Training for Advanced Climbers
While it will have been necessary to train a basic level of finger strength and power to get to this point, only at the advanced stage does it become truly essential to perform climbing-specific training in order to progress. Flexibility will also start to play a greater role in your success at this stage, as well as fine-tuning your diet.
Training explosive full-body-coordinated movements on the campus board will prove a real asset in improving strength. Making sure to project and train on a variety of routes and styles, as opposed to simply climbing to one's strengths, will help you grow your toolbox.
Especially for boulderers at this level, I believe in Olympic Weightlifting as a great tool to help make climbers more aware of their hip activation (or lack thereof). While you are most likely using your hips much better than a beginner, you'd be surprised how much more power you can squeeze out of the same leg muscles with proper timing and form. Find an Olympic Weightlifting coach to help you achieve a good form in the clean and snatch.
The Training Season
Depending on your goals, you should train 3 main physical competencies in varying proportions-- those are endurance, power endurance, and power. Strength is never constantly increasing, we need to work in cycles to allow our bodies time to heal and repair, and to maintain our psyche. Even if you don't compete, try to imagine your training plan in terms of a "season." You aim for peak physical form at a certain date at the end of your season-- The Championships. Your season should not exceed 6 months or else you will not allow yourself ample recovery. Conversely, your season should not be shorter than 6 weeks or you will not have enough time to really focus in any one area. The first 1/3 of your season should be almost entirely endurance training. Depending on how long this phase is and if your goals are more powerful in nature (i.e. if you are training to send a new personal best boulder problem), you may want to sprinkle in some power and power endurance sessions here and there. But the overall focus should be on endurance. In phase 2, which should be approximately the second third of your season, you will begin to focus on power endurance. Endurance sessions should still appear weekly or biweekly. In the final third of your season you will develop pure strength. Campusing, weightlifting, projecting, and cutting excess weight with a stricter diet will take the center stage, while endurance and power endurance sessions will fall to the background, with perhaps shorter endurance sessions following a strength workout. The final week before your "Championships" should include more rest than normal, but active rest. You still want your muscles to remember how to pull hard, so I like to have one or two sessions during my rest week where I go through my warm-up just to the point of being able to exert at my maximum, but stop short of doing an actual full-power workout. Go for a gentle run or bike ride or work on your handstands, but be sure not to tire yourself to the point of muscle pain.
This competency takes the longest to build up, but will stay around with the least amount of maintenance. No matter when your target date for peak strength is, you should start training endurance yesterday. To build endurance is very simple and yet will require probably the greatest amount of creativity when it comes to logistics. In the ideal scenario, you have a parent/partner/friend/coach who is committed to your improvement and therefore offers to be your belay slave. Maybe you have a training partner who also wants to work on his endurance and so you can make a deal to split your session in half. Even then, you will have to coordinate around busy climbing gyms, trying not to hog the best climbs for too long. The best possible workout you can do is to find a climb that is difficult enough to require you to focus on the first go, but easy enough that you are fairly confident you will get to the top. Climb it up, hold onto the finish jug but do not let your weight on the rope. Climb it back down. If you're still hanging on at the start holds, take a brief shake without touching the ground and proceed to go up again. Continue. If you're able to go more than 3 times up and down, the climb is too easy. If you fall before making it down to the ground the second time, you should find a harder one. If your climb is overhanging, you'll want to climb it on lead and unclip as you descend to avoid a dangerous swing.
Other ways to train endurance if your gym frowns upon you camping out on a single line for an hour are:
- Laps on boulders
In general try to avoid climbs with excessively good rests, particularly slabs or no-hands rests. You want to feel the pump, and feel your ability to hang on through it.
You should always have power endurance in the back of your mind. If you're training for a week-long trip, you'll be thanking yourself on day 4 when you are still ready to go but your friends feel like they've been hit by a train. Having a lot of power endurance also just allows you to train more. The best way to train power endurance is to choose a few boulder problems around your flash level, and to do intervals on them. The form of those intervals can vary based on your setup, but here are a few examples:
4 by 4s-- Choose four boulders around your flash level. Climb the first, then immediately get on the second, then immediately on the third, and immediately on the fourth. If you fall, move on to the next climb. After the fourth, take a one-minute rest, and start again at the first. Repeat this two more times for a total of four times around each climb. If you are not falling by the end, your climbs were too easy. Choose a balance of technical and physical climbs in your set of four.
