By Steve Bechtel

It’s hard to write a specific plan for any facet of training, especially if you’re trying to target more than one athlete. There are just too many variables. A few years back, I wrote a short article on endurance training (Endurance 3.0) that explained how we look at training endurance for climbers. After that, I was contacted by one of my friends who had read the article:

“Great article on endurance, Steve. It reinforced that I still need to get better at that part of my training and climbing plan. The problem for me is I’m not sure what to do exactly. I need someone to tell me just what to do each time in the gym, and I can do it.”

Sounds easy enough. There are a hundred workouts or more published every day that say “do this”, which makes them very attractive to us. The problem is that such workouts aren’t designed for any athlete in particular, nor for any specific adaptation. For the most part the desired result is to make you tired and sore…both of which are of dubious value when it comes to athletic progress.

The difficulty in endurance programming for climbing involves manipulating a host of factors, such as hold type, wall angle, set duration, session duration, set difficulty, rest periods, and pacing. Just laying all of these factors out is enough to make me want to just go back to running laps on a route until I fall off. But the important factors are easier to target – we need to look at duration (because this is how long you’re training your body to perform movement without rest) and intensity of sets (because this is the make or break factor).

Some background on the athlete: Chris is a really good climber. He boulders V10 or V11, has redpointed 5.14 power routes, and has done close to 100 5.13s. A look at the specific routes, however, shows a heavy tendency toward power-oriented or crux-oriented climbing. His climbing days tend to be short; a couple of warm-ups, a couple of project burns, and then he packs it in for the day. In short, Chris does everything just right for maxing out his power.

What we came up with was a series of sessions to maximize Chris’s ability to manage fatigue. We started with just basic volume training and then we progressed to skilled movement for time, which I like to call “Intensive Endurance Intervals”. These sets are comparable to what an endurance athlete might call “cruise intervals” or “tempo intervals”; sets where you don’t go quite to max, but you also don’t go quite to the basement to recover. There is a critical distinction between this type of interval and something like a 4×4, and the results will differ.

We laid out his plan to include either gym-oriented days, or crag days that followed the same loading patterns. The plan called for 3x per week on the endurance sessions, plus two short bouldering sessions and two short strength session each week. Occasionally, he only hit 2 endurance sessions, and once he hit 4 in a week…which was just fine. Also, we combined these with the bouldering sessions occasionally, but required 2 days off after due to the volume in the sessions.

 

Week 1:

  1. 5 x 8 min open climbing with 4+ min rest between sets. Mobility and core work during rests.
  2. 4 x 10 min open, with 5+ min rest between sets.
  3. 5 x 9 min open climbing with 4+ min rest between sets.

 

Week 2:

  1. 3 x 12 min w/ 6+ min btw
  2. 4 x 12 min w/ 6+ min btw
  3. 3 x 15 min w/ 7+ min btw

Week 3:

  1. 2 x 20 min w/ 10+ min btw
  2. 4 x 15 min w/ 7+ min btw
  3. 3 x 18 min w/ 9+ min btw

Week 4:

Here, we transitioned to skilled climbing. The problem with open traversing is it allows bad habits to form. Going forward, we had Chris link boulder problems as he traversed. The shortest effective interval seems to be around 90 seconds on a rolling clock: enough time to climb a problem, downclimb and traverse to the next before the timer chimes again.

  1. 4 x 12 min w/ 6+ min btw. One V1/V2 problem every 4 minutes.
  2. 3 x 15 min w/ 7+ min btw. One v1/v2 problem every 3 minutes.
  3. 2 x 20 min w/ 10+ min btw. Open climbing.

Week 5:

  1. 4 x 12 min w/ 6+ min btw. One V1/V2 problem every 3 minutes.
  2. 3 x 15 min w/ 7+ min btw. One v1/v2 problem every 90 seconds.
  3. 2 x 20 min w/ 10+ min btw. Open climbing.

Week 6:

Once he was comfortable with the 90 second interval, we started adding some intensity to the sessions.

  1. 4 x 9 min w/ 5+ min btw. On 90 sec rolling clock, V2 V2 V3 V3 V2 V1
  2. 3 x 15 min w/ 7+ min btw. On 90 sec rolling clock, V1 V2 V3 V1 V2 V3 V1 V2 V3 V1
  3. 1 X 30 min. Open climbing.

Week 7:

  1. 4 x 9 min w/ 5+ min btw. On 90 sec rolling clock, V2 V3 V3 V3 V3 V2
  2. 3 x 15 min w/ 7+ min btw. On 90 sec rolling clock, V2 V3 V4 V2 V3 V4 V2 V3 V4 V1
  3. 1 X 35 min. Open climbing.

Week 8:

  1. 4 x 9 min w/ 5+ min btw. On 90 sec rolling clock, V2 V4 V5 V4 V3 V2
  2. 3 x 15 min w/ 7+ min btw. On 90 sec rolling clock, V2 V3 V4 V5 V2 V3 V4 V5 V2 V3
  3. 1 X 35 min. Open climbing.

Interestingly, we really ramped things up in the last 2 weeks, but it seems like his endurance tipped past the threshold. Unless he did several steep (45 deg plus) problems in a row, there just wasn’t any sign of fatigue. We always leaned toward under-doing it rather than borderlining on the pump. Best of all, the plan paid off. He was able to redpoint several 5.13 and two 5.14 endurance routes the following spring / summer. This wasn’t a miracle program, just an intensive realignment of this climber’s strengths.

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