Many people are stoked to go to the crag week in, week out, and climb the same routes year after year. For some folks climbing is just recreation, not sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t consider watching TV a sport. I don’t seek methods for improving my TV watching (although I did get a Tivo a few years back, and that pretty much revolutionized my TV watching career), I watch TV for the pure fun of it. I’m happy for those who approach climbing with that attitude, I wish them all the best, and thank them for leaving the hard routes that much less crowded 🙂 Other people would prefer to see some form of steady improvement over the years (and perhaps a large percentage of the first group are truly part of the second, but they’ve become frustrated after spending years stuck at a plateau, and simply accepted that its not their destiny to climb beyond the level they’re currently at). If you’re like me, and you want to improve, its just a matter of deciding how to go about doing it and following through with conviction.
Now, there are many paths to climbing improvement, and they are not all the same. If you’re a hard worker and you have your head on straight, I think its quite possible to experience slow and steady improvement by simply going to the gym or crag on a regular basis. If you’re willing to put the time in, its probably not necessary to follow a structured training regimen. On the other hand, I believe there are some significant advantages to following a designed program.
In my experience, there are basically three primary reasons to “train” for climbing. First and foremost, because it works, in the sense that most of the time, if done properly, training produces steady improvement over time, which is pretty sweet. In some cases, it will produce radical improvement in a pretty short period of time. Check out What I Know About Training for some evidence to back up that claim.
Second, training reduces the risk of injury. Training prepares your muscles and connective tissue for the stress they will be exposed to once you get out on the rock. If done wisely, this preparation is controlled and quantified to maximize the amount of stress your body can withstand without doing harm. In the process, training teaches you to get a feel for exactly how much stress those structures can handle before you need to back off. Not only does training reduce the risk of injury, but it provides a framework and methodology for recovering from existing injuries. Once you convert to the mindset of an athlete in training, although you’re still likely to suffer injuries from time to time, they will rarely hold you back for long, because you will become an expert in listening to your body, identifying weakness, stressing weak tissue to stimulate growth, and managing rest periods to maximize recovery. “Training” and “Rehabilitation” are really just different words for the same thing, and you will become an expert in both.
Third, training saves time. In fact it saves lots of time. Nothing is more inefficient, in terms of time, than going to the crag and climbing random routes in an effort to stimulate tissue growth. With a good training regimen, you can identify precisely which areas you want to stimulate, and apply stress exactly where you want with no wasted effort. With the proper equipment and a well-conceived program you can work every grip position to failure in less than 90 minutes. Good luck doing that at the crag! Plus it can be done without a partner, at the gym or in your basement, any time of the day, any day of the year, regardless of weather, work schedules, etc.