Learn five strategies for increasing your endurance on strenuous and “pumpy” climbs.
Training to get stronger is helpful, but improving your fuel economy when you climb is smart! While both of these approaches will increase performance, many climbers obsess over strength training while failing to recognize the value of more nuanced strength application. Yes, elite climbers are all strong…but the very best are also hyper-efficient in their climbing.
To that end, maximizing your climbing potential requires a focus on economy of movement for the sake of better climbing endurance. Here are five strategies for improving your climbing endurance so you can climb harder, longer.
1. Climb fast, rest well
This might seem obvious, but most climbers face poor fuel economy when climbing near their limit. Do you climb more like a Buick or a Honda? Learning to climb efficiently requires conscious effort, so get a partner and make a game out of it! Practice the following energy-conserving techniques on moderate routes or in a safe gym setting:
- Predetermine your rest positions on a route, and only chalk up and rest there. Climb briskly from one rest to the next.
- Limit your time on any given hold to five seconds or less, with the exception of rest positions. Climb past the smallest, pumpy holds as fast as possible. Avoid the in-between mode of slow, tentative climbing and dwelling at shitty rests, pondering your pump. Get moving! VENGA. AUF GEHT’S. COME ON!
- Vary your grip position frequently. Alternate between the crimp grip, open hand grip, thumb lock, pinch, pocket grip, and others, as often as the rock allows. Don’t miss a chance to sink a hand jam or finger lock—these are great energy-saving grips that many face climbers miss.
2. Embrace the “micro-rest”
Many climbers do not proactively recover on a route; they just let it happen. Calculated and intentional recovery, however, separates the best from the rest.
One proactive recovery strategy for improved climbing endurance, called a “micro-rest”, involves opening and closing your fingers or flexing your wrist in between each grip. Do this in the mere second or two it takes to reach from one hold to the next. Think about flicking water off your fingers or hand as you reach for the next hold. This simple movement helps generate blood flow through the forearm muscles. That’s difficult to do when gripping at your maximum capacity. The aggregate effect of doing this between every grip will significantly reduce your pump over the course of the route.
3. Keep your eyes peeled
Finding a knee-bar, toe-heel cam, or bomber hand jam can be an absolute game-changer on long, sustained climbs and cave routes. At crags like Rifle, the Red River Gorge, and countless European sport climbing areas, you’ll find routes that feel a full letter grade (or two!) harder if you bypass the “thank god” rest. Adam Ondra’s ascent of Silence, the world’s first 5.15d, featured two vital knee-bar rests (as you’ll see in the video below). Learning to see and effectively use these tricky mid-climbs rests is somewhat of an art form. It takes time and practice to perfect. Get started now!
4. Go “G-Tox”
Most climbers shake out in rest positions by alternating a dangling arm by their side. A more effective method for accelerating forearm recovery, however, is a method I call “G-Tox.” It involves alternating the position of your resting arm, about every 5 seconds, between the common dangling-arm position and an overhead position (as if raising your hand at school). G-Tox with one arm for 30 seconds or so, and then G-Tox with the other arm for a similar length of time. Continue back and forth for as long as needed…or as long as the rest position allows.
The G-Tox technique makes gravity your ally by increasing venous return to the heart. During strenuous climbing, the discomfort and increasing “pump” in your forearms is largely the result of restricted blood flow. Increasing intramuscular acidosis and hypoxia play a role as well. While the dangling arm shakeout rest position does allow blood flow to resume, hanging your resting arm below the heart slows the flow of “stale” blood out of the forearm. Sometimes your pump even gets worse in the dangling arm.
With the G-Tox, however, you enhance the venous flow of de-oxygenated (and metabolite-filled) blood out of the forearm muscles. You might be able to literally see your pump drain as you elevate your arm! Alternating every few seconds between the raised hand and dangling arm shakeout positions supports both venous return (out of) and arterial flow (into) the forearm muscles. The result for many climbers is a substantial increase in the rate of recovery in rest positions.
5. Use supplements
Beetroot and citrulline malate are two of nature’s most studied performance-enhancing substances. Beetroot has been shown to improve body flow via vasodilation, elevate muscle oxygenation, and improve endothelial function. One study of healthy trained adults showed a 7.1% increased muscle efficiency (Larsen 2007). Another study showed a 15% increase in time to failure in high-intensity running (Lansley 2011) after 6 days of supplementation.
Citrulline malate is a non-essential amino acid found in watermelon with potential benefits for power-endurance athletes (such as rock climbers) that may even exceed those of beetroot. Bendahan (2002) showed that replenishment rate of ATP between bouts of high-intensity exercise was accelerated by 20%. A 2019 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed 12 peer-review, placebo-controlled studies of CM (n=198). This analysis found a “significant benefit for citrulline compared to placebo treatments”. A study of female masters’ athletes that found a statistically significant increase in grip strength one hour after an acute dose of CM (Jordan 2016).
Leveraging this wealth of research, PhysiVāntage developed Sendure X. It’s the first supplement to combine beetroot extract, citrulline malate, and betaine (a molecule found in beetroot sugar that may boost power) to create a synergistic endurance-enhancing pre-workout/pre-climb drink. Consuming Sendure X during warm-up climbing primes the working muscles for optimal blood flow and enhanced performance. Anecdotally, many climbers report a slower rise in the “pumped” feeling during near-maximal climbing as well as a faster rate of recovery at rest positions, or between boulders and routes. Learn more at PhysiVāntage.com
- Podcast #26: Effective Training of the Climbing-Specific Aerobic Energy System
- Podcast #40: Blood Flow Restriction Training for Climbers
- Cameron Hörst’s Proven Strategy for Endurance Training
- Boulder Composing Power Endurance Training for Climbers
- Aerobic Versus Anaerobic Training for Climbing
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