Training for climbing seems to have undergone a bit of a resurgence over the last few years with more and more climbers keen to see how it could help them improve their level. As someone who has trained under the instruction of a professional coach for some time now, Rab asked me to write a series of blog posts about just what my training involves. So here goes…!
There are many different reasons why people train and I can only really speak for myself in telling you my motivations for doing so. Ever since I started climbing I’ve always enjoyed pushing myself as hard as I can. When I was stumbling up my first V Diffs I wanted to be on the VSs, and as soon as I ticked my first VS I was desperate to get on an E1. I guess I have always enjoyed a physical challenge. As my level improved I realised I would never be happy pushing myself on dangerous routes and so I became more involved in sport climbing. Trad climbing still has a great appeal, but not for pushing myself to my limits.
Coupled with my desire to find out just how hard I can actually climb is a desire to try all the best lines at the crag. Whenever I go climbing I look around and see beautiful lines that I long to climb, classic routes that are just crying out to be ticked. Often, however, these lines are far too hard for me. I see my friends or others trying these routes and I long to be up there with them. Predator (an 8b at Malham which I did last year) is an example of this. It is a stunning line, and one that just has to be climbed. Bat Route (8c), also at Malham, is another – I am miles off even being able to contemplate doing the moves on this at the moment, but every time I belay someone on this beautiful, soaring line that takes the most stunning position right up the centre of the cove I long to be up there trying to redpoint it. Over the years I came to realise that if I was ever going to be good enough to climb the routes I long to do, then just going out climbing wouldn’t be enough. I was going to have to train.
When I started training it was very haphazard. I tried to write my own training plans taking ideas from what I had seen around me, but without having much of a clue! However through doing this I saw enough improvement to realise that it was something I wanted to pursue and something that I enjoyed. I developed a real curiosity to see where proper, structured training could take me. And as luck would have it, I was given the opportunity to find out.
I work as a freelance translator and in 2008 I moved to Barcelona for 6 months to try and make some more business contacts and improve my spoken Spanish. I joined the local climbing wall, and by chance the owner of the wall turned out to be a climbing coach so I signed up for his personalised training plans. And what a shock it was! I have never worked so hard in my life! I thought I was training hard before, but it was nothing compared to this. However with effort comes improvement, and I was soon to see that all the hard work would pay off. Structured, planned training really does make you get better.
3 ½ years on I am back in the UK, but I still train with the same coach out in Barcelona. When I first moved back to the UK hardly anyone seemed to train, and I used to feel very self-conscious down the wall with my stopwatch and weight-belt. However, in the last year or so training seems to have really taken off, which is great to see, and British standards are rising as a result.
What does the training involve?
My training is really very structured indeed, but also very varied within that. Beyond that my plans are a closely kept secret, and if I told you any more I would have to kill you! In seriousness, it wouldn’t be fair on my coach to reveal the exact details of my training, but I can tell you that typically it involves training 3-4 days a week down at the climbing wall, plus climbing outdoors both days at the weekend. I also run too to help increase my fitness and promote recovery. The wall sessions may contain anything from long 80 move routes to medium length power endurance circuits to short boulder problems, plus finger boarding, campusing and pull-ups. No two sessions or two weeks are the same, and I am constantly surprised by what I am told to do next. Depending on the time of year, I also get weeks on rock every month or so when I can just go out and climb to see what difference the previous training cycle has made. The plans are completely tailored to me and I go out to Barcelona every few months to visit my coach so he can assess my progress and see which areas we need to work on. I do most of my training down at the Foundry in Sheffield which is a great place to train – it’s a really good facility with a super-friendly, psyched atmosphere.
My coach in Barcelona is brilliant. He really knows his stuff, and I am constantly amazed by just how good his plans are and how much improvement he manages to get out of me. He also gives me a huge amount of help, support and advice about all aspects of climbing and training which I really appreciate.
At the start of the year I usually set a goal of a particular route or grade I’d like to climb, but this is not the purpose of my training. I think this is quite often misunderstood. The goal helps me direct my focus and really push myself (especially when I am tired and having to drag myself round one more circuit), but it is never the sole aim of training. For me the aim is always just to improve as a climber generally and any ticks you get as a result are really just a bonus.
People often ask me if it wouldn’t be more fun to be outside climbing real rock when the weather is nice instead of training indoors, but for me the trade-off is worth it. Yes, I do end up missing days at the crag when I have to train, but when I do go out I am able to climb routes that without the training would always remain a pipedream. For me, that makes it worth it. Ticking Predator last year was one example of this, but there are many others too. Training can also help a lot during periods of bad weather like we’ve had recently – I‘ve not been too bothered that the crags have been wet as I haven’t been going out much anyway!
Training is definitely not all plain sailing! Firstly, it is very, very hard work. Both physically and mentally it pushes me to my limits, so much so that I take a month off every year to recover! For me this is not actually a negative thing as I enjoy the challenge, but it certainly might not be for everyone. It is also a huge amount of time and commitment. I spend pretty much every day of the week climbing or training in some capacity, and this doesn’t leave much time for anything else. However, for me the upsides far outweigh the down and the last few years training have been some of the most rewarding of my life.