Alasdair Kennedy trains and climbs indoors at The Bristol Climbing Academy, he’s put together a few training tips for Scarpa UK, offering some key points to focus on and some ideas on how to keep in peak form over the winter months.
Alasdair is based near Bristol and a regular visitor to the Pembrokeshire Cliffs. Earlier this year he made an ascent of Charlie Woodburn’s Something’s Burning E9 7a at Stennis Ford and has a growing list of trad ascents.
“Top 5 training tips I wish I’d known years ago…mainly clichés…and why you shouldn’t ignore them this winter” | Alasdair Kennedy
None of the advice to follow is new. None of it is groundbreaking. In fact, it’s all pretty basic stuff. But after 20 odd years of climbing and trying to get better, and only more recently taking training a bit more seriously and experimenting with different systems, I’ve finally realised how important it is not to overcomplicate things and just get the basics right.
With the advent of more professional and scientific training methodologies entering the climbing world, along with hundreds of associated training podcasts/articles advocating just as many different protocols, it’s easy to get lost in the intricacies of what you should be doing when you head down to the wall on a Thursday evening. 6 or 7-second max hangs? 2 or 3 minute rest time? Which energy system is this 26 move circuit targeting? My take on it is this; keep it simple. So here it is, my two-pence worth when it comes to the (very) basics of training – mostly aimed at route climbers like me who find it confusing how to stay strong and fit during the year.
1. Strength is key.
Particularly finger strength. That’s it. Simple. No amount of volume endurance training on the circuit board is going to get you up a hard boulder problem or get you through the crux of a route. The stronger you are, the easier every move will be and the more likely you are to get up the thing. Even if, like me, your aim is to climb sport or trad routes outside where endurance plays a huge part, I would still advocate prioritising strength training at the wall because realistically you’re going to be getting some decent endurance training just by going out climbing when you can. But you’ll rarely be pulling as hard as you can do indoors, so during the winter training sessions prioritise getting strong.
How do you train pure brute strength? Basically, try very hard moves and rest a lot. And don’t get too hung up on the intricate details of fingerboard plans – as long as you’re hanging off small enough edges that you can’t hold it for very long (i.e. no more than 10 seconds) then your fingers will be getting worked. But remember what Wolfgang said – “Getting strong is easy, getting strong without getting injured is hard”. So be careful, and do the antagonistic stuff.
2. Work your weaknesses.
Another tired cliché, but possibly the most important of the lot. Take time to think seriously about what you struggle with while you’re climbing. What styles do you try to avoid? Even better than self-analysis, if your ego can take it, is to ask a friend. Maybe it’s just me and the people I climb with but I don’t usually have to ask to be told what I’m rubbish at! Climbing stuff you’re good at is always fun – you feel like a wad, burn your mates off, get even better in that style so you can burn them off even more…. what’s not to like? This is made even worse climbing outside because there are usually alternative methods, different footholds etc. so you find the beta that suits your style.
The downside of this is those times when there is no alternative way of doing the move on your project? Or when your mates can burn you off? This is when training your weaknesses indoors comes into its own. When you understand what you find difficult, isolate that indoors, and train it, you’ll come out of winter a far better and more rounded climber.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”. If you’re seriously looking to improve in your climbing then don’t just go down to the wall once a week to do the same old thing, whether that’s climbing a handful of routes on a rope, or going around the same moderately difficult boulder circuit. Mix it up. Otherwise, you’re likely to stagnate and hit a plateau, then risk losing motivation.
The good thing about all the new training resources available is that there are literally thousands of different plans, sessions, routines, games etc. that you can pick and choose from. Try them all. Some will work, others won’t. But it’s all about changing the stimulus and increasing the repertoire of skills and movements at your disposal. Along with this, try and climb outside regularly during the winter – even if it’s just for a few hours at the weekend. You’re more likely to stay motivated if you can remember what you’re training for, and won’t be as rusty once Spring comes around.
4. Doing 1000 crunches a day does not equal good core strength.
Core strength is vital. It links your arms to your legs – pretty important for climbing rocks. For years, I would do a token few crunches at the end of a session, maybe even some leg raises if I could be bothered. But attaining useful core strength needs to be taken seriously, and isn’t just about having a six-pack. The core needs to be strong around the entire spine – front, back, and sides – to provide tension, stability, and prevent injury.
5. “Antagonistic, antagonistic, antagonistic”
Alex Megos’s top 3 training tips. And he should know. Yoga, stretching, wrist curls, press-ups, tricep dips, TRX…the list is endless. Climbing develops very specific muscle groups and it’s vital to balance the body out. I didn’t do any antagonistic exercises at all until I dislocated my shoulder twice in the space of two years, learning the hard way. If you take climbing seriously and train regularly then you will develop muscular imbalances, and it’s only a matter of time before you get injured. So use the winter to develop good habits and start balancing your body out.
All images courtesy of Paul Twomney