I believe that for most people, training smarter means using the least amount of time, energy, and body damage to achieve a desired effect. That’s why it’s hard for me to watch climbers beat themselves up, and waste so much time, and not get any stronger.
One of the biggest errors in training that I see is “doing too much”. It’s a common problem with most athletes, and every strength coach talks about the difficulties of holding athletes back. Climbers are motivated; we want to send. And we don’t mind the pain. So we tend to train to the point of exhaustion in the name of getting “a good workout”. Climber’s that do super long climbing sessions or spend a lot of time with extra, non-climbing exercises (jogging, crossfit, yoga, etc.) are probably working harder than they have to, if their goal is to climb stronger.
Their are many problems with this, and you can find tons of good articles that address this issue. The main problems that I have with this approach to training are that (1) it does not prioritize quality movement, and (2) it doesn’t allow for good recovery.
Doing Too Much Leads To Injuries
Both of these problems lead to injuries, and simply stated, injuries can ruin your climbing career.
First, if you’re idea of a “good workout” is crushing yourself into the ground, lots of sweating, maybe some vomitting; then you’re probably losing focus on quality at some point. Your body position and technique will become sloppy, you wont be as coordinated, and your brain might even get fuzzy and make bad decisions. That’s a great way to injure yourself. Instead leave some gas in the tank. Stop your workout as soon as you start to lose any quality. Feeling “worked” is not worth risking an injury.
Second, if you’re smoking yourself every workout, then you’re going to need a lot more time for recovery. If you’re not giving yourself adequate recovery time, then you’re setting yourself up for injuries. Remember, if you train hard, you gotta rest hard. The problem is that most climbers are training hard too many days a week. If you’re young, you might be able to get away with butt-kicking workouts 3-5 times a week, but for most of us, recovery takes longer. Keep training this way, and you’re going to hurt yourself. It may take months or years before you face the music, but it’s bound to happen. Start training smarter now.
Other Things To Consider
Long workouts usually mean low intensity, and that means that you’re using more time and energy than you have to to reach your desired effect. Why would you want to do 20 boulder problems when 5 would get you stronger? That’s 15 more reps on your joints, muscles, and nervous system. Do you enjoy beating up your body only to plateau at the same grade every year? To build strength, increase your intensity, and do less of it.
Every dedicated climber over-trains. You are not alone. Here’s some ways to climb above the crowd and become a master of stone.
Write down your goals. If you don’t have goals, then what are your training for? How do you know if those Crossfit workouts are benefiting you if you don’t even know where you are headed. Doing too much might be a by-product of not having enough focus. And that probably means you don’t have specific training goals.
Write down your plan. If you don’t have a plan, then you’re going to fall back into your old training routine of “climbing more”. “Climbing more” is the plan for new climbers or old dummies. A well written plan will help the self-coached climber hold themselves back, preventing “doing too much”. At the very least, you should write down a training schedule and document your workouts and progress. Of course, sticking to the plan is the tough part.
Keep track of your progress. If you’re not keeping track of goals and progress, then you’re not training, you’re exercising. Pushing the gas pedal is the first answer for a lot of climbers when they want to get stronger. What about releasing the brakes? Tracking your progress will help you find your own training “sweet spot”, the minimum amount of work you need to do to reach your goals. I’ve been really happy with doing a 2 week cycle of 3 workouts one week followed by 2 workouts the next week. For me, it works better (meaning I get stronger) than if I climb 3 hard days every week.
Quit while you’re ahead. Don’t give your project “one more try”. It’s not worth it. Practice some self-discipline and go home instead. Leave some gas in the tank for your recovery. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it a good idea. Remember, everyone else is plagued by injuries and poor performance. You are smarter than that.
Track your recovery. This might be a bit overkill for recreational athletes, but how bad do you want it? Two ways to do this are to (1) monitor your resting heart rate or (2) track your perceived level of exertion. For the first one, take your resting heart rate first thing in the morning and make sure it doesn’t vary more than 6 bpm from your “normal” on most days and 10bpm after a hard day. For the second one, after each workout write down how hard you thought your workout was (percieved level of exertion or PLE) on a scale of 0-10. You want to see your workouts getting harder without your PLE getting higher, meaning that you can climb harder without working harder, which means you’re getting stronger! A high PLE means that you’re doing too much, and you need to train less or focus on recovery more, especially if your PLE is going up without an increase in workout intensity.
Change your beliefs. OK, this one’s not so simple, but if you really want to change your behaviors, you need to change your beliefs. If you’re not convinced that you can get stronger without wasting yourself every workout, then test your beliefs. Perform a human experiment on yourself. Follow a training plan that’s outside of your normal routine and document the results. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up just reinforcing your own beliefs. But you might find a better way. Either way, you’ll learn something about yourself.
Let me know what you think.
-Dr. Andrew Shannahan
Bothell Chiropractic | Massage Lynnwood