Training for Trad

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I received this email last week asking for help in putting together a program for trad climbers. Here’s the inquiry:

“I have found your SCC book to be a clear and powerful resource for improving my gym and sport climbing.  However, when it comes to adapting the training to trad climbing, I find myself guessing.  I add a dash more of endurance work.  I favor more vertical routes over inverted jug fests.  But there must be a clearer, more coherent program to cultivate strength and movements gains and then direct them towards on-sight trad and big mountain goals.  Ideas?”

The reader also wrote later with additional questions:

“I’ve been considering the question a little more and have some ancillary questions.
I know on-sight trad climbing requires more endurance than sport climbing–you need to hang out, figure out not only the moves, but also the gear–but is it the same kind of endurance you need on a sport route and train for with continuous easy laps or ARCing?  Or is there also some sort of “static” endurance you have to develop with more isometric exercises? How might you tailor training for hard single pitch traditional style on-sights?  And then, same question, but for free climbing big walls?”

OK, let’s start by examining the difference between endurance and stamina. Endurance is the ability to continue executing moves within a single route while stamina pertains to the volume of climbing you can do in a single day. Endurance training is typically thought of as the anaerobic endurance training that we’ve been discussing at length in several posts lately. Before we get into how to improve endurance for trad let’s remember that failures due to pump

Trad climbing endurance demands differ somewhat from sport.

may be symptomatic of inefficient movement and not necessarily a deficiency in anaerobic capacity. Most believe that if they’re getting pumped and falling off they need to improve endurance, but our observations tell us that inefficient movement is often the cause of the pump! I’m certain you’ll hear us harp on this in the future, but it’s well worth your time to improve the efficiency with which you climb first before engaging in endurance training.

However, let’s assume your movement is reasonably good for your skill level. For trad climbing where success means being able to remain on a route longer than the average sport route we’d recommend a lower intensity but longer duration endurance training exercise. We rely heavily on the 4X4 for overhanging sport climbs where movement intensity (the difficulty of moves) is high and the duration relatively short, but for trad where movement is less intense but you expect to be on the route for a longer time you’ll want to dial back the intensity of your training but extend its length. This might mean six to eight timed interval laps (see SCC page 149, activity 35) on a route instead of four boulder problems repeated four times. Douglas has posted recently on specificity in your training and this is a good example of matching the demands of your climbing to that of your training.

For big wall the stamina demands are as important as endurance since you’d be engaged in climbing activity all day. To improve your stamina you’ll want to engage in continuous intensity repetition workouts (see the CIR workouts beginning of page 150 in SCC).

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3 Responses to “Training for Trad”

  1. Douglas HunterNo Gravatar says:

    I’ll throw in a couple of thoughts.

    I think the question gets the the description of trad climbing right, that the dual function of figuring out the climbing and the protection will in many cases dramatically increase the duration of an ascent. I would also add that these two tasks also lead to a good deal of up and down climbing. At least it did in my trad climbing experience on shorter more broken up face climbing of the east coast such as the Gunks. (Probably not true for splitter cracks though.)

    Anyway, addressing the question directly of “static” endurance exercises and tailoring training I would say this. I see it as a question of pacing, that that climber’s aerobic and anaerobic endurance training should have sensitivity to the pace and rhythm of the climbing performance. In my experience trad climbers spend a lot of time in the mid to low anaerobic endurance range and in recovery while on the climb.

    This being the case I want trad climbers in particular to have the highest aerobic endurance level they can, and also do a fair amount of training in the low to mid anaerobic endurance range. I also think that in the case of trad routs that get the climber up and down climbing sections several times, stamina is important especially if the climber is doing multi-pitch routes or a lot a pitches in a day.

    This being the case I think that trad climbers can benefit from ARCing on routes, up and down climbing (at a pace that is consistent with their usual climbing pace.)

    Dan recommended doing laps on routes which I agree with. and down climbing can be part of this as well.

    I would also suggest combining ARCing on routes with CIR. For a climber who red points 5.11c in 4 – 5 tries and flashes 5.10c, a week of training might include:
    2 ARC sessions lasting no less than 25 minutes on routes from 5.9- to 5.10a.
    2 VIR sessions with an intensity level between 5.10b and 5.10d.

    This would be a starting point to work up from.

  2. DanRNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks! That’s very helpful. Reading you comments, I think I need to emulate my trad pace better when I ARC, and do more CIR sessions.

  3. Douglas HunterNo Gravatar says:


    Yes, always adjust things as you see fit, and tinker with our suggestions based on your situation. With ARCing I think the most important thing is to keep the pacing right as you mentioned, and also to not let the intensity go all over the place. Its very easy to create an ARC with an intensity range from 5.5 – 5.11 but this is less effective than having a more tightly controlled intensity range.

    Also, do find some time to do laps on moderate routes!

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