/ What's the optimal bouldering session?

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Cellinski - on 17 Jan 2013
Iím a 38 years old, have been climbing for 22 years, have a full time job and a family with 2 little kids. Iím not unhappy with my climbing, I do sport up to F8a redpoint and boulder up to about Fb 7A+. My strengths in sport climbing are resistance, technique and experience. Vice versa, I think I'm physically rather weak (by nature). What is perhaps important to know is that my (outdoor) focus is also on alpine multipitch (sport) climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering and all sorts of stuff, some inspiration is to be found on my blog (though in German, and not relevant to my question): http://mdettling.blogspot.ch/

Because I'm putting quite a bit of effort into my "training", without making much progress, Iím a bit unsure about my current (winter) training routine, i.e. about its efficiency. I can usually do 3 boulder sessions a week (TUE - THU - SAT or SUN), each lasting 2h. Changing intensity and session length will hardly be realistic, due to family and work commitments. Moreover, I enjoy my sessions (really!). I just wonder if there are (little) things that I'm doing wrongly, and which hamper progress.

My usual session is as follows:

~20 min warm up: starting with easy boulders and only taking short breaks, progressing to more difficult terrain until I can feel very light pump. Then, I take a good break and start the next phase.

~60-80min power: working on (for me) hard boulders / projects. Usually in the 4-12 moves range, thus either max power or (short) power endurance. Mostly Iím taking longer breaks (2-8min) until I feel well enough recovered for a good next try in a project.

~20-40min endurance: as soon as I either donít recover enough to make fruitful attempts in my projects, or at the latest when there are only 20mins left until the session ends, I start doing endurance training by doing circuits, i.e. boulders below my max limit with short breaks only.

At the end of the endurance session, Iím usually knackered, meaning that I will have problems to complete powerful Fb 6B problems. Thus, I have the impression of a good workout, and go home happy and satisfied. Nevertheless, it feels to me as if I could do such a session on a daily basis, i.e. until the next day, I feel fully recovered.

On a global scale, my climbing ability has never been better than today, but also pretty much plateaued in the last 3-4 years. From my gut feeling, Iíd perhaps say that I still progress very, very slowly. But my results (when measuring in terms of climbed sport routes up to a certain grade) remained very similar over the past 3 years. I donít really expect (and neither need to) break through to another level, but nevertheless, a few questions:

- are my sessions intelligently structured?
- any ideas on how to improve efficiency?
- what would you change?

Many thanks for any thoughts and help!
shark - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski:

I think you need to either vary the sessions or drop the endurance work altogether as your power gains are likely to be compromised by the endurance work you do after. Given that you are naturally good at endurance how about experimenting on just focusing on strength/power to work that weakness. That's what I'm doing.
cha1n on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski:

Do you carry out any additional training apart from climbing (e.g. Fingerboard, Campus or body conditioning)?

How long do your projects usually take for you to succeed? Why do you fall off of them?
1poundSOCKS - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski: Have you seen the guarantee on this...

http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?n=534915
Cellinski - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to shark:

Good input, thanks!

Might be a good idea to focus on power more than I do actually. Not just dropping the endurance work, but maybe also longer breaks between attempts to be near 100% recovered.

The downside is a bit that I just like to move and that I'm not that good in pacing myself. Doing less in a session might give me the feeling of not having had a proper work-out, despite that it might be more beneficial to progress...

Regarding the "vary the sessions" suggestion, can you give any details?
Cellinski - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to cha1n:

No, never did any fingerboarding or campusing yet. I agree and accept that I might benefit from that. But on the other hand, I (currently) somewhat regard this as a "boring work out", rather than "having fun bouldering". Perhaps also means that the pressure/incentive for improving is just not big enough.

Body conditioning (suggestions?) is an interesting aspect, though. Currently, I'm not doing any. In contrast to campusing, I would not need to go to the wall for it. Thus I could have a family-compatible work-out on my non-climbing days at home. But again, conditioning seems like less fun than actually climbing. Perhaps it does not seem attractive to me because I don't have the urge to climb better.

