Training Muscular Endurance – Part 2

For many climbers, failure on a route often seems to come down to a lack of local forearm endurance (although poor technique and mental control may be causing premature muscular failure). Training to improve anaerobic endurance (AE) requires repeated, sustained bursts of exercise often referred to as Interval Training. Such training will trigger numerous muscular adaptations, including increased capillary density and luminal diameter, and thus increase local circulation and removal of lactic acid and other waste products.

Last month I detailed two AE training methods, and now I will reveal two more excellent exercises to help you climb longer and harder on pumpy terrain. Remember, however, that the above adaptations requires a long-term dedication to training. There are no short cuts (other than improving your technique and mental control)–it’s all about hard work. Get busy.

Frenchies may be the best anaerobic endurance exercise for the pull muscles, but they are inherently grueling to perform due to the lactic acid released by the large muscles of the back and arms. The payoffs are significant and obvious, however, both in terms of more lock-off endurance on the rock and a marked increase in pull-up ability. Here are the details on this uniquely effective modified pull-up.

physical-frenchies1. Mount a pull-up bar or fingerboard (use bucket holds) with your hands about shoulder-width apart.

2. Pull-up to the top position and lock-off with your hands against your chest for a five-second count. Lower to the bottom, straight-armed position.

3. Pull-up to the top again, however, this time lower to the halfway position (arm bend forming a 90-degree angle, per photo). Hold this position statically for a five-second count, then lower to the bottom.

4. Pull-up a third time, but this time lower about two-thirds of the way (arm angle about 120-degrees) to perform the static, five-second lock-off.

5. Lower to the bottom position and you will have completed one full cycle. But don’t stop!

6. Without hanging to rest or dismounting, immediately begin a second cycle of Frenchies. Repeat steps 2 through 5 (above), being sure to hold all the lock-offs for a full five-second count.

7. Continue performing a third and fourth cycle (hard), if able. Stop when you can no longer perform a full pull-up or hold the lock-off.

8. Rest for three to five minutes (no more), before doing a second and third set.

9. Training tip: As you become capable of performing four full cycles (done to spec, a full cycle take about 80 seconds), add one or two ten-pound weight belts around your waist to increase training resistence.

10. Safety note: Despite the grueling nature of Frenchies, they are actually a very safe training exercise. Stop using them, however, should you develop any pain in your elbows or shoulders.

Steep-Wall Lock-Off
This is a most specific lock-off exercise, since it is performed on a bouldering wall with actual climbing moves and body positions. It’s a must-do for training the coveted lock-off endurance (often called power endurance) needed for long, steep routes. This exercise is a good example of how you can creatively engage in targeted strength training on the typical home bouldering wall. The goal, of course, is not to actually climb a boulder problem, but instead to isolate the lock-off muscles in a highly specific way that brings all the muscles of the arms, core, and legs into play. A wall overhanging between 30 and 50 degrees past vertical is ideal.

physical-wall-lock-offs1. Begin in a sit-down start position below the wall so that you can grip onto two similar starting holds. A deep, positive hold or an incut HIT Strip or System Hold is best, since the goal of this exercise is to train lock-off, not grip strength.

2. Place your feet on any two holds on the “kick board” at the base of the wall and lift your butt off the floor. This is your starting position.

3. Now, pull-up on the handholds and lock-off one arm, so that you can reach up with the other hand to grab onto a hold at full arm reach (see photo). Allow you body to twist and tense as needed to make the lock-off most solid.

4. Hold this lock-off position for at least two seconds, before letting go with the high hand and dropping back down to the starting position.

5. Immediately pull back up, lock-off, and reach, but this time switch the lock-off and reach hands. Hold this lock-off for two seconds, and then return to the starting position.

6. Continue this lock-off-and-reach motion with alternating hands as long as possible without cheating on the two second lock-offs. Your training goal is a total of twenty to fifty (way hard!) lock-offs, which will result in between one to two minutes of exhaustive exercise.

7. Take a rest break, and then perform a second and third set. The length of rest to take will depend on your level of conditioning. For initial training session, take a five minute rest between sets. As your conditioning improves reduce your rest to as little as one minute-an elite-level anaerobic endurance workout!

8. Training tip: Use larger hand and foot holds or a less steep wall if you can not do at least twenty total lock-offs.

9. Safety note: Like many climbing-specific exercises, this Steep-Wall Lock-Offs are stressful on the elbows and shoulders. Engage in a complete warm-up before exercising and conclude your session with some antagonist muscle training to strength the elbow and shoulder joints.

Copyright 2006 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.