Intervals-- Choose a boulder problem and have a stopwatch. Every time the stopwatch reaches the one-minute mark, start the boulder again. You may choose a slightly longer or slightly shorter time interval depending on the length of your climb, but you should have about 70% work, 30% rest. Repeat until you fail twice in a row on the climb. If it takes more than 10 attempts, you should choose a harder climb next time.
Pyramids-- Climb one climb at your maximum flash grade. Immediately proceed to climb one level lower, but repeat the climb twice. Immediately proceed to another level lower, climbing it three times. Finally climb one more lower level, climbing four times. Then work your way back up the ladder, culminating again in a single climb of your maximum flash grade. You may use the same climbs on the way up or different ones. Another way to do the pyramid is to start with a high volume of an easier grade, then decrease laps but increase difficulty, and then descend again. I prefer to finish on a harder climb because it forces me to be exact in my technique under fatigue.
Ladders-- I find descending ladders to be a good finisher for a session. Climb one boulder of your maximum flash grade. Then immediately (if you can avoid even putting your feet on the ground, even better) get on a grade of one level lower. Proceed until you're on the easiest grade in your gym. Again, try to avoid having your feet on the ground at all, and if you do, make it fleeting.
Power is the easiest physical capacity to gain. You will feel very satisfied with how quickly you can feel stronger. Weights are very good for gaining power quickly-- perform weighted pull ups, olympic weightlifting maneuvers including deadlift, devil presses, kettlebell swings, weighted ankle raises, etc. You may consider climbing with a weight vest on. Look into strength-related gymnastics movements like deep skin-the-cats and ring muscle-ups. Work on projecting climbs with hard moves. You should always listen to your body with regards to rest and nutrition but especially during this phase you have a high risk for an acute injury. Make sure you are feeding yourself well, giving your body the proper nutrients to recover after a workout (that includes eating carbs!), and allowing your muscles to repair themselves before diving into the next balls-out power workout. To maximize your training efficiency, you may want to focus on one muscle group in one session and then switch to an opposing muscle group in your next session. After a few weeks of power training, your body needs to rest and recover deeply. Once your "Championship" event is complete, give yourself a complete break for a few days at least. Learn a new gymnastics skill or paint a picture of your dog. Depriving yourself of climbing for a few days won't kill you, in fact it will be great for your mental energy to introduce a bit of scarcity, even if artificial.
The Off Season
After your season ends, you will want to take a few weeks before your next season begins to reap the benefits of your last training round and to prepare for the next one. In this time, don't force yourself to do any specific workouts or training plans. Just climb for fun and don't put any pressure on yourself. Try new projects, set goals for your next season. Revisit old projects and remind yourself how far you've come. Analyze your weaknesses and your strengths. This is your benchmarking period. If you're noticing any lingering aches and pains, do some research or reach out to a physio to make sure you're doing everything you can to avoid long-term injury. Give a friend a few endurance belay sessions or bring some non-climbing friends to the crag.
Hangboard and campus workouts can fit into any phase of training. Aim for more time on the board in endurance sessions, medium-hard intervals in the power endurance sessions, and new-achievement weighted tiny-hold hangs and biggest skips during power sessions. Watch out for injuries. A 6-month break for tendinitis that got out of hand is much worse for your overall training arc than taking an unexpected week off in the middle of your plan when you feel it coming on (I'm not yet entirely convinced that anyone can be taught this lesson any way other than the hard way, please prove me wrong). If you don't have an actual "Championship" date, you may consider ending a season early to start a rest period and be more fit for the next season. By now you should be familiar with the kinds of pains that indicate an injury versus the ones that are normal after a good workout. Treat your body with respect: training isn't purely a form of masochism. Fuel yourself properly. Eat clean. Read up on macros and fueling and rest strategies, make sure that you are getting some nutrients and macros within the first hour after your workout. You will want an excess of fuel and nutrients at the beginning of your power phase, and a deficit of fuel towards your Championship date. Bulk and cut, everything is cyclical. Train functional flexibility. That's ACTIVE flexibility. Make sure that your muscles are balanced out to avoid injury. Do other sports now and then. Yoga, swimming (jury still out on the actual effect of swimming on your callouses), biking, running are all great examples. Get your heart rate up. Every now and then check in on your non-climbing friends for a reality check. Climbing is really great, but it is possible to have a fulfilling life without it. At this level of ability you are making enough sacrifices to really start exposing yourself to the risk of decreased mental wellbeing. You need to make sure that those sacrifices are worth it to you and that you are managing to maintain social and intellectual stimulation to be a full circle human being and not just a climbing machine.