If you look at the training plans written by any of the top climbing trainers, they often look completely different and contain a lot of different exercises.  However, they also have one thing in common.  They are all organized around at least some strategy of periodization.

While this may make periodization sound like the magic bullet to the upper edges of the grade spectrum, in reality it is simply a strategy for organizing your training.  The real magic is in determining what type of periodization will work best in helping you reach your goals.

To help clear up some of the confusion around periodization, here’s an excerpt from Steve Bechtel‘s second episode on the TrainingBeta Podcast.  In it, Steve explains some of the classic periodization programs and outlines why he feels they aren’t the perfect fit for climbing training.

Give it a read and if you are looking for me check out the full episode and transcript!

Steve Bechtel on Periodization:

Neely Quinn: Okay, I want to switch gears here a little bit. Can we talk about periodization? You have said that you think that there’s a lot of confusion about periodization. Can you explain?

Steve Bechtel: Yeah, so periodization is simply the organization of your training. A lot of people will read a book about it, like a general book about it. There’s a famous book about it by a guy named Tudor Bompa. It’s the division of training into these things called ‘mesocycles’ where you would have a portion of time that’s spent developing endurance or developing strength or developing power. The problem is we have de-training that occurs.

On a traditional periodization program, the one that’s what we call ‘linear periodization’ now, where it’s four weeks of different facets of training, if you train strength for a month and you’re hangboarding and then you just stop hangboarding and you start bouldering, you’re going to have some transfer of strength or some amount of strength stay with you just because you’re bouldering, but then when you switch from bouldering to doing routes and your power starts to decline from losing your bouldering, you’re eight weeks out from strength and we start to see those numbers drop off. That’s where a linear program starts to fail and we realize that, for a skill-based sport such as climbing that is dependent on a lot of energy systems, a linear training program or a linear periodization program isn’t the most ideal.

The reason that climbing is the coolest sport in the world is because it’s highly skill-based, it’s dependent on all three of the major energy systems, and it also is one where you can develop flexibility or a better mental game and still improve, even if you’ve topped out all of those other things.

A traditional periodization program is designed around a competition sport like, say, marathon running, so if I get really strong in the spring and then built some power and build endurance, it doesn’t matter how powerful I am at the marathon because now I’m just doing endurance. It’s a cyclic endurance sport, meaning you do the same thing over and over until you’re tired. Climbing is acyclic, meaning it’s not the same movement and it’s also all over the map. You can have routes that tax your endurance for 20 minutes then they have a V5 move – excuse me, a V5 section – for 15 moves so it’ll be power endurance, then it’s got a V12 exit so you’ve got to have top power. We’ve got to meld all those things together so I think when we look at periodizing, we need to address most of those energy systems most of the year.

Neely Quinn: Yeah, and I think that is exactly what we do in our programs because we kind of have finger training within the power cycles and power endurance within the strength cycles. How do you properly form a training program, then?

Steve Bechtel: Well, I think assessment is really a key. Like, where am I bad? Where am I not up to the same level? You might be really great at endurance but your finger strength is bad. There are a couple of assessments. Eric Horst has one in his Training for Climbing book and it’s pretty basic. His is a general audience book but it’s a good thing to look at, like, do I hate slab climbing?

A really great example is if you’re one of the people that thinks that trad grades are harder than sport grades, it’s just showing us that we have a weakness in your ability there because they really are the same grades. If you talked to somebody like Caldwell or Mike Anderson, they’re going to say, “Oh yeah, .14a is .14a.” That’s a good thing to look at and then you can say, “I’m going to develop a program that continues to focus on that weakness throughout the year,” because you can’t just, say, train slabs one month a year.

Neely Quinn: So it’s just about your weaknesses. You’re not trying to train everything throughout the year?

Steve Bechtel: Well, yeah, you want to continue maintaining all of those things but when we go back and we talk about your adaptation potential like we talked about earlier, you run into an issue of: I can’t be maxing out on everything, so the analogy I’ll use is a four-burner stove. You keep three of the burners simmering and stirring them while one of them you’re just boiling it.

What I would do is say, in any given training period, the majority of your training might be power but then you’re still going to do some low intensity endurance, you’re going to still be doing some strength endurance or power endurance training, and then you’re still going to be doing a little bit of maximum finger strength training. It’s a matter of figuring out how to balance those and that’s/I think that that’s where people get confused. We tend to drift toward our preference rather than toward our greatest need.

Full Episode and Transcript: TBP 036 :: Steve Bechtel Interview #2

(photo courtesy of Steve Bechtel)

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