deciding on a training plan

  • Creator
  • #3554
    Al Black

    I’ve been working on designing a training plan and would appreciate some advice. I’ve read the Training for the New Alpinism, and got as far as about week three in the training log/program. Did the Alpine Combine test, did surprising well in 1000 ft climb and core activities, and poor on the upperbody strength ones. Bit of a surprise, but I suppose thats what you get from a random (ie, no) training program. There really is no free lunch.

    In terms of my goals for the year, I’d like to do some simple snow and ice mountaineering things, and more importantly rock climbing. My thinking is that by targeting my rock climbing I can get the biggest return on my efforts, the skills and overall strengths will transfer to other areas. In the back of my head, I keep thinking of kids I saw in the gym, who went out side sport climbing, then trad climbing, and are now crushing it in the alpine. That progression gave them a deep foundation, and I’m thinking of stepping back and then jumping in where they were.

    All good. I’ve got a couple of easy mountaineering targets for the coming summer, a long multipitch sport climb, and a couple of low 12 redpoint climbs in my sight. A sending frenzy if you will.

    So to my question (and sorry for being long winded about this). I’m wondering if would be better to just have a program directed at my climbing and not worry as much about developing aerobic capacity this year instead relying on the humping of packs on the 600-800 meters to climbs and the usual zone 1 farting around.

    Thanks in advance,

Posted In: Climbing

  • Participant
    scott.ferguson on #3555

    Hey Al, Scott Ferguson here (author of the beetroot juice article on the website)

    You pose a great question that I feel many folks could benefit from. It sounds to me like you may have a strong maximal aerobic capacity which would lead to a strong performance in a 1000 ft climb. Also, you’re likely correct in stating that your upper body strength needs improvement, particularly if you are planning to hit those 12’s in the high country.

    However, from speaking with Scott and Steve and from my knowledge of exercise physiology, my advice would be to still keep your endurance training at the forefront of your training plan. You may be able to shorten your transition phase and focus your attention on building strength (i.e. transition or max strength workouts) where you are weak. However, there is no substitute for those long hours in the saddle (figuratively) and despite exercising your legs during these sessions, changes in vascular function do occur globally (i.e. in your arms). Once you establish a solid base of strength you can transition from general training (i.e. weight and pullup training) to muscular endurance exercises at the climbing gym or crag. At this point, you’ll have a nice strength AND endurance base built and you can hone in on making these muscles fire more efficiently for your given climbing discipline.

    Finally it is important to note also that the ability to ascend 1000 ft quickly may not transition directly to impeccable endurance performance. The body can accomplish amazing feats by still metabolizing primarily carbohydrates (rather than fats) during this climb. The low intensity long duration training suggested in TFTNA are aimed at improving our ability to metabolize primarily fats which will afford long duration performance well past the ~45 minutes it takes to climb 1000 ft. A high VO2 max doesn’t equal superior endurance performance. Scott Johnston can tell you about folks he’s trained with a low VO2 max who have accomplished exceptional feats of endurance.

    So, short answer: No, don’t direct your program specifically to climbing and neglect the low intensity stuff. You’ll get plenty of time to hone your sport specific skills later in the spring after you have established that endurance foundation. It’s not always exciting….but it works.

    Does this help at all?


    Colin Simon on #3558

    How much stronger do you need to be to climb your ice and mountaineering objectives? New Alpinism has a section on devising tests more closely related to your objectives. Like Scott Ferguson suggested, I’m guessing the 1000ft climb was a lot different.

    How hard are you rock climbing now? 5.10? 5.11? 5.6?

    Were those kids climbing alpine rock routes or snow/ice/mixed ones? Which one do you aspire to?

    Al Black on #3559

    Absolutely it helps. (As do Colin’s questions.) Its funny, I didn’t see the question as a black or white one. Yeah I get that the max aerobic test wouldn’t have a great correlation with endurance. And starting to develop a stronger foundation endurance will get me going on longer term, two three year, more alpine oriented goals anyhow. That the vascular and the ability metabolize fats longer happen over the whole body, clearly fits with having more endurance while climbing too.



    Of course this leads to the next question!

    Colin Simon on #3613


    You also said that rock climbing was more important to you.

    An aerobic regimen will allow you to execute those mountaineering goals. However, if you focus on the aerobic regimen, and you are only climbing 5.10, your 5.12 project is probably not going to happen anytime soon.

    The transfer between running, skiing uphill, mountaineering…etc is very high, but it will not help you pull cruxy moves rock climbing.

