Training for Climbing: Base Fitness Module

**Disclaimer: If you don’t wrestle with pebbles, this post (and series of posts!) probably won’t interest you… But I’ll try to put in some pretty pictures 🙂

We started rock climbing in our early 30’s, which means:

(a) We are fairly old (at least, compared to these little whippersnappers who start before they could walk!), and
(b) If we want to get better quicker, we need to train to achieve our goals.

Training for climbing is not a well-defined science. People are kind of winging it, finding something that works for them, passing on their methods, and refining from there. A few years ago, we started to work on our climbing weaknesses and followed a few different training models in an attempt to improve. Regardless of the training plan you follow (or create for yourself) a few points seem to be a common thread:

  1. You can never have too much finger strength (so work on it!)
  2. You can never have too much core strength (so work on it!)
  3. You can never have too much mental strength (so work on it, especially when it scares the bejesus out of you!)
  4. Mindful, purposeful practice can really make a big difference (so work on it!)

Last spring, Mark and Mike Anderson (two brothers based out of the USA) published a book called The Rock Climbers Training Manual: A Guide to Continuous Improvement. We purchased that book and started following their plan. If you have goals in climbing that you want to achieve, or are looking to push past a plateau, I would highly recommend getting your hands on this book, as it really is a wealth of information! They talk about the importance of setting goals (short-term and long-term) to begin tailoring your training to achieving those goals (because if you have no goals, what’s the point of training?!).

They break their training into 17-week cycles, following this general guideline:

  • Base fitness and skills training (2 – 4 weeks)
  • Strength (finger) training (3 – 4 weeks)
  • Power training (2 – 3 weeks)
  • Power endurance (2 – 4 weeks)
  • Performance (sending your projects!!) (3 – 4 weeks)
  • Rest (1 – 2 weeks)

Their training plans are quite specific and have numerous options for the novice and experience trainee. We found their methods to be pretty successful in the past year, so we’re continuing with it for the foreseeable future! Weather scuppered our performance phase last fall (it’s hard to climb on wet rock!) so we’re starting our 17-week cycle a few weeks earlier, in the hopes of getting some of the better fall weather in Squamish.

For the next two weeks, we’ll be doing mileage climbing (so climbing lots of easy to moderate routes), in order to focus on base fitness and skills improvement. In the gym, mileage climbing means ARC (aerobic restoration and capillary) training, so climbing for long, sustained periods where your forearms always have a slight pump, or lactic acid buildup, but the body can recover with active resting on the wall).

It’s not a terribly interesting or exciting phase (continuous climbing for 20 – 35 minutes can get boring fairly quickly), but it is a good time to concentrate completely on your own weaknesses and technique.

I’ll be back in a few weeks to talk about our strength phase!