The key to climbing hard comes down to two things, really – holding on to small holds and doing hard moves. We can break these components down into discrete exercises, or we can package them together into the best climbing exercise there is: bouldering. Bouldering, for most of us, should be about going into the gym and trying at a close-to-maximal level. The most effective bouldering sessions tend to push climbers past their limits, to a point where they fail attempt after attempt, sometimes for many sessions in a row.

A typical boulderer might warm-up by just doing easier versions of the same style of problems, for maybe 10 minutes. Although this is an acceptable strategy, there is probably a better one. For the same time commitment and without the need for other tools, a boulderer can have a  full “warm-up upgrade.” By varying the speed of movement, the work-to-rest ratio, and by careful overload of the fingers, we can enhance the results we get from training and can reduce our chance of injury.

Although I am a big fan of general warm-ups such as rowing or the air bike, these won’t be discussed here. (For more on this, check out Effective Warm-Ups.) This is a bouldering-gym only sequence, and should take less than 15 minutes to complete. It is also a good readiness check: if you do the warm-up and you’re not feeling snappy and ready to go hard, you will want to opt for an easier session or a recovery day.

To do this warm-up, you’ll want to note your limit grade. This is the maximum grade you climb in hard training, perhaps the hardest grade you have bouldered. We use this as a reference when setting up difficulty of the warm-up.

 

Step 1

Using various boulder problems on as many angles and hold types as possible, do as many easy V0/V1/V2 problems as it takes to add up to your limit grade. For the sake of this exercise, count V0 as V1. For example, if you are climbing V9 for your limit problem, you might do V2, V1, V1, V2, V2, V1. If you are climbing V4 at your limit, you might do V0, V0, V1, V1. These should be slower than your normal pace. You want to force control and static movement.

 

Step 2

Rest and stretch for a couple of minutes, then do three problems in a row with little rest, which also add up to your limit grade. In our V9 example, this might be V2, V3, V4. These should be done as quickly and explosively as possible. You don’t need to be dynoing out of control, but climb with aggressiveness and power.

 

Step 3

Rest a few minutes, then do two problems that add to the limit grade, so maybe V4, V5 in our V9 example. Our V4 climber might do two V2s. These, you would do at your normal pace. This allows the athlete to flow into the session primed for hard movement. For very hard or fingery training we do a bit of specific hold-type work on the hangboards or on problems similar to the work problems for that set.

 

My friends Brad Hilbert and Kerry Scott of Butora Climbing teamed up for a nice video that details this sequence:

 

Alex Bridgewater Demonstrates a 1Arm Hang Lock Off

The Logical Progression book details a surprisingly effective program of nonlinear training for rock climbers. The program is simple, flexible, and enjoyable…and follows a simple series of workouts. In general, athletes are asked to do an Integrated Strength workout, followed by a hard bouldering session, followed by a session designed to increase their endurance.

Although I wrote the program with route climbers in mind, the book has taken on some amount of popularity with boulderers, too. Although the plan can work well to develop a boulderer’s ability as it’s written, I have developed a modification of the original plan that is more suitable to the needs of bouldering.

 

To review…

The nonlinear approach involves sequencing several different sessions which aim at specific performance variables. By switching between the foci of sessions, we are better able to sustain high levels of performance across strength, power, endurance, etc. Although you could conceivably focus on one style of training for a few sessions at a time before switching to a new focus, we have found that switching efforts each session seems to produce the best results and keeps athletes interested longer.

Boulderers needs differ only slightly from the needs of route climbers. They won’t need as much ability to recover actively, but they still need to train for capacity – without a fairly robust recovery system in place, they aren’t going to have very many goes per day before their power wanes. It is critical for boulderers to get past the idea that they don’t need endurance, and get into the mindset that being able to do more work means being able to do more high quality bouldering in any given period.

 

Bouldering Is Not Training

We go to the gym and boulder with our friends, which is fun and usually helpful to our overall progress. Bouldering with our friends should not be considered training, though. Let’s call it practice or performance. By separating un-organized climbing sessions from our structured training, we can keep things quite focused in each type of session.

I like to program the majority of an athlete’s training as practice-style sessions; climbers should spend most of their time just climbing, and (more importantly) developing skills. A mindful workout structure will help here, with the climber planning a thorough warm-up, a short section of skill-development, and then a nice, fun session of bouldering to finish the day. Let’s call these Bouldering Days.

The focus of these days should be fun and should involve mastering movement as well as spending time with others. These days will be slightly less intense than a limit bouldering day, and should be of higher total duration for this reason.

 

Also, Training is Not Bouldering

In addition to bouldering days, you’ll also train. Too much time focused exclusively on training the physiological factors of the sport such as finger strength, explosive power, or endurance can limit or dull your skills. For most climbers, I argue that ceasing climbing for a month to focus on finger strength is, at best, a lateral move. Most climbers lose so much in skill over that period that the finger strength gains are of questionable value.

 

In Logical Progression, the second session in the series in a Limit Boulder session. This will be considered a normal bouldering day as far as the training/practicing relationship is concerned.

In this plan, a boulderer would do 2 skill/bouldering sessions for each of the training sessions. A 3-week plan might look like this:

 

M T W T F S S
Integrated Strength Limit Boulder Bouldering Day Capacity Training
Bouldering Day Integrated Strength Limit Boulder Bouldering Day
Capacity Training Bouldering Day Integrated Strength Limit Boulder

 

Capacity for Bouldering

In the original program, the third-day sessions were about building endurance for routes, i.e. being able to maintain power in an active state for short periods of time. Although some boulder problems lean into the endurance realm, the majority of boulder problems take less than a minute to complete. Where endurance comes into play is in developing the ability to have several good tries per session at very high levels of intensity.

Instead of training “deep” into the anaerobic system, we train “wide.” We don’t worry too much about sustaining efforts over longer durations, but rather about being able to elicit more quality repeats per training session.

 

Step 1 is to build up to 90 minutes of bouldering in a single session with no more than 5 minutes rest between problems. For a normal boulderer, this might mean backing off to easier problems at first. Once you have done the full 90 minutes 2-3 times, start tracking the V-Sum of your sessions. A 6-session cycle of capacity should see your V-Sum (always at a fixed 90 minutes) go up by about 5% per session. You’ll really be working hard toward the end of the cycle.

After 6 sessions, back off for 1-2 weeks, then start in again with a goal of matching your V-Sum from session 3 or 4 of the previous cycle.

 

If, for some reason, you can’t hit 90 minutes each session, you can divide the V-Sum by the number of minutes you trained to get a “session density” number.

For example:

V-Sum = 110

Minutes=75

Density = 1.47

 

If you followed this with a second session that was 90 minutes, you could compare density numbers rather than V-Sum. i.e.:

V-Sum = 129

Minutes=90

Density=1.43

This is an inferior practice, though, because we really want to look at total work in sessions and want to be pushing for more over each cycle.

