The Plan

This training program is designed for route climbers working on redpointing higher grades. This is the style of plan most of our climbers started using back in 2010 or so, featuring significantly reduced power-endurance training. The idea comes from the training plans designed by the legendary Charlie Francis, widely considered to be the greatest track coach of all time. The whole idea is to build a training plan that allows us to maximally develop a climber’s strength and skills with minimal damage to the body. By avoiding too much “junk” training, we can have more high quality sessions which then lead to greater gains.

Rock climbers rarely lack a tolerance for dealing with pain; from skin damage, to the incredible strain on the fingers to the searing pain of an endurance pump, it’s rare to find a climber that won’t work hard to send. In fact, this plan is fundamentally aimed at holding climbers back from doing the “painful” training. Anyone can train hard. The big challenge is training right.

Training Details

The true problem with training “hard” is recovery. We go for a session of 2 hours, get wasted, and then get up the next day and try it again. The session on day two really wrecks us, so we’re tired and sore the following day. The sessions flow together like this for a few weeks, and the feeling of being tired makes us think we’re training correctly. The problem is that without sufficient recovery, every session becomes “medium” intensity. This less-than-maximum training is too hard for sufficient recovery between sessions and too easy to stimulate a good climber to gain strength.

Francis outlined a “high-low” model for track athletes as keeping all training either at maximum levels or at very easy levels, avoiding the middle ground. This is based on the very effective anti-glycolytic programs built for Eastern Bloc athletes in the 1960s. What’s the middle ground for climbers? Power-endurance sessions, metabolic conditioning workouts, and long, lower-intensity bouldering sessions.

Bouldering at max levels, where you just barely get up a problem and might only climb for 5-10 seconds, relies heavily on the alactic (ATP-CP) energy system. This system requires a lot of recovery between training sets, but the fatigue generated is primarily central nervous system (CNS) fatigue. This stimulates big increases in power and strength, but doesn’t cause tremendous muscle damage. Same goes for hard hangboard and campus sets.

When a climber spends a lot of time in the middle zone (the lactic or glycolytic energy system), say between 65 and 95% of maximum ability, there is still a lot of CNS fatigue occurring, but there is also massive strain on the muscles and metabolism. A lot of our performance climbing time is spent in this zone, so it’s intuitive that we train there. The problem is that the damage is too great – leading to overlong recovery times, and the benefit is too low – its not intense enough to stimulate strength and power gains.

Power-endurance development is a complex ability that is quite literally the interaction of several other systems. Because of this, your total power-endurance ability will be limited by your power, your strength, and your cardiovascular profile.

To help increase a climber’s power-endurance on this plan, we change gears a little bit. Instead of spending our time suffering through intervals and linked problems, we coax the climber’s anaerobic threshold (AT) up by training just below it. Physiologists and coaches have found two primary ways of increasing the AT. Intervals that involve crossing the threshold (this threshold is usually tied to a given heart rate, where the athlete crosses over from sustainable efforts driven primarily by aerobic energy to a level of intensity that is too much for the aerobic system to handle) or longer efforts that hold the athlete just below threshold. Research shows that both methods work, yet the sub-threshold training is easier to recover from. Since the recovery is quicker, a climber can do more sessions in a given time frame, and can therefore push the threshold up more quickly.

The “high” sessions must be short, always less than 2 hours, and more commonly less than an hour. These include hangboard sessions, max-level bouldering, campus training, high-intensity resistance training, and even redpointing.

The “low” sessions will be skill practice sessions, easy cardiovascular training, mobility and flexibility sessions, easy resistance workouts, and extensive-endurance (ARC) climbing. These lower intensity sessions are ideal for learning, since there is no suppression of motor learning due to fatigue. These sessions should always occur at a heart rate of 75% of maximum or lower.

How to tell what that number is? 220 minus your age is a crap method of determining training intensity for racing, but it will do just fine for our purposes. So if you are 30 years old, you’d want to keep your heart rate at 143 or less.

Always hold back when in doubt. There is nothing to be gained by pushing out a few more moves for a pump. Always be willing to put a session in the trash if it feels wrong. There is no making up lost sessions; if you’re not ready to train hard, put the high sessions away and work on some easy stuff. That way you can just resume the training starting the next day and have a good chance of adapting to it.

 

High Intensity – 95%+ effort:
High CNS demand
increased recruitment
48+ hours recovery
maximum power gains

Medium Intensity – 75-95% effort:
too easy to increase strength
too hard to recover from within 24 hours
not appropriate for maximum level training

Low Intensity – 75% or less effort:
active recovery
increased oxidative demand
training at just below threshold is the most efficient way to increase threshold
enhanced ability to maintain warm-up
increased capillary density

I am not convinced that we actually see increases in VO2 with low intensity training, but still feel it is critical to success on hard routes. My belief is that the forearm muscles’ ability to handle low-intensity efforts are primarily due to localized improvements.

In this program, almost all pertinent training qualities are trained at all times, only the volumes vary. This means you’ll train power year-round, even during peak phases. Same with hangboard training. Same with ARC training. Maintaining a high-intensity component to your training year-round provides us with two primary benefits: strength and power are never lost due to prolonged phases without training them, and the model allows prolonged time for improving hard-to-gain training factors such as finger strength.

A great side effect of this training plan is that since the climber is training all qualities at all times, there is very little soreness or loss in performance between phases; the transitions are “soft.”

The yearly cycle I’ve put together is divided into thirteen 4-week blocks.

