Mixing Life, Climbing and Training Goals
I’ve got some climbing objectives coming up later in the summer that I should be training for. The problem is that the training I am doing conflicts with some of the climbing I want to be doing right NOW. How do we balance such challenges, especially when the types of fitness we need for different types of climbing can be so diametrically opposed – hard multi-pitches versus long multi-day ridge traverses at altitude. It’s a fun topic for anyone that likes long-term planning for objectives, and who believes that fitness might be the thing that either holds them back from climbing at their potential, or makes it all possible. I am hoping that by laying out my thoughts, I will be able to help others to develop their own training philosophies.
First, why train? Can’t we just climb all the time?
Yes. You can, but, to set a context for the rest of this article, I’d like to first make a point about why and where training is useful. Feel free to move on if you are already drinking the Kool-Aid, but I know that it isn’t true that everybody likes training, believes in it, or sees it’s value over climbing all the time.
First, I enjoy training. I enjoy structure, progression, deliberate practice, and seeing results. Understanding how to improve helps me to build personal strength and confidence (power). For those that don’t get these things out of training, there is another element to why it may be relevant for you. Let me make the assumption that you are busy: you have work goals, family goals, relationships, and personal affairs to manage (car, house, bills). Good for you! I am learning to balance the things that are important to me in life. I really like climbing, but I also really like seeing my niece grow up, spending time with my parents, and now, I am trying to start a business. On top of that, I live in Seattle where it takes me an hour (on a good day) to get to a crag where I can get in real burns. Are you starting to see the problem? Our sport necessitates an abundance of deliberate practice to progress past moderate levels of competence, and achieving a high rate of success on objectives at the edge of our abilities requires a high-level of fitness. We need to find ways to continue to level up on a technical basis, but also to consistently maintain and improve on sport-specific strength and aerobic capacity (the balance depends on what kind of climbing you like). Training gives us the opportunity to dial back the amount of time we spend climbing by making objective-specific gains in our fitness level. By strategically focusing on training some of the time instead of “just climbing”, we can be specific about the types of gains that are important to us.
In the sense that training helps us move closer to our goals, I find it meaningful. I see a gym workout, a long easy run, or a core session to be fun because I know am working towards long-term goals that are important to me, both climbing and otherwise.
Putting together a training schedule
In February, I jumped back onto a new training plan that will last into the fall, peaking in mid-October. I am continuing to follow the advice presented in Training For the New Alpinism (House, Johnston) as most of my objectives are alpine, rather than rock-in nature. In the rest of this post, I have mapped out an 8-month timeline that shows how I am trying to incorporate my some life, training, and climbing goals such that I can achieve all three.
Goals, and aligning with your fitness level and the seasons
Below are my climbing goals for 2017 in priority order. Not mentioned, but ever-present, is my interest in spending time with friends and family (who very well may not be climbers).
- Long mountain days in complex terrain (Waddington, Canadian Rockies) – moderate strength, high aerobic fitness and lots of endurance, uphill power (best July)
- Multi-pitch rock climbs (for example: TRL, the passenger, freeway, alaska highway, stuff in bugaboos) – power and power endurance, and technique (best in september – short days but cooler temps)
- Spring ski mountaineering & volcanos (e.g. liberty ridge or rainier, north ridge of baker, etc), easy alpine climbs (triple couloirs, wine spires, etc) – high aerobic fitness, uphill power (best late spring, early summer)
For two reasons, these goals fit well in different parts of my training timeline,
- I’ll be in different types of shape given focuses of different parts of the training progression, and
- the weather is best for each during different parts of the year. As an example, during the base period I won’t have a lot of power or climbing endurance because it is early in the season, but I will be working on developing aerobic capacity and leg strength.
Specifically, here is how I have thought about fitting it all in.
This period is about training to train: building aerobic capacity, and building general strength that will be converted to sport-specific strength. Typical workouts in this period include:
- lots of long easy Zone 1 and Zone 2
- max strength workouts (low reps and high weight) and then later muscular endurance workouts (converts max strength into power)
My plan/goals for my base phase (March – June):
The general nature of the base period lends itself well include ski touring/mountaineering and days biking or hiking with friends/family. Its a great time for long tours, and long easy alpine days on tools or rock. For max strength workouts, I’ll mostly use weights at the climber gym to target specific muscles and induce fatigue, while keeping my time commitment to a minimum. Later on, I’ll move outside and to auto-belays or 4x4s for building muscular endurance.
At the end of this period, I would say I feel ‘mountain fit’ – I don’t have a lot of power, but I can move for long periods of time and recovery quickly.
This period is all about converting the general fitness above into climbing-specific strength/fitness.
- Climbing bigger and bigger routes that mimic goals
- Workouts that are not climbing specific should only be done as recovery or to maintain fitness (e.g. max strength workouts) i.e climb, climb, climb
- This is period for long, high-intensity training where recovery times and gains are amplified by the strong base built above.
My plan/goals for my climbing-specific phase (June – August):
This year I am preparing for a trip to the Waddington area later in July. If I don’t make it there, I’ll try to make it to another alpine climbing environment. This will require long days climbing up to 5.10 with a pack, and lots of movement over technical terrain. Though June and up to launching for the trip in July, my goal will be to prepare for this. Afterwords, I am just going to focus on translating all that fitness into power endurance for long, hard rock climbs at the end of the climbing season.
- Pre-Waddington: long, full day rock routes on back to back days (WA pass, Squamish) near max.
- OR Long runs, hiking with weight + lots of gym volume with a pack (continued focus on muscular endurance on technical terrain).
- Because I want to workout at a very high-intensity level, I’ll plan to spend most of my energy on completing hard, sustained routes (goal #2) with certain partners….no more biking unless its for recovery
- Combine this with just a little bit of power via once a week boulder session or hard cragging
- Post-Waddington: focus entirely on rock climbing and drop focus on aerobic fitness (running, hiking, etc). Continued focus on goal #2.
In summary, the idea here is to maximize your potentially to achieve goals by aligning them with seasonality, fitness levels, and other personal goals. I didn’t talk about how a working schedule fits into all this, but it is worth considering as an exercise for the reader.
I also should be clear that I make NO bets that I will succeed on any of the objectives here. I would like to, but I recognize they are hard and I have a long way to go. I’ve referenced common climbs because they are well-known in the community, but I may end up choosing other objectives of similar nature….my attachment is low.