 

Do the Work

A tendency of many climbers (and most humans) is to look only for the things they agree with and excel at. When boulderers start training capacity, many of them struggle. They think it is “useless” or is “stupid.” It is important to keep in mind that if your training is working, if you’re regularly sending harder and harder grades, then you should not change your program. If you’re stuck, be willing to assume that your plan might be at fault. And if you decide to enter a new program, understand that the least attractive parts of it might just be the most useful things you can do.

Genetic Drifter Wooden Hang Board

by Steve Bechtel

This is the second article in this series. The first, on training for novice boulderers, should be read before this one, training programs for bouldering-intermediate.

 

As I wrote in the last article, we often like to think of ourselves as being more advanced that we are. I tend to do this in the realms of cooking, finance, and personal hygiene. I’ve been dealing with all three of these things since I was a teenager, but have never really put in anything more than minimal efforts. Since I still tend to mess up cooking spaghetti, don’t have an impressive investment portfolio and I cut my own hair, I should still be considered a novice in these areas.

 

I use the terms novice, intermediate, and expert to give an indication of training age and experience breaking through plateaus. This was not my idea – it’s borrowed from coach Mark Rippetoe, who writes wonderful books about weight training. It’s a good model for judging how one should be training…why try to do an advanced program when you don’t have to?

 

If you have never really stopped getting better by just climbing, you’d be classified as a novice – no judgment attached. This article is intended for climbers who have been at it for a few years or more and have found what they fear is their “level” – a place where they just seem to be stuck at the same grade season after season.

 

As frustrating as this can be, it’s often an easy fix. We usually try to move the climber away from climbing-only as training and look at scheduling specific weeks for overload and recovery. In the two programs I suggest below, you’ll see that we focus one step deeper than just getting better at bouldering, and instead look at trying to develop specific facets of the sport over the course of targeted training cycles. This gives us the opportunity to once again provide an overload to the body’s systems, something that likely no longer occurs with the same old bouldering routine.

 

The training of the intermediate is more restrictive and focused than the novice’s plan. There is a big caveat here that I think a lot of people miss: advanced programs aren’t somehow magically better than less advanced ones – they simply apply greater structure and load. These are two things that one should not seek out until all other avenues have been exhausted.

 

The intermediate program is where you’ll start seeing two major categories of exercises that are outside the realm of climbing. General Preparatory exercises will range from cardiovascular-style training to weights to mobility work. Specific Strength exercises will be more climbing-specific tools used to advance particular facets of climbing movement. These include deadhangs, lock-off training, systems work, power bouldering, etc. None of these exercises will be unfamiliar to most climbers. How to implement them correctly might be. I don’t cover specifics in this article – this is simply about building the program.

 

We use two basic training plans for our intermediate boulderers: an Alternating Linear Cycle and a 3-Stage Accumulation Cycle. I’ll outline each of them below.

 

Alternating Linear Cycling

I’ve covered this one before. It’s the best of the simple periodization models simply because it’s the most simple. Training is planned in 4-week or 1-month blocks, and you alternate between two different training “months”. Month 1 is a strength and power focused month with three weeks of gradually harder training followed by a recovery week. Month two is aimed at developing work capacity and, God forgive me for recommending it to a boulderer, endurance. The second month is structured the same as the first, with three weeks of build followed by a recovery.

 

The best way to start this program is to look at exactly how much you have been training each week for the past several weeks. If you have no idea at all, I suggest you do the novice program for a month and figure out what kind of volume you can handle. Once you know how many hours per week you’re training, you can plan week 1. Weeks two and three will be roughly the same duration, but with an active effort toward going harder (doing harder problems, more difficult hangs, etc.) rather than for more time. Week four will see you maintain the same intensity from week three, but with half the total training time. This rule is critical and non-negotiable.

 

The sessions in month 1 should include 2-3 bouldering sessions per week, 2 hangboard strength sessions, 1-2 strength resistance training sessions, and 1-2 special strength sessions on the system wall or doing skill training on the bouldering wall. You’ve got to understand why my recommendations here are not more explicit – this program is for ALL BOULDERERS. No two of us need the same exact things out of training. Want more exact recommendations? Shoot me a question via email.

 

Month 2 will consist of trying to do more stuff at a lower intensity. Each week, you’ll look for more total work to be completed, which is usually a reflection of more training time. You don’t want to let your strength and power slip, though, so make sure to keep 1 hangboard strength session and 1 bouldering session in the plan. On top of that, you’ll want to add 1-2 density sessions, some linked-problem workouts, and at least two “extensive endurance” type sessions. The latter are simply long traverse days, mileage days on a rope, or ARC-style sessions.

 

The traverse days have to be done with impeccable technique and should be done on a variety of angles and hold types. My main criticism of ARC training is that most people just do “open” traversing in a climbing gym, reinforcing their bad habits and crap technique. Don’t do this and you’re golden.

 

I’m also a big fan of “cardiac output” training in this phase. This is slow-paced cardiovascular activity that should aid in recovery, general endurance, and weight management. Remember, this phase is all about accumulating lots of work, so don’t worry about pushing the intensity. Activities that use your upper body muscles such as rowing, skiing, or easy circuit training are arguably better for building endurance and work capacity for climbing, but it hasn’t been studied extensively.

 

3-Stage Accumulation Cycling

This is a similar plan to the last, but features a peak of sorts at the end of the training cycle. This is appropriate for people trying to build for specific trips or projects. The plan starts with a 6-8 week “accumulation phase.” This phase features a gradual build-up in overall training volume while trying to see modest improvements in strength and power as the cycle progresses.

 

We follow the accumulation phase with a solid recovery week, and then start a 3-4 week intensity cycle. This cycle involves really upping the difficulty of every session, and usually results in a drop of about 20-25% training volume per week. We need to be careful about dropping off too much, as that tends to result in a decrease in overall conditioning.

 

After the intensity phase, we roll out to the peaking phase, where for three to four glorious weeks you just try to go bouldering. The way you “earn” this is to build enough of a fitness base that your strength and power stay relatively persistent and allow for a long-term peak. The longer you make the accumulation and intensity phases, the longer this peak can last.

 

An example 3-stage cycle might look like this:

 

Accumulation

Week 1:

2x bouldering for difficulty (45 min)

1x bouldering for volume (75 min)

1x hangboard strength (30 min)

1x hangboard repeaters (30 min)

1x system training – limiters (60 min)

2x power resistance training (45 min)

 

Weeks 2-4:

same format with increases in overall total work each week.

 

Week 5:

back off as needed, probably to volume of week 2 or so.

 

Week 6:

3x bouldering for difficulty (45 min)

1x bouldering for volume (75 min)

1x hangboard strength (20 min)

1x hangboard repeaters (30 min)

1x system training – limiters (40 min)

2x strength-endurance RT sessions (45 min)

1x PE climbing session (45 min)

 

Weeks 7,8:

same format with increases in overall total work each week.

 

Intensity:

Week 1:

3x bouldering for difficulty (45 min)

1x hangboard strength (30 min)

1x system training – tension (40 min)

2x strength resistance training (30 min)

 

Weeks 2,3:

same format as week 1, except trying to increase training load / difficulty each week.

