Anaerobic Endurance inquiry

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I received this email today:

A site visitor has submitted an inquiry from the Contact page:

Dan and Doug,
I’m using your book Self Coached Climber to plan some anaerobic workouts at my local gym and was wondering if you provide me with some additional details on Activity 34, Roped Laps.
1. You start off describing three ways to incorporate roped laps (warm up, cool down, anaerobic training)followed by a recommendation of 6 laps for lapping down (which I assume is cool down). What number of laps do you recommend for the anaerobic training?
2. You outline a guideline of 2-2.5 minutes for short route laps and 3-5 minutes for long route laps. Are these durations just for the climbing or for the climbing AND the resting? How do you determine the duration of the rest?
3. We tried to do a roped lap workout earlier this week, choosing a 5.9 on a 25 foot wall, aiming to stay on the wall for 2.5 minutes (it ended up being two laps up two laps down without touching the ground), then a rest roughly 30 seconds less than how long the climb ended up being. We did six laps of this and found it pretty difficult (we ended up down climbing a 5.7 on the same wall). Did we follow the exercise as you outlined? What would you suggest we do differently?
PS – Loved your book. Already purchased your latest.

We’re of course thrilled that the emailer thought enough of our first book to purchase the second, but then I
digress from his question. I thought this question might be of interest to others.

1. Lapping down is the meat of the workout, the laps at the highest intensity (most difficult) of your session. We recommend six to eight laps if your training wall is under 40′ and four to six if it’s taller.

2. It is both although the rest interval may stretch to 1.5 times the work interval. As a rule of thumb the rest interval should be 1 to 1.5 times the duration of the work so if a lap takes 3 minutes, your rest interval would be roughly 3 to 4 minutes depending on your fitness. Ideally you want to complete all the laps in the interval workout but just barely. If you can easily complete all the laps, the route is too easy or the rest interval too long or both. If you fall off due to pump on a lap previous to the last, the route is too hard or the rest too short or both.

2. It is both although the rest interval may stretch to 1.5 times the work interval. As a rule of thumb the rest interval should be 1 to 1.5 times the duration of the work so if a lap takes 3 minutes, your rest interval would be roughly 3 to 4 minutes depending on your fitness. Ideally you want to complete all the laps in the interval workout but just barely. If you can easily complete all the laps, the route is too easy or the rest interval too long or both. If you fall off due to pump on a lap previous to the last, the route is too hard or the rest too short or both.

3. It sound like you’re working with a short wall. Try just climbing up, lower off quickly, and repeat to get in the 2.5 minutes you’re looking for. Use a grade that is one to two letter grades below your on-sight grade, and rest longer between laps.

Don’t worry too much about the exact grade or times, what you want is to develop a pump and then partially recover during the rest interval. The idea is to repeatedly force your muscles into an anaerobic state and then let them partially recover, and with each lap the residual pump gets deeper until you can just barely finish the last lap. Choose a route without easy rests like stems or huge jugs, you want to stay on your arms. And keep a normal climbing pace, it’s not a race so don’t speed up and likewise don’t dawdle. If you do this exercise a couple times per week for four or five weeks you’ll see your ability to climb pumped improve.

11 Responses to “Anaerobic Endurance inquiry”

  1. John WeselyNo Gravatar says:

    When I do 4x4s, I find myself completing the average set of around 30 moves between 1:30 and 1:45. This seems fast to me and is faster than the interval time normally recommended. I climb at my normal “wired” pace and average less than three seconds between problems. I keep my recovery time short at 2:00. Are my intervals too short to be effective, or is the number and difficulty of the reps more important than the time spent on the wall?

    Thank you,

    John Wesely

  2. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    You raise good questions.

    I like your question because there is no one right answer. Short set durations with longer rests can be effective for routes with very hard bouldering on them. Shorter set durations tend to mean that the movement intensity needs to be higher in order for the training to be effective. But shorter sets with very high movement intensity mean that you are only training the highest intensity of anaerobic endurance. Longer sets with lower intensity target moderate and low intensity anaerobic endurance. In other words there really isn’t an “ideal” 4X4 structure that meets all needs.

    Other thoughts.

    Climbing at your “wired” pace may be too fast, Can’t know without actually seeing you move, but try slowing down a little.

    Experiment with your set durations, if after you try slowing down a little your set duration is still pretty short then add a couple of problems to get the set duration up to about 2:30. Also try going for shorter or longer rests, try adding problems to make sets longer, or doing more difficult problems in a set of the same duration, and so on. Mix it up and take notes on the results. In all cases its easiest to base interval training on the demands of the route or routes you are currently working on. So analyze your current projects and then based your interval training on that. Post back here with results and or issues this raises.