What I'm principally after is a simple little trick with which I can enhance the profit from my bouldering sessions without compromising the fun aspect in it. I foresee that it potentially is not going to exist, though. That's why I'm happy to hear your responses and suggestions. If there is enough evidence that progress just comes the hard way (by doing things which do not mean pure fun to me), it might be convinced that it is really necessary...
cha1n on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski:

I don't have any specifics regarding body conditioning as I don't do them myself but it is someting I am going to start doing. Specifically antagonisitic exercises to prevent muscle imbalances and core workouts. I think core exercises would be the most beneficial.

Similar to yourself, I've only ever climbed and progress has been good up to now but I've plateaued for the last year which has made me want to change things to progress. If you're not willing to increase volume then you're going to have to increase intensity. I'd recommend doing some fingerboard work, you could have one mounted at home and do workouts on non-climbing days.

Whilst comparing my finger strength to climbers of similar/greater climbing ability (gauging by grade) I have rediculously weak fingers. This really motivated to do some finger strength work because it's likely that I'll see a fair amount of progress. Dave Mac says in his book that it makes sense to work your weaknesses until you start to plateau and then move onto a new one. Sounds like you'd also benefit from some power training too but it sort of depends on what style of routes/boulders you like to climb on. I prefer steep and powerful.
nasher47 on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski:

If it's strength gains that you're looking for in particular then I would strongly recommend that you drop the endurance for the ends of your sessions. Always stop when you still feel strong for strength/power work. Currently the endurance you're doing at the end will mean that you require more recovery time and so your only maintaining your current level rather than seeing gains.

I wouldn't recommend dropping endurance from your program completely, this would be essentially "block" training where you focus on a single element to the detriment of other aspects. It's very important that you maintain the endurance side of things whilst you work on your strength/power.

If you own a fingerboard or are able to invest in one then perhaps something like the following would work:

Mon: Home fingerboard and core session
Tues: Endurance session
Weds: Antagonist/General Conditioning
Thurs: Power Boulder session
Fri: Antagonist/General Conditioning
Sat: Boulder/Hard Sport Session or trip outdoors
Sun: Rest

This allows you to put 3 sessions a week into power but also, importantly, maintain endurance for when you want to get back on the bigger stuff and improve your general conditioning to help avoid injury.

If you're doing training sessions on consecutive days it's a good idea to focus on different elements, hence fingerboard followed by endurance rather than hard boulder session.
shark - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski:
> (In reply to shark)
>
> Good input, thanks!
>
> Might be a good idea to focus on power more than I do actually. Not just dropping the endurance work, but maybe also longer breaks between attempts to be near 100% recovered.
>
> The downside is a bit that I just like to move and that I'm not that good in pacing myself. Doing less in a session might give me the feeling of not having had a proper work-out, despite that it might be more beneficial to progress...
>
> Regarding the "vary the sessions" suggestion, can you give any details?




I meant have sessions either dedicated to endurance or dedicated to power / strength. Know what you want from the session. Do it and leave. To quote Arran Deakin (who he?) "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."

I'm in the same boat as you being a natural pumper with low bouldering ability for my sport grade. A power/strength session requires quality/intensity in a relatively short session and lots of rest before and after. It feels like you are being lazy if you are used to volume. That can be a challenge although as a busy family man you should welcome it especially as some sessions can be done at home on a fingerboard with a few accessories.

I have mainly gone for day-on day-off this winter either campus, weighted deadhangs or bouldering with 3 weeks on and then an easier week. Nutritrion and sleep play a part too.

Whats your max finger strength like? Check out Eva Lopez's blog. Good gains can and have been made. Don't give up on improvements. I haven't and I'm properly ancient.

Lots of material here: http://ukbouldering.com/board/index.php/topic,16421.0.html

And there is an active discussion board here if you want specifics: http://ukbouldering.com/board/index.php/board,4.0.html
shark - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to nasher47:
> (In reply to Cellinski)

> I wouldn't recommend dropping endurance from your program completely, this would be essentially "block" training where you focus on a single element to the detriment of other aspects. It's very important that you maintain the endurance side of things whilst you work on your strength/power.
>


I disagree. It won't apply to everyone but for someone who is naturally endurance oriented and had been climbing a long time such as Cellinski he/she should be able to regain their endurance level relatively quickly and potentially surpass it with additional finger strength gains in particular.
nasher47 on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to shark:

Most modern training programs are based on a periodised approach rather than a block training approach. It seems nonsensical (not to mention going against most modern sports science) to neglect something when you don't have to even if, as you say, they are naturally better at it.