 

Peak:

Weeks 1-3:

Hard bouldering with rest as needed. Probably most effective at 3-4 short sessions per week.

 

The nutshell version of this plan is this: do as much stuff as you can for the first few weeks, then do harder stuff, then do even harder stuff with more rest.

 

Again, remember this is an example and not your new training program. You’ve got to build a plan from where you are, not from where you wish you were.

Charlie Manganiello spots a child as she climbs in the climbing gym

by Steve Bechtel

One of the most powerful tools we can acquire for getting better is to figure out how much getting better there is to be done. I first wrote the Novice Bouldering Program in 2010, re-released it a couple of years back, and am revisiting it again now. Why? Because it is one of the most effective programs out there. Here’s the thing, though…nobody thinks they are a novice.

One of the great things about web analytics is that you get to see great detail on which articles are getting the most traffic. Of course, Advanced Bouldering is crushing, followed by a distant Intermediate, and an almost-unread Novice article. Thanks for reading it, dad! Here’s the thing: climbing is complicated enough – a complicated training plan is only useful when a simple one has not worked. Even when you plateau, I urge you to revisit simpler methods first, before adding complexity. What follows is the Novice article, and a few tweaks to the plan I have made over the last couple of years.

I know…nobody’s a novice. Nobody wants to be thought of as one, and no one likes to consider themselves one. However, in building climbing training programs, we’ve adapted a really useful classification template from strength coach Mark Rippetoe that works very well. Depending on how long a climber has been at it and how much he climbs each week, his training program design differs. We categorize these levels as Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced, and there’s more to it than the grade you can boulder. The distinctions come as indicators of “training age” – a measure of how much of your life you’ve spent actively trying to get better at this sport.

Training age is a really neat thing. Let me give you an example: take a avid climber of 20 years and a triathlete with the same amount of experience. Have the two switch sports for two years of dedicated training on the world’s best training plan. At the end of those two years, what do you think will happen? Will the triathlete be a better redpoint climber? Will the climber win in a head-to-head triathlon? I think you know the answers.In the early stages of climbing…say the first 2 years, almost anything will cause a boulderer to get better. At this level, simply adding any kind of climbing or (in some cases) even general physical activity is the best path to improvement. “Training” is a waste of time for climbers at this level; their climbing should be looked at as practice and measured in hours. Anyone who has not put in at least one to two thousand hours (and by this I mean actual hours of movement – not hours spent at the crag or gym) in the sport is probably still a novice when it comes to training age.An intermediate-level climber begins to really know failure (and the desire to succeed) on routes and problems. Bouldering, hangboard sessions, and disorganized “training” can be employed to help this climber improve.

Usually, by the time a climber has reached this level, he is already at 60-80% of his genetic potential for strength and endurance. Progress really flattens out for the intermediate and these climbers will often hit a long-term plateau; the result of progress simply taking too much work. Many climbers will never leave this plateau, a spot business guru Seth Godin describes as “the dip.” The intermediate stage can last several years and will take a climber to around 90% of his genetic potential. Training for intermediate athletes has to be organized and tracked, but probably not to the degree and advanced climber’s must.Advanced climbers are rare. These are the ones who continually creep up the improvement ladder, even years into a training career. They follow structured plans, and expect to perform at top levels only a few short weeks each year. These climbers are generally well-rounded, and don’t have a particular “style.” Their hard-won efficiency decreases the stress or overload that normal training plans can provide. The better you are, the harder you must train.Rippetoe describes the advanced (Weightlifting) trainee well:”Advanced trainees are very close to their genetic potential. Huge amounts of training result in  relatively small improvements. Advanced trainees require fewer movements than intermediates.

Advanced trainees require large volumes of intense work to disrupt homeostasis. This means the stress required for progress will creep nearer and nearer to the maximal tolerable workload that the body can perform and recover from.”Don’t be deceived. There are climbers performing at very high levels that have not reached the advanced stage; they simply have more potential that they have not tapped. Likewise, there are boulderers that might climb only V8 that have attained advanced status simply because they are performing very close to their absolute genetic limit.

So how complicated must a novice training program be? As uncomplicated as possible. Here are my rules:

  1. Beginning boulderers should keep a training log. In this log, you should track the details of every climbing session. Note warm-up, each problem’s grade and style, how you performed on it, and anything significant that occurred in the session. This could be a particular send or an injury.
  2. Overload should progress through a training month. This means the total number of problems you complete at any given grade or the grades you send should increase steadily over three weeks’ worth of sessions. The fourth week of each month is an unloading week where you will aim to do half the volume of week three. Lean toward trying harder grades rather than building more volume. The months should progress, too. You should see better performance in November than you did in the spring.

I like climbers to track three numbers for each session. First, the total number of problems. Second, the V-Sum (add up all the V-grade numbers of the problems you did). Third, the Average V for the session. The last number is simply the V-Sum divided by the number of problems. These three numbers are key to building progressively harder training session-to-session.3. If you can’t do a few pull-ups or you can’t do a one-legged squat (pistol squat), you might consider a few days each week or resistance training. Bouldering is a massively strength-oriented sport, and some total body strength will go a long way. Our Foundation Strength workouts are a good place to start, though good weight training plans are pretty easy to find. Avoid group high-intensity training as well as bodybuilding programs.

The 3 weeks on 1 week off program is a really good one. A climber can continue to see improvements here for years, so no other program is really necessary until you see a hard plateau. There is some wiggle room, too: if you get sick or have to travel, you can slide the off-week around a little bit and not blow the program. Take the off week seriously, though. If you’re pushing it hard on your three weeks on, you’ll slowly be “digging the hole” – really stressing your body to adapt. That fourth week is your body’s chance to recover and catch up. If you’re doing it right, the strongest you’ll climb will often be just after a recovery week.Once you start to go flat, assess what’s going on. Are you getting really good at one type of problem? Are you weak on certain moves? Are you having flexibility or technique issues that hold you back? These things should all be addressed before you decide to intensify your training. Once you feel you’re climbing a pretty good grade on a variety of rock types and angles, you might be ready for more advanced training. A warning, though…this plan is way more fun than the ones I build for intermediate and advanced trainees. Before you decide to move on up to a “higher level” program, make sure you’ve seen this one through.

Notebook with pages of Climbing Notes

by Steve Bechtel

One of the greatest things about climbing, and I think one of the things that attracts many of us to the sport, is that no two moves are ever the same. Even the very same climbs can be executed differently each time you do them. This is endlessly entertaining for the mind, but creates a challenge for the body. The fact that there are so many facets to the execution of a boulder problem or climb give the climber many avenues of progress. This opens success to more than just the very strong, very flexible, etc.

