By Steve Bechtel
Some people train so that they can climb better. I am convinced, though, that some people train so that they can make up cool spreadsheets and obsess over numbers. They start to lose touch with the basic rules of training, and add, add, add more stuff until they don’t have any room to improve at all. We only can adapt to so many stimuli at once.
Maybe you’ve made chocolate chip cookies. Let’s say you really like chocolate chips, so you add a few more to a batch. It makes them taste a little better since you like the chips more than the cookie part. Next time, you decide to add more. The cookies kind of fall apart, but they’re still tasty, so you add even more the next time. Plus, you put in some walnuts. And the next time you add butterscotch chips. Eventually, you don’t have cookies at all, it’s just an expensive mess of poorly assembled ingredients. You can only put in so much extra stuff before you lose the integrity of the recipe.
Over-obsessing with the minutiae of training, especially when it comes to trying to develop multiple qualities, is a recipe for disaster. Let’s say you are trying to develop both strength and your ability to recover on routes. By attempting to maximally train two diverging qualities at the same time you sacrifice your ability to do either.
“If you have everything boiling, you’re going to burn your food.”
This happens not only on a micro-scale like the example above, but also on a multi-sport scale. No matter how good someone is at, say, mountain biking and rock climbing, they are not going to see their best possible results in either sport by attempting to do both well at the same time. Many of us mistakenly take up an anecdotal example in an attempt to fight this rule: “Well… so-and-so is a really good trail runner and climbs 5.13, too.” Two things: that athlete would be way better at either sport if he focused, and he is in no way elite in either sport.
Back to climbing.
Extensive research shows that training multiple qualities, such as strength and endurance, within the same workout diminishes the development of either quality. My favorite: one study showed that simply adding 10 minutes of hard-paced running at the end of a strength session resulted in an almost 20% sacrifice in gains. Yikes. That’s the last time I ever hike back to the car after a bouldering session!
Likewise, attempting to improve multiple qualities within the same training phase compromises results. So what do top level athletes do? They compromise, and you should, too.
Put all your eggs in one basket. For the next 6-8 weeks, train the hell out of the thing you need most. Let’s say your slab technique sucks. Stay out of the bouldering cave at the gym. Forget about keeping your cardio up. Don’t worry about how many pull-ups you can do. You have a finite amount of energy for everything you do, and in order to get better, you’ve got to really prioritize.
Want to really get good? Take 80% of your total training time, and spend it working on getting good at slab climbing. Do slab routes. Work on balance moves in the gym. Get your feet stronger. And don’t freak out because you are not bouldering, benching, or running well. As much as you’d like to think all of your hard-earned fitness in another facet is suffering, you’ll get it back in a hurry.
Develop your slab technique until you see a clear and measurable change in ability. Once you’ve improved, reassess and start working on the next thing. But keep after it, big time, until you get better. As my friend Mark Anderson says, If you don’t hate the training, you might not be working on the right stuff.
Think of it as though you have four pots on the stovetop going at the same time, but you only have one spoon to stir with. If you have everything boiling, you’re going to burn your food. Pick the pot that needs your attention, and stir. Put all the other pots on simmer…they’ll be fine until your priority pot is cooked to perfection.