What I Know About Training

When I started climbing, I was pretty much a regular bumbly.  I went through season after season of little to no improvement, without really understanding why.  Every time I flirted with a breakthrough I wound up injured and right back where I started.  I assumed that all those people climbing 5.12 or harder were simply genetically gifted, born with elite finger strength.  I was a pretty decent athlete.  I wrestled in high school, and made it to the Quarterfinals of the State Tournament my senior year, so I had a decent amount of upper body strength, good body control and balance.  I ran cross country and track in college.  I knew how to work hard, and how to follow a training program.  Yet when it came to climbing, my ceiling appeared to be mid-5.11.

Me as a bumbly, c. 1996

When I graduated from college I moved to Albuquerque, NM, and finally got my first climbing gym membership.  When I first entered the gym I struggled to climb V1 boulder problems, but after a few weeks I was shooting up the grade scale.  I remember how proud I was to climb my first V4, then a V6, then POP!  There went the A2 Pulley in my left ring finger.  Hmm, a minor setback, but I was young and my body healed quickly.  Three months later I was back at it, another V6 in the bag.  One day I went to repeat the problem just for fun.  POP!  There went the A2 Pulley in my right ring finger.  Bummer.  That summer, the same story again.  I worked my butt off to get back to where I was, and then seemingly without warning I re-injured my left ring finger. 

Finger strength is less of an issue now:

Enough was enough.  I had never been so frustrated.  Three consecutive seasons ending in serious injury.  On the advice of my brother Mike, I picked up a copy of Dale Goddard & Udo Neumann’s “Performance Rock Climbing”.  I read it cover to cover in no time flat.  The metaphors in the book spoke perfectly to me.  This is what I was searching for.  Long story short, in the ten years since I first began following the concepts in that book I’ve gone from a limit of 5.12a to 5.14c.  From three pulley tears in a little over one year to zero in over ten years of doing moves much harder than those that previously resulted in injury.

That’s not to say I haven’t had setbacks; I’ve had plenty, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the process.  But the point is, I’m not a genetic freak.  I didn’t climb 5.13 when I was nine years old or go from zero to 5.14 in less than a year.  I have a good work ethic, but basically I was a pretty average climber for a long time.  Then I started training.  I didn’t become an expert overnight, but with a lot of trial and error, a lot of research and networking, I’ve learned a tremendous amount, and the results of these efforts have far exceeded my wildest expectations.  Many others have had similar results.  I personally know three other climbers that have elevated their game from Gumby-hood to 5.14 following the same basic program that I follow, and many, many others that have made it to 5.13.  It takes some time, some hard work, and perhaps some sacrifice, but I believe firmly that any climber willing to put forth the effort can see huge improvements with the proper guidance.  I hope to share some of that insight here, and if you’re willing to give it a shot, I think you will be happy with the results.

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3 thoughts on “What I Know About Training

  1. Pingback: Three Reasons to Train for Climbing | Lazy H Climbing Club

  2. The ‘Periodized Rock Climbing Training Calender’ spreadsheet on the climbing.com post has aerobic exercise scheduled 2 to 7 times a week .. so do you recommend cutting it out completely now?

    I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge and can’t wait to get my hands on your new book.

    • Howell,

      As with any training program, it depends on what your training for. If you are training to do alpine rock routes with long approaches, where speed is a factor, then aerobic conditioning can come in handy. On the other hand, for pure, performance-oriented rock climbing, whole-body aerobic exercise (like running, swimming, cycling) has little benefit, and is almost certainly detrimental. These activities increase appetite, making it difficult to stay lean, increase mass in areas that are not helpful for climbing (like the legs), and take time and energy away from climbing-specific training and recovery.

      That said, there is more to life than just climbing the most difficult chuck of rock possible. Aerobic exercise has proven benefits for general health and mental well-being, and many just plain enjoy it (myself included). Bottom line, do it if it makes you happy, but understand it probably interferes with your climbing performance more than it helps. See this post for more on how to include aerobic exercise into a climbing-specific periodic training program WITHOUT undermining your climbing performance. Thanks for the great question!
      Mark

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