Disclaimer: I am not a trained kinesiologist, but I did take 2.5 years of human kinetics in university. I have been involved in sport my entire life and I have based my personal training regime on my experiences.
First off some background. I grew up as a competitive alpine ski racer, competed for 15 years, and was a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team. It was very structured both on and off snow and everything was very scientific. Each day was part of a yearly training plan consisting of macro and micro cycles. Whether we were running gates, racing, or lifting weights, everything was planned out with the objective to peak at a certain time of year or for a specific event. Nothing was left to chance, especially as I got older and to the higher levels. These very same principles can be applied to climbing, breaking down training into different cycles to peak for a certain time of year.
But over complicating things can take the fun out of it and it most certainly does for me. With so many years of structured training under my belt I feel very little motivation to sit down and develop a yearly training plan and even less to actually follow one. This does not mean that I do not have some sort of method to my madness, because I most certainly do; it just means that you will not see me with a note pad counting the number of pull ups I do.
Here is a list of my training philosophies:
- Have Fun! There are not many people out there that do a recreational activity for some reason other than pure fun. So why should your training for your recreational activity be anything other than fun. Always being goal orientated can be frustrating, especially when chasing grades, so keep your training fun and enjoyable. To me everything about climbing is fun, if it was not fun I would not do it.
- Keep it Simple. Over complication is crazy. You are more likely to stick to your plan if it is simple. Once it becomes too complicated it can feel overwhelming and this can lead to loss of motivation. There is something to say about simplicity.
- Climb a lot. For me the best way to train for climbing is actually climbing. Weird I know, but it is simple. If you want to get better at skiing you have to ski a lot. This applies to any sport or activity but if you are not willing to put the time in doing the specific activity you are training for you cannot expect to get better. It also helps if you can climb with or around someone who is significantly better than you. You will learn a lot by watching them and it will help motivate you.
- Variety. It is really important to vary the style and type of training. The bodies ability to develop muscle memory is very impressive, with that being said it is very important to regularly change the activities you do. It is essential to train different aspects of climbing such as power, endurance, strength, and flexibility. If you limit yourself and focus on only one aspect you will not reach your total potential. Bouldering will help you develop power and route climbing with help you develop endurance.
- Train you weaknesses. If you truly want to improve you have to be super critical with yourself. Breakdown your climbing and analysis what is really holding you back from sending your project? Is it endurance or finger strength or technique? What is the biggest factor that is stoping you from clipping the chains or sending the problem? It is easy to climb routes or problems that work with your strengths and can be frustrating to work on your weaknesses but it is essential if you want to reach the next level.
- Time management. Do not waste time when you are training, get into the gym and 'get er done'! Stay focused on your goal. You will end up spending a lot of time in the gym so it is better to be efficient and get on with it.
- Cross Training. Especially at a young age it is important to be exposed to a lot of different activities and sports to help develop ones motor skills. This also applies to adults, albeit it is much more difficult for adults to learn new motor skills than young children but it is still important to vary the sports or activities one does. Climbing 5 days a week might be ok for an elite climber but for a intermediate climber one risks serious injury if they climb/train too much. This is where cross training comes in. It will help improve overall health and wellness, which is very important!
- Flexibility. It is often overlooked but is critical to keep ones body in peak working shape. Without proper regular flexibility training muscle stiffness can lead to major problems serious imbalances. If the idea of stretching does not excite you try a yoga class. Yoga should not replace regular stretching but it is a great way to develop strength in a lengthened manner. If you live in Squamish check out the Squamish Yoga Studio.
So those are my principles that I follow but what do I actually do day in and day out? Well here is a breakdown of my training for November thus far:
The year is broken down into different windows of training. The first window is Fall which comprises of as much outdoor climbing as possible (weather dependent and living in Squamish the weather can vary a lot each year) and marks the beginning of the indoor training. During this time I try my best to wrap up any outstanding climbing projects and start working on my weaknesses. This year I have been working on better open hand strength. So I have been bouldering using only open hands (no crimps) and dead hanging on campus rungs. I also do a lot of abdominal 'core' training and this is ongoing throughout the year.
As the fall fades into winter I shift my focus to power and strength. This is where I build my bouldering power and overall strength. I try to boulder as much as possible and have a lot of fun doing it. I will incorporate campus training into my workouts 3 times a week and specific weight training. When doing weights I like to keep the weight fairly low and do more reps. I have done a lot of weightlifting in my past and I tend to bulk up quickly if the weight is heavy. It is important to notice that working the antagonistic muscles is very important to avoid injuries. Climbers tends to have very strong backs and weak chests along with very strong forearm flexor muscles and weak exteriors. Imbalances can lead to problems such as tendonitis; therefore training the antagonistic muscles is a way of injury prevention.
Most of my time in the winter is spent in the gym but I try to get outside and climb as often as the weather permits. Cross training is also important at this time of the year. Working on general fitness is a great way to get out and enjoy winter. I spend my time downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and hiking.
When the weather breaks and the spring flowers start to bloom I move into a more endurance and power endurance based training. I will spend as much time on the wall as my skin will let me, endlessly looping the local bouldering coop. I really try to focus on building power endurance and increasing my lactate threshold (the onset of lactic acid in the blood, also know as anaerobic threshold and the threshold can be increased with training). This part is not high on my #1 Philosophy, Have Fun, but it is essential if you want to come out of the gate fighting. It is so nice starting the summer season in peak form and a great pay off for all the blood, sweat, and tears during the winter. As the weather improves I try to get out as much as possible and start working the power endurance in the real setting.
Summer! Time to go play outside, leave the gym for the next rainy season. I personally do not like to climb in the gym during the summer if I can help it. When the weather turns and there is no other option I will head back inside, but very rarely will you find me inside during the summer. If I cannot climb I will head out on my mountain bike for an adventure. It is important to keep up the training just on real rock and my philosophies 1, 2, and 3 apply, Have fun, Keep it Simple, and Climb a lot!
Well there you have it, my take on training for climbing. I have done basically this routine for the past 4 years and it has taken me from climbing mid 5.12 to 5.14's. Last year I definitely stepped up the number of training and climbing days. During the fall, winter, and spring I trained/climbed 5 days a week, Monday to Friday, with weekends off. During the summer I basically kept up the same pattern, climbing 5 days a week with the weekends off. From November 1, 2012 to October 31, 2013 I climbed 195 days, I sent: one 14b, one 14a/b, one 14a, one 13d, two 13c's, and two 13b's.