More than Just a Training Plan
Most people are probably familiar with the basic idea of a training plan – a set of exercises (deadhanging, campusing, circuits, running etc) put together in a structured way to bring about physical improvement in your climbing. The real dark art, however, is how to put all these elements together in the right order at the right time to produce optimal results. Unfortunately, I am not about to reveal the great secret because the truth is that I have little idea myself – that’s why I train with a professional coach. Climbing training is so complex that despite working with my coach for 3 years now, I still wouldn’t have the first clue about how to put together my own plan. So instead of writing about circuits, campusing and deadhanging, I thought I would tell you about everything else which surrounds my plans which I believe complements them and enables me to get the most out of them.
For me, following a training plan is more than just doing what it says on a piece of paper. To get the most out of each session you have to give it 100%, not just do what it says on the plan. For example, if I think I have made a circuit too easy or done an exercise wrong, I will do the whole set again. It is also essential to follow the plan to the letter. Something people often say to me if I mention I am tired is “couldn’t you just skip the last bit?”. Well, not if you want to see maximum improvement, no! I have heard Steve McClure say that it’s the last rep of a set that gives you the real training benefit. I agree with him, and I try to keep this in mind when I am feeling really tired. This is one reason why training is so mentally tough. Your body may be physically exhausted, but you have to keep pushing on through right to the end of the session day after day, not just half-heartedly trying but really giving it everything you’ve got.
I also try to seek out any areas of weakness in my climbing and work on them. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of strength or fitness as my coach takes care of these aspects, but weaknesses in any other areas. For example, one of my biggest areas of weakness is technique. I have relatively poor technique, particularly on steep rock, and so during training sessions I try to focus on this and improve upon it. I watch other climbers with good technique and try to copy them. I pay attention to my body and try to work out if I am moving badly, and if I can’t do a move I think I should be able to I ask someone better than me to demonstrate it so I can practise and learn. I also do this a lot at the crag at weekends. Luckily, learning new moves is really good fun so I enjoy this aspect of training a lot.
The mental side of climbing is also something I really struggle with. I often feel the pressure to perform and don’t tick routes when I should. I have read a lot of mental training books, and I use training sessions down the wall to practise the techniques (e.g. visualisation, focusing). Like the physical aspects of training, these things take time to perfect and you can’t expect to become an expert overnight so, for me, it’s important to practise every day. The only downside is that sometimes I feel unfriendly towards other people at the wall as I don’t talk much during the training session when I am trying to practise these techniques.
Working your weaknesses is one of my favourite things to do. You see improvements really quickly, and it is very satisfying when you become good at something you used to find hard. Also, in my case it is absolutely essential as unfortunately I have been blessed with crimp strength when what I really love to climb is steep roofs! People often seem to think that they cannot improve at something because they “are just bad at it”, but I don’t think that is true. I truly believe you can improve at anything if you put the work in. Working your weaknesses also means that you can get a huge sense of achievement in the most unexpected of places. For example, I used to have a terrible leading head. A few years ago I had redpointed my first 8a, but was still too scared to bolt-to-bolt unfamiliar 6as on lead. I decided something had to be done about this, and put in a lot of time and effort overcoming my fear. Last year, I ticked a number of routes that were pretty hard for me (including my first 8b) but one of the standout highlights of the year was leading a super-run-out 6b slab at Margalef in Spain. The sun was starting to set, the slab was totally blind and hence committing, and I didn’t feel an ounce of fear as I climbed to the top. Not a big tick in the scale of things, but for me a massive achievement.
When I am back home, the training doesn’t really end. I am always keen to avoid injury so I tend to do a fair amount of stretching and icing to keep everything working. I guess over the years I have become pretty attuned to my body so if I think something might be starting to tweak I take preventative action before it turns into an injury. All this takes time, and if I have a lot of work on I have to get up pretty early in the morning to fit it all in. I also do more mental training back home too, such as visualisation of a particular route I am trying.
I also make sure I eat carefully as I think this helps me train harder (and by this I don’t mean diet!). I try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and I make sure I get the right protein and carbohydrate straight after training sessions which seems to help me ward off colds and flu much better. I am not really into protein shakes as I hate the taste so I just eat real food. Also, in my house if you tick a hard route you get a McDonalds to celebrate (aka Usain Bolt!).
As you can see, to get the maximum amount of benefit from a training plan takes a fair amount of effort. The effort is definitely worth it though as you see huge improvements as a result. It’s also really enjoyable working all these aspects of your climbing.