You can make progress with different methods when planning climbing training, but it is also very easy to be stuck. Beyond the physiological, neural, and psychomotor gains, to continue evolving your plan must adapt to your goals. If you have been doing the same type of training for years, with the same exercises and breaks, it is normal that your grade does not change. Climbing training planning is important if you intend to continue to progress in the long term.
Making movements on the ceiling, until you don’t feel your forearms, is simple. Progressing from grade to grade in the long term is what is complicated. In this sense, planning the training for climbing is decisive.
If you always use the same exercises, with the same loads, you are more likely to stagnate. The body needs variety to progress and avoid plateaus. The principle of variability is very important. But if you leave it to chance you will get random results, with a higher risk of injury.
As Gonzalez Badillo points out, training planning is based on an appropriate mix of scientific literature, and the “art” and common sense of the coach. That common sense will include his experience, his response to situations and unforeseen events that arise, and the feedback received from the athlete.
The Greeks were already concerned with the annual organization of the training. The preparation of the athletes in the ancient Olympic Games was divided into ten months of training and a month of the exhibition in front of an assembly.
However, at the beginning of the escalation, it was not planned. In fact, training was seen as cheating. But the change in mentality has made it possible to achieve current levels of performance, which years ago would have seemed impossible.
Planning is a general plan, methodically organized, with a detailed configuration and respecting the principles of training. To plan, you must carry out an analysis of the starting point, establish the objectives pursued, and carry out frequent evaluations. For this, meticulously structured methods will be prioritized.
Planning is anticipating and foreseeing a logical and coherent sequence of the development of the tasks that lead to the achievement of previously defined objectives.
Periodizing will allow you to improve in the long term or arrive in the best possible shape for a scheduled competition or trip. You will also be able to take advantage of the interconnection and synergy of loads of different orientations, avoiding the interference of concurrent training.
For someone just starting out, planning is simple: gradually increase the intensity and do some unloading or recovery microcycle when you hit a plateau. This is what is known as linear planning. But as you progress, things get more complicated.
You will have to add more volume and frequency of training and vary the intensities worked. If you always train maximum strength, you will fatigue your central nervous system. Including lower intensity sessions, whether resistance or continuity, helps you recover.
Planning allows you to continue to progress in the long term because of the cumulative effect of training. It makes you work with different intensities and better develops all your abilities. If you have done a strength cycle, then you can focus on a strength-resistance cycle, apply the strength gains obtained, and work on other types of muscle fibers and metabolic substrates.
However, choosing the correct recovery times and the alternation of loads of different orientations is highly complex and variable.
For your training to be functional, it must transfer to the type of climbing you practice or to specific objectives.
During scheduling, the items defined for schedules are arranged. You can search for peaks in a way that coincides with trips or competitions.
Perhaps you prefer a more plateau type training, in which the progression will be less pronounced, in exchange for not feeling truly fatigued at any time. If your goal is to be at your peak every weekend, during the week you can focus sessions on recovery.
There is no universal model for climbing due to the variability of objectives of each climber: competition, sport rock climbing, indoor bouldering, scheduled trips, dates allowed by the climate of the area, work and family obligations… Hence it should be noted the importance of such goals.
It will work with one or several macrocycles. This is the base structure, usually the entire season, which will be adapted to the objectives.
But you can also do short macrocycles, using block scheduling. For example, three months after Christmas, as a set-up for the arrival of good weather.
From here, it is divided into different mesocycles adapted to the different aptitudes to work on. That is the development of a specific or partial objective of the entire process estimated in the macrocycle.
Mesocycles are the middle structure of the training process. Its duration is usually between 3 and 6 weeks. The intensity varies throughout the season, depending on various factors:
The load must always have an orientation, whether it is the development of technical or psychomotor skill or a physiological adaptation: volume, maximum strength, strength/resistance, long or short resistance, continuity,… The mesocycle can be more general or specific, depending on the time of the season.
An example is a three-week mesocycle before summer vacation when you plan to go to Teverga. This mesocycle would be the last of the macrocycle done and taking into account the previous work, you would seek to achieve the optimal form for that climbing trip.
The microcycles usually respond to a weekly structure, for work and social reasons. However, this structure can vary depending on the case, between 4 and 14 days. They are made up of rationally organized training sessions adapted to your possibilities and goals.
At the same time, they must be flexible and have high adaptability to circumstances and unforeseen events: training status, injuries, weather conditions…
The dosage of fatigue is a fundamental pillar. Recovery time should be directly proportional to the level of fatigue achieved.
Discharge microcycles must be included to super compensate, allowing the climber to assimilate the loads. The most common work: offload ratios are 6:1, 5:2, 3:1, or 2:1.
It will be important to monitor their evolution and adapt the training to it. For this, feedback and different tools are key.
In the sessions, you can work with different magnitudes of load, according to the specific objectives pursued: recovery, maintenance, development, or impact. Each will require different recovery times.
