Intermediate Climbers: Do You Train in the Gym?

I switched to a new phase in my lifting program on Tuesday. I had almost entirely brand new exercises to learn and perform, including variations on my main lifts. Surprisingly, it was really annoying. The efficient routine I had down pat was all out of whack. I wasted time looking for equipment in the gym, figuring out how much weight to use, and checking the coaching cues for new exercises.

Why was I so annoyed? Change is necessary to progress,  since the body adapts to what you’re throwing at it in the gym. Thinking through my reaction to the change in my lifting program got me thinking about how I train (or don’t) in the climbing gym, and I thought I’d share my strategies in today’s post.

Flickr user wendylix with her spotter, Austin. Photo by Jim Thornburg.

I don’t follow a specific program, but I never walk into the climbing gym without a goal for the night in mind. Here are 3 training tricks I’ve used to give myself direction and purpose in my gym sessions.

These will probably be most useful for intermediate climbers. If I’m climbing 2 days a week, I’ll do one of these sessions one day, and then use the other day for a more chill, have-fun-and-just-climb-with-good-technique sort of workout.

1.  Do 10 routes 5.hard-ish or harder

5.hard-ish should be a grade that you can usually climb relatively smoothly, but which challenges you, i.e. if you’re tired, or unfamiliar with the route, you might have falls. Climb well and focus on your technique, trying to keep a consistent level throughout the session. Aim to complete 10 routes that are 5.hard-ish or harder by the end of the session with no falls. This strategy works well for bouldering or for route climbing. It allows you to get volume while focusing on climbing well.

2. Attempt routes 5.hard or harder at least 3 times

5.hard should be a grade you’ve climbed several times before, but maybe only on problems that fit your style well, or on a really good day. You should be able to do at least some of the moves on the grades 5.hard+1 and 5.hard+2, enough that you’re not falling off every time you try to pull on. The goal of this type of session is to try and get experience with moves that are harder than what you normally climb.

Look at each route before you climb it. Size up the holds and think about how the moves might go. Hop on. Try it. Think about how it felt. Rest for a little bit. Think some more. Hop on again. Better? Worse? What was different? Do at least three attempts on the same route, then move on*.

There are two valuable things I get out of this type of session–experience with harder moves, and practicing the ability to analyze/feel how I’m climbing, and then try to make it better. I tend to do these sessions in the bouldering gym, with a goal of 5, 7, or 10 routes, but it works roped-up too.

*The first time I tried this, I got really fixated on doing this one move on a route. The start involved rocking yourself up and across on a high foot. I tried it about six times (always from the start). It didn’t hurt at the time I was climbing, but my knee was unhappy for days afterwards. Be careful with your body! I think 5 attempts is a good cap, and keep an eye out for anything that places a lot of stress on sensitive joints. 

3. 4x4s  

This classic bouldering training exercise is classic for a reason. You’ll need 4 problems which are 2-4 grades below your absolute max, ideally problems you have climbed before. You want to be able to finish all the problems in the circuit–but just barely.

Set up a running order for your routes. You’re going to climb all 4 in a row, then rest for an amount of time equal to the time you spent climbing. I highly recommend timing yourself! The rest always seems like it lasts forever.

I like to give myself a bit of a challenge for the last, or second to last problem. It might be the hardest of the bunch, not be my style, require a lot of power, or be on a severe overhang. I don’t usually change up the running order in the middle of the 4×4, but I might if I’m failing within 1-2 moves of the hard problem.

Here are some more ideas for 4×4 variations. For all variations, 4x4s are easiest to do when the gym is empty. If it’s busy while you’re there, be polite and try not to jump the running order. Other climbers will sometimes ask what I’m doing, and sometimes they’ll let me jump in front of them once they understand.

Tell Me Your Secrets!

When do you think a climber needs a training plan? Do you use one? What do you do on an average day in the gym? Post up in the comments and let me know!

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2 thoughts on “Intermediate Climbers: Do You Train in the Gym?

    • Hey Leo–thanks for the comment! Unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to climb trad (following) once or twice, so I don’t have any (specific) training advice on that front. Keep me posted on your adventures, and good luck in your training!

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