  3. John WeselyNo Gravatar says:

    Right now, what I am doing is one 4X4 per week and one 6X8 per week. For what its worth, my last 4×4 was v5, v4, v3, v5 and the last 6X8 was v2+, v2, v3, v3, v4, v2, v3, v2. The 6×8 is done at a similar pace, meaning I finish between 3:00 and 3:30. Goals wise, I would like to climb a variety of low thirteens this Fall, so I am pushing for a well rounded anaerobic endurance profile. Ideally, I would like to see a whole v grade improvement on my 4x4s, V6, V5, V4, V6. For my next session, I will try climbing a little slower and seeing how that changes my performance. One last thing before I go. In your opinion, the time spent on the wall is more important than the number of climbing movements? Or is it more complicated than that?

  4. Douglas HunterNo Gravatar says:


    As for your last question. For me, time is everything; I don’t put any significant emphasis on number of moves. The reason is that our bodies respond to workload and duration of work. If we just count moves you can have climber #1 do a 50 move sequence in 1:50 and climber #2 do the same sequence in 2:30. The meaningful variable here is the duration spent on the sequence not the number of moves in that sequence.

    Your 4X4 and 6X8 numbers look strong. Even if your 4X4s just went to V5, V4,V4+,V5 that would be really good.* I would be interested in seeing an increase in your training volume to 3 – 4 anaerobic endurance workouts per week.

    For example, if you could do two training session per week each consisting of a 4X4 and a 6X8 with a 30 – 50 min. rest between sets that would be great. But you need to balance this suggestion against what you know about your need for recovery, how much training you can handle in a day, and the current health of your fingers, elbows, shoulders, etc.

    the other critical variable is, the climbing you are doing outside. are you using a pyramid, or are you currently doing well quickly redpointing 5.12s. In other words how are your tactics looking, and are you ready for the psychological challenges of the redpoints you want to do?

    *assuming that the grades in your gym are accurate (I assume you are doing these in a gym.) As I have traveled around the sates in the past year or two I have been horrified to see how soft the grades can be.

  5. John WeselyNo Gravatar says:

    I tried to slow down my 4×4 yesterday, and got the time up to 1:45 by climbing focusing on climbing a little slower. I am going to work on slowing it down further as I progress. The time is almost entirely spent climbing though. I drop down off problem one, fall down to my butt, and start the next problem immediately.

    I would like to add more anaerobic volume for sure. I feel extremely worked immediately after the workout but feel almost normal by the time I am home and making dinner. I have been incorporating Kris Hampton’s CAP after my 4×4 to up the volume after my 4×4. What do you think of it as a training tool?

    In terms of the grades, when I boulder outside, which is rare, I climb harder grade wise than I do in the gym. At Rocktown last weekend, I did two v8s and one v7 in three goes and another v7 in many goes. At my gym I have never climbed v8. On routes I onsight almost all 12a’s and most 12b’s and can do 12c’s second go. My biggest problem is that when I go outside, I don’t get on hard enough routes. My best climbing partners climb elevens and want to break into twelves, so it makes it really easy for me to be complacent and just climb the routes they want to do onsight at the expense of trying harder routes.

  6. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    From everything you are saying it sounds like you need to get on the 5.13s asap. Your bouldering performance outdoors, your training, your flash, and fast redpoint levels all say to me that you are ready. There will be adjustments, your tactics will need to be refined and so on, but I say go for it now. As for the issues with your current partners, have you tried finding crags have some good 5.12as, and 5.13as close to each other? Could you swap belays with your current partners on projects? If not then you need to seek out and spend some time with people who are solid 5.13 climbers.

    As for the CAP, I will take a look and get back to you on that.

  7. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    I looked at the CAP link you included above. The basic description is that its a fixed duration, variable intensity, anaerobic endurance activity (No duh! I know :-) ). I think Kris is right that it is emotionally very demanding, requires a lot of focus, and can teach you something about holding it together near the limits of one’s pump. It’s also helpful to have a method of training anaerobic endurance that is not based on short set times.

    The challenge is that it doesn’t control the intensity level of the climbing, just the duration. When I’ve used this kind of training in the past (the 1990′s), I’ve found that the intensity level varies a great deal over the course of the session. There is a place for using how the climber feels at any given moment for determining intensity level, but it’s a very informal structure. Thus in the end its going to be less effective than intervals.