Sessions cannot be dissociated from the set. Each one depends on the predecessor, but also on the one that will follow. In this way, it will seek to achieve summative effects.
The volume and frequency of these will largely depend on the experience of the climber, how the load is assimilated, and, obviously, its temporary availability.
They are the intra- session tools to generate adaptations. They must be consistent with the intended purposes, assimilable by the climber, healthy and safe. In turn, they can be divided into specific accessories, or compensatory, depending on their function, resemblance, and transfer to climbing.
How to combine them with each other will also be important. They can enhance each other, as complex training does, or interfere with their adaptations, as occurs with concurrent training.
Periodization arises from the need to respect (A. Vasconcelos, 2005):
Sessions are reflected in the periodization. They must respond to the timing of content and activities based on quantitative aspects such as:
You must combine them intelligently throughout several cycles, knowing that when increasing one you will have to reduce the other. A specific volume only makes sense when associated with the right intensity.
You will thus obtain different types of the training sessions: activation, loading, unloading, impact, relaxation, or competition.
No athlete can consistently maintain a high level of fitness. To progress in the long term, it is normal to change the stimulus from time to time by modifying some training variable. You can do it in a cascade (linear) or in a conjugate way.
To achieve the targeted morphofunctional adaptations, the content and distribution of training loads must change regularly throughout the season. But also, for a certain time, they must maintain constant aspects that guarantee their effectiveness. Hence arises the temporary organization of training is divided into cycles.
Among most climbers, it is normal to go to the climbing wall two or three days a week, and adapt it to the type of climbing:
The bad thing about this approach is that it is easier to get stuck. One of the objectives of training periodization is to avoid this stagnation, in addition to controlling fatigue in order to prevent injuries and optimize results.
There are many types of sports periodization, proposed by different authors and at different times.
They can all be valid depending on the type of sport, competitive calendar, experience, level, and goals of the athlete.
The climbing skills that most benefit from periodization are power, strength-endurance, and oxidative capacity, depending on the type of target climbing (bouldering, sport, traditional, big walls,…). All other aspects, such as mobility, maximal strength, and general conditioning, are typically trained throughout the season with more or less presence and varying intensities. A polarized approach is very useful for this approach to the season.
To personalize the training, it will be necessary to take into account:
The quality of this customization will depend on a correct initial evaluation, supported by others that must be carried out periodically. The individual is a complex dynamic system. That is, each subject is unique and with variable qualities over time.
Tests and revisions must be carried out periodically. For the evaluation to be effective and coherent, it must be frequent, continuous, and precise (T. Lima). The success of the planning will depend on its quality.
It will not be an easy task, and the empirical trial/error factor will have to be used quite often. The main thing is, when you play, rectify as quickly as possible.
Also, following the weakest link principle: performance adjusts to the weakest link in your chain. Improving weak areas will have a big effect on overall performance. To find those weaknesses you should ask yourself the right questions.
The climber who does not know his weaknesses has a dark future, having no focus on his efforts. He is in a discouraging state because his achievements will be sporadic and random (U. Neumann).
Those who respond best to particular training, surely do it is because they found the plan convenient for them. The ideal planning for one person will surely not be suitable for another.
For the work destined to the technical and tactical part, take a look at the CM-PAT tool, to evaluate the skills of sport climbers. The FMS gives you a foundation for your mobility. Other tests will be necessary to measure more specific physical skills and aptitudes ( occlusion threshold, RFD, oxidative capacity, strength,…), such as the one proposed by IRCRA. In fact, that’s how I usually start custom workouts.
It is important to have a training diary. Either in the form of a physical diary, or by making notes on the session sheets. A very comfortable way, and the way I usually do it, is by using online documents.
But there are those who prefer paper and pen, and buy one with a beautiful design or motivational phrases (examples). Or point at the blackboard of the climbing wall and take a picture of it. Whatever your method you must have one.
The completeness of the annotations will depend on each one: loads, sensations, conditions (temperature, humidity), environment (you were alone or with people cheering), music (type), previous meal, hours of sleep, stress external to training, pain, mood, magnesium brand, …
In this way, after a while, you can return to these notes to quantify the loads over time, and discover in detail what you did that worked so well. Or, if not, avoid falling into the same mistakes.
If you want to get to a higher level of load control, look at the acute chronic workload ratio.
Gonzalez Badillo and Ribas Serna (2018) define the training load as the set of psychological and biological demands caused by training, competition, or sports practice. The function is to alter homeostasis, causing adaptation and functional improvement.
As a general rule, during the season, the ideal amount of training will depend on the objectives:
It is the point called “overreaching” or optimal hormesis and finding it is complex and empirical. It is best to try to find the lowest effective dose. That is that minimum load that produces the desired effects. Good load progression is the secret to sporting longevity.
