30 September 2007

Ken asked about translating strength training

Ken asked:

“I'd like to know your comments on adjusting to the improvements and effects of training. I've been following a training program for about 4 years now, and I've noticed a repeating pattern: When I find that I've gotten myself into a new power zone following a training cycle, it seems like I have to relearn my body. Even though I'm foremost a technical climber, the added sense of power seems to take over and I often will actually climb poorer for a while, abandoning my technique and trying to brute force things. I won't even realize it at first until I've had a couple of bad sessions climbing and go about trying to figure out what's wrong. It's like having the engine tuned in your car and gunning it all the time until you remember you've still got to drive with finesse…

…I wonder if, through your career, you've encountered a similar experience as your training has made you stronger, and if there's any specific approach you've applied to adapt?”

That is a good question and something I have spent a fair time thinking about and experimenting with. It comes down to the most basic training principle of ‘specificity’ – what you do you become. If the training is significantly different from the activity being trained for, there will be a problem in translating those gains. Here are some solutions to the problem, which are not rocket science but the only options available:

· The problem most often arises when you train indoors a lot but ultimately want the fitness for outdoor climbs.
· Ideally you would dump the indoor climbing and just train outdoors! But often its not possible due to weather or work schedules. If so you can either plan to make sure you give yourself a period of integration where you do lots of volume of routes outdoors to get used to your new strength and offset the loss of ‘outdoor specific’ technical ability from the indoor work.
· Or, you can limit the strength work to basic strength exercises such as fingerboard/campus board, while still doing all your actual climbing on real rock (or whatever you are training for). This option only works if your schedule allows you not to drop the volume of moves climbed in a given time period.
· Try to maintain regular sessions on your goal rock surface even while you are doing hard training, so your body does not forget how to climb so much!

My solution to this has been to do all my climbing outdoors and never go to a climbing wall (all my climbing goals are on real rock). But I am lucky that my work schedule is often flexible enough to climb when its dry and work when it rains. I supplement my climbing with basic strength work on the fingerboard which does not have a negative impact on my technique.

The negative effect of too much strength work on overall climbing ability is not to be underestimated! You don’t have to look very far to see climbers with fingers strong enough to climb several grades harder if they decided to pay attention to their technique an tactics training.