Last month I instructed you on two indoor drills that are highly effective for developing climbing technique. This month I’m serving up two more drills that you can add to the mix. Use these four drills this winter and there’s no doubt you’ll be climbing better in the Spring!
Remember that effective indoor training requires you do more than just climb with some friends. Regularly employing these specific drills will develop good technique and efficient movement faster than simply climbing routes.
When the rock gets steep and the moves hard, there’s no more important strategy than to increase the pace of your ascent. Climbing quickly is primarily a function of skill, not strength or power (we’re not talking about lunging wildly up a route). In fact, the less strength and endurance you possess, the more important this skill becomes.
To begin with, it’s important to note there’s no benefit to climbing faster if your technique degrades and you botch sequences. Therefore, practice speed climbing on routes you’ve already wired or climbs well below your maximum ability. Climb several laps on the route (rest between attempts), each incrementally faster than the previous. Attempt to climb about 10 percent faster on each successive lap, but back off the accelerator at the first sign your technique is suffering.
Perform this drill a few times a week for several months, and you’ll find yourself naturally moving faster when climbing onsight or redpoint at the crags. This new skill alone could push your redpoint ability a full number grade higher over the course of a single season–a much greater gain than you’d ever achieve from strength training alone!
Fatigued Skill Training
I’m fond of pointing out that it’s best to practice new skills while you’re physically fresh. Interestingly, you can increase your command of known skills through practice during states of moderate fatigue. This is a powerful concept you’ll want to put to work immediately but be careful not to misuse it.
Research has shown that beyond the initial successful trials of a skill, practice should be performed with variable conditions and levels of fatigue. This will increase your rate of failure at doing certain moves, but performance isn’t your goal, practice is! The benefits of this practice, no matter how poor, will become evident in the future. Besides, this concept actually makes good sense. If you want the ability to stick a deadpoint in the midst of a dicey lead climb while pumped, you’d better log some deadpoints in various states of fatigue during practice.
Here’s the best approach. Use the first 30 minutes of your workout (while fresh) to train new skills, then move on to chalking up some mileage on a variety of routes. After an hour or so, or when moderately fatigued, attempt several reps of recently acquired moves or sequences. As fatigue increases, finish up with some reps of sequences or boulder problems you have more completely mastered.
In the context of a two-hour climbing gym workout, this rule emphasizes the benefit of squeezing in a greater volume of climbing with only brief rests, over doing just a few “performance” reps with extensive rest. The long rests and performance climbing may make you look better, but the greater volume of practice will make you climb better!
Finally, don’t confuse practice while muscularly fatigued with practice while tired or injured. As with any training method, you can go overboard and end up getting negative results. Sixty to ninety minutes of actual climbing time is optimal.
Copyright © 2004 Eric J. Horst. All Rights Reserved.