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 By: Jens Larssen  | Date: 2006-04-17  | Category: Training    | (2) Comments  

All pictures by Simon Carter - www.onsight.com.au

deepwater (2).jpg
DWS Ring of Fire, 8b+ Croatia


Mecca, 8b+ Raven Tor
Liquid Amber, 8c North Wales
Power Endurance - The Key to Routes! By Steve McClure

Rock climbing is an incredibly complex sport placing considerable demands on our body. Unlike many sports, where muscles are trained to work in one specific way, climbing requires a multitude of different 'strengths'. For example a route may have a bouldery start, followed by 10 metres of sustained climbing, and then 20 metres of relatively easy ground to the top. However, the crux section of a climb can often be isolated to a relatively small part of the whole route and success often boils down to power endurance and beating the dreaded pump!

Note, strictly speaking power endurance should be called 'strength endurance', though in the climbing world we like our own rules!


Power Endurance (SE) Training.

One method of increasing our power endurance is to increase strength. That way relatively fewer muscle fibres are contracted allowing blood to circulate more freely. Certainly if you are very weak in the forearms a period of muscle building followed by recruitment will be of benefit. However, pumped forearms are generally what stop the route climber and a little training in this area may go a long way.

Training PE requires loads high enough to shut down the capillaries and thus force a pump. This is an area of training where the phrase 'no pain no gain' is really applicable, the further we push into the pump the more our muscles will adapt. When training PE care must be taken to make it very specific; the muscles must be used in the same way as during climbing. Training PE purely on crimps may not translate well to PE on pockets despite the same forearm doing the work, and on-sighting and redpointing will be different because the contraction and relaxation periods are longer when onsighting.



Routes and bouldering

Probably the best training for PE is on routes or boulder circuits you know well and don't have individual crux moves. When first embarking on PE training spend a day working out a circuit of around 30 moves with no easy sections or rests. Remember, keep it specific, mimic the angle and style of the routes you are training for. Perhaps even include a virtual clip every five to ten moves. The circuit should initially be too hard to do in one push so break the circuit up into a number of sections, probably 3 or 4, any more than that and the circuit may be too hard. Give yourself an obvious hold to aim for rather than just dropping off when pumped as this will drive you on to your max. For the first few sessions treat the circuit as a redpoint, working the sections individually and learning the sequences. When familiar, at first aim to climb the circuit in the individual sections with around 10-15 seconds rest between each section. Just having a burn on the whole circuit will lead to failure, for example at move 18. You would then be too pumped to finish the circuit unless you have a long rest. By splitting the circuit each repetition gives you 30 moves of high intensity training. Take around 15 minutes between repetition and do three to four repetitions per session. As the weeks progress you will start to see gains (and become more familiar with the circuit) and need to make some changes to maintain intensity. Drop the number of rests with the intention of eventually climbing the circuit in one push. Next, if required, add a further 15 moves onto the original circuit. Eventually you will be climbing the original circuit with no rest plus an extension!


Foot-on campus training.

The campus board is an excellent tool for the advanced climber wishing to maximise recruitment, however, even the strongest have trouble training PE on the board. The answer is to use your feet, either on a chair behind the board or ideally on pre-placed footholds. This situation does not allow for much upwards movement though at least the movement is specific to climbing. For PE training this is very effective as it targets the forearms. The number of reps can be altered to achieve the desired pump and you won't fail at a crux move on a boulder circuit. A movement example would be;















For PE, repeat 10 to 20 times leading with alternate hands forcing a sustained burning pump. Rest for 3 - 5 minutes and repeat 3 - 4 times.




Pumped forearms hurt, though some climbers actually seem to enjoy the feeling! The high concentrations of lactic acid in the muscle are actually toxic and if we force this situation too frequently then more harm will be done than good. Beware, PE should not be over-trained. The phase length should be a maximum of a month if training PE twice or more per week.

PE training also actually reduces our muscular recruitment; this is simply because our bodies cannot operate to the max for different requirements. Champion 100metre sprinters rarely win the 800metres! If you are only interested in three move boulder problems then ditch the PE. For the route climbers of the world, don't worry, PE will build on well trained efficient muscles, the result being an increased ability in all areas. 

The working class hero

Steve has been climbing for 30 years and is in fact climbing more, better and in more disciplines than ever. Already in 98 he put up his first 9a and regurarly onsighted 8a+'s. In the 8a all time ranking he is #11. His fourth 9a came during last year in which he also managed to boulder 8B,  trad E86c, flash the 11 pitches long Hotell Supramonte, Deep water solo - 16 m 8b+ FA (world record), put up a 21 pitches long route in Greenland -04 and become #1 in the UK competitions.

I met him in the kitchen in the guesthouse of Terradets. - Check this out, free bread from yesterday. Steve is a true working class hero and instead of working his way out with good sponsor deals he saves Euro 5 per day, compared with his mate who pays for semi-pension. Later in the week he gets excited when finding a rope bag, true working-class behaviour.

When I try to get answers to questions about how is it possible to keep improving and staying on the cutting edge within so many different styles, I only get humbleness. In fact, I believe that he doesn't think that he is that good (This is why I included all the facts in the ingress). Anyway, instead I asked him for some training advice.

During the days in Terradets, Steve inspired us with many stories from different arenas and almost every evening he showed climbing movies or pics from around the world. He really likes to take pictures and one of the days he tries to get a shot of me from above while onsighting a 7c+, which I and my partner considered a hang-dog. Said told me that I had to go for it and wished me 'good luck with the last clip'. My god, as I stand there, 2m away from Steve, with absolutely nothing left to even dream about a clip waiting to fall, Steve reads my panic, puts his camera away and whispers - "If you just put your hand five cm lower, it's a super jug. You're doing fine, you can do the clip". His voice is so encouraging that I make it and I just guess that if the hug hadn't been big enough he would have let me grab his foot or even pulled up the rope himself.