If you do not reach a minimum, your earnings will be non-existent. If you go too far, you won’t progress either. Downloads allow you to assimilate the charge and recover from a cycle of accumulated effect. You will also plan them when you are looking to be full for a trip to Albarracín. The most used schemes are (A. Vasconcelos, 2005):
Surely you have heard the myth of Milo de Crotona. It is about a Greek athlete who trained to carry an ox 120 steps for 4 years behind his back. He started when he was a calf, and as he grew, he also increased the load. It is the equivalent of progressive overload.
The principle of progression is one of the principles that every training plan must comply with. It consists of subjecting the organism to gradually greater but assimilable stimuli.
It distributes the loads throughout the microcycles, so you can recover between sessions, assimilating the loads. A tool like the Acute: Chronic workload ratio will be very useful to achieve this.
You must work on an open program. It will have to be adapted to the progress and unforeseen events that arise. As your body gets used to the different stimuli, you will need to vary:
The transfer of training will depend on your goals. It won’t help you to have a lot of strength or stamina if you can’t transfer it to climbing. Climbing is much more complex than, for example, running. Many scalers do not get a return on performance for the time invested.
For this reason, it is important to seek maximum specificity in the exercises:
Specificity occurs according to a multitude of variables: structure of the movements carried out, vectors of forces, different angles of the wall, types of intensities/fibers, number of movements of the track, type of rock, activity/rest protocol, work capacity to endure all day climbing… and a long etcetera.
Currently, the greener view of training is gaining ground. In this, each individual is a complex dynamic system in constant adaptation to the environment, from which he learns and through which he relates. As Udo Neumann points out, the function of training is to prepare you for what you may encounter. You can go deeper in the article about complex dynamic systems applied to climbing training.
Climbing involves sophisticated movements with complex biomechanics and the constant management of forces such as gravity, elastic recoil, torque, and momentum. Therefore, your training must be a rigorous, disciplined, and sophisticated practice of integrated movements that develop your full physical and mental potential (U. Neumann).
With each increase in strength, stamina, or RFD, you should try to adapt to a higher level. It is necessary to find a balance between physical fitness and technical preparation.
If there is progress in physical ability, but an equivalent advance in level is not achieved by climbing, it could be due to a loss of technical-tactical efficiency. Do not forget to pay particular attention to the technical execution.
If you train for sport rock climbing:
The optimal percentage of each type of session and/or exercise will depend on each climber and the time of the season.
Typically, the more transfer an exercise has, the less control you have over quantifiable parameters.
If you are interested in controlling the load, intensity, series, and rest,… to work on specific aspects, the control over these will be inversely proportional to their transfer or specificity. The same goes for the ability to quantify your progress on them.
Control over exercises in training will be inversely proportional to their transfer to climbing.
This article deals with a classic view of periodization, also called linear or waterfall. However, currently, other types of periodization are gaining ground.
Current tools allow training according to the contemporary view of the individual as a complex dynamic system that interacts and adapts to an unpredictable environment. Each individual is unique in a complex unpredictable environment. Therefore, trying to predict the results of the sessions that will occur in months is a tarot card matter.
Emerging periodizations, Bottom-up or agile type, work microcycle by microcycle. Without predicting the future, they are based on frequent checks that show the way forward. You can dig deeper into the article on emergent or agile “bottom-up” periodization.
Sometimes, you will believe that you control all the factors and yet you will not evolve. Other times, you will surprise yourself floating among the dams on a day when you were supposed to be tired. Apart from the biological complexity of the human being, the results of climbing are quite difficult to predict.
Each coach has his own system based on his knowledge, accumulated experience, and reflections on mistakes and successes, but it must always have a scientific basis that is as up-to-date as possible.
But what is clear is that the more variables you have under control, the more you can predict them.
Focus training on concrete and measurable goals.
Planning is the best way to make long-term progress and avoid plateaus. It will help you calculate your performance peaks and be able to synchronize them with your goals.
Don’t look for the magic formula. To improve in the long term, measure progress, adapt the loads to the objectives, vary the stimuli periodically, and try to work with the minimum effective dose.
Progressing is not just going up a grade: recovering better from training, holding on to the bidets longer, having more quality hits on rock outings, climbing without fear, not being injured… Focusing on each little progress will help you to continue motivated.
Don’t compare yourself to the rest. You are a unique and different specimen, with exclusive circumstances. Keep in mind that training must be individualized. As the law of threshold says, as you gain experience, it becomes more and more difficult to continue improving and you must refine more.
Take care of your health. If you are overdoing it, you should lower the volume or intensity. If not, you will reach overtraining; Or worse yet, an injury. Meet the necessary rest times, get enough sleep and eat properly. Your body is a machine that needs, in addition to fuel, maintenance. Above all, veteran climbers, of a certain age.
To dig deeper into training planning, check out climbing training books that address the topic.
And most importantly: have fun! Don’t let it be an effort to go climbing. Fun and play optimize learning. Take advantage of the state of flow and strengthen your mind. Enjoy every moment, since nobody forces you. You are there because you want to.