of 30 moves at moderate pace will only take three to five minutes.You barely see a single person get their outdoor project done in three to five minutes. Surprising huh?!
- Remember that if you’ve got rests on your route, you should include these in your training. It’s completely trainable as well. You’ll be amazed how effective this is.
- Learn to moderate your breathing for each pacing rate as well. There’s a skill to it, you want to know how to breathe on fast efforts, but also on slow.
Are You Using The Best Grip Type?
The discussions I hear climbers have around grip types can get pretty vocal at times—some people are half-crimp fans, others love the three-finger drag and even some prefer to only climb on cracks! The reality of the situation though, is that not one of those grip types is better than any other unless you’re thinking about how they relate back to your projects and goals.
The classic mistake I see climbers make is that they try and match their facilities to their goals without bringing in a degree of grip type specificity. Let me give you an example. Mary-Beth has one really convenient wall surface—say it’s a 30 degree spray wall—and she has one goal, a long pumpy 5.11c at her local crag. What she does in this situation is take the convenient wall to hand, and “make” her training projects match the grade by selecting the types of holds that create something around 5.11c. This can be a huge mistake in many cases, because a long 5.11c on a 30-degree wall will be filled with buckets, but Mary-Beth’s project outside is on a vertical 120-foot wall on single-pad crimps. I can assure you that three months of power endurance training on buckets splattered around a steep wall is not an effective way to transfer to vertical crimping!
What should be done in this situation, is for Mary-Beth to make an objective assessment of the wall angle and grip types that are most popular. From that data-informed perspective, she will then be able to choose power endurance training sessions that match as closely as possible to grip type and wall angle! Sure, she may not get it right or perfect on every session (which is absolutely fine) but the more she can keep this in the forefront of her mind, the bigger results she’ll see when she finally head outside to send.
The action points:
- Early in your training season try and gather information on the holds that form your goal routes. It could be an early dogging session bolt-to-bolt, third hand info from a friend or even watching videos on YouTube. They all work pretty well.
- Match as much of your power endurance training to the wall angle you find on your project and if you’re really clever about it, choose footholds of a similar size as well. If it’s full of heel-toe cams, then get using them while training!
- If you’re a crack climber, or a crimper who wants to jam, be aware that there is very little transfer of jamming strength (or power endurance) across into standard grip positions and vice versa. You must work both if you want to master projects that contain both!
Do You Know Your Movement Style?
Over the last decade of running thousands of coaching sessions and assessments, I’ve noticed that climbers broadly sit into two categories. There are the “twisters” and there are the “front-on” climbers, whether they’re on a 20-degree limestone pocketed face or a massively juggy tufa-infested cave. Twisters tend to roll the shoulders forward, they love a drop-knee and they snake their hips in and out of the wall as they progress upward. The front-on climbers, in contrast, will tend to keep their chests open, they lock their shoulders back and their knees tend to stay wide in a front-on position.
In my experience, certain angles, rock types and climbing terrain suit either of the two styles to different extents. This becomes especially acute when routes have really hard cruxes that have few options or variable beta to suit each “type” of climber. I’ve come across this a lot in my own climbing over the years (I’m 99 percent a twister) and it’s cost me dearly on many occasions. Likewise, I’ve witnessed it a lot in the clients I’ve worked with, when they’re extremely dominant in one style over the other. It massively limits their output when it comes to both projecting and on sighting.
The action points:
- First up, you must make sure, if you can, to train in both a twisted style and a front-on manner. I can completely acknowledge that one will be more comfortable than the other, but if you don’t include a broad base in your training, you’ll leave a big hole in your armor.
- Also, look closely at the movement style on your route, especially the length of moves. I’ve seen loads of climbers crab around on tiny little holds with small moves during training cycles only to suffer huge disappointment on their dream routes when it turns out the line is full of huge twist-lock moves on big holds.
- Finally, cover your strength and conditioning bases in your shoulders and core, so that it compliments your power endurance results. There are big differences in the muscle groups involved with twisting and front-on climbing, so know your game and get prepared.
If you’d like help with how to address your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to your goals and to have a personalized plan built by a coach, Lattice Training does this for hundreds of sport climbers all over the world from 5.11 to 5.15. Our Lite Plans include a free mini-assessment, your coach will build a plan to suit the amount of time you have available and even make it fit in with your outdoor climbing so you’re best prepared to send this season. Likewise, our Premium Plans level up the game with a one-to-one personal coach who’s on hand every week to mentor you through your sessions, provide you with projecting guidance and make any adjustments or tweaks to your training throughout the season.
To summarise, I want to remind you that these points above are actions that you will combine with standard power endurance training methods. They’re not replacements for the basic training and they’re not more effective than the training itself. Simply put, they are essential add-ons that allow you to completely capitalize on the work you put into your preparation and will perfectly compliment almost every session you do—I really can’t overstate this!
Neil Gresham of Sheffield, England, is a professional climbing coach, runs the training website neilgresham.com, and is an all-around climber who has done 8c+/9a, 5.14x trad and WI 7, and put up new routes from Brazil to Mongolia, Vietnam, Iceland and China.