By Steve Bechtel
Endurance training comes in many forms and it can be argued that any climbing you do that makes you tired makes you better at enduring fatigue. As I’ve said before, most climbers who boulder indoors are, in fact, training endurance when they think they’re training power. Problem is, they are training an ability to boulder for hours rather than the ability to hang with it on routes. This kind of training is not wrong if you want to boulder for hours…
My personal experience and that of many other climbers is that interval training is the best way to top-end endurance. We get into that difficult zone and train close to our threshold, then we rest until we are ready to overload again. We get a high volume of quality work, and over time we become very good at hanging on.
This is not the only way, though. One of the best endurance training workouts I’ve ever seen was used in the 1990s by Frank Dusl, a climber who was present on the Lander scene for a few years. This is the workout that resulted in his now famous quote: “I don’t get pumped anymore, I just lose a little contact strength.”
He was, and still is as far as I know, a master of discipline. Most of his climbing sessions were on his 12′ x 12′ home wall, a flat plane that overhung about 30 degrees. The wall was covered in holds of all shapes and sizes, and he had a numbered “route” that criss-crossed the wall many times, consisting of over 50 moves. He tried this route, probably 5.13 of some kind, until he could do it one way, then worked it again until he could reverse it. Then he linked it…over a hundred moves.
Then, and this is the genius, he took off the best hold and replaced it with a crappy little one. He then worked it until he could climb it again, and then removed the best hold again. He did this again and again over the following months. Our friend Todd Skinner tried the problem at this point and declared it “5.14 something” to do just one-way. The thing was, Frank could now do the route two to three times without stepping off the wall. We’re talking twenty-plus minutes of hard moves with very little rest.
Like a mad scientist in his lab, Frank removed himself from the mainstream of training and asked himself the fundamental questions. What he came up with was genius and madness combined. What he built was one of the best climbers America has never seen.