You’ve trained hard for months, you’re feeling strong, and conditions are prime on your project. It’s time to send!
You’ve got a job and commitments outside of climbing. This means you can only get to your project on the weekend. What do you do with the rest of the week? Do you keep training? Do you climb at all or do you just rest and wait for the weekend?
These aren’t always the easiest questions to answer, and I get them all the time from the athletes I coach. Unfortunately, not having a thought-out approach to balancing training and performance is a quick way to undermine your efforts at both. Here are some tips I give to my athletes and use myself to help navigate the training while trying to send.
Tips for Training While Trying to Send
When it comes to training while trying to send, most people seem to gravitate more towards the “I can never stop training because I’ll get weak” philosophy. This is a mistake. We are rock climbers and our training is supposed to help us perform better at actual climbing. How can you know if your training is really working if you never stop and let yourself have a performance period?
Differentiating Between Training and Performance
Differentiating between training and performance is my main suggestion for navigating the issue of training while trying to send. Making this differentiation is really a matter of defining your priorities.
Training is what we do to get ready for our sport. This means we need to work our bodies hard, recover from that training, and then repeat at a progressively harder level. In other words, the priority when training is to repeatedly break our bodies down and recover from it so that we end up stronger in the long run.
Performance, on the other hand, is when we put our abilities to the test by trying to complete our goal climbs. What your goals are is up to you, but no matter what they are the priority during a performance phase needs to be to put out our best quality efforts. Here’s how Dave MacLeod sums it up in his TrainingBeta Podcast Episode:
“If you are on performing mode, do it rested and have the good redpoint or if you’re in training mode, train like hell and work yourself hard.” – Dave MacLeod
One important note to make is that you don’t have to stop climbing outside during a training phase and vice-versa as long as you shift your priorities accordingly. This means you can still have productive midweek indoor days during a performance phase and can climb outside on the weekends during a training block. Just be honest with yourself and adjust your expectations to match where you’re at in your training or performance cycle.
The key when taking this approach is that you need to plan ahead and take the long view. Start with your goals and work backward. In other words, know when you want to be feeling strong and fit so you can perform well. Then, design a structured training plan that is going to help you get there.
If you take the long view, you’ll have done your training when it’s time to send and you can be confident that shifting the focus from training to performance isn’t going to be a waste of time. If you haven’t, it’s too late. No amount of training crammed in at the last minute is going to be as effective following a training program designed to get you ready for your goal.
Prioritize Fresh Burns
Now, we’ve defined the priorities of training and performance, but let’s get back to the question of what you should do during a performance phase when you can’t get out to your project.
Let’s stick with the example of a typical weekend warrior who climbs on both days of the weekend outside. If like most people you work Monday to Friday, then we know that the day when you’re likely going to have the best chance of sending is on Saturday since it’s the first day of the weekend. This means that the priority for your week needs to be showing up fresh and ready on Saturday. Anything that you do during the work week that’ll make you feel less than 100% on Saturday should be avoided.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t climb during the week. As long as you aren’t impacting your weekend performance, have at it.
Here are three different ways to structure your midweek sessions during a performance phase:
- Hard session on Tuesday and a light session on Thursday
- Hard session on Tuesday and a light session on Wednesday
- Hard session on Tuesday and rest until Saturday
The above are just options and you can definitely tweak them to fit your schedule. However, you’ll notice that in all my examples the hardest climbing or training of the work week is always on Tuesday. The reason for this is that assuming you climbed outside on the previous weekend and need to rest on Monday, training Tuesday gives you the most time to recover before your next project attempts. No matter what days of the week you pick, having ample time between your high-intensity training and trying to perform is what’s important.
For these performance phase Tuesday sessions, I typically prioritize higher intensity work. This means things like limit bouldering to keep the power levels up and hangboarding or weightlifting to maintain strength.
For the second midweek session, I typically keep the Thursday/Wednesday session much lighter as it’s closer to the next performance day. This will often look like some deliberate skill practice followed by a fun but short bouldering session.
As I progress through a performance phase, I usually move from option 1 to option 3 as I get closer and closer to sending my project. Doing so first gives you more recovery before Saturday and then reduces the overall climbing/training load of the week. Since the goal of a performance phase is sending, it makes sense to further prioritize that as you close in on success.
Skill Practice, Mobility, and Strength Maintenance
So far we’ve covered the need to shift your priorities based on whether you’re training or performing and different ways to structure your weeks during a performance phase. But, what exactly should you be doing during the midweek sessions while you’re trying to send?