As great as this variability is for enjoyment of the sport, it is a hurdle when it comes to training. Training is about overload and recovery. At the top end of one’s ability, overload has to happen along a razor’s edge – too much and you get hurt, too little and you stay stuck. The difficulty in quantifying climbing can easily interest us in other, less effective,  training modes. This is not because they are superior but because we can measure them more easily. If I can do more pull-ups this week than last week, I’ll believe my training “worked”…whether it actually made me better at the sport or not.

In climbing, climbing is everything. It doesn’t matter how good you are at the parts of the sport if you can’t send. I’ve seen fabulously flexible climbers fail miserably at stemming because of bad footwork, strong climbers fail because they couldn’t get the balance right, and some of the most bold climbers come peeling off long before they needed to be brave. Yes, strength training and hangboarding and campusing can help you, but you still have to move. That’s why there is no better training mode than bouldering.

So, how do we make sure that our bouldering is advancing? How can we come up with a way of measuring the sessions so that we force progress or recovery when it’s needed? The first step is to take a pencil to the gym with you. In order to assess what you did, you’ll need to keep track of a few numbers for each session:
1. The total duration of the session, and the duration of the “work sets” after warm-up. In general, your warm-ups will drift toward a standard format and length, and will not be as important a factor in calculating what you did in training.
2. The grade and nature of the problems you do. I recommend noting the angle of the problem, length, and type (i.e. crimpy, technical, slopers, explosive, etc.) The grade will be the only quantifiable part of this, but noting that you spend all your time jughauling on the steep walls should raise a red flag and explain why you can’t seem to climb anything outdoors.
3. Your general feeling of how each problem felt. A simple 1-5 scale of crappy to awesome is useful. This shouldn’t be tied to whether you send or not.
4. Whether you sent or not. In general, if my athletes fall low on a problem, we call it a scratch and start over. Likewise, an almost-send gets counted. This is because we are tracking what is happening physiologically in the session, not whether you made it to some arbitrary stopping point. Naturally, you can detail the actual results of each try, which give you better perspective on the data.

Like I said above, the only thing you can quantify is the grade. These are all over the place and can be somewhat inconsistent. If a grade is way off, don’t worry what others think. Note the grade you think the problem is. Using the data you recorded above, the following numbers can be noted for each training session.

– Total number of problems. Keep track only of problems after warm-up.
– The “V Sum”. This is all the grades of the climbs you did that session, all added together. For example, if you did V1-V2-V4-V4-V3-V4-V2-V3-V4, the V Sum would be 27. V0 should be counted as V1…you actually did some climbing, so we can’t have it count for zero.
– The “Average V”. This is your V Sum divided by the number of problems. In our example above, that would be 27 divided by 9, or V3. If you were to do an extra V3, your V Sum would kick up to 30, but your average V would remain the same. Tracking this to one decimal place (i.e. V3.1) is useful.
– The Session Density. To calculate this overall indicator of session load, you take the V Sum and divide it by the duration of the session. Therefore a 1- hour session where your V Sum is 60 would have a density of 1, where a day where your V Sum is 80 in the same time would have a density of 1.34…a huge change in load.


Using these numbers, you can get some good information on your sessions, the most important being whether you are progressing at all. A higher Density, V Sum, or Average V will indicate higher loads than the previous session.

Application
So what do these numbers mean?


When trying to increase power or strength (ability), the most important number to track is Average V. This gives you an indication of session intensity – the number one measure of how hard you worked.


When trying to increase work capacity or all-day endurance, you will want to pay closest attention to the V Sum. This give you a picture of how much overall work you did, and is easy to add to. In an eight-week program, you might have to compare a dozen different sessions, and can “increase” your volume by simply adding a few easy problems at the end of a day. This is easy at first…when it gets less easy is when you know you are making progress.

 

When trying to increase long power or power endurance, Session Density is the measure to watch. This is where endurance route climbers can really tune up their fitness.


Like I said before – it’s a challenge to quantify training in this way, but these simple measures can be used quickly and effectively. The biggest error we see in climbers is non-progression. This is not because they can’t move forward, it’s simply that they don’t know how.

Cedric Bouldering

By Steve Bechtel

Here is what a bouldering session looks like for probably 90% of all climbers everywhere.

  1. Show up when friends suggest showing up.
  2. Warm-Up by doing some “easy” problems.
  3. Start working some “hard” problems, rest as needed.
  4. Finish up with some more “easy” problems.

As silly as this looks when you see it written, you have to admit that it works pretty damn well for a lot of climbers. I can’t even count the number of sessions I’ve done just like this one, and I’ll keep doing them. Why? Because they are fun and they work. Oh, they are tough to measure and hard to manage. They drive the sport scientists in us crazy, but they work.

They work, until they don’t. Somewhere a month or two into a “hard bouldering” phase, we stop getting better. One of three things happens:

  • We get sick.
  • We get bored.
  • We get hurt.

The volume driven bouldering plan is all about getting better at bouldering without getting hurt. What we have seen in other sports is that the elite do a huge amount of training at somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of their max. Where is this in climbing? Hmmm…I was afraid you’d ask. That’s the whole problem, see…all we have are grades. Hold type, wall angle, distances between grips – all too crazily hard to control. And if you did somehow manage to control them all, you’d start killing off your ability to learn new movements. So, we control what we can, and let the magic of climbing do the rest…just like we always have.

In this program, you’ll boulder for your training. There is no hangboard time, no system board…and you can just go out and climb as much as you like. The training miracle comes in carefully programming and pushing your problem difficulties and numbers forward.

Step 1: Sort out what your onsight level is. In your gym or at your local boulders, what grade do you consistently onsight? This is the number you’ll use for calculating session intensity.

Step 2: Go to the gym. Warm-up as normal, but write down the problem angle, type, and grades.

Step 3: Start by doing a few problems 2-3 grades below onsight level. Do a few at onsight level, then set about doing as many as you can just above that level – OS+1. Write down any falls or attempts. Important: Stop when your ability starts to fade – no warm-downs, no laps on easy problems.

Step 4: Look at what you did. It might look something like this:

OS level = V6

WU:

V1 vertical juggy

V2 30 deg. juggy

V1 45 deg. juggy

V2 vertical edges

V2 45 deg. juggy

Session:

V3 45 deg. big moves

V4 vertical, crimpy

V3 30 deg. slopers

V4 45 deg. compression

V6 45 deg. crimps (fall @ top)

V6 45 deg. crimps

V5 30 deg. crux dyno

V4 45 deg. slopers/jugs

V5 30 deg. crimps

You’ll note what you did only in terms of total “V-sum“, which is simply a sum of all the V grades you climbed. Score only those problems you did in the session. For the session above, the V-sum is 40. The average V is then calculated, which is 4.4.

For the next 5 workouts, you won’t leave the V3 to V6 range. Your goal is to simply push your V-sum up.

After pushing this number up, which is pretty easy to do, your goal for the following six sessions is to hold at the same total number of problems, but increase your average V.

