Physical training in climbing
Endurance is one of the essential factors in climbing performance, especially in on-sight and competition climbing. The basis for endurance training is the ability to off-set lactate accumulation in your muscles (avoiding getting pumped). The best way to train this is to climb longer routes with short rests.
A dictionary definition of muscular strength is: 'the greatest amount of force that muscles can produce in a single effort.' However, if you ask different climbers for a definition you will probably get different answers. We can best explain the level of climbing strength as the most difficult move you can make with control and precision. Key considerations in strength training include the following:
- Which of the major muscle groups to train
- Types of muscle contractions and movements in climbing
- Methods of strength training
- What energy system should be stressed
- What loads should be used
- How many sets and reps
- Rest periods - how often and how long
- Primary areas of concern for injury
Strength endurance training focuses on adapting those body mechanisms that will allow you to climb routes at your maximum, in other words being able to maintain a high level of climbing intensity throughout the route. Your strength endurance level can be affected by both physical and psychological factors i.e. will power. Strength endurance training is often done by climbing routes at your limit using interval style training (see interval training), but you can also use bouldering as a training method.
A well-trained cardiovascular system is the foundation of every athlete. It helps to improve the immune system and enables faster recovery after training. Cardio work is not popular among climbers - nevertheless, it is important if you want to improve your climbing performance faster and will help maintain optimum body weight. The most popular cardio work involves running or cycling, although swimming and hill-walking are other possibilities. The key points to note are to train for a long period of time at a low intensity and to monitor your heart rate during the session to ensure optimum training effectiveness.
Improving your flexibility will enable you to maintain your body weight over your feet which will reduce the load on your arms and allow you to climb more efficiently. In other words you will be able to climb harder routes or boulder problems and at the same time reduce the risk of injury. Techniques used in flexibility training include passive stretching, active stretching, PNF stretching, climbing specific stretching and dynamic stretching.
David was the British Junior Climbing team coach for 10 years and Chairman of the British Mountaineering Council’s High Performance Steering Group. He has been advisor to the BBC and Channel 4 for climbing-related programmes and is now Principal lecturer of Physiology and Research Skills and Postgraduate Academic Delivery Lead for Sport at Sheffield Hallam University.
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