High Performance Climbing

Don't Try to Get Tired...



“That was a great workout...I am so sore from it.”


I swear every time I hear people talk about how great a workout was based on how the felt afterward, I want to puke. Which of course is an indicator of a good workout itself, which means that all a great trainer would have to do to to get me in shape is to talk about how good his workout yesterday was. For the uninitiated, let me remind you what training is and is not. Training is directed and regular overloading of the body, completed with a mind toward improving a specific facet of performance. To perform better at a sport, or any task really, you need to both train the body to work more efficiently and to practice the movements of the activity.


Training is by its very nature repetitive and difficult. Training teaches, and although it might make you sweat, swear, bleed, or puke, that is not its aim. A typical exercise class, even in a badass climbing gym, can feature lots of rounds of reps and sets of all kinds of exercisy stuff, which might or might not make you tired and will only accidentally make you stronger. Why do they do it? Because that is what the customer expects. The customer is wrong.


Start with why.

A great exercise in planning is to ask “why” of every element of your training. You’re doing burpees? Why? What is the desired result of doing this exercise? Why burpees and not sprints? Why burpees and not laps on the system wall? If you can articulate why you are doing an exercise or series of exercises, it’s much easier to stay motivated for them...or to throw them out.


When you hang from your fingertips, you do it to get better at hanging from your fingertips. It works like gangbusters. It’s hard to fault a training session built around hangs, pulls, and tension exercises. When we start throwing stuff in to throw stuff in, it gets complicated. Burpees to warm up, get the heartrate going? OK. Burpees to “increase endurance?” No thanks.


Look at your training plan. There should be a “why” for every single thing you do.


10 pull-ups. Why?

Rest 2 minutes. Why?

Campus Ladders. Why?


If you are extremely weak or detrained, soreness and fatigue are part of getting going on a training program. After that, look at improvement of your numbers. You should have personal tests of your fitness. These don’t need to be specific to your sport, but they should be repeatable and you should know these numbers well. You want to have a test for leg strength, upper body strength, forearm endurance, finger strength, and maybe anaerobic endurance. Everything needs to get tested a couple of times a year, and if you do a specific training cycle, such as a leg strength program, then that specific test should by-God go up!


Test only with exercises you know. If you don’t know how to squat, learn to squat before using it in testing or training.


Here are a few tests we like:


Leg Strength: Front Squat (3RM)

Upper Body Strength: Weighted Pull-Up (3RM)

Forearm Endurance: 16mm edge hangs at BW, 20 sec on, 20 sec off, count rounds.

Finger Strength: 10 sec weighted hang, 12mm edge.

Anaerobic Endurance: Air Bike 10 minute test.


Real-life testing is the proof in the pudding. Can you send your “Standards” at the crag? How many routes of “x” grade did you do this cycle? How many max onsights this season? Collect the data and test against it.


The vast majority of my athletes leave something in the tank each and every training session and most climbing days. The older you get, the more you need to adopt this habit. Go “to the death” too often and it may take until you’re dead to recover completely.