Stamina Training for Long Days and Wall Climbs


Keith McCallister topping out high above the valley floor. Hörst photo.

If your summer climbing plans include a big wall, alpine adventure, or some super-long days of cragging, then now is the time to begin some stamina training. Clearly, the best way to train for all-day climbing stamina is to frequently climb all day. For most recreational climbers, however, there is not the time or opportunity to do enough climbing to train stamina in only this way. Fortunately, the more general forms of aerobic training will build stamina that largely carries over to these pursuits.

Following are two effective strategies for building abundant stamina.

1. Climb All Day
This is the train-as-you-climb strategy. If your climbing goal is to send Grade IV or V routes in a day, then you need to simulate this work load as often as possible. For example, in preparing for a trip to Yosemite you could train at your local crag by logging ten, fifteen, or twenty pitches in a long day. Reaching these training goals will take repeated efforts to extend what you are capable of performing, not only physically, but also technically and mentally. Climbing a high number of pitches in a day requires both efficient movement and an efficient two-person climbing system. Real-life stamina gains on the rock are really an aggregate of enhancements in your ability to perform mentally and physically to a higher level of precision and total volume.

It’s important to begin this type of stamina training at least three months before the date of your target climb. Plan your training and climbing schedule so that you can engage in climb-all-day stamina training at least once every two weeks and ideally once or twice per week. Clearly, no amount of running or other type of physical stamina conditioning can duplicate or replace this most specific and valuable training method. So, get a partner and start climbing!

2. Twice-a-Day Training
Twice-a-day training is a powerful training strategy of endurance athletes. The goal here is to engage in two, one- to two-hour workouts per day. This could be any combination of an aerobic activity such as running, biking, or swimming and a climbing session comprised of bouldering, gym climbing, or a half day at the crags. To maximize the quality of each workout, it’s important to have at least a six hour break between the two workouts. For example, you might go for a long run in the morning, and then climb for a couple hours in the evening, or vice versa. If climbing is not an option, you would simply perform a morning and late-day aerobic activity of an hour or more each time.

This is, of course, is a lot of training and requires a high level of conditioning that might take a few months to build up to. Furthermore, you should begin with just one twice-a-day workout per week and gradually advance to as many as three twice-a-day routines per week. Maintaining proper hydration and eating between the two daily workouts is vital—eating to enhance recovery in preparation from your next workout is central to effective stamina training and performance.

Copyright 2007 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.