Blog 1 (The Principles Of Training)

by Steve Dunning
Posted: 8th Jun 2011

General Principles of Training

Have an Objective:

For individual training sessions know your objective, work all out to achieve it, and then stop. The common mistake in climbing training is to go to the wall, do some routes/problems of no particular intensity, and to keep climbing, dropping the grade as fatigue sets in, until it's time to go home. You may think you're training because you're typically trashed by the end of it just from of the sheer amount of climbing done, but by setting an objective and sticking to it a higher quality of training can be achieved; it's far easier to motivate yourself to try hard if you know that you're on the last route/problem of your training session, than if you're simply climbing with no defined end in sight.

Progressive Overload:

To get stronger (or fitter/faster/flexible) muscles must be challenged to adapt by overloading. Given a suitable rest period and proper diet they will get stronger (or more fatigue resistant depending on the nature of the exercise), but if the intensity of the exercise is not increased at regular intervals there will be no further need for the body to adapt; following the deadhanging routine that came with your fingerboard may yield initial gains, but if you don't do anything to make it more difficult you'll soon stop improving.
For a simple weight lifting exercise like the bench press increasing overload is simple: either up the weight lifted, or increase the number of times the weight is lifted. The method chosen for increasing the intensity will affect the way the body will adapt; constantly increasing the repetitions will at first increase strength, but at high repetitions will increase endurance. Increasing intensity for climbing means increasing the grade, or the number of routes, or decreasing the amount of rest in between routes; all will elicit different adaptations.


Put simply, you get better at what you do most. If you train a lot on the leg press machine you'll getter better at leg presses, there will be little transfer to the squat however, even though it principally uses the same muscles.
For climbing specificity is everything. Climbing is a movement sport, the less an exercise resembles climbing, the less useful its transference will be. For this reason all non climbing exercises like deadhanging, campus board, and weight training must be supplemental to climbing as training and not instead of. When using climbing as training concentrate on the angle of the wall, the size and nature of the holds, the length of the route, and the speed at which you climb it; the more these differ from what you want to improve at, the less effective they will be.

When and How Much to Train:

Train when you feel fit, rested and thoroughly warmed up. Too short an interval between training sessions will lead to a decrease in performance and injury. Don't train if you feel tired or unwell, feeling unmotivated doesn't count as being tired, the ability to motivate themselves to train hard when they'd rather be at home in front of the TV is what separates world class athletes from the rest of us.
Supplemental training can be added to the end of a climbing session if it doesn't target muscles already fatigued by climbing. It's also possible that after a day spent tradding, or a day redpointing, where there may have been little climbing done in between long rest periods, a training session afterwards can provide a useful extra stimulus.
You should only train the minimum amount necessary to induce adaptations, anymore than that is only going to increase the time needed for recovery and compromise your next training session.

The Time Course of Adaptations to Training:

Different elements of strength and endurance need differing amounts of time to build, but they all share certain aspects in common:
If you are new to training or starting a new exercise you will make rapid gains initially. These gains are down to factors such as: increased skill at performing the exercise leading to greater efficiency, and neural factors (the increased ability of the mind to use more muscles fibres and with greater synchronicity). After these rapid initial gains progress slows leading many to believe they have plateaued and to discard the exercise in favour of another. These initial gains come quick, but they also go quick, lasting gains come when physical adaptations start to take over at around 4 weeks in.
You will never progress as rapidly as you do in your first few weeks of training, if we did we'd all be Olympic athletes in a few months. To make lasting changes you've got to stick with an exercise for the long haul; typically at least 4-12 weeks depending on the nature of the exercise.
The good news is that once adaptations have been made they actually take very little maintenance; staying up takes less effort than getting up there in the first place.


We don't get stronger whilst training, we actually get weaker. We only get stronger while resting as the body repairs and refuels muscles. Cut short your rest periods and you will negate all the training you've done and fast track yourself towards injury. Similarly with training there is an optimal amount of work that can be done in an individual session beyond which there will be no additional stimulus for improvement, only the need for a longer recovery period and a greater chance of injury. Proper hydration, nutrition and sleep are key to recovery.

Arran Deakin


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