Staying Strong: How to Perform Your Best All Season

Maintaining performance for prolonged periods can be tricky.

Photo: Spenser Tang-Smith

As climbers, we often emerge from the gym at the start of the season packed full of power but unsure how to keep it. The more you trade rock for plastic, the more you’ll discover that while your endurance and technique improve on real rock, strength and power will diminish. This is particularly the case when doing a lot of onsighting, especially on trad. When you’re redpointing, after a few tries, the individual moves will be too easy to allow you to maintain power. Even boulderers can find that climbing on real rock will result in a loss of raw pulling power—unless you take steps to combat this seemingly inevitable depletion.

Part of the problem stems from the random nature of outdoor climbing, which can make it difficult to plan training. Additionally, toward the end of the climbing season most dedicated climbers are perilously close to burning out and/or getting injured. It’s easy to underestimate how mentally and emotionally exhausting it can be to continue to force yourself to climb hard. Many climbers find they just feel like resting as the season winds down.

When considering how to approach training in a way that allows you to maintain performance long term, the pertinent question becomes: How can I design my midweek training and nutrition to enhance my outdoor climbing goals?

1. Training

The main point of in-season training is to maximize the quality of midweek sessions and avoid doing anything that will place massive demands on recovery. Short sessions with good rests between climbs and sets are the order of the day. Clearly, requirements will vary from climber to climber but most should focus on strength. Sport and trad climbers should boulder or do hangboard and campus sessions. You can finish with a small amount of endurance, such as a few circuits or laps on routes just to keep things topped up, but only if you feel there is a deficit to address. Boulderers are advised to go for campus and hangboard sessions midweek or to use a steep woody or system board to maximize strength and power.

If you are trying a project (sport climbing or bouldering), the best approach for midweek training is to simulate the proj in your sessions. For example, do replica boulder problems, or laps on routes that are a similar length and style, or foot-on campus laps for the same number of moves as your project. (Note that toward the end of a major siege, you may detect that your body needs a change from your project as opposed to more of the same.)

Regarding microcycle (weekly) structure, if you climb on the weekend, two midweek sessions should be optimal for most. However, if you pushed hard on both weekend days and plan to do the same the following weekend, then one midweek session is preferable. If you’re going for two sessions, the first option is to choose Tuesday and Thursday, creating single rest days between training and climbing days, but in that case it’s vital to make Thursday’s session very light. The other option is to train consecutively on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving two rest days before the weekend. Experiment with both, but the two-rest- day strategy will probably have greater benefit, especially if you do strength on Tuesday and light endurance on Wednesday.

2. Nutrition

Cycling your nutrition around your climbing is a key strategy for sustaining performance throughout the season. There are many possibilities here and the precise formula will vary according to the goals of the individual; however, the main theme is to eat well for a day or two after a climbing session to promote recovery, then eat lightly during the week until your next climbing day/s to maintain low body weight. You shouldn’t go for large fluctuations by gorging yourself and then starving. Just eat normally for a day or two, and then restrict calories slightly. Another approach is to monitor your diet on a Mesocycle (monthly cycle) and have a period of, say, two to four weeks where you train hard and eat well, followed by a sending phase of similar length where you maintain a slightly lower weight. Repeat this process as required.

This strategy works well if you’re gearing up for a specific trip, but less well for the weekend climber. The modern approach for getting lean is to cut down on complex carbohydrates and sugars and to eat protein-rich foods with plenty of green vegetables and salad combined with high- quality omega fats from foods such as oily fish, avocados and nuts. For the days or periods when you’re eating for recovery, avoid highly refined carbs such as bread or white pasta, and instead favor low-glycemic-index carb sources such as sweet potato and quinoa.

3. Supportive Strategies

Make sure to get good sleep, especially toward the end of a long, demanding season. It’s also vital to keep up your antagonist exercises (push-ups and reverse wrist curls or rubber-band extensions) at least twice a week to stave off injury. On the same note, consider getting a weekly sports massage and doing yoga or stretching sessions.

This article appeared in Rock and Ice 228

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