The subsequent surpassing of the current level that you suggest would ordinarily then manifest itself in an endurance training phase, during which you would look to focus on endurance and maintain strength rather than stopping strength training completely.
shark - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to nasher47:

Old, as well as old fashioned then.<sigh>

I tried the periodised approach a couple of winters ago. I climbed well after but not at a new level.

I find I get naturally get good endurance back when I start climbing routes. Let's see if this old skool focus on strength works better for the routes I want this time round.
nasher47 on 18 Jan 2013
In reply to shark:

Be sure to let us know the outcome, as you say, different things for different people!
shark - on 18 Jan 2013
In reply to nasher47:

Don't worry. If I tick the Oak it'll be sprayed all over the internet.
Bulls Crack - on 19 Jan 2013
In reply to shark:
> (In reply to Cellinski)
>
> I think you need to either vary the sessions or drop the endurance work altogether as your power gains are likely to be compromised by the endurance work you do after.

Out of interest why would that be?
cha1n on 19 Jan 2013
In reply to Bulls Crack:
> (In reply to shark)
> [...]
>
> Out of interest why would that be?

To quote Nasher from above "Currently the endurance you're doing at the end will mean that you require more recovery time and so your only maintaining your current level rather than seeing gains.".

You generally finish a strength session feeling quite fresh from what I've read. I used to do 4 hour long bouldering sessions 4 times a week and since cutting the session duration down to 2-2.5 hours I've seen no negative effects and I haven't had any serious injuries since either.
shark - on 19 Jan 2013
In reply to Bulls Crack:
> (In reply to shark)
> [...]
>
> Out of interest why would that be?

Actually that might be bollocks but it will extend the amount of recovery you need before your next session.
cha1n on 19 Jan 2013
In reply to shark:
> (In reply to Bulls Crack)
> [...]
>
> Actually that might be bollocks but it will extend the amount of recovery you need before your next session.

I think it sort of depends what you're naturally good at but I have no official evidence to support my claims.

One of my mates who's naturally good at endurance can kick my ass if we ever do circuits at the end of the session and he doesn't seem tired at all. That's after bouldering at the same level for most of the session, I am a terrible endurance athlete though, regardless of what sport/exercise I do.
nasher47 on 19 Jan 2013
In reply to Bulls Crack:

It's to do with the way in which the body recovers. In technical terms the effect you're going for is called supercompensation which is where your body recovers to it's current level and then gains a bit. The idea is top train again when you're at the top of the supercompensiation curve, if you leave it too long you'll be on the way back down, too soon and you'll only have repaired but not built on the current level. By adding in the endurance at the end of the session you would be extending the recovery time required which means you simply wouldn't be able to train at the top of the curve. This is why it is recommended to focus on a single aspect, i.e strength or endurance because it's very hard to improve both systems at once.

(this is a simplified explanation, obviously there's more than just strength and endurance involved in climbing!)
Bulls Crack - on 19 Jan 2013
In reply to nasher47:

Thanks. I can see some logic in that. I do struggle to differentiate between real and pseudo science in some articles eg cooling holds down by wafting them with your towel.
Cellinski - on 21 Jan 2013
Thanks very much to anyone who contributed to this discussion! I will here try to provide some additionial information/thoughts that maybe prolong the discussion. And I will also try to draw some conclusions of what has been said above, and point out how I think I will continue my training.

I started climbing/going to the mountains as early as 1990, but started more serious sport climbing only in 1994. Already in 1996 I could do my first 7a. For the following 10 years until 2006 I plateaued on that level. Went to the crags or the wall and climbed at my (perceived) max, 7a. Thus, didn't do any strength training, never tried hard redpoints, but just did endurance and collected mileage. Only from the end of 2006 on I switched to indoor bouldering rather than climbing, and also tried to redpoint harder routes outdoor. It rose my level up to 8a (first one in 2010). Since reaching that, my max ability was +/- constant.

