Nine Tips to Keep Your Endurance This Winter

Sport climbing trip coming up? Dreams of long trad routes? Here are 9 tips to help you achieve your rope-stretching, enduro-climbing goals.

Photo: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

Climbers tend to drift into a routine, and ignore those extra training principles that can make all the difference. Freshen up your endurance training by following these pointers.

1) Make a plan

The most valuable time you spend in your training year will be an hour spent making a rough training plan; the periodized approach is the most versatile and easiest to implement. Divide your training into phases between three and eight weeks in length, prioritized either toward strength or endurance. Start with a phase of low-intensity endurance (combined with general fitness and conditioning) and move on to strength or high-intensity endurance. Organize the training days on a ratio of approximately 3:1 (i.e.: in strength phases, train strength three times a week and endurance once). Include recovery weeks (usually every two to three months), and try to correlate the phases with your climbing plans. For example, do strength phases before bouldering trips, low-intensity endurance before trad trips, and power endurance before sport trips. As noted last issue, shorter phases are suitable for those who wish to maintain high levels of performance all year round, whereas longer phases may work better for those who wish to peak for specific periods or seasons.

2) Start with general fitness and conditioning

Climbers are notorious for ignoring cardiovascular training because it requires more effort and discipline than going to the climbing gym. But avoiding CV training will impact your climbing performance. Aerobic fitness plays a vital support role for endurance pitches, and improves recovery between routes. The best time to increase the amount of cardio work is at the start of a training plan, so that it ties in with a phase of low-intensity endurance (stamina) climbing. Be wary of too much cardio work during strength phases as it may impair your recovery and reduce strength gains. A good plan is four cardio sessions a week during stamina phases or rest phases, three during power-endurance phases, and one or two during strength phases. Don’t just go out for 30-minute aerobic plods but add some intervals to your sessions in order to raise your heart rate and teach your body to recover from intensive bursts of effort. In other words, sprint.

3) Vary the intensity of endurance

The easy option is always single routes at the gym, because that’s what’s served up on a plate. But no way will a 20-move sprint prepare you for the demands of huge trad pitches or sport onsights. Try dropping the grade and climbing routes in double, triple or quadruple sets. You can split endurance into two categories: high-intensity endurance (15 to 55 moves, or routes in single or double sets) and low intensity endurance (60 to 100 moves, or routes in triple or quadruple sets). Vary the intensity on regular basis: a good general approach is to train both high- and low-intensity endurance at least once a week. Always climb on lead and pull the rope down quickly after each route. Try to climb different routes in rotation, rather than lapping the same route. Some may find it de-motivating to train on routes with lower grades on the score boards at the gym, but remember that three short 5.11s in a row, without rest, are the equivalent to a long outdoor 5.12.

4) Use an interval structure

A common mistake is to try routes that are too hard during the first part of the session, which burns you out prematurely and forces you to drop the grade and lengthen rest times. Resist the temptation to climb at your limit, and instead try to maintain the same fixed grade (approximately one or two grades below your onsight limit) for the entire session. Rest times should also remain constant. This approach will enable you to achieve more volume, while still maintaining an acceptably high level of intensity (difficulty). Known as interval training, it is the proven method for endurance training.

5) Try new methods— especially circuits and stick

New methods trigger improvement, so if you only train endurance on the lead wall, take up circuits and stick training. Circuits are long, sustained sequences on the bouldering wall; make your own or link color-coded boulder problems together. With stick training, your partner points you around the bouldering wall, selecting holds at random. Both forms of training will enable you to push further into the pump, as well as teaching you to maintain good technique while fatigued.

6) Work your weaknesses

Many climbers have good endurance on vertical or gently overhanging terrain, but go to pieces on severely overhanging routes (and a smaller number experience the reverse effect). Jug-endurance is different than fingery endurance, so work on your weakness. Similarly, some climbers can keep going on very long, low-intensity stamina pitches, but lack the power endurance for sport routes (or vice versa). Again, train your weakness.

7) Leave time for exercises at the end of endurance sessions

Never finish endurance sessions with hard boulder problems or exercises such as deadhanging or campus ladders that involve high levels of strength. However, it is worthwhile to finish with bar exercises such as pull-ups and leg raises. Remember, your forearms take the most punishment during endurance sessions. There will be energy to spare for arms and core work.

8) Set training goals

Write down your current capacity for repeating routes in single, double, triple and quadruple sets. Then write down what you hope to be doing halfway through your planned endurance phase (e.g., in three weeks time), and again at the end of the phase (e.g., in six weeks time). Then plan how you are going to get from your current level to stage two and then to stage three, by gradually increasing the grades of routes and circuits, or adding an extra climb, or cutting rest times, etc.

9) Train antagonists and eat properly

Do three sets of 20 push-ups and three sets of reverse wrist curls twice a week to prevent major imbalances in strength from developing and to safeguard you from injury. Properly hydrate for sessions and eat a decent meal or take a recovery supplement drink (including protein and carbohydrate) within the crucial “one-hour window” after every session.

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