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Training: Power endurance

If you have power endurance you will

  • Be able to complete long boulder problems or medium/longer routes, which are all out and at your max
  • Continue to climb when you’re really pumped
  • Do the crux of a route even though you are already a bit tired
  • Improve your lactate threshold

Training power endurance is not quite as straightforward as other kinds of training.  Often people think if ‘I just get pumped loads that’ll get me fit’.  Power endurance is often misunderstood, not trained correctly and as a result remains many people’s weak area.  Here we are trying to increase the lactate threshold, which is the maximum effort that can be sustained for an extended period without lactate steadily building up.

What makes things complicated is that when you are using your power endurance you are relying on both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.  In this high intensity zone when you are pulling off a number of hard moves in a row, neither energy system works exclusively.  Further still, this will change on climb to climb and person to person.  There is no one climbing exercise that will sort this out and you need to think carefully about your aims. The key, if you have any chance of continuing to climb hard to avoid the ‘fade’ or to climb when pumped, is that you need to train different parts of your power endurance (and also your endurance or aerobic capacity).  The first stage is to train your short end power endurance and then afterwards your longer end power endurance.

1.  Short end power endurance - 10-25 moves (anaerobic capacity)

The sensation felt after a number of moves when you fall off will be like you are ‘fading’.  You’ll think ‘I’m not even pumped (damn it!)’, but you no longer have the strength to hang on.  This fading is often called being ‘powered out’.


Here I am on a 7b+ traverse at Varazze, Italy.  I kept falling in the middle, where I powered out.  But when I got through to the end  I felt quite pumped.  Here I needed different energy systems (and strength) to get me to the end.

The kind of energy you are using here is anaerobic energy (the chemical reaction to make this energy doesn’t require oxygen).  This kind of training does not involve getting massively pumped, but you do fail because you are getting powered out.  It’s counterintuitive.  You may think that you need to just get pumped loads to learn to tolerate a pump, but in effect this means you are constantly climbing at your max to failure, which is not a good thing.  Other sports do not take the approach of constantly doing max performances, and neither should climbers.  There is a more scientific approach.

Adaption time:  At least 18 weeks

How easy is it to train?

Unlike the aerobic energy system it is much harder to train the anaerobic energy system.  There are two types of anaerobic energy and we can only effectively train one kind.  Firstly there the creatine phosphate system (which only lasts 10 seconds) and that’s extremely difficult to train since it also depends on the types of muscle fibres you personally have (more fast twitch can adapt better to this system).  So we are only able to train the other element of the anaerobic energy system (glycolytic), the kind that runs out after 2-3 minutes (you’ll know about this as you’ll feel very pumped in your arms).

Short end session ideas

General rules:

  • Short intervals
  • Each repetition should be just less than your max
  • Rest should be double (or more than) the exertion time

1.  Linked boulders.  Pick a 12-15 move boulder problem (vert or overhanging) that is 1 grade harder than your maximum onsight (so not completely at your limit – you will be able to do it after working it a handful of attempts).  Climb it 3 times with a 2.5 min break in between.  Rest 5 mins and repeat 2 more times.  On your last set you will probably start to fail at the end of the boulder problems.

2.  Foot on campus board.  Or this could be a systems board.  Ideally you will pick something where every move and hand type is exactly the same throughout the exercise.  Climb 15-20 moves with your feet on. Climb it 3 times with a 2.5 min break in between.  Rest 5 mins and repeat 2 more times.  On your last set you will probably start to fail.

3. Watch James Pearson training 2 different kinds of short end power endurance (with lots of other useful tips on breathing and shaking out. 

If you end up getting wildly pumped, either lower the grade or increase the rest time.  Try 1-2 sessions per week of the above out for 6-10 weeks in combination with aerobic capacity/endurance training.  One you have done this for a while you will be in a much better position to train with a real pump (the next stage).

When you are thinking about your goal try to replicate it as much as possible in your exercises.  Think about replicating the angle, the shape of the holds and type of moves (snatchy or big?).

2.  Long end power endurance - 30 moves + (aerobic power)

Once you have been working on your aerobic and anaerobic capacity (as above) for a while, it’s time to step it up and start training with a pump.  Here you are working the very high intensity end of the aerobic energy system.  You have built up the ability to do hard moves over a short time in the short end training. Now you are trying to climb hard over much longer period of time with a deep pump.  This is the holy grail for route climbers.  We often think we are so pumped we can’t hang on any longer.  The fact is people who are good at this get pumped just like everyone else, but can carry on climbing for longer periods.

Nic Verdon

Nic high up getting pumped on something desperate in the Verdon - using long end power endurance - something Nic worked hard to develop by climbing long boulder circuits indoors on hard boulder problems just under his limit.

In these exercises you are now climbing highish volume (you are on the wall for a good period of time) and the intensity of climbing is high.  You arms will be bursting!  These exercises are all HARD!

WARNING: Whilst this kind of training is incredibly effective, it's very hard on the body.  Because of this, only carry out long end power endurance training in short windows (e.g. 6 week blocks).  Otherwise you will be at risk of injury.

Adaption time: 6+ weeks minimum

Long end session ideas

General rules:

  • 30-60 moves or 1-2 routes (highish volume)
  • Short rests (less than or equal to climb time) length will be in relation to length of climbing
  • Level of climbing should be just under your max

1. 4x4 boulder problems.  Pick 4 different (10-12 move) boulder problems that are just under the limit of your onsight boulder grade.  Ideally the boulder problems will be all a bit different (slopers, crimps, big moves, volumes). Climb each boulder problem back to back.  Rest 5 mins.  Repeat 3 more times (16 boulder problems in all). Tip:  try to slow it down by simulating clips, you are at risk of climbing the boulder problems so fast (because you know them) that it doesn’t replicate real climbing speed.

2. 3 lives.  Pick a route or 30 move circuit that is 1-2 grades above your regular onsight, i.e. you will not be able to onsight this route.  It needs to be alongside another route or circuit with enormous jugs.  Try to climb your circuit using the ‘jugs’ as lives.  If you feel you may fall off grab a jug and rest.  Continue climbing.  You will remain on the route much longer than normal.  Over time try to eliminate the number of jugs or lives.  Repeat 3 times in total.

3. Watch this video of James Pearson.  It’s called endurance or stamina training, but he is training long end power endurance in this video.

If you want to read more about the science behind all this I can recommend 9a climber Alex Barrow’s write up about the different energy systems.