Feb 21, 2011

Sample Training Session With Analysis, Part II


I break my training intro macro-blocks (4-6 weeks), micro-blocks (1-2 weeks), and session-blocks (15-30 minutes). My macro-blocks are related to the season. Right now, it is end of winter on the Front Range. That means I can climb outside but not often (and not consistently). Micro-blocks are dependent on weather and other life responsibilities. A workout session is made of several session-blocks. The sample workout has 4 30-minute session-blocks (#1, #2, #4, & #5) and 2 15-minute session-blocks( #3 & #6).

The stated objectives are related to the goals of the current macro-block. Right now, I’m only intrigued by bouldering and short routes. Those are contingent on maximal finger strength. At the same time, I don’t want to waste my strength. Therefore, I want to increase my technique. I’m not chasing the rabbit of stamina. That is for next macro-block. You can only chase so many rabbits. I found that strength and technique are the Gin & Tonic of climbing training, aka always classic. Following the basic physiology, you get stronger by resting from the proper dose , both inter-set and inter-session (stolen from Mark Rippetoe). During that inherit strength-building rest period, I analysis my technique via both video and introspection. Some climbing coaches train technique in power endurance or endurance sessions. Everyone’s technique degrades when pumped. So either you reinforce poor technique or don't properly train power endurance, chasing two rabbits running in different directions. Endurance session promotes mindless, junk mileage. Any climbing worth doing is deserves my attention and should be hard. Another constraint on choosing macro-block objectives is an acute knee injury I suffered falling on a jump move. It is healing, and I’m assisting the process via rest, ice, specific strengthening, and targeted mobility. Currently, it limits the number of climbing moves I can do in a day. Perfect excuse to focus on intensity over volume.

I like having themes. A theme is a thought intention I set which guides my training. The best ones I have found for me are: silent feet, glue feet, smooth, fast, straight arms, and belly breathing. I aspire to climb every problem in the theme. It doesn’t always happen. I have found that merely setting an intention puts my feet on the right path. Thumbless climbing is a perfect theme for me. Thumbless prevents two handgrip types: pinching and full crimping. Indoor climbing is pinchcentric which does not translate directly to outside climbing. Personally, I default to full crimping. That is a unsustainable habit. Thumbless tricks me into becoming a better outside climber. It serves has functional theme for especially within threshold bouldering. If a threshold problem is too hard, I can a thumb (or two).

I don't warm-up. I train technique for 30 minutes. I use "The Clock" throughout my training. It tricks me into proper behavior. Like fish oil, I don't like training technique, but know it is good for me. I set the timer for 30 minutes. During that 30 minutes, I'm only process-oriented and on restriction from climbing harder than 40% of my max. During this session, I repeated each problem in my home warm-up circuit 3 times in row. I strive to make each lap smoother, faster, and more efficient.

During threshold bouldering, I set new personal climbing records. I was trying to repeat problems in thumbless style during this session-block. I had previously climbed these problems using the optimal handgrip type. I have practical guidelines, kinder gentler rules, for threshold bouldering. My guidelines support my training mantra - “It doesn’t matter if I succeed, it matters what I learned.” I aim to have 4 successes out of 6 attempts. If I fail 3x on a move without improvement, I move onto a different move. Otherwise, I’m training to fail. I use "The Clock" during threshold bouldering to force rest. Here are my rest guidelines:
1-3 moves = rest 1 minute
3-6 moves = rest 2 minutes
6-10 moves = rest 3 minutes
10+ moves = you are not training for bouldering

I select movement and holds that directly transfer to my outside climbing limiters. I choose to do this mini-session at my homewall which is designed around Front Range climbing, i.e., crimpy and technical. Location affects my reality. I love my home wall. I've created a “DO WORK” vibe. I see inspiring quotes and posters. I play LOUD music. Lately, it has been Middle Class Rut, but Dr. Dre is always classic. I have all the appropriate torture/training devices. I pick holds and angles that mimic, but not replicate, local climbing. S.A.I.D. baby. I set simulators for projects. I rarely change holds so I have objective benchmark for each training cycle. I complete control of the environment. I love the commercial gym I have a membership to. There is a “Have Fun” vibe. There is pleasant music muzak. There is a wide selection of training toys. I climb on holds with movement that I would NEVER see outside. There is outstanding breath of problems that are constantly changing. Most importantly, I climb on other people’s problems. It forces me to adapt to an environment that I have no control over.

After the extended warm-up of technique and hard bouldering, I move to hangboarding. Campusing is sexier and very satisfying. But strength is the basis of power. Hangboard is simply the most optimal tool for improving climbing strength. The barbell squat improves EVERY activity that requires moving your legs. Similarly, the hangboard improves EVERY activity that requires hanging from fingers. It is simple, measurable, progressive, and repeatable. Hangboarding is so important it deserves its own post (in the hopper). This hangboarding session-block is based on addressing my personal limiters, open hand, in a progressive manner (i.e., I add weight every session).

I love flashing problems outside (performance) so I practice that inside (training). Flash climbing requires the alignment of both physical and mental properties that I seek out in climbing. Commercial gyms are the best venue for flash training.

Block #5 is the last climbing specific block. It echos the first Technique block. I repeat each problem 3 times striving for improvement on each lap. There is no difficulty restriction, but the goal is complete 3 laps on different 4 problems. It is built-in perfect practice and aims to maintain my stamina (i.e., the number of problems I complete in a day).

I finish the day with “Prehab & Core.” I superset (i.e., alternative the two activities without rest) to save time. Many people with much more knowledge about climbing training than me have stated that external rotation needs to be trained. It is important so I do it "everyday." Additionally, I train vertical and horizontal push. The details aren’t important. It important that I do it. My primary core excise is Torture Twist. I rotate core work when I plateau.

One last comment on “The Clock”. The total training time is a little over 2 hours, broken into two mini-sessions at 1 hour each. Two mini-sessions fit better with my lifestyle, since I work a full-time job and have other engaging hobbies. Additionally, I find better transfer to outside climbing from 2 high intensity mini-sessions vs. 1 marathon session.

What is omitted is often more important than what is included. In my current workout programming, it is rigorous free weights and pull-ups Both have a place in specific people’s training, typically older or female climbers who lack raw horsepower. I, like 99.999% climbers, need to climb more. Everything else takes away from climbing, either in an one-to-one time exchange from today’s session or stealing from future sessions via accumulated fatigue. Additionally, I have yet to see a climber whose biggest limiter his or her basic strength. If it not not your biggest limiter, your limited time is better spent elsewhere.


This post is a snapshot into how I approach training for climbing and reflects the best I have found to date. I pay attention to the details. I tweak. I steal from people who produce better results. My workout will be different the next day, next week, next year, and next decade. Every workout is different, but the logic is the same. However, my workout will not be different for the sake of different. It will be different for the sake of better. I ask myself will X [insert any program or exercise] transfer to better performance outside. Unlike other fitness enthusiasts and programs, I don’t train to impress people in the gym.