    If you like, experiment with the following.
    1) Make an intensity profile for the session, something akin to what runners do when training for surges during a race, or Fartlek training. As a first goal I would establish a minimum movement intensity for the session, a lowest limit that you won’t go below. Don’t worry about the maximum movement intensity, base that on how you feel, but don’t allow yourself to fall below a pre-determined minimum intensity. When you have learned how to do that you can either raise the minimum intensity, or decrease the amount of time spent at the minimum intensity (yes you would need to know how much time you spend at the minimum). This would mean that you couldn’t do a CAP as a traverse unless you memorize it, and grade its sections first. Otherwise you would need to do this on routes or boulder problems using up and down climbing.

    2) Do intervals but make each set duration much longer. For instance up climb and down climb a route for a duration of 4:30. and give yourself a rest interval of 2:00 between laps. Figure out what intensity level you can do this at, and build up from there in future workouts.

  8. Brendan NicholsonNo Gravatar says:

    While we are on the topic of 4×4 structure I was hoping you could answer a question that has divided me and my training partner. We do our 4x4s in a cave that has a vertical wall just to its right. I suggested we do the 4x4s while down-climbing the vertical V0 and never leaving the wall during a set. He wants to drop off the wall between each problem. We tried both and found that with the down-climbing a set takes 4:00 to complete, and with dropping off a set takes 2:00 to complete. The rest times are adjusted accordingly because we rest while the other person climbs. We seem to be able to complete the same grades doing it both ways (V7, V4, V2, V2). Do you have an opinion as to which is better, or does it just depend on what kind of routes we want to complete? For reference, we both climb in the 13+ to 14- range and try a variety or routes from fierce American Fork routes to long vertical Virgin River Gorge routes. I agree John can climb way harder routes with such a high level of bouldering and training.

  9. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    The easiest way to think about it is that when you down climbing during the sets you are extending the set time but dramatically reducing the movement intensity of the set. I would think that at your level the V0 down climb would essentially function as a rest or partial rest. But maybe not, depending on how pumped you are at the end of the problem you just finished, I doubt it has much of a training effect in either case.

    I like each set to have the highest movement intensity with the least amount of rest between problems. So this suggests that I would be in favor of jumping down, but jumping down has a problem. Over time it is really hard on the lower back! You don’t want to be an old fart in your 30′s or 40′s and be dealing with chronic back pain!

    If you need longer set times in training for the VRG, I would even out the intensity levels and do 5 – 8 problems per set. So imagine doing 6 problems in each set all V3. If you want greater intensity but the same set time, a la AF, then I would try to raise the level of the easiest problems to V3 or V4. Could you do V7, V3, V4, V3? Have you experimented with this sort of thing?

  10. Brendan NicholsonNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the reply, this is a great resource for climbers looking to push their personal best.
    We haven’t experimented with tweaking the 4×4 to 4×8 because this was Perky’s first training cycle since he trained with you. We are in the process of planning our next cycle which will culminate with some VRG sends so your input is timely. We also have access to a Treadwall ( ) for some interval or fartlek training. We can climb continuously on the Treadwall but we lose the technique training we get from 4x4s on the bouldering wall, as the Treadwall climbs like a revolving system board.
    Are you trying to get the set time to match the redpoint (baring any serious rests) time of your project?

  11. DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    Did you say Perky? as in Brendan “come’on sucka!” Perkins? Give him my best, I hope he is doing great and getting sendy!

    I think having access to a tredwall is cool. I have wondered how they would be for local aerobic endurance training but have never had the opportunity to use one. No reason it couldn’t be used for interval work as well.

    As for the question of time. Set times do not need to match the redpoint time. The thinking behind the 4X4 is that the set time is shorter than the ascent time so that the movement intensity can be higher than that of the route one is training for. That being said I don’t think its necessairly a good idea to always use very short set times because we do adopt to work / rest cycles we use in training. Also training always need to be taylored to the ultimate goal. So if you want to do some long routes in the VRG then lapping down on routes, and doing 6X8s may take the priority over the 4X4s.

    To be totally honest there is a lot we still don’t know about interval training for climbing since its not really been studied by the sports science community. So we don’t really know at what route length 4X4s become less effective and longer sets become more effective. I assume that there is a point at which this happens but no one knows where that point is. Ultimately though I think its best to think of anaerobic endurance as having three tiers. High intensity, medium intensity, and low intensity. Training at all three levels by doing 4X4s, 6X8s, and lapping longer routes or traverses covers everything.

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