Climbing Conditioning Program 2011: When to Train Strength Endurance PDF Print E-mail

Climbing Conditioning Program 2011 - When to Train Strength Endurance

Column #134, 10th December 2011

I was recently reading a climbing forum page where the discussion was on the topic of training tips.  As with most forums, opinion was widespread and what worked for one was ineffective for another……though no arguments had broken out at the time of writing.  I am a firm believer of finding what works for you and applying it.  This is an individual approach and as you will see there are many ways to achieve your climbing conditioning goals, whether that is increasing strength endurance, relative strength, power or other.

Do Climbers need Strength Endurance?

Being strong in movement is one thing, being able to repeat that strong movement repeatedly is another.  As a climber and/or boulderer you require strength endurance to repeatedly move your body typically upwards and across through a repeated set of moves.  It is no advantage to you to be strong and with good form at the beginning of a route, if half way up you fatigue and climb with unnecessarily bad technique.  Strength endurance training should be during a conversion phase that ‘converts’ your movement, relative strength or aerobic endurance into a more climbing-specific’ strength endurance.

What is Periodisation?

As a strength and conditioning coach I enjoy getting together with climbers and other athletes and planning out their training routine.  It’s all about problem solving.  There are many factors involved in getting it right and knowing which elements to train and when is a big part of this puzzle.

Periodisation is the planning, dividing, blending and scheduling of your training programs.  It can involve the long, medium and short term timeframe and essentially puts forward a best case scenario in which to strive to stick to.  The most effective periodisation takes into account all the:

  • practical aspects,
  • individual concerns,
  • goals,
  • competitions,
  • recovery
  • fitness components
  • pre, in, post and off-seasons
  • motivation and compliance
  • flexibility and contingencies

Simply sitting down by yourself and working through these factors can have a significant impact on your success, whilst getting in-depth feedback from a specialist can add even more value.  The mistake is to completely disregard it.  If you do, then the inevitable barrier, hiccup, injury, inconvenience or disruption will do its best to stutter your progress.

How and When to Train Strength Endurance

This will completely depend on the individual, but in the Six-Month Climbing Conditioning Program, Strength Endurance makes its first appearance in Phase 3.  An indepth reasoning for this is discussed at the workshops but the science behind this is based on what factors need to come first.  Imagine your typical strength endurance training session and it may be a circuit-style set-up with various upper, lower and whole-body exercises performed with a high number of repetitions with low-medium loads/intensities.  If you like, this could be the approach to your climbing session, where intensities are low, volume is high and rest is minimised.

These approaches are perfectly effective at training strength endurance, but consider what needs to be in place before we challenge the body in this way?  Not just to make sure we avoid injury, but also to provide a platform for this training to give you the most impressive results?  After all, why would you put this level of effort into something that was disproportionate to the results you got back?

The answer to this question is in Phase 1 and 2.  You may have read the previous articles that describe how these specially designed programs are focused on different outcomes:

  1. Correcting Imbalances in the body such as posture, core function and muscle balance
  2. Creating a Foundation on which to build
  3. Enhancing Movement Patterns

In just two phases your body has improved alignment, structural balance, strengthened weaknesses, lengthened tightness, higher energy levels and greater movement efficiency.  This begs the question, why would you subject the body to a circuit of hundreds of repetitions with various loads and positions, before the body was in balance?  Of course this is an individual choice, but it is my opinion that greater success will come from correcting those imbalances and providing a foundation first and then throwing in the necessary challenges.  Try it and see.

Effective Strength and Conditioning

If I were to refer back to that vibrant climbing forum for answers I would remain a little confused.  Everybody’s opinion was valid because that is what worked for them.  Some felt that some strength training off the rock and away from the wall was important to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, whereas others believed that this was a waste of time that could be better spent on the rock.

What are my thoughts?  Well, they are somewhere between the both, but they are about getting the best of both, not just a mediocre compromise in the middle.  What seemed to be missed was that the conditioning side of climbing should be all about doing things that complement your climbing.  Things that actually have a positive impact on your climbing performance.  I agree that spending valuable time on training programs that do not advance you on your way to reaching your potential levels of performance, are simply a waste of time.  However, the issue here is that the training programs in question must be poorly designed and executed.  Time to rethink your conditioning programs.

There is no doubt that the best way to improve climbing ability is to climb, climb and climb some more.  However, for numerous reasons, well-designed and executed strength and conditioning programs can be the difference between reaching and falling short of your potential.  The key is to perform high quality conditioning programs that are designed to:

  • Increase your strength, endurance and power
  • Keep you injury free
  • Prevent you from hitting a plateau
  • Correct imbalances brought on by your sport
  • Enable you to recover quicker
  • Enable you to climb more often
  • Enable you to climb at greater intensities and still not get injured and yet recover quickly.

Strength and Conditioning Programs designed with the individual in mind can do all of this.  Do not think of it as time spent on something else that eats into your time on the rock/wall.  See it as a way of actually getting more frequent climbing done, with better results and greater longevity.

If your training program is not providing you with this………why are you doing it?  It is quite simply a poor training program.  You need more return on your investment of time and effort, so find a way to enhance the quality of your program.  Today’s article gives you a few pointers on how to do this for your strength endurance training, otherwise contact me with any specific training questions you have.  Better yet come down to the Durham Climbing Centre Conditioning Workshops.


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Jack Walton
Written on Friday, 09 December 2011 00:00 by Jack Walton

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