In the end, your numbers might look something like this:

  1. VS: 40 AV:4.4
  2. VS: 46 AV:4.2
  3. VS: 49 AV:4.5
  4. VS: 55 AV:4.8
  5. VS: 63 AV:3.8
  6. VS: 65 AV:4.1
  7. VS: 65 AV:4.3
  8. VS: 66 AV:4.4
  9. VS: 65 AV:4.8
  10. VS: 65 AV:4.8
  11. VS: 66 AV:5.1
  12. VS: 65 AV:5.2

A focus on increasing the V-sum would typically lead to more endurance, a focus on average V tends to increase bouldering ability and power.

This program will take 4 to 6 weeks, and should be followed by a week away from bouldering. Coming back to the program the second time, allow yourself to dip into the next grade range if you feel strong (V7 in our example), or simply go hard up against your previous numbers. This program should help you keep from getting injured on failure-level problems, and will build a bulletproof base of bouldering power.

A Child Climbs in a Bouldering Gym B&W

By Steve Bechtel
One of the biggest barriers to effective progress as a rock climber, ironically, can be training sessions in a commercial climbing gym. Oh, sure, there are good gyms around, but they’re rare and many lack certain very useful things. These things can range from lacking a good hangboard, to limited hours, to sandbagged problems, to too much cave and not enough vertical terrain (yes, I really said that).

Most rock gyms lack more than one tool. They might not even have a hangboard, might not have holds made this decade, and might be choked with people at every time you can manage to get there. These gyms are the root cause of many of the “How the %$#^^ do I train here?” emails I get. And although lack of tools can be a huge barrier to effective training, it’s no excuse. You’ve got a job to do. Don’t fall to the level of the gym you’re training in – just up your game. The following sessions and strategies are some suggestions on how to get a great training session out of any gym. These don’t fall into any particular training program – they’re more along the lines of just getting a somewhat effective session in a tough situation.

Repeat Efforts
In this session, you’re going to pick 4 problems to climb. These problems should be a grade you can regularly flash, or at most get second go. Get warmed up well, and move to problem 1. Send the problem, then rest 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Send it again, but cut back your rest by 5 seconds. Do the problem again, and again cut your rest by 5 seconds. Continue with this pattern until you’ve done the problem 8 times. You might not send the last couple of goes, but stick with the rest anyway. After completing the series, rest about 8-10 minutes before moving on to problem 2.

Do the same pattern with problems 2, 3, and 4. You’ll notice that as you cut rest and get more fatigued, you can still send because you are continuing to refine your sequences and you are getting more efficient at each move. This is the true value of these sets; learning to improve and improve on an “easy” section of climbing pays huge dividends on redpoints.

Circuit 1
The Circuit 1 session is a route preparation bouldering session. I used to only plan these for climbers that didn’t have access to routes in a gym, but I actually think these are superior sessions to typical route climbing gym sessions. I might be living a sheltered life, but it seems like the strong boulderers are kicking the hell out of everything they touch these days…shoot me an email if you know someone who climbs routes inside as their primary training and is killing it outside.

Pick ten problems that are at your onsight level or a little easier. I like to start with harder ones and move to easier toward the end of the circuit – that way you don’t thrash too badly at the end. You’ll do all ten problems in sequence, with just 2 minutes between. Rest 10-15 minutes, then repeat.


The next time you’re in the gym, add one more (harder) problem at the beginning of the circuit, and drop your rest time by 15 seconds. You’ll do the same for two more sessions. This session should be done just once per week. The sequence will look like this:

Session 1: 2 rounds 10 problems 120 sec rest
Session 2:  2 rounds 11 problems 105 sec rest
Session 3: 2 rounds 12 problems 90 sec rest
Session 4:  2 rounds 13 problems 75 sec rest

…and no, you won’t be able to continue the pattern until you are at 18 problems with no rest…

Circuit 2
In this circuit, we try to manage three different goals: skill development, power, and fatigue resistance. This is not a max bouldering session, so the power you’re developing is going to be more “route” power than all-out bouldering power. After warm-up, you’ll do a max-level problem (preferably one you have figured out). Jump down (or fall off) and immediately follow it with two back to back problems that are 3-4 grades easier. These problems need to be done perfectly, with no technical errors, so stay sharp. I like two fundamentally different problems here, one steep (45 degrees or more) and one vertical or just slightly overhanging.

So, it goes (for example) V8 > V4 cave problem > V5 vertical problem

Rest 5 minutes or so, then repeat. Do this series 4 times. You’ll then do another series that feature roughly the same grades, but different styles of problems. The second series is a little better if it suits your strengths a little more than the first.

Work Sessions
Work sessions are designed like many top-level bouldering comps. You’re going to try project-level problems, but only for a specified time. Once the time is up, you move on to the next problem, no matter what. These are great sessions for learning pacing, efficiency, and for squeezing the tryhard out of you. Warm-up well, then spend 8 minutes on your first problem. If you send it, rest the remainder of the 8 minutes, then two more (total time per problem is 8 minutes + 2 minutes rest).

You’ll repeat this sequence with 4-5 more problems for a total session time of 50-60 minutes. These efforts might end with sore joints, torn skin, and sore muscles, so plan on only one of these every 2-3 weeks.

Progressive Links
In this session, we try to solidify good climbing technique while under fatigue. You know how it goes…you can do the moves from the hang, but you can’t hang with the moves on the go. In this session, you learn to harden your skills and climb well under fatigue. I don’t really plan these sessions much anymore because of the huge anaerobic component of them, preferring to build power endurance from either end in a High/Low format. However, for a true PE testpiece, there’s nothing like a good PE tune up.

Pick a problem that is maybe one grade below your project limit…maybe one that takes you 3-4 tries to send the first time. You’re going to warm up well, then send the problem. rest 2-3 minutes, then send a really easy problem (let’s say a V1), followed immediately by your “work” problem. Rest 2-3 minutes, then send a V2 followed by the work problem. Continue up two more levels (to V4) using the same progression, then take a 10-15 minute rest.

The second series is similar. Pick a work problem, but maybe just slightly easier than the first one. This time you’ll send the problem, resting about a minute longer than the rests for your last series. Follow this by a V1 followed by the work problem. Rest again for the same duration, then follow it with two V1s before the work problem. You’ll do 4 sets of this one, too, with the last one featuring 4 V1s in a row, followed by the work set.



The more I learn about training, the more I see that it’s the climber, not the program that makes the difference. I think the magic moment that separates those that get better from those that stay put is when a climber gets to a move that might mean falling. It’s what happens in that moment that will define a career.

Put your heart into the sport and dedicate yourself to climbing not harder, but better, to training right, not just to failure…if you can do this, you’re home free.



Bouldering Toe Hook

By Steve Bechtel

I was reluctant to release this training plan, and here’s why: I don’t think more than a handful of the climbers that will read this plan really need this plan. I have released training plans for novices and intermediate level climbers and I believe these plans are better plans for almost every boulderer. Remember, the advanced bouldering training plan doesn’t have secret exercises or produce faster results. It’s more restrictive, can get downright boring at times, and requires months to produce a result. That being said, for an advanced boulderer, any progress at all is a welcome change.