    Anonymous on #3620

    Great thread guys. Glad to see others chiming in on this topic. Both Scott F and Colin have offered really good advice. The first question is: What are your goals? The second question is what is standing between you and your goals?

    When you can answer those things then you can start to examine the direction your training must take. Skill acquisition for hard technical ascents can take years. As Colin says; if your goal alpine route requires you to climb 5.12 and you are struggling with that grade at the sport crag then you have to focus on the technical skills.

    Look at your “event” (ie the dream climb). Break it down into its fundamental components and begin to training first in a basic or general way those components and then build more specificity into your training as the goal approaches. The dream climb may (probably) not be doable in one or even 3 years of training so make intermediate goals that move you in that direction.

    Scott F makes a great point about your 1000m climb. It is just one measure of your endurance and one that relies predominately on your ability to metabolized carbs for energy. By itself it can’t tell the whole picture and for that you need to conduct an aerobic threshold test to see how well your body uses fat for longer durations.

    Your goals are kind of a mixed bag though Al. You say you want/need to focus on improving your technical skills but you have mountaineering goals. It is going to be very hard to have the time/energy to focus adequately on increasing you technical capacity (for sending hard routes) and your aerobic capacity (for slogging up big peaks) at the same time over a relatively short time window (this winter). The reason is that these things require distinctly different types of training that do not transfer from one to the other. Since you state that the tech end is a big interest for you I suggest you focus there and use the long mountaineering days or long ski tours days or long mountain running days as training not as goals. This was what Scott F was suggesting.

    In the long run you can build both these areas but I mean LONG run.

    Good luck,

    Al Black on #3624

    Oh this is great, thanks Scott (and all of you).

    In a neat way the discussion has followed the circle I’ve been going through in my head for the past month since reading the book and starting to devise a plan. I was figuring it would take 3-4 years before being ready to start realistically looking at these dream climbs.

    Looks like I’ll hold of a bit on the devising a plan, and spend some time focusing on goals.

    All the best everyone,


    Peter W on #3628


    I can only speak from my own experiences but you can’t fake, nor quickly acquire, technical competence and finger strength. I think these should be your short-term areas of focus at the crag/gym. Luckily they’re also enduring traits so once you have them you can emphasize other things.

    To introduce, and bastardize, Tony Yaniro’s famous and cliched quote, ““If you can’t hold the holds [or lack the technical skills to do the moves], there’s nothing to endure.” If you want to do multi-pitch 5.12s at altitude then 5.12 at your local crag needs to feel pretty cruiser. Being able to quickly work or onsight multi-pitch 5.12 trad likely implies: you’re a V7+ boulderer, can redpoint 5.13, and have good (for the skill level) muscular endurance for sussing out sequences while onsighting and placing gear.

    As someone with similar long-term goals, I’m focused on acquiring technical skills using both weekends at the crag and intermediate trips as tests and building blocks for longer multi-pitch trad routes out in the future. Two notes: I am more focused on pure rock climbing than most here, so non-climbing Z1 is a lesser part of my program. Also, I spent a ton of time in undergrad lifting heavy so my current gym work focuses on shoulder health w/ some heavy DLs and core work during base periods, but always protecting technical practice. I’d estimate over the course of a year around 75% (60% during base periods and nearly 100% during peaks) of my “training” time is spent climbing w/ the rest hiking, hangboarding, and lifting. I’m trying to build a base of climbing specific technique, strength, and aerobic capacity for 6-8 months a year, with two trip-focused peaks. I don’t really work on redpoint/power endurance efforts outside of my peak periods which people at the climbing gym find strange as it runs sharply counter to the typical ethos.

    That all out of the way, here’s a guess at what my next few years look like:
    Winter/spring 2017: base period w/ emphasis on ARC climbing, hangboarding, limit bouldering, and some strength/mobility. I’ll also climb outside w/ an emphasis on trad volume as much as possible.
    Summer 2017: peak timed for a 2 week trip in early August to RMNP and the South Platte. Likely focused on hard single- to short multi-pitch trad routes.
    Fall/Winter 2017/18: another climbing base period.
    Winter 2018: Trip to Indian Creek or similar for hard single pitch trad.
    Spring/summer 2018 another cycle leading to late summer/early fall peak
    late summer/Fall ’18: East side Sierra/Yosemite/etc.

    There are plenty of great resources out there for climbing specific training but I highly recommend reading:, Steve Bechtel, Steve Maisch, and many of the other more popular ones. Also take seminars as often as you can; I’ve learned more about movement in 1.5hr seminars with pros than in months or years left to my own.

    Hope that helps,

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