When asked about training, I typically respond by claiming that I don’t train at all. This is not technically true. Whether it's indoors or outdoors, I train just like most people. It's just that my version of training is almost purely climbing and I've never been interested in gimmicky workouts and circuits.
It's important to have clear and attainable goals. For me, that's to improve my outdoor climbing ability and more specifically in the short term to redpoint whatever project I'm currently working on. I believe the best training for an activity is through repetition by doing that activity. Since I want to get better at climbing outside, I try to climb outside as much as possible. My biggest gains have come from outdoor climbing trips and extended periods of climbing outside, and not from long winters spent training in the gym.
What I train for. Midway up the super sustained Queen Bee, 5.14b at The Coliseum, Alberta. Photo Kevin Wilson.
I understand I have significantly more free time to climb outside that most so the question is how to maximize time spent training in the gym. Climbing is such a complex sport that training for climbing is far from figured out. There are many different philosophies, but I think the most important thing is to keep it fun. Make sure training is something that you actually want to do, not something you dread every week, not something you will make the smallest excuse to skip out on. If it’s fun and motivating, you’ll naturally want to do it and naturally try harder while doing it. For some, that's spending hours on a hangboard. For me, I would much rather just climb and have a fun session with friends or alone.
I've never been psyched to spend hours on end staring at this.
It's hard to maximize the potential of a hangboard without the proper motivation. Photo Calgary Climbing Centre.
I have only two rules when it comes to gym training: climb consistently (3-4 times a week), and take time off to rest if I feel pain. I generally won't do anything specific, I'll warm up, try some hard climbs, and leave when I’m done. That’s it. The duration of a session depends on any time constraints I have and when I start to feel tired, usually 2-3 hours. In the past, I have had some epic gym sessions upwards of 5 hours but I don’t really do that anymore. Bouldering seems to produce better gains than route climbing but that won't stop me from tying in if I'm in the mood for routes.
I couldn't find a picture of me climbing in the gym so I went with outdoor bouldering instead.
Working the moves on Mandala in The Buttermilks of Bishop. Photo Jay Blitzer.
In short, I have found the best training for climbing is climbing, what a novel concept! Doing nothing but climbing may not work for everyone, but it has worked for me in the past and so far I've never stopped improving and have never hit a plateau.
These days in the gym, it’s not uncommon to see crowds of people doing a variety of training exercises I can’t even identify without once getting on the wall to do a single climb. I do believe system walls and training apparatus have their place but they may not necessarily be the best tools to help the moderate level climber improve. The ability to do 100 pullups will not make someone a smarter climber.
There are several ways to improve as a climber, such as strength, technique, and mental focus. I think the best way to work on all 3 skills simultaneously is to climb and learn how to deal with new climbing situations. Of these 3, I think strength is the least necessary to focus on. Improving as a climber should naturally increase strength, while getting stronger won't necessarily improve climbing skills.
Case in point - I have never once trained specifically to perform a 1 arm pullup (a fairly useless climbing skill!) However, a few years ago, I realized I had developed the ability to do 1 arm pullups easily simply through climbing hard.
There are certain things I will try to work into my climbing routine in order to help build power and learn new moves. Training smart in order to avoid injury is also very important as a single injury can quickly erase all training gains. I'll stick with the training theme and elaborate on these areas in my next post, stay tuned!