Building a Rockclimbing Training Plan

Someone recently emailed me with a question about training:

"Hi Lee, I have been training fingers about 2-3 times a week using a modified 'Moon' climbing session. Basic training for me at the moment is based on hangboarding and bouldering or bouldery routes (aka Nowra in winter). Do you have a session based on power endurance or resistance? I think this is where I am lacking? I have never really trained this effectively. Do you have any ideas?"

Sounds like you're really gunning for power and finger strength. That's great IF that's a particular weakness of yours. It was for me a year ago, and I've seen good gains by training like you are, but I wouldn't do it indefinitely.

My program is heavily based on Rockprodigy’s periodised training plan.

It focuses around there being three main areas you want to train (he also talks about ARC but you can read up on that)...

FOCUS 1. Hypertrophy (power, finger strength, building the muscles)
4-6 week phase length
What you're doing now (hangboarding, 4*4's, powerful bouldering [up to 8 moves])
I use the same system Rockprodigy uses for hangboarding and my hangboard log looks like this.
free weights
weighted hangs & pullups
climbing with a small amount of weight on a weight belt (Don’t overdo this. Start with 2kg)
static systems training

FOCUS 2. Maximum recruitment (making the most of the muscles you’ve built - making them "smarter")
2-3 weeks phase length
Moon Campus session
There are ways of training recruitment on a pullup bar if you don't have access to a campus board. They usually revolve around exercises that make you pullup as fast as possible, lower slowly to the bottom, and then explode back up as quickly as possible. Repeat.
Limit moves. You can train recruitment on the bouldering wall by doing short (1-3 move) problems at the absolute maximum limit of your ability. Have a decent (1-2 minute) rest between tries.

FOCUS 3. Power Endurance
2-6 weeks phase length. You can expect to “peak” during this phase.
Circuits on a home wall or boulder gym. Circuits are set problems usually 20 to about 50 moves in length that start and finish on the same hold. Training circuits involves completing the circuit in a set amount of time, and then having a defined period of rest (usually three times the climbing time) then repeating it. I do this 10 times with my circuits. If you don’t complete the circuit, get back on and keep track of which move you fall off each time.

An example circuit training setup with ideas for improving it

“Hourglass” at the climbing gym

mod route 3 times | mod route 3 times | mod route 3 times
hard route 2 times | hard route 2 times
extreme route once
hard route 2 times | hard route 2 times
mod route 3 times | mod route 3 times | mod route 3 times

Projecting (several attempts on a hard climb) or doing volume at the crag.

FOCUS 4. Rest (gotta include this in the plan!)
1-2 weeks of rest
Training doesn't make you stronger. Training shocks your body. Your body then tries to adapt and grow stronger to cope with the training stress. It can only do this effectively during rest periods. You accumulate stress in your body while you're climbing and training and even elite climbers must take off chunks (weeks) of time each year in order to heal up and get back to 100%. If you don't rest enough, you'll be forced to rest due to injury or a performance/motivational collapse.

What if I don't want to follow a strict plan?
If you don't want to phase them strictly like I've outlined, that's fine -- you can train them all together but it isn't as effective. Right now, I'm not doing the phased (or periodised) plan as such because I'm not setting myself up to "peak". But I do choose a training focus, work it for a while, then shift focus. If you keep doing the same training (e.g. climbing gym twice a week) your body will simply adapt and you won't get gains, you'll just maintain.

If you want to combine different elements into a single week of training make sure you do hypertrophy/power first, then maximum recruitment, then endurance work last. Two days rest after a power session is wise. I am training/climbing three or four days a week on average at the moment. Elite climbers manage to climb and train six days a week, but most of us will never be able to devote the time required to get to this level.

Start things gradually. Small increases in volume/intensity will ensure your body has time to adapt.
Emphasise quality over quantity always. A quality one hour session is better than three hours of thrashing.
Don’t train through pain. Stop! Or suffer the injurious consequences!
Look at why you are failing on routes/problems. Focus on that for a while. Then repeat - find the next weakness and switch focus. If you keep doing the same training your body will adapt and you won't get gains, you'll just maintain.
The biggest "secret" to improvement: Increase the volume and/or intensity of training and climbing you do over time.

Keywords: periodization, periodisation, supercompensation, phased training, training cycles


Tom Lancaster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Lancaster said...

Hi Lee,

in your hangboard log, what do the +/- figures mean after each set?

I've just discovered your blog in my quest to push into the 7s, loving all your advice!