By Steve Bechtel

In a perfect world, we’d redpoint hard routes every weekend, all year long. We’d always feel recovered, and we’d be able to boulder at our limit one day and free big walls the next. But in this world, we have obligations, injuries, and seasons that keep us from climbing well for large portions of the year. Although there are natural cycles to performance, we can find them frustrating especially when coming off a long break. It can be hard to get back into top form quickly.

The typical pattern is to work slowly back up through the grades, wading our way back into the deep end. Depending on how old you are, how well you climb, and how long you’ve been off, this can take a month or more to occur. Here’s a short list strategies we use to help build our athletes back to maximum performance after a short layoff. A note: If you’ve been totally away from climbing for more than two months, these strategies are likely to cause more harm than good, and you’d be better off on a standard pre-season training plan.

  1. Add it up. You’re coming from little or no activity back to full-time climbing. You need to get your body used to doing the work again. If you normally spend 10 hours a week bouldering and you’ve just been exercising 1-2 hours a week, you need to make a big leap. Plan on doing about a third as much volume the first week (3-3.5 hours), two thirds as much the second week (6-7 hours), and a full 10 hours the third week.
  2. Load it up. Get used to moving again, and not just on the rock. For most of us, a major hurdle in building back into climbing shape is our skin, fingers, and forearms. You should consider building fitness via resistance training, cross-training with other sports, and climbing for mileage on bigger holds. Although I think Crossfit is mostly a load of crap, this type of workout is great for adding some intensity to a plan.

It’s critical to really load the system here. Week 1 should be at “medium” intensity, Week 2 should be about half medium and half hard, and week 3 should split the same way. This is going to make for a lot of sore muscles and some heavy sleep.

  1. Shovel it in. Eat a lot. Eat plenty of lean protein, loads of vegetables, and plenty of fruit. And load up on the water, too. Shorting yourself on fuel or sleep is a quick way to derail your return to fitness. Don’t worry about getting fat by eating a lot of these food, either. It’s not eating too much broccoli that makes your leg loops tight, and you know it.
  2. Climb right. Build your volume climbing the same way you built total training time in step 1. Try to get a number of pitches/problems in and resting plenty between. If you’re going to be at the crag, consider lapping a route or two to build up total climbing time. Although these routes are probably nowhere near your limit, your body is getting a ton of stimulus to adapt back to being a climbing body.
  3. Hang. From your fingers. Consider spending 20 or so minutes about three days a week reminding your fingers what they’re meant for by doing some edge hangs on a hangboard. It takes remarkably little stimulus for your finger strength to come back, but it does take some.

Employing just 2-3 of these strategies will get you back in the game in just a couple of weeks. It’s not uncommon to have an easy week after a few weeks of this training, but that easy week can be filled with lots of good sending.

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