I’d like to quickly review the novice, intermediate, and advanced continuum for anyone who skipped the previous articles:

In the early stages of climbing…say the first 2 years, almost anything will cause a boulderer to get better. At this level, simply adding any kind of climbing or (in some cases) even general physical activity is the best path to improvement. “Training” is a waste of time for climbers at this level; their climbing should be looked at as practice and measured in hours. Anyone who has not put in at least one to two thousand hours (and by this I mean actual hours of movement – not hours spent at the crag or gym) in the sport is probably still a novice when it comes to training age.

 

“Remember, the advanced plan doesn’t have secret exercises or produce faster results.”


An intermediate-level climber begins to really know failure (and the desire to succeed) on routes and problems. Bouldering, hangboard sessions, and disorganized “training” can be employed to help this climber improve. Usually, by the time a climber has reached this level, he is already at 80% or more of his genetic potential for strength and endurance. Progress really flattens out for the intermediate and these climbers will often hit a long-term plateau; the result of progress simply taking too much work. Many climbers will never leave this plateau, a spot business guru Seth Godin describes as “the dip.” The intermediate stage can last several years and will take a climber to around 90% of his genetic potential. Training for intermediate athletes has to be organized and tracked, but probably not to the degree and advanced climber’s must.

Advanced climbers are rare. These are the ones who continually creep up the improvement ladder, even years into a training career. They follow structured plans, and expect to perform at top levels only a few short weeks each year. These climbers are generally well-rounded, and don’t have a particular “style.” Their hard-won efficiency decreases the stress or overload that normal training plans can provide. The better you are, the harder you must train.

The program we place our advanced boulderers on is a block-periodized plan, where we concentrate on developing one or two facets of fitness at a time for short training blocks. The blocks run in the 7-10 week range, and each block transitions from general physiological adaptations to more specific climbing adaptations within the constraints of the block’s focus.


For boulderers, we concentrate on three primary block types:
Endurance (8 weeks)
Strength (8-10 weeks)
Power (6-8 weeks)


Occasionally, we run a strength/power endurance block of 4 weeks for climbers deficient in that area. I see this block as less and less necessary for climbers who are consistent with endurance and strength training. If you’re interested in knowing why, check out the High-Low Program.

I’ll go into the details of the blocks in a minute, but in general, 75% of the work you’ll do in a given block is aimed at developing that block’s primary quality. The remainder of the training time is dedicated to aggressively maintaining your other hard-earned training qualities. This is where I believe most classical periodization plans fail the test; they allow too much detraining of important qualities during parts of the season. With this plan, you’re always either training to improve or maintain every critical facet of bouldering.

What does a typical season or year look like? Well, it really depends on your goals, but the basic starting point looks like this:


Endurance 8 weeks
Strength 8 weeks
Power 6 weeks
Performance (a climbing trip) 2 weeks
Endurance 8 weeks
Strength 10 weeks
Power 8 weeks
Performance 3 weeks (longer periods leading up to this allows for a longer peak)

I have put together details of typical blocks below. You’ll note that there are no specific durations given. Rather, I suggest that you start with short sessions and try to fit them into your available weekly schedule.

Endurance Training Block (8 weeks)
Endurance? For bouldering? Yes and yes. Here’s why: Bouldering is an extremely taxing sport that hammers the body’s alactic energy system. This system is powered by ATP and CP, but the reloading of this system is where the real money is. The faster and more completely you can recover between hard efforts, the more quality efforts you’ll have. The system that drives this recovery is the aerobic energy system. The more completely you can develop your aerobic systems, the better they can support your power.

We start this training block by developing more general endurance, and then transition into primarily doing climbing-specific work. The whole idea is to do more and more and more quality movement as the block progresses.

This is an example of an 8 week block (please note, I’ll explain all the workout types at the end of the article):

Week 1:
3x ARC –  30+ minutes total climbing time
1x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
2x Strength RT
2x Regressive Rest Circuit
3-4x Cardiac Output

Week 2:
3x ARC –  30+ minutes total climbing time
1x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
2x Strength RT
2x Regressive Rest Circuit
3-4x Cardiac Output


Aim to increase total training duration for the week. ARC total duration can remain the same, but look for longer bouts of climbing, i.e. 15 min each interval if last week’s were 10 min each. Bouldering, HB STR, RT STR should all be maintained at the same loads. RRC rest durations decreased by 10 seconds. CO sessions increase durations by 3-5% only.

Week 3:
3x ARC –  30+ minutes total climbing time
1x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
2x Strength RT
2x Regressive Rest Circuit
3-4x Cardiac Output


Training time increases again, primarily by longer CO sessions. ARC should increase by 5% total time over first two weeks. Bouldering, HB STR, RT STR should all be maintained at the same loads. RRC rest durations decreased by another 5-10 seconds. CO sessions increase durations by 3-5%.

Week 4:
2x ARC –  40+ minutes total climbing time
2x Intensive Endurance
1x P-E
1x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
2x Strength RT + Metabolic
2x Regressive Rest Circuit
3x Cardiac Output


Training time can remain steady or increase. ARC should increase by 5-15% per session, but you drop a session. Bouldering, HB STR, RT STR should all be maintained at the same loads, but add a metabolic conditioning component to the end of the RT workout.  RRC rest durations decreased by another 5 seconds. CO sessions increase durations by 3-5%.


Week 5:
1x ARC –  45+ minutes total climbing time
2x Intensive Endurance
1x P-E
1x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
2x Strength RT + Metabolic
1x Regressive Rest Circuit
2x Cardiac Output
1x HRI


Training time should increase by 3-5 %. ARC is down to one session, Intensive endurance workouts should increase by one interval per set. P-E workout should be intensified. Bouldering, HB, STR / Met remain steady. RRC rest drops by 5 seconds, this being the final workout of the phase. CO sessions are up to 75 minutes each. Add HRI workout.


Week 6:
1x ARC –  50+ minutes total climbing time
2x Intensive Endurance
1x P-E
1x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
2x Strength RT + Metabolic
1x Cardiac Output
1x HRI


Training time should increase by 3-5 %. ARC time goes up, Intensive endurance workouts should increase by one interval per set. P-E workout should be intensified. Bouldering, HB, STR / Met remain steady. CO session is anywhere from 45 up to 90 minutes. HRI should remain steady, note changes in recovery.

Week 7:
1x ARC –  50+ minutes total climbing time
2x Intensive Endurance
1x P-E
2x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
2x Strength RT + Metabolic
1x Cardiac Output
1x HRI


Training time should increase by 3-5%. ARC time holds, Intensive endurance workouts should increase by one interval per set. P-E workout should be intensified. Bouldering goes to two sessions, HB, STR / Met remain steady. CO session is anywhere from 45 up to 90 minutes. HRI should remain steady, note changes in recovery.

