In working with hundreds of climbers over the years, I’ve recognized a recent trend of climbers investing a significant amount of training time on activities and exercises that are not climbing specific.
Popular activities like Cross-Fit, trail running, cycling, weight lifting, yoga, Pilates, and mountain biking, can consume a tremendous amount of “training time” that ultimately leaves less opportunity to boulder, hangboard, system train, and do other forms of climbing-specific training. But is this “cross-training” time well spent?
While I have no issue with non-specific training activities, a serious climber must resist frequent training tangents—and reduce time spent on “junk training”—and stay on the mission of becoming a stronger rock climber. No amount of Cross-Fit, yoga, trail running, and such, will advance your climbing as much as time invested in climbing specific activities.
Effective Training in Accordance to the “SAID Principle”
The SAID Principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) describes that a specific exercise or type of training will produce adaptations specific to the activity performed and only in the muscles (and energy systems) that are stressed by the activity.
For example, running produces favorable aerobic energy system adaptations in the leg muscles and the cardio-vascular system. However, the muscles and systems not stressed show no adaptation; so even heroic amounts of running will produce no favorable changes in the climbing muscles of the upper-body. It’s important to note, however, that the adaptations from frequent long-distance running will transfer somewhat to stamina-climbing activities such as multi-pitch, big wall, and alpine climbing and may help accelerate recovery between sport climbs.
Match Training to Your Climbing Preference
Your body adapts in a specific fashion to the central demands you place on it while climbing. If you boulder a lot, you will adapt to the specific skill, strength, and power demands of bouldering. Whereas if you climb mostly one-pitch sport routes, you adapt to the unique demands of zipping up, say, 30 meters of rock before muscular failure. If you primarily climb multi-pitch routes or big walls, your body will adapt in accordance to the demands of these longer climbs. Or, if your outings are alpine in nature, your physiological response will be specific to the very unique demands of climbing in the mountains.
The vitally important distinction here is that while all these activities fall under the headline of “climbing,” they each have unique demands that produce very specific physical adaptations. Therefore, the training effect from regular bouldering will do nothing to enhance your physical ability for alpine climbing.
As shown in the table below, the specific demands of sport climbing are much closer to those of bouldering. Consequently, the adaptations incurred from frequent bouldering will carry over quite well to sport climbing (especially short sport climbs) and vice versa. The bottom line: the SAID Principle demands that effective training for climbing must target your body in ways very similar to climbing (e.g. in body position, muscles used, energy systems trained, etc).
|Continuum of Climbing “Sub-Sports”|
Stay On Mission!
Due to the SAID principle, you should invest more than half your total training time on the type of climbing most relavant to your climbing goals. It is no mistake that the best boulderers in the world rarely tie into a rope. Likewise, the best alpine climbers spend little or no time working on 30-meter sport routes. Targeting your training on the specific demands (and energy systems) of your preferred form of climbing is the essence of the SAID Principle. Taking this one step further—narrowing your training to be route-specific may be just what it takes to send that special boulder problem or route!
In the end, you must make a philosophical choice whether you want to specialize—and, therefore, excel—in one climbing “sub-sport,” or become a moderately successful all-around climber. Certainly, there is equal merit and reward in both approaches.
- Learn about matching your nutrition to your climbing goals here >>
- Learn more about Energy System Training for your climbing preference here >>
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