What?! March Already?

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It’s March already and if you’re like a lot of climbers you spent the winter doing more dreaming of perfect sends than training. And now it’s March and you’re beginning to panic. This weekend we switch to daylight savings time and

Enough said!

combined with the warm winter we’ve had the spring climbing season can’t be far behind. So, what do you do? Can you catch up at this late date. If so, what is the most effective use of your training time for the next month?


When you do get outside you’ll want to make the most of it by being able to sustain intensive effort over an entire day. That means stamina and fortunately you can improve this important aspect of conditioning with Continuous Repetition Intensity (CIR) sessions in just a few weeks.  Do the following twice a week for three to four weeks to see an increase in the number of hard attempts you can make in a single session or day.

The CIR exercise can be performed on either boulder problems or routes. For your first session you’ll need 16 boulder problems or 12 routes at your on-sight grade minus one. Example, if your on-sight grade is V4 or 11d your first CIR session will be at either V3 or 11c. If you don’t have 16 boulder problems or 12 routes in your target grade available you’ll have to repeat some of the climbs. Once you’ve selected the appropriate grade and located the climbs you have two hours to complete all the routes. There is no timed rest in this exercise, but you can’t dawdle either. Rest as much as you like, but try to finish in the allotted two hours.

At the end of the 12 routes or 16 boulder problems you should feel depleted; the last few climbs should feel difficult. If you fail to complete all the climbs in two hours because of fatigue drop down another grade for the next session. If you’re not fatigued then bump up a grade. If you chose correctly and felt depleted but completed all the routes then in the next session push the intensity by increasing the grade of roughly one third of the routes by a single letter (routes) or number (boulder problems). In this way you’ll be improving your ability to handle more difficult climbing for long periods. Keep pushing the intensity each session.

Although the CIR exercise might not seem that difficult to complete, the continuous nature and high volume of this moderately intensive climbing will leave you with an expanded ability to make solid attemps over a relatively long period of time.

Anaerobic Endurance

Another conditioning element that responds quickly to training is anaerobic endurance (AE). Again, you can train your AE on both roped routes or boulder problems. The classic AE exercise is the 4X4 in which you complete four different boulder problems consecutively with no rest and then take a timed two to two and a half minute rest period. Repeat three more times, thus four sets of four boulder problems. If you want to use a route, you’ll choose a single line and after each single lap you’ll rest for two to two and a half minutes; complete the route four times.

Effort now = results later!

Fine tuning the AE exercise means finding the grade, or combination of grades, where you complete all the problems or routes but just barely finish the last one. At the end you should be completely trashed. This on again, off again exercise at an intensive level with a timed rest  is known as interval training. The idea is to pump your muscles and then let them partially recover before pumping them again thereby training your body to adapt to the anaerobic condition that is part and parcel of difficult route climbing. A more thorough description of the 4X4 exercise, and CIR for that matter, can be found in The Self Coached Climber.

If winter got away from you it’s not too late to get in a little preseason training. Get on it now and be as ready as you can be in a month when the sun shines and the rock warms.

One Response to “What?! March Already?”

  1. Daniel SuNo Gravatar says:

    Just want to say thank you for this blog! So glad to have found it and can’t wait to get my hands on the book. Started climbing just over a year ago and was happy with figuring things out on my own for a while but of course plateaued. Certainly enjoy getting advice from fellow climbers, but (as often noted) with the majority of the advice simply being “climb more” and nudges towards the campus/finger boards (even go to the gym! *shudder*) it just wasn’t working for me. I’ve yet to touch the fingerboard and the campus board is for amusement only right now, while climbing more makes sense but climbing more RIGHT makes even better sense, and now I’m glad to have some guidance!

    P.S. Also took most of winter off, so this particular entry helped ease the guilt hahaha! Now it’s climb on =)

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