I’m a climber with a running problem. Quickly flying along a trail through trees and bombing down hills makes me smile. This past spring was spent in the pursuit of speed and endurance. Mile after mile made me realize that climbing has similar mental and physical demands. Pacing, knowing when to try (pull) hard, and many other things tied back in my climber’s mindset. I enjoyed moving my body and pushing myself in a different way than climbing.
When most people start climbing, they see instant gains. I believe, and studies have shown, that our muscles adapt to the repeated movements and their environment. In Dave MacLeod’s book, 9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes, (reviewed here and here) he writes, in many more words, that “you are what you climb”. Practice dictates performance and you become better at the style that you are most involved in. Some people have predispositions for certain types of climbing, but most excel at “home” crags and styles. A guy would like a steep climb with bigger holds if he has strong arms. If he had small fingers, then he might prefer crimps to slopers. These correlations are endless.
Back to the running. In the United States a gigantic number of people run. According to a study from 2007 by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association over 41 million people had run or jogged in one form or another. In 2009 10 Million people completed road races. Yet the total number of people who have ever “rock climbed” in the US is just over 6 Million people.
A person who is new to running can go online, search for the distance he/she wants to race and find a dozen training programs that discuss mileage, rest and race day execution. The idea is that if you run a certain amount, you rest adequately, and then you run a bit more, your muscles will adapt. Over time, most programs are between 12 and 20 weeks for marathon training, and enable you to run further and further. Injury is a problem in running, perhaps even more so than climbing, and knowing how to listen to your body is important.
Climbing is not as easy. You don’t set out to climb forty feet or four hundred. Even if you did, the distance is not an accurate measure of difficulty. A pitch or route in one area, like Yosemite, is vastly different than the same length of rope in Joshua Tree. However, it is accepted in climbing that certain methods, like periodization, are effective at building strength. You work different muscles, you rest, switch up the routine, and you build towards a peak. This peak does not last forever but the process does raise your baseline fitness. Similar methods also work for running.
In order to runners approach to training for climbing you must know what the objective is. Thus the simplest and yet the most important question is: What is your goal?
With a goal in hand it gets more complicated since you must figure out what is keeping you from that goal. Along these lines you need to find your weakness and target it during your workouts. Most marathon runners need training with distance. Log a bunch of miles, recovery properly and you could likely run a marathon. The same is true for your climbing goals.
Each week, use sessions at home doing pull-ups, at the gym, or even outside and progressively build in difficulty. Every workout has an effect on your body and your mind. If your feet are always slipping off holds, then play the “silent feet” game at gym. If you have a goal route, dissect the style of the route. Is it long? Where is the crux? Where and why would you expect to fall? Figure out what is holding you back. Think about the your fitness and how you feel climbing on your project (goal route) or similar routes.
If you climb at the same crag or gym enough, it is possible to notice how and when you get pumped. Whether its the angle of the wall, or the size of the hold. I have an idea of when my forearms start getting tired and the feeling of that pump. In running there is a large focus on heart-rate. I think the main idea is to gauge your exertion and to make sure that one is running at a sustainable pace. The same is true for climbing. If you are pulling as hard as you can during every move (even if they are easy), and over gripping on jugs, then you are not climbing in a sustainable way. Relax, only pull hard when needed and have a plan for the climb. Being informed will help you get closer to your goal.
Are you strong enough to do the crux moves but always arrive pumped? Do you campus boulder problems instead of using your feet? Does your fear cause you to climb inefficiently? There are many weakness to overcome to be a better climber. So take the time and make a list. Figure out things that challenge you and confront them. If you hate falling then practice in a safe environment like the gym. The following video shows a good technique to help you move past a fear of falling.
The main idea is that everyone can benefit from working on their weakness. If you only ran the same number of miles at the same pace you would never get faster. Once you start to plateau (in climbing or running), take a moment and try to figure out what’s stopping you. The first step is often the biggest and knowing where to spend your energy will allow you to effectively train and improve.