Most important training principle: Simplicity

June 2017
I followed a very typical climbing curve so far. That is, if I were one of the statistic from a sample population of climbers, I will live on the regression line and not be an outlier.

Like any typical climber, I progressed rapidly at first, then plateaued for a small time, then progressed with some harder climbing efforts, got injured, plateaued and stayed on the plateau for long. Then I started paying attention to my climbing methods, dabbling in some self-made training regimen, taking a critical view of my nutrition and rest periods. And again saw marginal improvements, which is still steadily increasing. All these phases have taken around 4 years, with 3 years climbing and a year of time off in between.

Like any climber who wants to improve, I have been reading a lot of training material, listening to podcasts, buying books and reading blogs. Here are a few important things that I have learnt.

  • Keep it simple and realistic
  • Showing up every single time and doing something is more important
  • Stick with a plan long enough for it to make some impact 
  • Listen to your body - pay close attention to nutrition, sleep and rest
  • Periodization & Progression works - Non-linear periodization is better than linear periodization
  • Whatever you do - For climbing, you always train three sport-specific things - Strength, Power, Power Endurance. These three are built on a solid basis of good basic fitness and general strength
Let's look at these things in a bit of detail.

Keep it simple - If it's complex you probably will not stick with it. Keep it simple and realistic. 

Show up - Consistency is they key. Immediate muscular adaptations that happen after a training session is short lived. For consistent and longer term adaptations, give any activity / exercise a minimum of 10-12 sessions over a period of 12-15 week cycles for it to be effective. Be regular, stick with it and give it some time to have an effect. 

Sleep well - After a heavy session, get at least 8-10 hours of sleep. Even on rest days, try and get in at least 8 hours of sleep. Most of the recovery and supercompensation happens in sleep, give yourself a best shot at it.

Have a balanced diet - Don't run away from good fats. Don't avoid carbs. For high intensity activity like climbing, carbs help you to fuel your sessions. Well, there have been fine example of Ketogenic diets doing wonders for some climbers, for eg. Dave McLeod. But it is a very strict and demanding diet and most people will fail at following it. A balanced 45/35/30 diet of carb/fat/protein will work well for most.

Rest - Rest for at atleast 24-48 hours between intense sessions including heavy weights, limit bouldering or strenuous power endurance sessions. Aim for a minimum of three days of climbing for strength, power and power endurance in a week. If possible, try and squeeze in a fourth day if your body permits. Climbing / training when tired and below par does more harm than good. I need to try and follow this more. However, it's important to note that maximal performance is not the goal of training. Training will result in a bit of fatigue and soreness. One must be able to differentiate between healthy soreness and unhealthy fatigue. When you feel the latter, stop, don't climb / train. In general, I take it easy (read half the regular volume every four weeks).

Training strength - Train general upper body strength by doing weighted pull ups and dips. No more than 5 reps at 85% of maximum capacity in a set for 3-4 sets. You can add dumbbell rows, I don't do it. For lower body, you can do squats only if absolutely required. I don't do it, except for when I am training specifically for a long alpine objective. I would also consider adding lock off strength training in my regimen. These are intense and short sessions that I would add after a redpoint session. In the rest periods between strength sessions, I do hanging leg raises as a part of my core strength routine. You can also add ab rollers or windshield wipers. In general, I like to do no more than 3/4 exercises in 30-45 minutes for general body strength sessions. 

Training finger strength - I like to do two fingerboard sessions - 1) Repeaters protocol including 7 sec on 3 secs off for 6 reps in a 1 minute. Do 2 sets each for 4/5 different hold/grips, and 2) Max weight protocol, which calls for 12 seconds hang followed by 3 minute rest for five sets each on two to three different holds/grips. Overall hangboard session lasts for around 50 minutes. I get a good session on Sunday, but accommodating a good fingerboard session after climbing is usually difficult for me on Wednesday. However, I try.

Training power - I am a big advocate of limit bouldering for training power. Go and bouder hard. Focus on hardest possible moves, not volume. Train for specific weaknesses, small crimps, dynamic moves and/or deadpoint moves. Can also incorporate campus board routines, but watch out for pesky injuries if you decide to do campusing. Instead dynos on big holds or maxi pull rungs is better.

Training power endurance - Route intervals mid intensity involves 4x4 (120/130 moves per set) on lead, while higher intensities involve 4x2 (60/70 moves per set) on lead. Do this once a week. I also add second power endurance session in the form of linked bouldering circuits, with 4x4x4 (50 moves per set) for high volume sessions and 4x4x2 (25 moves per set) for love volume high intensity circuits. 

In general, I like to incorporate a high level of specificity and keeping away boredom. Hence my preferred training volume is split in 30% of training (non-climbing time) and 70% climbing (climbing time).

This is what has been in effect for the past 4 months, with one months of injury-forced rest in between. Injury was not climbing centric and no way caused by the training. The training has helped me achieve my personal bests after nearly a couple of years plateau (read that is a few 5.12s and V7s).