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Training: What is it?

Training is an all encompassing word.  There are many factors that can influence a climber’s performance and all aspects can (and should) be trained:

  • Your physical performance (fitness, strength etc)
  • Technique
  • Mental approach
  • Tactics


If you want to improve at climbing you need to address and train all of the above areas.  The best climbers in the world are fit, strong, have perfect technique, incredibly motivated, focussed under pressure and approach a climb efficiently.  Does this sound like you?  Yes? Well why aren’t you world champion or onsighting E10?  There must be a weak link in the chain!  You just need to find it.  And train it.

In this series of articles I will look at the first part listed above: your physical performance and how to train that.  I am a strong believer that the other areas are of equal relevance but training your physical performance is often the most misunderstood, but yet the most written about and where we focus our time and effort!

I am hoping that what I write here will be helpful to you regardless of your climbing level or what style you climb.

So where to start???  SET A GOAL.  Training is a complete waste of time without a goal.  If you like training for training’s sake that’s fine.  This is not a dig at you, but remember having a goal is the starting point to any successful training period.  I am unable to pass on my number one training tip.  It's impossible, what made a difference to me, may be irrelevant to you as our goals (and bodies) might (will) different.  So you'll have to take it as setting a goal is my number 1 tip.

Here is a great video from Robbie Phillips talking about exactly the same thing:  setting a goal.

A goal will help focus you and help you identify your weaknesses and what you need to train. Saying ‘just get better’ is not enough. That's what I used to say in my early days of climbing. Then I met a new group of people whose approach was different, I found some inspiration and a glimmer of a thought that I might actually be able to climb harder. Then I got goals, like climb Right Wall (E5) and Raindogs (8a). I hit a limit when I was trying Raindogs. After a long period of falling off it in the same place I realised I couldn’t possibly climb it without some focussed training. I needed to think about why I was falling off it and train the problem.

You may think that the routes or grades above are irrelevant to you. You might by chance happen to share exactly the same goals as me! It’s unlikely. The point is, what matters is your goal. This may be a particular route or boulder problem, or hitting a new grade or just getting the best out of your next climbing holiday. Make a list of things you want to do in the short term, like in the next 3-6 months and then longer term. You need both short and long term goals. Just having 1 long term goal will make training very difficult to stick to. Bradley Wiggins may have had winning the Tour de France as his long term goal but there will have been other shorter term race goals too.

 

Raindogs

Raindogs 8a, Malham, the route that got me focussed on training.  PHOTO Alex Messenger

Ok, back to training...

Our sport is really complicated: we have trad, bouldering, alpine long routes, sport, redpointing, onsighting and so on.  You may do one or all of them.  It’s complexity means:

  • There are many ways to train
  • There are many opinions on how to train
  • The specific scientific climbing research is confusing as most exercises and experiments are conducted in different environments so result in different findings.


There is however some science and (once you’ve set your goal - I won't give up on this one) you need to consider the following 3 things:

  1. The specific strength necessary for your goal
  2. The energy systems required for your goal
  3. Your general body fitness and conditioning required for your goal

The first relates your muscles.  The second one relates to your ‘climbing fitness’ ie. your anaerobic and aerobic systems.  The final one supports the first 2, looking at your core, flexibility cardio fitness etc.