“To increase endurance, you don’t need Tabatas. You definitely don’t need Tabatas.” Pavel Tsatsouline

Endurance is like money. If you don’t use a lot, you don’t need a lot. You just need enough to stay ahead of your goals. Most importantly, you never want to spend it faster than you can sustain it, or you’ll be sitting in your Sprinter all alone for days on end, trying to figure out how to get back to zero.

What is Capacity?
A useful picture of endurance is to look at it in terms of system capacity and system output or power. To give you a more tangible picture, you can look at your endurance like a building; capacity is how wide the building is, how broad the foundation. System power (not to be confused with muscular power) would be how tall the building is.

A climber can have a high capacity and low power. Such a climber would be able to do stacks of pitches at a moderate grade over a full day or several days in a row. If you’re the guy that can climb 10 pitches of 5.11 but still pump off 12a, this is you. A climber can occasionally have very high power, but a moderate capacity. Although less common, such a climber would be good for just one solid endurance redpoint per day, with subsequent tries being sub-par.

Capacity in endurance allows you more good tries per unit of time, which means more sending, which means sponsorship, fame, and lots of celebratory redpoint cakes. System power, what we usually train when we train endurance, is different.

System Power is Built “On Top” of Capacity
First, you’ve got to be able to go the distance. You’ve got to have the ability to climb a 100 foot pitch at all before you can do one with difficult moves. We can train into the pump zone over and over, but without a big base of sub-anaerobic movement, you simply don’t progress.

We have to build this system “from the ground up,” climbing a lot of terrain that doesn’t cause us to get too fatigued. If you climb into the labored breathing or pumped zone, you’ve gone too hard. Simply “ARCing” around on huge jugs using poor technique can diminish the value here, too. You absolutely have to use good movement if you’re going to get better.

In addition to the single-effort benefit of being able to perform better on one route, capacity training allows us to build better stamina for multiple efforts in a single day or even multiple days in a row. In order to get to this point, though, you have to do your time.

Because of the low-difficulty nature of this training, climbers often feel like they are not going hard enough to get better. What you want to look for in these sessions is to progress total moves or total time climbing rather than looking at grades. Once you are reaching new levels in total volume (hours climbing per week), you can once again aim toward more difficult efforts.

Acceptable Zones for Aerobic Capacity Work

EFFORT LEVEL FEELING WHILE TRAINING BENEFIT TYPES OF SESSIONS
Low Very easy efforts, some increase in body temperature, no pump Minimal. Best as a skill building intensity, and can be used to increase total volume Easy mileage, alpine climbing, open ARC climbing.
Medium-Low Light efforts with a medium sustained pump. Still able to hold conversations, and breathing is elevated but not labored High. This is the zone where much of our climbing takes place in warm-ups and on easier sections of limit routes Extensive Endurance sessions, 10+ minutes effort (usually) with equal rest periods. Foot-On Campus Ladders 10+ minute intensity
Medium Medium efforts on smaller holds or steeper terrain, some degree of pump, but still manageable. Elevated breathing. Should still be possible to climb for 5-8 minutes without rest. High. This zone is where you are touching up against the bottom of the anaerobic threshold, and are having to work hard on relaxing and climbing well. Toprope laps with 10+ minute work durations and equal rest. Route intervals: 3-4 pitches back-to-back with rest time about 2x work for 2-3 repeats.

This is taxing training, mostly because few of us spend a lot of time doing this volume of any kind of training. The Aerobic Capacity programs are built on the idea of never getting pumped to never get pumped. You’re going to be playing the long game here, and it will take several cycles of this type of training to build a sustainable (and relatively permanent) base.

A six week schedule:

Day 1: Extensive Endurance Intervals 4 x 5 min work, 5 min recovery. The EE Interval should be done by climbing continuously and without stopping at rests, either on a series of very easy boulder problems or by climbing up and down an easy route. If climbing with a partner, simply set a repeating timer for 6 minutes and switch off (the additional minute gives you time to transition).

Day 2: Rest

Day 3: Integrated Strength Training 45 minutes (this should be a 3×3. For more information see Integrated Strength), then: Toprope Intervals. Do a route that you can climb well without a pump coming on. A good starting point would be 8 full grades below your redpoint grade. TR this route quickly, without taking rest stances 4x in a row. Stop and rest for a duration equal to the TOTAL time it took you to climb all laps. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 16 laps.

Day 4: Easy bouldering or route climbing, 60-90 minutes. Nothing harder than onsight level, resting as needed. If your form is suffering or your performance feels off, cut it short.

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: Easy Mileage (pitches in gym or at the crag) for 300 total feet. Then: Extensive Endurance Intervals 5 x 8 min with equal rest on boulders or TR.

Day 7: Rest

Day 8: Extensive Endurance Intervals 3 x 10 min work, 10 min recovery. If climbing with a partner, simply set a repeating timer for 12 minutes and switch off (the additional two minutes gives you time to transition).

