by Christopher Schafenacker
Training for climbing is cyclical. You can’t train the same set of abilities ad infinitum without getting injured, but at the same time, chaotic, unstructured training yields half-baked results. If you want your training to deliver you need to periodically vary your focus.
Unless you live in a van and enjoy unlimited freedom to travel, your climbing season is probably naturally divided into indoor and outdoor periods. If you’re in New England, you have first, second, and third winter to contend with. If you’re in the Midwest, you have about as much access to real rock as you do to fresh-never-frozen seafood. And, even if you’re in one of the country’s climbing meccas, you still likely need to contend with everyday responsibilities that limit the time you can get outside. Blocks of indoor training are crucial to maximizing outdoor performance, but this does mean that training ends when the real rock season begins.
If you only get outdoors for a few scheduled climbing trips a year, you shouldn’t be thinking about training in the traditional sense during these periods. Sure, the time for measured exercises and hangboard sets is over as soon as you hop in the van or board the flight—but this doesn’t mean you should ignore structure. Planning a climbing trip around specific goals is crucial to making the most of your time.
Ideally, you’ve trained with a few specific routes in mind or, at least, in preparation for the climbing style of your destination. Once on the ground, you want to map out your climbing and rest days in consideration of time and conditions. Two days on, one day off is pretty standard, unless your goal is to project at your limit. Establishing primary and secondary aims is also important. Maybe the main goal is to send 7c (5.12d) in a week, while onsighting as many 7a+’s (5.12a’s) as possible is the second priority. Your days probably then consist of a few warm-up routes, an onsight attempt, and then a burn or two to work beta or make links on your project.
If your outdoor season consists of more than a few scattered weeks of travel, your climbing training should be more specific. There’s no reason you can’t stay fit while subsisting on a diet of real rock (and real rock only), but doing so requires planning. Projecting exclusively at your limit diminishes your fitness. Balance is key. While projecting a hard route, you should at once pursue secondary objectives that get you training a broader set of skills. If you’re working, say, a steep, juggy 8a (5.13b) you might establish a secondary project with a hard boulder crux as a means of keeping your power topped up.
Training for climbing during outdoor season is also a matter of strategic awareness. You can’t go out and binge on fun moderates and expect to improve (as fun as doing so may be). Improvement depends on trying hard and this means thoughtfully choosing your routes. After warming up, you need to focus your energy on pushing your limits, be it through an onsight attempt, redpoint burn, or a try at linking sections of your project. Taking your body to its true limit is the only way to stimulate the sort of adaptations needed to increase strength. This means trying really hard in acute moments…not breaking your body down by climbing moderates until your arms fall off.
Finally, finger boarding needs to remain a part of your climbing training during outdoor season. An evening hangboard session after a half day of projecting is a great way to maintain finger strength, especially if the route you’re trying is on steep, good holds. If you’re on an extended trip, this can be easily achieved with a portable board like the Maverick.
See our featured training gear below, and keep the send train rolling!
Featured Climbing Training Gear
Maverick: The on-the-go, bring it anywhere hangboard. On a family road trip to keep your fingers in shape. We like to bring this to the crag with us to keep our fingers warm—without losing skin on mediocre warm-ups—at that steep, thuggy sport crag.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.