Base 1 – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Base 2 – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Build – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Perform – 1 week on, 1 week recovery, 1 week on, 1 week recovery
Build – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Perform – 1 week on, 1 week recovery, 1 week on, 1 week recovery
Base 1 – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Build – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Perform – 1 week on, 1 week recovery, 1 week on, 1 week recovery
Build – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Perform – 1 week on, 1 week recovery, 1 week on, 1 week recovery
Build – 3 weeks on, 1 week recovery
Perform – 1 week on, 1 week recovery, 1 week on, 1 week recovery

The recovery weeks are easy to plan – just back your training time from the previous week off by half.

The Training Components

Hangboard STR (HBS)
The hangboard strength sessions are usually 20-30 minutes in length (after warm-up). We pick 4 positions to work on, and to keep it simple, do 4 sets of 5 seconds per position. Rest 30-50 seconds between positions. This is a good time to work on flexibility or mobility issues.

Strength / Power Resistance (SP)
The Strength and Power Session is as follows:
1. warm-up – movement prep + dynamic WU
2. Total Body Power ex. 4 sets of 2-4 reps (Ball Slams, Box Jumps, etc.)
3. Strength exercises: (2 sets ea., 5-8 reps)
Upper Body Pull
Squat Pattern
Upper Body Press
Hip Hinge

Steady-State Cardiovascular Training (SSCV)
This session is performed at 75% or lower max HR. Good modes include cycling, running, hiking, or easy weight training. Keep it easy.

High-Intensity Cardiovascular Training (HICV)
This is high-intensity steady cardiovascular training. Things like hill hiking with a pack, slow tempo, high resistance cycling, or walking lunges fit the bill. Usually 10-15 minute sets, 2-3 sets per workout. This develops cardiovascular endurance differently than high-speed efforts like running, and is more appropriate for rock climbing.

Max Power (MP) – limit bouldering
Warm-up and then do boulder problems that you fall off of. Limit is the key word. 5-10 seconds per effort.

Long Power (LP)
These are longer problems that typically require efforts greater than 10 seconds. This is the type of bouldering session most of us do most of the time.

Mobility / Flexibility (MOB)
Work on shoulder and hip mobility and on basic muscle flexibility. These “sessions” are usually interspersed within other workouts.

Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity (ARC)
These are long efforts of continuous climbing movement. Most sets last 10 or more minutes and should feature impeccable technique and movement skills. I prefer that my athletes climb established routes or problems rather than climbing “open” holds in a gym.

Power-Endurance (PE)

Skill Training (SK)
Work on weak skills. Spend time on the angles and hold types you dislike. This is where you’ll gain the most ground, actually becoming a better climber rather than just moving in and out of condition.

Performance Climbing (PC)
Send.

Guidelines for Programming

Base 1
Components:
Hangboard STR (HBS) 10% [high]
Strength / Power Resistance (SP) 15% [high]
Steady-State Cardiovascular Training (SSCV) 15% [low]
Max Power (LB) 30% [high]
Mobility / Flexibility (MOB) 10% [low]
Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity (ARC) 15% [low]
Skill Training (SK) 5% [low]

Weekly Schedule:
MON – HIGH
TUES – LOW
WED – HIGH
THU – LOW
FRI – HIGH
SAT – LOW
SUN – OFF

Base 2
Components:
Hangboard STR (HBS) 5% [high]
Strength / Power Resistance (SP) 10% [high]
Long Power (LP) 25% [high]
Max Power (LB) 25% [high]
Mobility / Flexibility (MOB) 10% [low]
Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity (ARC) 15% [low]
Skill Training (SK) 10% [low]

Weekly Schedule:
MON – HIGH
TUES – LOW
WED – HIGH
THU – LOW
FRI – HIGH
SAT – LOW
SUN – OFF

Build
Components:
Hangboard STR (HBS) 5% [high]
Strength / Power Resistance (SP) 10% [high]
Long Power (LP) 20% [high]
Power-Endurance (PE) 10% [high]
Mobility / Flexibility (MOB) 10% [low]
Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity (ARC) 30% [low]
Skill Training (SK) 15% [low]

Weekly Schedule:
MON – OFF
TUES – HIGH
WED – OFF
THU – HIGH
FRI – LOW
SAT – LOW
SUN – HIGH

Perform
Components:
Hangboard STR (HBS) 5% [high]
Long Power (LP) 10% [high]
Power-Endurance (PE) 10% [high]
Performance Climbing (PC) 25-40% [high]
Mobility / Flexibility (MOB) 20% [low]
Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity (ARC) 20-35% [low]
Skill Training (SK) 10% [low]

Weekly Schedule:
MON – LOW
TUES – HIGH
WED – LOW
THU – HIGH or PERFORM
FRI – OFF
SAT – PERFORM
SUN – OFF

Base – 4 week detail EXAMPLE

WEEK 1 – MONDAY (HIGH)
LB 60
HBS 25
SP 35
MOB 15

WEEK 1 – TUESDAY (LOW)
ARC 35
SSCV 35

WEEK 1- WEDNESDAY (HIGH)
LB 45
MOB 15

WEEK 1 – THURSDAY (LOW)
SSCV 35

WEEK 1 – FRIDAY (HIGH)
HBS 25
SP 35
LB 45

WEEK 1 – SATURDAY (LOW)
ARC 35
MOB 15
SK 25

WEEK 1 – SUNDAY (RECOVERY)

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