As it turns out, climbing on a rope may not be the best way to get fitness for climbing on a rope.
That’s right. As a professional sport climber, I personally spend 95% of my indoor climbing time on a bouldering wall, even though 95% of my climbing goals are sport climbing related.
Climbing boulder problems, or circuits of problems with a set number of moves, and setting specifically timed rest intervals, is found to be more effective and efficient to train energy systems, such as strength-endurance or even pure endurance!
The energy system I am targeting is determined by the difficulty of the problem, number of moves and length of rest.
Strength and Power
The basic concept is, the more I want to focus on strength and power, the shorter and more challenging the circuit of moves has to be and the longer the resting time so that I can re-generate the necessary power to complete the circuit again.
The more I want to focus on endurance, the longer circuit is going to be (more moves), and at a slightly lower difficulty. This way, I start feeling pumped but can still manage to complete the circuit. I also decrease the resting time so that I continue to have to climb in a state of fatigue.
The “Sliding Scale”
I think of it as a sliding scale. On one end is power, on the other endurance. To slide from one end to the other, I tweak the variables until I find a sweet spot for what I want to target.
For me, I am always to trying to become more powerful so that I can make it through the brutal power endurance cruxes on the steep sport routes I want to climb. So, when I do bouldering intervals, this is what I focus on.
I have found 12-15 moves to be a great length for me. This length of problem allows me to climb some pretty powerful moves, similar in length and difficulty to crux sections of sport routes. Because I like the circuits to be hard and powerful, I aim to rest for 2x the time it takes me to climb the circuit. Ideally, this comes out to be 1 minute of climb time to 2 minutes of rest time. I climb the circuit 4 times before I take a longer rest (up to 10 minutes) and move on to a new circuit. I aim for 4 circuits in total, and try my best to vary the wall angle and hold style.
I encourage you to try this out in your next training session.
If you want to train endurance, increase the circuit length to 15-20 moves and take the rest down to 1.5x climb time or even 1 to 1.
If you want to focus on power, try 8-10 harder moves but make sure they are not so hard that you are failing to complete the problem on rounds 1 and 2. In general, if you are failing in the last 15% of the circuit on rounds 3 and 4, you are at the upper end of difficulty for the circuit level. Also, for the more powerful circuits, increase your rest ratio so you have chance to power back up before your next effort. If the problem only takes 30 seconds to do, you may need to take 2 minutes rest to be able to send again.
These are just some basic guidelines. The training regime that is best for you will require some tweaking depending on what you want to train and how you as individual responds to the stimulus.
One more thing, if you get crushed by your first interval session, don’t come crying to me. They get easier over time, sort of…
Dan Mirsky is a professional climber, and climbing coach for The Training Room in Salt Lake City. To train with Dan directly, please contact The Training Room.