Archive for Training

ClimbCoach - Month 3 - supercompensation

Rock climbing coaching app
This month has mainly been spent training strength. I have been using a number of the training programs and have seen a huge improvement in my climbing. When I first started using the app I could only just complete 1-3-5 on the campus board. I have now progressed past this and can complete 1-4-6 with my left hand and I am very close with my right. I am aiming to be able to do this with both hands by the end of the next training cycle. I have also completed a number of hard problems that I have never managed before and on top of this, I have had to change the handholds I use on the fingerboard routines as my previous ones are now too easy.

One of the key principles that have allowed me to gain strength and power is what’s know as Supercompensation. This is the idea that training makes us weaker - not stronger. It is only during the rest period between the training sessions that we actually get stronger.

The image below shows the change in fitness levels during and after training.

The diagrams clearly shows how important rest is when we are training. If you don’t give yourself enough rest between training sessions you will not be able to gain the maximum gains in fitness. How much rest you take is dependent on many factors such as the training intensity, age, fitness and individual genetic make up. The ClimbCoach app gives suggested rest times for each training session, but as a general rule, if your arms feel tired in the morning, you should give it another days rest.

There are many different training adaptations that occur during the rest period between training sessions.

ClimbCoach training month 2 - energy systems

Rock climbing coaching app
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.

Anaerobic/lactate training

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.

Aerobic training

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 route climbing

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

Climbcoach training program - Month 1 - Periodisation

Rock climbing coaching app
Climbcoach is an App for ipods that help you plan and execute training for rock climbing. I have been using this app for a month now and how found it to be invaluable training tool. Already, I have seen improvements in my climbing fitness and the climbcoach is helping me stay motivated and on track with my training.

resting from rock climbing

Insanity = doing the same thing and expecting different results!

As 2013 is here, I thought I would use the climbcoach app to plan a 6-month training program. Within this post I will be discussing a training technique called periodisation. Simply put, periodisation means sticking to a structured long-term training program as opposed to a more haphazard approach such as trying to climb as often as you can.

For the last few years I have been going climbing a 2-4 times a week but have not seen any improvement in my grades. If I want to achieve the goals I have set for myself, I will need to do something different this year. This year I am going to plan my training to achieve maximum results.

and stick to it!

Goal Setting

Before planning any form of training plan you will have to decide what you would like to achieve. In rock climbing this is generally easy - My goals for this year are to climb a route called ‘Carbide Finger’ at Bowles Rocks (6c) another route at Bowles called ‘Them Monkey Things’ and a route at Harrison’s rocks called ‘What Crisis’. These goals all have one thing in common - they are all short powerful routes.

training for powerful climbing

Carbide Finger (6c) at Bowles - this will require strength and power

This means that I will want my training to focus on strength and power with a lesser focus on anaerobic fitness.

A long term approach to training (6 months and upwards) is called a Macrocyle.


A mesocycle is a phase of the training program with a duration from 2-8 weeks. Its within this phase that I will be focusing most my planning. My mesocycle will have 4 weeks of strength and power training, followed by 2 weeks on anaerobic resistance training and one week aerobic training. Towards to end of the 6 month plan (the macrocyle) the anaerobic resistance and aerobic fitness will be tweaked slightly to incorporate more anaerobic power and aerobic power. More detail on this will be covered in Februarys post – Energy Systems. If your goals are for longer routes such as a typical sport route at in indoor wall, your will want to plan a slightly different mesocycle. I would recommend a template such as 4 weeks strength, 3 weeks anaerobic resistance, 2 weeks aerobic power and one week active rest.


