Endurance can’t be built quickly, yet at some point most of us find ourselves in a jam, with a trip booked and only a few weeks to prepare. If you’re about to be spanked in Spain or butt-kicked in Kalymnos, what are the best strategies for making the grade?
The main way to prepare is simply to climb more volume at grades below your limit in the preceding weeks. The usual reason to get shut down at the start of a trip is that we suddenly switch from training for two hours three times a week to climbing every day. To reduce the shock effect, try to fit in a minimum of four sessions a week. If four aren’t feasible, make the sessions as long as possible. Always, though, come off the gas the week before, with two or three light sessions to recuperate fully.
Next, decide how you’re going to carve up your training. Some literature directs you to split endurance into four categories, to target the various energy systems, yet while this may benefit elites, for the majority of climbers a conventional two-way breakdown is more effective, especially if you have limited time. The following approach is aimed at the average climber, not Adam Ondra.
For high-intensity endurance, short resistance, anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity. With all these exercises, calibrate the workload so you fail on the final set or two.
Use pre-planned circuits (pre- marked circuits usually encompass 20 to 40 moves), sustained and with no rests or cruxes. Try
to finish by climbing upward.
Climb three or four boulder problems back to back, then rest five to eight minutes. Repeat four to six times. An alternative
is to start your watch, climb a problem, rest a minute, and then repeat the problem or one of a similar grade. Go for six to 10 minutes, rest five
to eight minutes, and repeat four to six times.
Perform a fixed number of pull-ups on an edge, followed by a short rest, then repeat, rest longer, and repeat.
A typical plan is four sets of five pull-ups, followed by a 30-second rest, then a four- to eight-minute rest. Repeat five to eight times.
Hang for five to eight seconds using the half-crimp grip, rest for two to three seconds, and repeat multiple times (four to 10), followed by a rest break (four to eight minutes). Repeat five to eight times. There is a lot of room for minor variations but never hang longer than 10 seconds, as this kind of stress is not very specific to climbing and creates a higher injury risk than other exercises.
Stay on for between one and three minutes. Rest for one to five minutes. Repeat. Go five to eight times total.
For most onsights, long redpoints, sustained sequences; combination of aerobic/ anaerobic energy.
If you only train endurance on routes at the gym, you may get pumped out of your mind on longer routes with more than 40 moves. Train by doing stints of 60 to 120 moves, or six to 15 minutes of climbing, with rests of six to 15 minutes between sets. Aim for three to five in total. As to level, ideally you shouldn’t be pumped for the first two or three minutes, will be tolerating a moderate pump for the fourth and fifth minute, and will feel very pumped from then on. Resist going to failure until the final climb. You can also do a lighter, “active rest” version, where you climb on much easier ground and barely get pumped. This is great for promoting recovery between sessions.
The first approach is to climb routes in multiple sets, lowering between each and moving on to the next one. Alternatively, down-climb
an easier route or the same line.
Circuits or Random Climbing
The usual approach is three or four laps of 20 to 30 moves on a circuit wall. If you’re constructing your
own circuit, several laps on a shorter one are easier than attempting to memorize a 100-move monster. Or try timed stints of random climbing where you control the level of difficulty as you go.
A vital component of long endurance is the ability to use rests and recover on easier ground, and you can train for
it by adjusting your routes or circuits. Most routes and circuits are sustained, so create something with both hard and easier sections.
Or designate a rest position using some bigger holds and move onto it at the end of each lap.
Training for Your Project
Training on similar holds and angles as your target crag. For Kalymnos you would go steep and juggy; for Céüse, gently overhanging and pockety or crimpy.
During the last few sessions before your trip, slow down. Try the same routes or circuits but count four or five seconds on each handhold to replicate the pace of sport redpointing or seven to 10 seconds for onsighting. To train for trad, drop the grade, stay on longer, and pause and make a rule to try to rest for a minute every sixth or seventh move regardless of the size of the holds.
You’ll arrive fitter if you run several times a week pre-trip. Anaerobic bursts always produce better results than aerobic plodding, so add fast intervals, followed by slower recovery periods (e.g., five times one minute on, one minute recovery).
Basic Program Planning
If you have only two to three weeks, there’s no point in dividing the training into phases, but with four to eight weeks, it is worth establishing some themes. For example, make the first phase about volume and long-endurance work and the second phase about intensity and strength endurance. Even though endurance is the main overall focus, keep your strength topped up, either by a small amount of bouldering or hangboard work at the start of each session or a dedicated strength session per week.
You can alternate between strength endurance and long endurance each session, or do a phase of one followed by a phase of the other. For redpoint-priority trips, strength-endurance phases should be longer, and for onsighting trips, long-endurance phases should be longer.
Neil Gresham is a professional climbing coach and trainer. For more advice on how to train, click here.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice No. 243 (July 2017).