Rock climbing training gear
In last year's Health Issue (No. 167), I detailed a three-month training program that included strength, power and power-endurance. While most people understood the principles and purpose of training power and power-endurance, I received a lot of questions about the strength part of the program. Many people were confused about the difference between strength and power, and wanted to know more about what strength is and why it's so important.
Strength is the maximum contraction load that a single muscle can exert. Power is using the strength of muscle groups to complete a movement in as short a time as possible. Strength is the foundation of what is possible. Power is tapping into the strength of one or more muscle groups to perform an action.
Many people train to get stronger through power exercises such as campusing, system boards and bouldering. These exercises are great for teaching us how best and most effectively to use the existing strength that we have however, they do not create lasting changes in the makeup of our muscles. Power exercises improve the efficiency of the muscles and initially yield an improved climbing performance. Eventually, however, they lead to a plateau in performance when improving efficiency is not enough. Then, more strength is needed in order to improve as a climber.
This article targets climbers who have been climbing for a few years and who boulder regularly. These climbers will benefit most by incorporating strength-specific exercises into their training routines for six to eight weeks, one or two times a year. After completing this period of pure strength, spend a few weeks doing power and power-endurance exercises in order to reach your peak.
Power exercises can result in higher levels of strength, but not as efficiently as direct strength training. If you are predominantly a route climber, you will see improvement in your climbing by bouldering for a few months, indoors over the winter.
These exercises are to be done three times a week with a minimum of one day off in between training days. Some of the exercises are best done in a climbing gym or at least on a hangboard, and others require access to a basic weight room. Ideally, you can work out at a climbing gym that also has weight-training equipment.
During the strength-training portion of a long-term training plan, keep your actual climbing to a minimum. Climbing on training or non-training days will affect either the quality of a workout or the recovery from one. If you need to climb, take it easy. After a few of these workouts, you probably won't be able to climb much anyway. Strength training saps your muscles and will cause you to forget how to climb efficiently. Despite this steep drop in performance, understand that the long-term gains from strength training are worth the few weeks of sucking.
It is important to follow a strength-training program for a minimum of four weeks. Anything shorter won't produce lasting results. You should see improvement after two or three weeks, merely a result of your muscles adapting to the specific exercises. Keep pushing yourself for at least four weeks - it is the lasting results that will make you a better climber.
Hang with your fingers straight on the hold for maximum benefit.
Avoid angling your fingers across the hold.
Also avoid hooking your thumb and crimping.
HOW IT WORKS: WEIGHT, REPS, SETS AND REST
With weight lifting and hangboarding, you will be doing two sets of some number of reps depending on what week it is. The target range for reps will be 12 to 15 for the first and fourth weeks, 8 to 10 reps for the second and fifth weeks, and 5 to 8 reps for the third and sixth weeks. You will need to figure out in advance how much weight you need to add to fall into this range of repetitions. Keep a log of these numbers (weight/reps/sets) for each exercise after every workout so you know where to start next time. The point of increasing the weight and number of reps is to force your body to adapt.
The length of time you rest between the two sets will depend on the number of reps completed. In general, the higher the number of reps, the less time you should spend resting. This seems counterintuitive, but doing more reps means using less weight, thus placing less stress on the muscle fibers, which therefore require less rest between sets.
Five to 8 reps: Rest two to three minutes between sets.
Eight to 12 reps: Rest one to two minutes between sets.
With 12 to 15 reps: Rest one minute between sets.
Spend one week (three training sessions) doing 12 to 15 reps at the max weight for the 12-rep amount. Then spend a week doing 8 to 10 reps with the max weight for the 8-rep amount. Then spend a week doing 5 to 8 reps at the 5-rep amount.
From the fourth to the sixth week, your goal is to increase the previously accomplished max weight and repeat the same progression. With each training day you should fail at the end of the second set. If you do not fail, do extra reps until you do. Make a note of how many reps you did, and at what weight, and if necessary adjust the weight for the next training day.
For maintaining strength during other phases of your training (power and power-endurance), do at least one set of 10 reps for each exercise at least once a week. The different exercises can be done on different days spread over more training sessions.