Day 9: Rest

Day 10: Integrated Strength 45 minutes, then: Toprope Intervals. Do a route that you can climb well without a pump coming on. This should be at or above the grade you climbed last week, but be sure it’s still not too difficult. Getting pumped diminishes the value of the training. TR this route quickly, without taking rest stances 4x in a row. Stop and rest for a duration equal to the TOTAL time it took you to climb all laps. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 16 laps.

Day 11: Easy bouldering or route climbing, 90-120 minutes. Nothing harder than onsight level, resting as needed. Look for a V-Sum greater than last week’s session.

Day 12: Rest

Day 13: Easy Mileage (pitches in gym or at the crag) for 400 total feet. Then: Extensive Endurance Intervals 6 x 8 min with equal rest.

Day 14: Rest

Day 15: Extensive Endurance Intervals 3 x 15 min work, 10 min recovery. If climbing with a partner, simply set a repeating timer for 17 minutes and switch off (the additional two minutes gives you time to transition).

Day 16: Rest

Day 17: Integrated Strength 45 minutes, then: Toprope Intervals. Do a route that you can climb well without a pump coming on. This should be at or above the grade you climbed last week, but be sure it’s still not too difficult. Getting pumped diminishes the value of the training. TR this route quickly, without taking rest stances 4-5x in a row. Stop and rest for a duration equal to the TOTAL time it took you to climb all laps. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 16-20 laps.

Day 18: Easy bouldering or route climbing, 90-120 minutes. Nothing harder than onsight level, resting as needed. Again, increase V-Sum.

Day 19: Rest

Day 20: Easy Mileage (pitches in gym or at the crag) for 500 total feet. Then: Extensive Endurance Intervals 6 x 9 min with equal rest.

Day 21: Climbing at or near RP level. Go out and try some hard climbing, but with no expectations of sending. This session is just to get a feel for hard and intense movement.

Week 4 represents a rollback in volume, with a slight change in exercises.

Day 22: Extensive Endurance Intervals 3 x 5 min work, 5 min recovery. If climbing with a partner, simply set a repeating timer for 7 minutes and switch off (the additional two minutes gives you time to transition).

Day 23: Rest

Day 24: Integrated Strength 45 minutes, then: Toprope Intervals. Do a route that you can climb well without a pump coming on. This should be at or above the grade you climbed last week, but be sure it’s still not too difficult. Getting pumped diminishes the value of the training. TR this route quickly, without taking rest stances 3x in a row. Stop and rest for a duration equal to the TOTAL time it took you to climb all laps. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 12 laps.

Day 25: Route Intervals. Lead a route that is 1-2 grades below your onsight level, then repeat it on toprope immediately after lowering down. Rest about 2-3x as long as the interval took. Repeat this 4 or 5 times, for a total of 8-10 pitches.

Day 26: Rest

Day 27: Easy Mileage (pitches in gym or at the crag) for 300 total feet. Then: Extensive Endurance Intervals 3 x 12 min with equal rest.

Day 28: Rest.

Day 29: Extensive Endurance Intervals 3 x 10 min work, 5 min recovery. If climbing with a partner, simply set a repeating timer for 12 minutes and switch off (the additional two minutes gives you time to transition).

Day 30: Rest

Day 31: Integrated Strength 45 minutes, then: Toprope Intervals. Do a route that you can climb well without a pump coming on. This should be at or above the grade you climbed last week, but be sure it’s still not too difficult. Getting pumped diminishes the value of the training. TR this route quickly, without taking rest stances 4-5x in a row. Stop and rest for a duration equal to the TOTAL time it took you to climb all laps. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 12-15 laps.

Day 32: Route Intervals. Lead a route that is 1-2 grades below your onsight level, then repeat it on toprope immediately after lowering down. Rest about 2-3x as long as the interval took. Repeat this 5-6 times, for a total of 10-12 pitches. This will start to push you into the high end of capacity training.

Day 33: Rest

Day 34: Easy Mileage (pitches in gym or at the crag) for 500 total feet. Then: Extensive Endurance Intervals 4 x 10 min with equal rest.

Day 35: Rest.

Day 36: Extensive Endurance Intervals 3 x 10 min work, 10 min recovery. If climbing with a partner, simply set a repeating timer for 12 minutes and switch off (the additional two minutes gives you time to transition).

Day 37: Rest

Day 38: Integrated Strength 45 minutes, then: Toprope Intervals. Do a route that you can climb well without a pump coming on. This should be at or above the grade you climbed last week, but be sure it’s still not too difficult. Getting pumped diminishes the value of the training. TR this route quickly, without taking rest stances 5x in a row. Stop and rest for a duration equal to the TOTAL time it took you to climb all laps. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 15 laps.

Day 39: Route Intervals. Lead a route that is 1-2 grades below your onsight level, then repeat it on toprope immediately after lowering down. Rest about 2-3x as long as the interval took. Repeat this 5 times, for a total of 10 pitches.

Day 40: Rest

Day 41: Easy Mileage (pitches in gym or at the crag) for 600 total feet. Then: Extensive Endurance Intervals 3 x 15 min with equal rest.

Day 42: Climbing at or near RP level. Go out and try some hard climbing, but with no expectations of sending. This session is just to get a feel for hard and intense movement.

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