Week 8:
1x ARC –  45 minutes total climbing time
1x Intensive Endurance
1x P-E
1x Bouldering – 45-60 min, limit-level
1x HB STR
1x Strength RT + Metabolic
1x HRI


Training time reduced by 40% from week 7. ARC time down to 45 min, Intensive endurance workout holds duration, but is reduced by one full session. P-E workout should hold steady from last week. Bouldering goes to one session, HB holds steady, RT to one session, no increase in loading. CO session is dropped this week. HRI should remain steady, note changes in recovery.

Strength Training Block (8-10 weeks)
The stronger you are, the better your potential to boulder well. It is important to understand that a maximum level of strength (and power) cannot be maintained even by doing the most intense climbing, though. This does not contradict the principle of specificity, but underscores it. The reason we do strength training outside the arena of climbing is because climbing’s multi-faceted nature doesn’t allow for sufficient focus on strength alone. When high levels of performance are reached, training must become “partitioned” in order for the climber to advance. The hardest moves on rock simply cannot be correctly executed without sufficient strength.

The mechanism by which supplemental strength training helps climbers should be understood. The basic idea is that for any given move, a stronger climber will use a smaller percentage of his maximum strength, and will thus be better able to climb with technical correctness and will be more resistant to fatigue. Elite-level boulderers rely heavily on ATP-CP (alactic) energy systems, the energy that is present and most-readily available for muscular work. These systems are best developed by increasing strength.

When we train for strength we want to:

address sport-specific motor patterns
address sport-specific metabolic pathways
progressively overload the system to cause an improvement in force generation
avoid doing anything that will negatively affect our climbing

The strength training block will last anywhere from 8-10 weeks, and will transition from general to specific much like the endurance block above. I am a big fan of special strength training (hangboards, systems, etc.) and resistance training in support of climbing, so you’ll see a lot of it here.

This is an example of an 8 week block:

Week 1:
2x Strength Resistance Training
2x Strength Hangboard
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
1x Special Strength Training

Week 2:
3x Strength Resistance Training
2x Strength Hangboard
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
1x Special Strength Training


Add one strength RT session. Volumes do not increase in sessions. All sessions should be intensified over last week, as long as technical correctness can be maintained.  

Week 3:
3x Strength Resistance Training
2x Strength Hangboard
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
1x Special Strength Training


Same design as last week. Volumes (durations) do not increase in sessions. All sessions should be intensified over last week, as long as technical correctness can be maintained.  

Week 4:
2x Strength Resistance Training
1x Strength Hangboard
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
1x Special Strength Training


Recovery week, volume reduced by 40%. Remove one RT session. Remove one HB session. Reduce durations of other sessions as needed to hit the 40% reduction. Maintain all intensity parameters from previous week.

Week 5:
2x Strength Resistance Training
2x Strength Hangboard
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
2x Special Strength Training


Week 5 should have the exact same total training time as week 3. We start to change the sessions, however. Work to increase loads in HB, RT, bouldering. Add another special strength session.

Week 6:
1(2*)x Strength Resistance Training
2x Strength Hangboard
2x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
2x Special Strength Training


RT is reduced to one session per week, or two short sessions for older or female  athletes. Loads increase in RT, HB, SST. Add another limit-level bouldering session. CO remains steady, usually 45-60 minutes.

Week 7:  
1(2*)x Strength Resistance Training
2x Strength Hangboard
2x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
2x Special Strength Training


Similar to week 6 in structure, this is the most intense week of the cycle. Intenisty is up in RT, HB, boulder, and SST. CO remains steady. If you reach the end of this week and are still feeling strong, add another day of bouldering or bouldering + RT.

Week 8:
1x Strength Resistance Training
1x Strength Hangboard
2x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Cardiac Output
1x Special Strength Training


Loads are maintained, but total volume of training decreases by 40%. Most climbers will transition from this to a power cycle, but you can also repeat the strength cycle if you are in a long-term off-season. If you are repeating the cycle, aim to put two recovery weeks in before starting over.


Power Training Block (6-8 weeks)
Power is efficiency. Optimum use of strength and speed in climbing is the ultimate way to succeed on a limit-level problem. The more a boulderer can maximize his power, the better he can climb. What’s so cool about power is that you don’t have to be super strong to be super powerful; by blending in other elements such as speed and timing, you can climb just as hard as the next guy.

The power block is where we start to see performance really start to improve. The thing to watch out for in this block is trying too hard to put in performance sessions. When you’re starting to climb well, it’s hard not to just go out and send stuff. For advanced boulderers, the end stages of a power block are where we really can see improvement in performance, not just the usual return to fitness.

The power block must always follow a strength block; the training is too intense to do without the strength base. Come into it weak, and you’ll leave it injured. This block transitions from a strength block well, and as with all of the blocks we design for bouldering, goes from general to specific. This block, however, starts off with more climbing than any other. Look for 36+hours recovery between hard sessions. This means combining sessions in most cases. When combining sessions, start with the most technically dif

This is an example of a 6 week block:

Week 1:
1x Strength Resistance Training
1x Power Resistance Training
1x Climbing Power Session
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Hangboard Strength


This phase starts with a strength RT session carried over from the previous cycle. One power RT session to get loading figured out, plus one 50-70 minute power climbing session. Limit bouldering should be no more than 45 min in duration after warm-up. Hangboard STR continues from previous cycle, with the addition of more goal-specific holds.

Week 2:
2x Power Resistance Training
2x Climbing Power Session
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Hangboard Strength


Increase Power RT sessions to 2x per week (separated by at least 2 days). Increase climbing power sessions to two days. Limit bouldering should intensify, maintaining volume. Hangboard should remain steady.

Week 3:
2x Power Resistance Training
2x Climbing Power Session
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Hangboard Strength


Same as last week, with intensification an all sessions.

Week 4:
2x Power Resistance Training
2x Climbing Power Session
1x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Hangboard Strength


Same format as previous week, reduce volume by 20-25% in all workouts.

Week 5:
1x Power Resistance Training
2x Climbing Power Session
2x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Hangboard Strength


Power RT should be decreased by one session, but should intensify. Climbing power sessions intensify, add another bouldering session. Hangboard STR remains steady.

Week 6:
1x Power Resistance Training
2x Climbing Power Session
2x Limit-level Bouldering
1x Hangboard Strength


Same format as last week, but intensification across the board. More sessions do not equal more power, so make sure to give everything in each set. That way you don’t feel like you’ve go a lot left in the tank at the end of the cycle. This cycle should be followed by a performance phase or trip. If you are doing longer problems or route climbing, you can add a 3-4 week PE cycle at this point.


Workout Types:

Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity (ARC)
This is low-intensity, technically correct climbing. Climbers should try to keep the arms actively working, but not pumped, trying to stay about 5-10% below threshold. It is critical to pay attention to climbing with excellent technique. ARCing will take up a vast percentage of your climbing time; climb with poor technique, and you’ll ingrain those motor patterns. Work toward longer continuous bouts of climbing throughout a cycle. It doesn’t really matter how much time you start with as long as you are increasing that time as you progress through the phase.