For me there are three priorities:
- Skill Practice
- Strength Maintenance
Climbing is first and foremost a skill sport. I feel like I talk about this constantly, but I can’t stress how important it is for this to be reflected in your training. This reality doesn’t change when you’re in a performance phase.
As we’ve covered, what does change when you move from training to performance is we shift our focus from trying to achieve a training stimulus to making sure we are fresh for our project. Continuing deliberate skill practice fits well with this shift in priorities because you don’t need to physically beat yourself up to practice climbing movement.
The reason for this is that to consciously develop skills you need to practice them at an intensity below your limit where you can really learn. Clearly, this is less physically taxing than a hard hangboard workout or a limit bouldering session.
When I’m in performance mode, I focus on practicing things like breathing rhythms and climbing fast and accurately. To do this, I set aside around 20 minutes post warmup where I do laps on a boulder around my flash level where I focus entirely on practicing one of these elements of efficient movement. Ultimately, there are loads of different skill drills out there and figuring out exactly what you need to work on takes some trial and error. I suggest honestly reflecting on what is holding you back on your project skill-wise. That’s exactly what you should be practicing.
Skill practice is also a great thing to structure a Wednesday/Thursday session around as it’s not going to negatively impact your climbing performance on the weekend.
In training, strength comes first. This means that we need to work on building strength year round. To do this effectively, you don’t want to simply stop training strength when you move into a performance phase. Think back to all those hangboard sessions and time spent in the weight room. You worked hard for that strength. Don’t lose it!
Sure, our focus still needs to be on getting rested, quality efforts on our projects, but if you are going to continue training anything it should be strength. When doing strength maintenance, a little goes a long way. Getting a strength session in once every 1o days is enough to not see any decline in strength.
A good strategy for this is to incorporate hangboarding and total body strength work into the Tuesday session. This can be done after some limit bouldering. Again, the focus here is strength maintenance so it can be done at a much lower volume than during a strength training block. Here’s an example of what a post-climbing strength maintenance session could look like:
- 6×10-second half crimp hang
- 3×3 overhead press
- 3×8 shoulder dislocates
- 3×3 deadlift
- 3×1 min frog hip stretch
- 3×5 ab rollout
- 3×8 seconds per leg kneeling hip flexor stretch
This is just an example, but what’s nice about sessions like this is that they are quick, don’t leave you feeling wrecked for days, and go a long way to maintaining your strength levels over a climbing season.
You’ll notice that I included three mobility drills in the strength maintenance session. The reason for this is that mobility, like strength, is something we should never stop working on.
The above drills are just examples, but the more you can stay on top of keeping your shoulders happy and hips/legs limber the better you’ll recover. And, since showing up on the weekend ready to perform is the priority, anything that will improve recovery is a no-brainer.
Typically, I include a mobility component in all my sessions, whether I’m in a training or performance phase, but I really can’t stress enough how important it is to not stop working on mobility. As an example, when I am traveling full-time or on a trip, I do this kind of mobility work on all of my rest days. I find it makes a HUGE difference.
Hopefully, you’ve found these tips on training while trying to send helpful and you have a better idea about how to productively use your time. As with all training advice, you may have to experiment with exactly what works for you. However, if you can differentiate between training and performance, prioritize being fresh for trying your goal climb over continuing to train, and continue to work on your skill levels, strength, and mobility, you will definitely be on the right track.
Give it a shot during your next climbing season. I bet you’ll find you not only feel more productive, but that you can stay strong and keep climbing in top form for longer.
Cover photo: Dalton Bunker sending Genetic Drifter 5.14c | Photo: Matt Pincus | @mpincus87
About The Author, Matt Pincus
Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber from Jackson, Wyoming. He spends most of his time on the road living out of his van. Matt is responsible for most of the blog posts and social media posts for TrainingBeta and is our head trainer. He’s a seasoned climber and coach who can provide you with a climbing training program from anywhere in the world based on your goals, your abilities, the equipment you have, and any limitations you have with time or injuries.
Train With Matt
Matt will create a custom training program designed to help you target any weaknesses so you can reach your individual goals. Whether you need a 4-week program to get you in shape for an upcoming trip or a 6-month program to make gradual strength gains, he’ll create a weekly schedule of climbing drills, strength exercises, finger strength workouts, and injury prevention exercises tailored to your situation.