Rock climbing is a strange sport. Born of mountaineering, and pioneered by dirtbags and derelicts, climbing has never had a mainstream feel like basketball or soccer. Historically speaking, climbers have never had coaches or teams—that is, until the very recent advent of indoor youth climbing teams. Pro climbers have never been particularly glamorous or wealthy—still, they’re strong as hell, and the majority of them—especially in the U.S.—have never actually trained.
Still, pro climbers are inherently at the top of our sport. And no matter how lacking their training is (or asinine and self-destructive their lifestyle), everyone seems to model their own “training” (or lack thereof) after these physically gifted mutants, saying, “The best training for climbing is more climbing.”
Even the youth teams, with their scheduled practices and paid coaching staff, are (more often than not) taught all kinds of training regimes that are utterly antithetical to the well-established, scientifically-based principles of modern athletics. If they’re not destructive, these routines are often inefficient at best.
So, in a sport with no established developmental infrastructure and very little fact-based training information, where do you start? And why would you ever start if all the pros seem to climb their best whilst partying and road tripping?
First and foremost, understand that all pros would climb harder with proper training, nutrition and rest. Just because they’re climbing harder than you, doesn’t mean they’re performing at the top of their own game.
Next, imagine a football coach saying, “The best training for football is more football.” How stupid would that sound? If NFL players stopped all weight training and conditioning today, the entire league would suffer massive performance cuts, and the fields would be strewn with injured bodies.
Yet, that is not to say that training is everything. On the contrary. All well-understood, popular sports intentionally utilize both practice and training to improve athletic performance. Practice is the actual rehearsal of the sport during which athletes refine their sports-specific skills. Training is what athletes do to strengthen and condition their bodies in order to improve physical performance.
Good training is sport-specific and prepares the body for the rigors of that sport. Because training is controlled and targets specific areas and systems of the body, it can stress the body (and cause gains) much more effectively than practicing the sport alone. However specific training is, it should never be so similar to the sport that it simply becomes “practice.”
Because this is a well-accepted fact in the sports science community, all sports teams devote significant and separate amounts of time toward practice and training. Football players play football and weight train.
Now transpose your thoughts onto your own sport: climbing. Though the sport is undeniably complicated, and its exact physiological details are convoluted and hard to sort out, you know without a doubt that climbing is strenuous and that, no matter how burly you are, being stronger will help you. You also know, from your own experience or that of friends, that climbing can lead to injuries. What magical recipe will help both situations? TRAINING!
A regular training routine can and does improve strength, conditioning, muscle balance and even flexibility. Byproducts of training include improved performance and overall athletic ability, as well as a decreased incidence of injuries.
No two climbers are the same, and no single routine will work for everyone. However, the same principles of athletics apply to all human bodies, and every climber that understands these universal principles and has enough introspective capacity to evaluate their own climbing strengths and weaknesses, can devise an effective training plan for themselves.
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© 2013 Christine Balaz Sjöquist
The information presented in this article and on this website are in no way meant to replace the advice of medical experts. Please consult with a physician before embarking on any training program.