Wilderness Sports Conditioning
Train Today for
Power Climbing Training (II of IV)
This article is part II in response to last month's climbing FAQ:
Q: What can I do to make sure that my muscles stay well-balanced and that I stay healthy and injury free throughout the climbing season?
Part I included Endurance climbing training, as well as supplementary strength training to keep the non-climbing and opposing muscle groups balanced. We recommend that you try the whole program in the order suggested to get the most out of it (4 weeks on Endurance, 3 on Power, 2 on Power-Endurance, and 1 on Recovery) .
POWER TRAINING ON TOP-ROPE
Get ready to notice improvement! If you have completed Endurance Climbing Phase I, then you 1) have increased the local aerobic capacity of your climbing muscles, particularly your forearms, 2) have substantially increased the capillarity of your muscles (read: more blood flow = more oxygen and less lactic acid build up, resulting in faster recovery from pumps), 3) can stay on a harder route longer, increasing the likelihood that you can complete the route successfully, and 4) hopefully have been improving your climbing technique by focus on footwork, resting and chalking in appropriate places, and climbing smoothly. Your once-difficult "projects" may start to feel a lot easier. Don't be surprised if you can climb routes several levels higher than you were doing a month ago.
As always, when entering into a new phase of training, be sure to listen to your body and rest if you need to. If your elbow tendons feel a little tired from the dramatic increase in number of routes you have completed in recent workouts, you may choose to focus on stemming, manteling, or friction/footwork routes for a few more days until you feel ready. If you are feeling great, then get ready to develop your finger strength in Phase II.
In Endurance Phase I, you may have been choosing to climb up to 3-4 times a week. For phase II, we suggest climbing twice a week in order to avoid straining finger tendons. It is crucial that you continue to warm-up properly: do a light cardio activity for 5-10 minutes, stretch the hips, arms, chest, back, and legs, and then do several laps on a fairly easy route to prepare for your workout. Advanced power workouts can be done by bouldering, campusing, or "hypergravity isolation training", (see Horst's How to Climb series for details). These techniques may be appropriate for you if you have been sport climbing for some time. However, if you are still relatively new to climbing and would simply like to be able to climb 5.10's and 5.11's, or if you are primarily a mountaineer or alpine climber who would like to climb and lead harder routes in the mountains, here's another strategy you can use to build up finger strength while also perfecting harder techniques, acquiring new motor engrams, getting used to crimpier holds and overhanging routes, and climbing!
Look for top-rope routes in the climbing gym several grades harder than you usually climb. Your goal in this modified version of power training is to have your muscles go to failure in less than a minute. In climbing terms, this means that you are attempting to reach the top in roughly three to five hangs, linking together 12-15 moves in a sequence before you need to rest. If possible, choose routes that have similar types of holds, like a route that focuses on pinch grips, another that has crimpers, etc. so that you can more effectively work on specific grips throughout the climbing sets. You will likely feel mild to fairly intense pumps during these workouts.
POWER: FINGER STRENGTH TRAINING
Climbing with Extra Weight
Two ways to increase finger strength without resorting to the highly intense sport-climbing-training campus board or "H.I.T. method" (from How to Climb 5.12, by Eric Horst) are: 1) climbing with additional weight, and 2) fingerboard training. By climbing with a weight belt or very light pack (say, 5-10 pounds max for starters) you increase the intensity just as you might in weight training, and tire your fingers more quickly. If you are primarily an alpine climber, this will prepare you for your outdoor climbs with a fairly substantial pack. After 3 weeks of this, you will literally feel like you are floating up the routes! In the first cycle through this 4-3-2-1 program, you might opt, in Phase II, to try a little extra weight one day a week, with no extra weight the other day, and see how your tendons do.
The other way is through hangs on fingerboards with additional weight. Your local climbing gym probably has a number of interesting looking rock-rings, tape-covered dowels, various thicknesses of bars, and the like. Place a weight belt around your waist and attach weights that will make your muscles go to failure in about a minute. Rest for 1-2 minutes, then choose another grip and repeat. You may have to add weight to some grips, and have assistance-to-bodyweight on others, if you have trouble holding for a whole minute. Add weight as you get stronger. This could be an option if your climbing partner bails on you and the traverse or boulder routes are a little too difficult to link the necessary 12-15 moves together without falling off.