7 Week training program

Once the mesocycle has been planned, you can then go into further detail and plan your weekly sessions. A weekly plan is often called a Microcycle. I will be using the climbcoach app to plan my weekly training. The app makes the detailed weekly planning very simple. If I am working on strength and power - I will pick a training workout from the strength section, and aim to complete this workout on four separate occasions. The app even awards you with a gold medal once you have completed the workout three times.
training for climbing

Climbcoach lets you pick the type of workout you want

During the anaerobic phase I will be picking a workout from the ‘resistance’ section and an aerobic workout will be picked from the ‘endurance’ section.
How often to train and when to rest
climbcoach climbing training

Climbcoach plans for rest an training frequency

This is also part of the microcycle, but the climbcoach app also makes this very easy - each workout tells your training frequency and how much rest is needed between each workout.

Why bother with periodisation?

I have been going on about how to plan your training but so far I have not addressed why this is a worth while activity. There are three main reasons;

  • Supercompensation
  • Provides variety
  • Reduces the chances of injury

This explains how we get stronger. Greater detail will be covered in March, all we need to know is after a climbing session we start to get fitter. This means we start our next training session with a small increased fitness level. This small gain in fitness allows us to train harder and longer and therefore get better results. This is why training in blocks is a great way to train.

training on sandstone rock

varying your climbing keeps the body guessing and reduces injury

Our bodies are excellent at adapting to the training demands we place on them. After a prolonged phase of training the body will have adapted in many ways and increased its fitness in order to cope with the training. The best way to keep your body adapting is to ‘keep the body guessing’ by changing the type of training we are doing. This could be a change from campus boards to hard bouldering or it can be an change from strength training to anaerobic training. This shift of training focus will keep our body guessing and force them to keep adapting.
Injury prevention
If you keep doing the same type of training you will be increasing the risk of injury. By swapping the types of training you are doing, the body will get time to recover and reduce the chances of over training.

My Plan for January

As I am already 4 weeks into my training so the next two weeks will be anaerobic resistance, the third week aerobic climbing or rest, and the forth week will be back onto strength.

I will let you know how it goes.

Winter Climbing Training with Climbcoach

Rock climbing coaching app
Over the last month I have been using an app for my iphone called climbcoach. This is a rock climbing training program that helps you plan your training as well as providing many training workouts to follow when you are at the climbing wall.

For the nest 6 months I am going to use climbcoach as the main focus of my training. Each month I will post about any improvements in my training, but instead of just a boring post about me (even I don’t want to read that!), I will be discussing a training principles that will allow us to gain the most from the training. The first training principle I am going to cover is periodisation . This is simply planning your training to achieve maximum results.

Here is a list of the upcoming monthly training topics;

  • Periodisation and goal setting - planning your training (January)
  • Energy systems - How to train the correctly to achieve your goals (February)
  • Supercompensation (March)
  • Muscle groups and antagonists (April)
  • Flexibility and stretching (May)
  • Rest and Injury prevention (June)

Simply click on the topic you would like to read about (once its been published).

Training and Finger Boards

My local climbing wall has recently got some new fingerboards and they are amazing. They are made by a company called JST Climbing. They make a large range of finger boards out of local UK sustainable wood. This means that they are environmentally friendly as well as producing a skin friendly board. You can choose between a range of boards so you are able to by a board that is suitable for your training needs.

Many people will stay that fingerboards are a waste of time, as you will never find a finger board on a climbing route. This view does not take into account any of the training principles needed to excel in rock climbing. One of the major training principles is that to build power and strength, you will need to exercise your muscles repeatedly and at near maximum levels. When you are climbing a route you will rarely use the same hold twice and even in bouldering when repeated attempts is the norm, your body can often be in different positions and therefore you will be using the hand hold in different ways. The advantage of the finger board is that you will be working the same muscle group in exactly the same way each time you hang from the board.

The other problem with bouldering is if you are anything like me - you will fall off due to a technical error and not due to the muscular demands being too high! This means that you can be missing out of the full training potential of your climbing session as your muscles may not be working as hard a fingerboard can make them.

This is not to say we should all jump on the fingerboards and never go climbing again. Fingerboards don’t give us the technical knowledge and body movement that is essential for rock climbing, but they do give an extra training edge.

There is a training plan for fingerboards in the training section of my website.