Round 10

What is the best way to increase my endurance?

Q: What is the best way to increase my endurance and recovery time? Thanks for the great site! –Casey (Seattle, WA)

A: Casey, You can approach the subject of “increasing endurance” from two directions. 1.) Interval training at the gym is a great training strategy to increase endurance. That is, alternate 3- to 5-minute “burns” on a route(s) with 3- to 5-minute (no more) rest breaks. Do this with a partner: take turns belaying and climbing, and immediately switch positions and repeat. Try for 5 full cycles of this. Do this towards the end of your gym session, twice per week, and your body will adapt favorably. 2.) Consider that 99.9% of climbers climb with less than perfect economy. That is, they expend unnecessary energy due to poor body position and footwork, poor mental control, climbing too slowly, etc. You should make a constant effort to improve in all these areas–we can ALL improve in these areas! In doing so, you’ll improve your “fuel economy” and find more endurance!

How can I break through a long-time performance plateau?

Q: I’ve been stuck in a plateau for a long time now–how can I break this barrier and start climbing stronger? I frequent a gym, but pretty much just climb as my workout. –Max (San Anselmo, CA)

A: Hey Max, To break the plateau you need to mix things up and begin a new approach to training and climbing. If you stick with the same schedule, you’ll get the same results. It’s a complex subject and hard to personalize without seeing you climb. A coach or personal trainer would be a good idea; however, here are a few things to consider. Get on a structured training-for-climbing program–in my books I describe a 10-week program that would surely help you out. In climbing at the gym, try to hook up with someone who’s climbing a grade or two higher than you. Climb with them for a few weeks and try to push some of your mental/physical barriers. Remember, it’s not about climbing more, but doing things more intelligently–training your weaknesses, challenging your mental boundaries, and trying new things.

How to treat an overuse injury of middle fingers?

Q: I’ve incurred an overuse injury in the small tendons of my middle fingers (crimps are painful). I want them to heal, but I don’t want to stop climbing. I typically climb 4 or 5 nights per week. Other than backing right off to simple climbs with large holds, what can I do? – Lisa (Victoria, Australia)

A: Your problem is a common one; unfortunately, it won’t go away if you continue with your current schedule. If you are lucky it won’t get worse, but usually it will get more severe until you are forced into a long layoff from climbing. Therefore, a proactive position is best–stop climbing for 2 to 4 weeks and hopefully the will heal (no pain). If so, you can return to climbing on large holds for a week or two, then increase difficulty as long as you remain pain free. Bottom line, you need to stop climbing for a short time in order to avoid a long-time forced layoff. Trying to climb through finger injuries almost always means the injury will nag on for months or years. By the way, when you do kick this injury, do NOT climb more than 3 or 4 days per week. Your current schedule of climbing five days per week almost always leads to injury. Climbing is just too stressful to do five days per week–error on the side of overresting, not overtraining, and you’ll become a better climber long-term and avoid most injuries.

How can I train for climbing at 20,000 feet?

Q: In January, I’m accompanying a Johns Hopkins trip to Ecuador to climb volcanoes. How do I train for 20,000′ while stuck living at sea level? – Bud (Baltimore, MD)

A: Yeah, that’s a tough one. World-class athletes and some climbers sleep in hypobaric chambers that simulate the reduced O2 of 10,000+ feet. This way the body responds by releasing EPO, a hormone that gradually elevates red blood cell count. This is the same adaptation as occurs when you are actually at elevation waiting to acclimatize. Some athletes get EOP injections (illegal, but sadly common among elites in some sports) to increase cell count. The bottom line: lots of aerobic conditioning is your best bet to improve the stroke volume of the heart and V02, so that you can perform better at altitude. Still, to really feel good it takes about 1 day per 1,000 feet of elevation gain for the body’s natural EPO release to make enough new blood cells.

What’s the best treatment for wrist pain?

Q: How can I best deal with wrist pain/tendonitis? What can I do to strength the risk and improve my situation. — David (Cincy, OH)

A: Hello David, Sorry to hear about your wrist problem-a fairly uncommon injury for climbers. Have you seen a doctor to get a proper diagnosis? It could be tendonitis from or it could be carpel tunnel syndrome that is unrelated to climbing (CTS is rare from just climbing, and more commonly appears in climbers based on their day job). Of course, I can’t say for sure what’s going on, so if the problem persists I urge you to see a sports physician. If it’s CTS, simple surgery can fix the problem; if it’s tendonitis and doesn’t go away, then only time away from climbing will allow it to heal.

What supplementary training can I engage in while taking a break from climbing?

Q: First of all I’m so stoked I’ve came across your books. I’m taking your advice and taking a month long break from climbing; I’m a week into it and wondering if you recommend any training I can do during this time? I don’t do many other physical activities and am concerned I could lose some physical/mental health during this time. –Luke (Gunnison, CO)

A: Thanks for the kind remarks, and I’m happy that you are following the advice. The month off is mainly to allow any minor (even unknown) overuse injuries to heal, and to allow yourself to mentally recharge for the next season. If you are feeling healthy and excited to get back into action, you could cut this short to a 3-week break. There’s nothing magical about the 4 weeks–except that many athletes enjoy “taking off” from around Thanksgiving to Christmas. Personally, I continue with some light basic training during this break from climbing. For instance, running a few days per week and doing some light weight training that’s non-specific to climbing. Most important is to give your finger and arm tendons a break to recover and grow stronger for next season.