Once you’re strong, then next most important facet to train for hard redpointing is your aerobic capacity, or endurance base as it’s sometimes called. For the past 20 years or so, climbers have participated in Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity (ARC) sessions to address this need. Although ARC training can be of great benefit to many climbers, there is strong evidence that we missed the mark when we extrapolated this type of training from cyclic endurance sports. Setting aside the obvious – that climbing is neither cyclic in nature, nor an endurance sport – we should look more closely at the source of the idea in the first place. Looking at what’s been learned about increasing blood flow to muscle, increasing local muscular endurance, and improving maximal and submaximal endurance performance in both cyclic and acyclic sport, we can see that ARC training, as it is currently understood and taught, isn’t the best way to improve any of the qualities we are trying to address.  

We have a tendency to aim to increase oxygen supply to the blood by improving general cardiovascular endurance through means such as running or skiing or swimming. However, research shows us that increasing endurance has more to do with:

  1. Increasing the ability of the muscles to utilize a higher percentage of available oxygen in the blood than to increase the amount of that oxygen.
  2. Improving the blood supply pathways to the muscle cells. (Ekblom, 1969; Saltin, 1974)  

Thus, we need to bridge the gap between “easy” aerobic capacity work and “hard” glycolytic power work. This is where the rarely-trained zones of Glycolytic Capacity and Aerobic Power come into play. However, you’ve got to build the base first.   Interestingly, many athletes that require high levels of muscular endurance, such as short-distance speed skaters, show only small increases in VO2 Max (5-10%) with high levels of training, but show massive increases in local blood supply (50-250%). In some cases, improved endurance performance is associated with decreases in VO2 (Stenin, 1973; Zatsiorsky, 1974; Zima, 1975; Melenberg, 1981). This, obviously, cycles back to our understanding why general training modes such as running or skiing are not effective modes of increasing climbing endurance.  

Our interest is in simulating “real” climbing as closely as possible. With this in mind, we look not only at what is going on in the forearms (slow, steady fatigue) but also at what demands movement is putting on the climber’s system. By using variable intensity intervals, we’re training specifically for endurance climbing both metabolically (energy system) and motorically (movement).  

Training Details

This training program uses two types of workouts to condition the system for endurance. We’ll use Intensive Endurance intervals (IE) and Route Repeats (RR).  

IE Intervals are done either by climbing relatively easy boulder problems or by lapping short routes in the gym. Ideally, you’d never take full rest, but would continue climbing on easy terrain between bursts of harder, but by no means maximal, efforts. Imagining shifting gears in a car helps: If max power were first gear, and dead-easy climbing that you can do until you get hungry or sleepy is 5th gear, you’d be shifting between second and fourth. The ideal work-to-rest ratio is about 1:3 to 1:5, so doing a problem (~20-30 seconds) followed by 60 to 120 seconds of easy movement is ideal. The maximum duration for these intervals should not exceed 40 seconds’ work.  

Route repeats should be done at slightly lower intensity than the IE intervals. Most climbers are comfortable at around 6 US letter grades below max. In these sessions, you’ll climb a route or series of linked problems that takes 4-6 minutes to climb. Once finished, rest for the same amount of time it took you to climb the route. You’ll do 3-5 routes per series, then rest 30 or more minutes (during which time you can belay your friend as he completes his 3-5 routes). Sessions will often feature 2-3 series.

28 Day Plan – Example:

Day 1:

Rest

 

Day 2:

  1. Intensive Endurance Intervals, 2 rounds of 4 problems on a 2:00 clock (8 min total) with 5 minutes rest between.
  2. Hangboard Strength, 3 rounds of 3 positions, 10 seconds per hang, resting as needed.

 

Day 3:

Rest

 

Day 4:

  1. Route Repeats, 1 round of 4 laps, 5 minutes work time, 5 minutes between laps (35 min total).
  2. Bouldering, power-oriented problems, 45 minutes.

 

Day 5:

Rest

 

Day 6:

  1. Route Climbing, 2-3 grades below max levels. Aim for good sends rather than high volume.

 

Day 7:

  1. Route Climbing, 5-7 grades below max levels. Aim for double Saturday’s volume.

 

Day 8:

Rest

 

Day 9:

  1. Intensive Endurance Intervals, 2 rounds of 4 problems on a 1:30 clock (6 min total) with 5 minutes rest between.
  2. Hangboard Strength, 3 rounds of 3 positions, 10 seconds per hang, resting as needed.

 

Day 10:

Rest

 

Day 11:

  1. Route Repeats, 2 rounds of 3 laps/routes, 5 minutes work time, 5 minutes between laps and an extra 5 minutes between rounds. (60 min total).
  2. Bouldering, power-oriented problems, 45 minutes. Aim for higher difficulty than last week.

 

Day 12:

Rest

 

Day 13:

  1. Route Climbing, 2-3 grades below max levels. Aim for good sends rather than high volume.

 

Day 14:

  1. Route Climbing, 5-7 grades below max levels. Aim for double Saturday’s volume.

 

Day 15:

Rest

 

Day 16:

  1. Intensive Endurance Intervals, 2 rounds of 6 problems on a 1:30 clock (9 min total) with 5 minutes rest between.
  2. Hangboard Strength, 3 rounds of 3 positions, 10 seconds per hang, resting as needed.

 

Day 17:

Rest

 

Day 18:

  1. Route Repeats, 2 rounds of 4 laps/routes, 5 minutes work time, 5 minutes between laps and an extra 5 minutes between rounds. (80 min total).
  2. Bouldering, power-oriented problems, 45-60 minutes. Aim for higher difficulty than last week.

 

Day 19:

Rest

 

Day 20:

  1. Route Climbing, 1-2 grades below max levels. Aim for good sends rather than high volume.

 

Day 21:

  1. Route Climbing, 4-6 grades below max levels. Aim for double Saturday’s volume.

 

Day 22:

Rest

 

Day 23:

  1. Intensive Endurance Intervals, 3 rounds of 5 problems on a 1:30 clock (7:30 min total) with 5 minutes rest between.
  2. Hangboard Strength, 3 rounds of 3 positions, 10 seconds per hang, resting as needed.

 

Day 24:

Rest

 

Day 25:

  1. Route Repeats, 3 rounds of 3 laps/routes, 5 minutes work time, 5 minutes between laps and an extra 5 minutes between rounds. (70 min total).
  2. Bouldering, power-oriented problems, 45-60 minutes. Aim for higher difficulty than last week.

 

Day 26:

Rest

 

Day 27:

  1. Route Climbing, 1-2 grades below max levels. Aim for good sends rather than high volume.

 

Day 28:

  1. Route Climbing, 4-6 grades below max levels. Aim for double Saturday’s volume.

 

Upon completion of this plan, move into an in-season redpointing plan, or repeat this one for a greater level of endurance. 

 

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