Learn to Train: Increase Your Power-Endurance

Fight the pump
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Fight the pump

This is part four of our five-part series, Learn to Train: A Complete Guide to Climbing Training.

Nina Williams kicks off the wall at the Front Climbing Gym, Salt Lake City. Photo: George Bruce Wilson

Nina Williams kicks off the wall at the Front Climbing Gym, Salt Lake City. Photo: George Bruce Wilson

The Problem

You can do all the moves on a route individually, but you can’t link them together.

The Solution

Train power-endurance with 4x4s or circuits to make difficult, pumpy sequences feel easier.

How it Works

If you’ve been training local endurance, you can most likely climb easy terrain for a while without getting pumped. However, multiple hard moves in a row might still cause you to pump out and fall. Training power-endurance forces your muscles to adapt and become better at creating ATP, which helps release contracted muscle fibers when there’s little to no oxygen available. It’s essentially exposure therapy—you’ll routinely bathe your forearms in lactic acid, and they’ll respond by storing more energy in the cells to create ATP.

Power-endurance training is best done after establishing a solid base of strength and power training, because it will convert some of that maximum strength into endurance. You’ll lose a little strength and power in the process, but it’ll pay off on longer routes where you’re fighting a pump. The common methods for training power-endurance all involve lots of climbing, usually in circuits or laps. Your muscles must be working hard, but not at their max, so you’ll want to focus on 50 to 80 percent of your limit.

Power-endurance should make your forearms sore. Get 48 to 72 hours of rest between workouts. Start with two per week, and progress to three as soreness allows. You’ll see gains in as little as two to three weeks, but you’ll also lose those gains in about as much time. If you’re not actively training, consider a power-endurance workout or laps in the gym every couple weeks to maintain your current level.


To complete a 4x4, pick four different boulder problems about three grades below your limit. Climb the first problem four times, dropping off and repeating the problem immediately, or downclimbing an easy route back to the start. Rest for two minutes, then climb the next problem the same way. Complete all four problems like this, then rest 5 minutes. That’s one set. Pick new problems, or repeat the same set again. Aim for three sets.


Picking three to five boulder problems, each three grades below your limit, is a good place to start. Instead of climbing the same problem back-to-back, climb each problem once, only coming off the wall to move between them. This will be your circuit. Your circuits can have rests, but don’t remove your pump completely.

After climbing your circuit once, rest for the same duration of time you spent on the wall. If you fall from being pumped, end your circuit and rest. If a foot slip or botched move spits you off, jump right back on. After completing your circuit four times with equal rests, take a longer break of 5 to 10 minutes. Next, start another set of four circuits on the same or new problems.

Mimic your project if you have one. For example, if it’s a long section of V1 followed by a V3 at the top, pick three problems in the V1 range, followed by a V3. You’ll progress in your circuits by either shortening your rests or by choosing harder problems. Try starting sets 30 seconds sooner and see how much harder they feel.

Power-Endurance Games

Drag Racing

With a partner, set a timer for 15 minutes on the bouldering wall, or 30 minutes for roped routes. Try to complete as many problems or pitches as possible in the allotted time. Either climb the same routes, or create a point system for grades, so harder routes or problems are worth more points.


Start at the bottom of a boulder problem or route that’s fairly easy for you. Climb the first move, then downclimb to the start. Next, climb the first two moves, then downclimb to the start. Do this until you’re on the finish hold. That’s the lemon. Without coming off, downclimb one move and then re-climb to the finish. Repeat until you’ve downclimbed the entire route, and re-climbed it to the top. That’s the lime. Watch a partner do the same thing while you rest, then go for another round.

To improve your climbing by learning the proper ways to train your weaknesses, check out the rest of our series Learn to Train: A Complete Guide to Climbing Training.

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