From this background I draw the conclusion that strength training is what I should aim for, but not endurance. Being a rather tall guy (190cm), I am, despite being skinny and low body fat, rather heavy, too (78kg). I relatively suck on very steep indoor endurance routes with no good holds or shakeouts in between, that's not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I still think that endurance is my strong point: when climbing outdoor, I rarely find that it is the lack of endurance that stops me. Not even at Kalymnos, where the climbing is steep (but offers resting positions), and not at all hereabout (I live in Switzerland), where even the limestone routes are generally much more techy/sequency, but not so steep and sustained. Furthermore, I'm not interested at all in my indoor performance, only outdoor counts.

I found the discussion about whether I should ditch the endurance work or not very interesting. Maybe I should add that the training questions I asked are with focus on right now (i.e. winter), where I only rarely climb outdoors. In summer, I climb outdoor for ~2x per week. Endurance naturally becomes a more important and more worked asset then, but I need to be able to profit from my strength that I built in winter, as I will reduce the bouldering to ~1 session per week.

Science tells us that following a well structured training plan with periodization would yield the best results. That may apply to my case as well. But partly due to other commitments (family, job), and also because of a lack of motivation (I rather climb then train, and doing outdoor stuff is much more important to me than training), I would never want to follow a strict, scientific training plan that has first priority over all outdoor adventures that could be had. As explained in the opening post, the goal of my question was to think about what I'm currently doing, adapt it if necessary, or complement it with other exercises as far as possible.

Conclusions:

1) I predominantly need (enough) bouldering sessions where I purely focus on strength. This means taking proper rests in between attempts, so that the next one is better than the one before. If performance declines, then stop.

2) There can be bouldering (or sometimes also indoor route) sessions that focus more on the endurance aspect. But also there, I need to climb longer problems (or sets of boulders) cleanly and with focus, then rest properly, and start over. If performance clearly declines, then stop. Also, avoid stuping pumping by doing many easy problems without proper rests or concentration just to feel knackered after training.

3) Do some complementary training. I will try some fingerboarding, but most importantly, core strength exercises. I did some research on that topic (will do more), and what I found here ( http://climbstrong.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/core-training-for-climbers/ ) seems like a good set of exercises. At least I feel that I suck at all these, and that they could bring improvement in my climbing. Additionally, I will do some form of pull-ups (body in horizontal position, feet on footholds, pull-up and stabilize body on 1 arm, release, etc.).

That all fits well within my current 3-session-per-week routine and my family/job committments. It will also lead to a training plan that is very close to what nasher47 suggested.

Again, thanks to all who contributed!
nasher47 on 21 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski:

From most of the literature I've come across 3 sessions per week will keep you at your current level and you need to be doing 4-5 sessions per week to see improvements.

From your post I would suggest that you need to look more closely at "High Intensity Endurance", otherwise know as "Power Endurance". This is something I would strongly recommend that you consider working on as you get closer to your "Performance" period, i.e when you want to go out in the summer and get on those harder projects.

Ordinarily a periodised program would go

Low Intensity Endurance then Strength/Power then High Intensity Endurance.

This fits pretty well with what you've said, you can pretty much ignore the Low intensity endurance as you feel you excel here so you're starting at the second phase and can then move into the third phase come the spring. Importantly you should taper your training down as you get closer to your performance period in order that you are fully recovered and rested and ready to pull hard.

Good luck with your training.
mloskot - on 22 Jan 2013
In reply to Cellinski: You may find helpful info here:

http://climbstrong.wordpress.com/
Cellinski - on 22 Jan 2013
In reply to nasher47:

Yes, I think doing power endurance would be good. My interpretation of power endurance is to do longer but hard problems (~15-20 moves, or if not viable, two shorter problems in a row), but well rested so that I can give 100% and just barely complete them (or not). I'll make sure to have such a session once in a while now, and more often in about 4 weeks from now, when the outdoor season comes closer. But I think I will skip doing "easy" problems back-to-back with pumped arms, as suggested above.

Regarding periodization, that's kind of my natural cycle over the course of the year. In summer/autumn I focus on multipitch climbing that mostly has a low intensity endurance aspect. In winter I mostly boulder indoors, and thus work on strength. In spring/early summer when there is still snow at altitude, I mostly do outdoor sport climbing which (in the areas I frequent) mostly has a power endurance aspect. Of course there is one or the other bouldering session also in spring-autumn, and I also climb outdoors or multipitch if it's possible in winter/spring.

@mloskot: Thanks - digged out this excellent resource myself when searching for core strength exercises directed towards rock climbers.

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