Limit Level Bouldering
This is simply a gym bouldering session, but with three rules:

Do problems you can’t onsight, i.e. hard ones. You should be doing things that take MANY tries.
Do different kinds of problems. Switch wall angles and hold types as much as you can, and look for angles that challenge you more than others.
Keep the problems relatively short. We boulder in this program primarily to develop power and this is best done in efforts around 10 seconds.

Hangboard Strength
Do hangs on 4 different hold types for 3-4 sets each. Hangs should cause failure in fewer than 8 seconds. Full crimping, as dangerous as it can be, should be trained every single session. This is a good session to combo with other training, even bouldering. We’ve seen enough athletes do boulder/hangboard sessions to know that it’s possible, and still effective.

Strength Resistance Training
In these sessions we try to do four basic motor patterns and a total body exercise. These include:

Upper Body Press
Upper Body Pull
Hip Hinge
Squat
Total Body

Look to give max effort on each exercise, resting as needed. Getting winded won’t make you stronger. Look for 8-10 total reps across 3-4 sets for each exercise early in the Strength and Power blocks. Later in the blocks, look for 5-8 total reps across 1 to 3 sets. In other words, if you are doing more than about 3 reps per set, your weights are too light.

The total body exercise is almost always bridging into power. This is OK and done intentionally. Cleans, snatches, thrusters, get-ups, and variations are all good choices.

Regressive Rest Circuit
This is a circuit that will be repeated over the course of the entire cycle using the same loads and work times. The workouts are intensified by reducing the rest with each subsequent week. My favorite workout is this one:


3 rounds of:


Goblet Squat (35#KB)
Mountain Climber
1-arm KB swing (switch sides at halfway mark) (35#KB)
Push Up-Row-Row combo (25#DBs)
Jump Lunges
2-Arm Standing Bent-over Dumbbell Row (25#DBs)
Dumbbell Side Lunge and Touch (alternating) (25#DBs)
Renegade Row (25#DBs)
Lunge with Rotation holding 35#KB (alternating)
Dumbbell Push-Press (25#DBs)
rest 2 minutes between rounds


Week 1: 60s work, 30s rest between exercises
Week 2: 60s work, 25s rest
Week 3: 60s work, 20s rest
…and so on

Cardiac Output
In the complex system of “cardiovascular fitness” there’s more to the puzzle than just getting your heart rate up. As I stated earlier, we, as climbers, tend to discount the value of aerobic energy production. This despite the fact that the vast majority of the energy we use to get up the rock is provided by this system. In addition to this, the aerobic system is used by the anaerobic energy systems to “refuel” after hard efforts.

It is important to remember that the cardiovascular system doesn’t end at the heart. The muscles we are training are actively engaged in using the aerobic pathways to produce ATP for movement at all times.

Aerobic energy production has three major factors: oxygen supply, oxygen utilization, and use of energy substrates. The Cardiac Output method of training is a critical component of the oxygen supply picture. This type of training directly affects how much blood your heart can push through the system, a factor called “stroke volume.” By using enough long, slow training, your cardiac output increases, resulting in a more efficient heart, lower heart rate training zones, and a lower resting heart rate.

Although higher intensity methods such as tempo running or interval work have shown increases in cardiovascular fitness (i.e. the over-popular Tabata  Protocol), there is an important and often overlooked distinction. Higher intensity efforts tend to cause greater thickness in the walls of the heart (concentric cardiac hypertrophy) and don’t affect the size of the chambers so much. At the higher heart rates associated with hard training, the heart pumps so fast that the chambers don’t fill completely, and therefore doesn’t encourage increases in the size of the ventricular cavity. The major stimuli for the adaptations here is the frequency and volume of lower-intensity training.

It’s a fairly simple method: simply train with your heart rate in the 65-75% of max HR zone. During general endurance phases, this method is used 3-4 days per week. During other phases (except Performance Climbing) we’ll maintain levels with 1-3 days per week. Training durations should be 30 minutes at minimum up to 120 minutes.

Intensive Endurance
This method includes long intervals and recovery laps. What we look for here is to ride right on the anaerobic threshold as we climb, getting a little pumped, then recovering, and repeating. Intervals can be as simple as 5 minutes on 5 minutes off, with the feeling that you could climb another minute or two. Recovery laps can just be linked problems with active rests between, such as a good jug or stem. Total workout duration should be 30-90 minutes. Start conservatively, and add more laps to increase difficulty rather than making individual laps longer.

Power-Endurance
We use two primary methods of PE training for boulderers: Linked problems and Density Training. These are both covered extensively elsewhere, so I won’t go over it again. Stick with one method throughout a cycle, and look to intensify efforts by increasing the difficulty of the problems rather than altering other parameters such as rest periods or session length.

Heart Rate Intervals (HRI)
Heart Rate Intervals are all about improving cardiovascular efficiency, especially in terms of recovery. This method is really simple in our bouldering program. We do 1 minute of hard steady-paced activity (we like the Concept 2 rower or the Airdyne) followed by a recovery of easy activity until the heart rate drops back to 60% of max. (This can be calculated using the simplistic 220-age formula). Do 5 repeats per training session, preceded by a good warm-up. Keep track of recovery times to gauge progress. They will get longer as the session progresses, but should drop across the board as you progress.

Special Strength Training
This is the most critical type of training an advanced climber can do. It involves developing individual qualities of climbing movement in isolation. Since climbing is an overwhelmingly complex set of movements, this training allows us to eliminate weak links in a boulderer’s ability. A normal SST session would include 1-3 exercises and might last 30-40 minutes. As always, technical correctness, high loads, progression from the last workouts, and sufficient rest are the pillars of a good session.

Special Strength Exercises include (but are not limited to) the following:

Campus Training
Hangboard Repeaters
System Board Strength
System Board Power
Dynamics, 1-Ups, 2-Ups
Power Bouldering
Resisted Movement Methods
1-arm Climbing
Ladder Work
Drops

Power Resistance Training
This session is about developing total body power. We keep some strength elements in the mix, but the loads are lighter than the Strength RT workouts, and the reps are done more quickly. After warm-up, we do 3-4 sets of the following groups:

A1: Total Body Pull 2-3 reps
A2: Incline Sit-Up 10 reps on 5 count
A3: Shoulder Mobility 60-90 sec

B1: Total Body Press 2-3 reps
B2: Toes to Bar 5 reps on 5 count
B3: Hip Mobility 60-0 sec

C1: Pull-Ups or Inverted Row 8 reps
C2: Step-Ups 4+4 reps

Climbing Power Sessions
These are simply special strength sessions that focus on power development. Our sessions are 45-60 minutes (after warm-up), and feature 2-3 different exercises. Exercises we like include:

System Board Power
Dynamics, 1-Ups, 2-Ups
Power Bouldering
Drops
Campus Doubles
Campus 1-3-2-4-3-5 repeats

I know I sound like a broken record, but you shouldn’t feel pumped or winded in these sessions. Rest more than you think you should. Gauge the session not by how it feels, but by the result it produces.