This month I have taken part in three different types of training. The frist two weeks was focused on anaerobic resistance training (typically used in sport climbing), this was followed by one week of aerobic training (continuous climbing for around 15-30 minute periods) and two weeks and strength and power training (used for climbing hard boulder problems). The reasons for planning my training in this way are explained in my previous post
Over the last 5 weeks I have trained the 3 major energy systems (aerobic, anaerobic glycolysis and the PC system), with this in mind, this post will explain the basics of these energy systems. Each one of these energy systems is designed to produce a chemical called ATP. This compound can be thought of as an energy store, when we need energy to climb, ATP is made. As well as explaining what type of training I have been using, I will give a basic overview of the three energy systems. More details about ATP and how we produce it can be found on my main site here.
For the first two weeks I have been using the ‘linked boulder circuit’ from the ClimbCoach app. As this is the start of my training cycle, I have decided to stick to the beginner work out. Once I completed this 4 times, I moved on the intermediate version. The beginner work out took about 1.5 hours to complete (including a warm up and warm down). The hardest part of the workout was picking the correct grade of boulder problem. The app suggests two problems at your onsight level - one to go up and the other to climb down. I had to adjust this as I needed an easier problem to climb down (I kept falling off when down climbing at my onsight level), I can only assume that the onsight level refers to your down climbing onsight level!
As I often work long and strange hours, it is not always possible to make it down to the climbing wall. On these occasions I used the ‘finger resistance’ workout for my finger board. I have to admit that I found this hard as the workout uses finger grips I am not used to. One of the hang uses just your little and ring fingers - I have had to adjust this and also use my middle finger too.
This type of climbing will be primarily using an energy pathway called Anaerobic Glycolysis. This is the breakdown of glucose in lactic acid. During this process ATP is made. Only a small amount of ATP is made and there is a build up of Hydrogen ions, these are the prime cause of the ‘pump’ and the reducing in our ability to climb hard.
If there is not enough oxygen in our muscles, the Hydrogen (H) the hydrogen can not be removed, instead it has to be added to the pyruvic acid to make lactic acid.
If sport climbing places huge demands on anaerobic glycolysis (resulting in the feeling of getting pumped), why bother training aerobically. Not only will aerobic training help our climbing by supplying our energy aerobically but it can also help by removing any lactate that does result from periods of high intensity exercise. There is a much more detailed look at the research and theory behind aerobic training in climbing on my main site here.
This page is summarised by a statement in a research journal from 2004: Rock climbing uses all the energy systems, training aerobically will increase your ability to climb without producing any unwanted waist products such as Hydrogen and lactic acid (Watts 2004).
Long routes such as this one in Yosemite will place a greater demand on the aerobic system.
There appears to be a ‘training threshold’ that needs to be attained to gain greater training results. This means if we train above 70% of our aerobic maximum we will achieve the best results. A simple way of measuring this in other sports is to use your heart rate. My aerobic training page
explains how to work out what heart rate that you should be training at. There is also another way of setting intensity levels - that is to use the onset of blood lactate as the guide. Many advanced athletes actually take blood samples to find this level and then train at a level just beyond on onset on blood lactate. As we cant do this, ClimbCoach suggests that we climb at a level where we might get a small amount of ‘pump’ but nothing that a quick shakeout won’t solve. At first glace this seems like a random intensity level, but this is the perfect level for us to work at (onset of blood lactate). This proves that ClimbCaoch does not what it is doing and has based its advice on proven by research.
The energy system used in aerobic training is similar to anaerobic glycolysis, but because oxygen is present the Hydrogen ions are taken into the mitochondria of our muscle cells and used to create even more ATP. The pyruvic acid is therefore not converted into lactic acid and instead goes through a series of chemical conversions in a pathway know as the krebs cycle. The Krebs cycle produce 2 ATP molecules and even more hydrogen which is also used to make even more ATP. This whole system is called aerobic glycolysis and it can create 36 ATP molecules compared to anaerobic glycolysis which only produces 2 ATP. The only disadvantage of this system is that it is slow and requires oxygen to create the ATP.
Strength and power training with the Phospho-Creatine System
For the final week of this month I will be training strength. As I have already completed a couple of weeks strength training using the ClimbCoach app as part of a preparatory phase, I will be moving into the intermediate campus workouts and the advanced fingerboard workouts. I will also be using the ‘max boulder sets’ and ‘hard boulder sets’. I realy like these boulder sets as you get to climb real problems which keeps the motivation up but the program makes sure you take the correct amount of rest between reps and sets to achieve maximum training results.
Both anaerobic glycolysis and aerobic glycolysis take a bit of time to get going. We have a small amount of ATP stored in our muscles ready to go but as ATP weights a lot we cant store that much. There is another system called the phospho-creatine system, this system is also anaerobic (does not need oxygen) and produces huge amount of ATP quickly. This is done by the breakdown of a compound call Phospho-Creatine (PC). PC is spilt into its component parts (Phosphorus and Creatine) and this process produces masses of energy which is used to make ATP. The only drawback of this system is that PC is heavy and can’t be stored in large quantities. Therefore the PC system can only produce ATP for around 10 seconds.
The PC system will be used for all-out maximal activity lasting around 10 seconds. such as bouldering.
Results of my training
Well so far I have only been training for 4 and a bit weeks so I am not expecting any results just yet. My motivation levels are still very high and I believe that this is due to the inspiration ClimbCoach has given me. I did weigh myself this morning and found that I have lost 4kg without too much effect. Result!
Watts, P.B. (2004) Physiology of difficult rock climbing. European Journal of Applied Physiology. April 2004, Volume 91, Issue 4, pp 361-372