Training can be tricky to get right. It’s different for everyone. Everyone responds to stimuli in different ways – and that includes physical activity. You know what your body can take and what it can’t. So if you watch someone else down the climbing wall or at the gym and attempt to emulate them you will end up doing one of two things wrong: a) it’ll be too easy and you simply wont get anything out of it; or b) it’ll be too hard and will only end badly.
Now, before I go any further, I need to state that I am not a personal trainer and never have been. I have no sporting or medical related qualifications (other than a GCSE in PE – hah!) and everything I have to say is merely derived from experience – the experience of trial and error. All I go by is the mistakes I’ve made in the past and then I try to correct them – usually wrongly, at least a few times before I get it right… eventually. All I shall be doing in this post is going over what I currently do to “train” (I’m pretty sure that if someone with the right qualifications and better knowledge than me reads this they will tell me I’m utterly wrong and I should be doing something else). I haven’t written this as a guide to training, either – although please feel free to take ideas from it. I simply wanted to give anyone that reads it an idea of how a (relatively) structured training session may look – and hopefully get one or two people psyched to get stronger!
So, to move on…
I suppose the most important thing to do, for any sport, is to do it often. Go climbing if you want to get better at climbing! Climb a lot! Just remember to rest as well, because recovery is key to getting better. Without recovery your muscles can’t rebuild and get stronger, to deal with the stress they’re being put through. So, climbing and rest, there’s your basic start. I try to climb three to five times a week, depending on where I am (indoors or outside, for example) and how hard I push myself. I tend to get a really good work out in two-to-three hours at the indoor climbing wall, absolutely ruining my muscles and fingers, therefore requiring 36-72 hours of recovery. Whereas at the crag I’ll get exhausted but it’s the sort of exhausted I can recover from within 12-48 hours, as a general rule (although sometimes this isn’t the case).
Now, for me, maintaining the fun aspect of climbing is really important – otherwise I wouldn’t bother! So, focusing on the indoor wall, I’ll want to go and have some fun trying to tick the boulder problems. After a good warm up, of 20-30 minutes, stretching and then gradually increasing the intensity of what I’m doing, I’ll start having a crack at some harder problems, things I haven’t sent yet or that felt hard when I did. I might not get very far, I might keep falling at the same spots, but I’ll keep trying and if I get the send I’ll be over the moon. Happy days! However, when trying things at your limit, don’t spend too long on them. For one, it’ll get boring! But also, you need to work all your muscles, and sticking to one problem for an hour isn’t going to cut it. Move around, try things three or four times and move on. Switch from overhangs to slabs, verticals to roofs, burly to technical, static to dynamic. Just keep changing it up.
After an hour to an hour-and-a-half of this, take five minutes, and then it’s time to get ruined. For me, and this is the most self-indulgent form of writing, blogging, so writing about me is a given, I head for the Moon Board. This is basically just an overhanging board full of holds and you make up your own problems on it. The board is usually 40 degrees overhanging and covered in small crimps, pinches, side pulls and underclings; nothing so big that you feel comfortable holding it. When I’m working on the Moon Board I try to stay as open as possible, so no turning my hips into the wall or using drop knees. Stay flat on, feet on rubbish holds and hands on rubbish crimps, for example. I try to keep the moves big and open, some dynamic and some locked – this I vary as much as possible. The key here, however, is continuity. Keep going and going and going with minimal rest – use the same holds if you wish – but varying this helps also. And your feet don’t have to follow your hands, just make sure the individual moves feel hard. After half-an-hour to an hour of this your body should feel like it’s been hit by a bulldozer. Your abs, legs, arms and shoulders will burn and your fingers will feel shot. Take five…
Only five though, I’m not done yet. After this, I head for the fingerboards, for some deadhanging. Now, the cardinal sin here, and the thing I see people doing wrong almost every time I go to the wall, is grabbing the jugs and hanging there for 5 minutes. For deadhanging, fingerboards are designed to be difficult to hold on to. The jugs, if there are any, are for cranking out pull-ups. You need to try to hold something at your limit – and you shouldn’t be able to hold on for more than eight-to-ten seconds, maximum. Then take 10-30 seconds rest and repeat. Keep doing this until you start falling under a five second minimum, which can take up to 15 minutes. It’s tiring. It can be killer. But it’s worth it for that finger strength.
Right, warming down: you can’t just stop or you’ll be as stiff as an old post by the morning. I drop and start doing push-ups, but nothing too drastic. The repetition I usually do is 20, rest, 15, rest, 10, rest, 5, stop. For those mathematicians out there, that’s 50 push ups; a good warm down for me. Then I get on the pull-up bar and do four reps of 5 (20 pull-ups) with 15-30 seconds rest between reps. Remember you’re warming down, not up. Don’t go crazy. And then I stretch for five or ten minutes (probably should do more of this but I find it a little dull).
And that’s it. That usually does me. I feel sufficiently ruined and, so far, it seems to be working – because I’m gradually getting better. Good times.
However, this is just an example of one indoor session. Sometimes I’ll just do an hour on the boulder problems and half an hour on the Moon Board. It changes depending on how I’m feeling – and this gets back to the first paragraph of this blog. Listen to your body and do what feels right. Take a few sessions to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t just follow this pattern; it may not work for you. And remember, don’t hurt yourself but, equally, if you want to improve, don’t go home feeling like you didn’t do enough. Happy cranking!