—Richard M. Wright | Lakewood, CO
Indeed, why would anyone go for a system of peaks and troughs if an alternative system without the troughs existed? Well, the answer is that there is no superior strategy. We all face a simple choice between aiming for peak performance at certain specific times within the year or accepting a lower but more consistent level of performance at all times. Training hard all the time leads first to a performance plateau and then injury. I agree with you that much of the literature conveys the message that periodized training is about following lengthy macrocycles to peak for your one big moment, which simply does not represent reality for most climbers. Periodization, however, doesn’t only work this way. So how can periodized training suit the year-round approach?
Forget the idea of training for a peak months ahead, and instead push yourself forward in smaller cycles, as opposed to a giant tsunami. A great approach is to do a light week, followed by a medium week, a hard week and then a very hard week, rest a week, then peak for a week. The definition of a light week could either be fewer sessions, shorter sessions, easier sessions, or a combination, whereas a harder week involves training at a higher volume and/or intensity and/or frequency. This approach incorporates all the fundamental principles of periodization, namely to start with a recovery period, to build up progressively so that your training gathers momentum and reaches a climax, and then, crucially, to rest/recover again before you injure yourself. With this six-week approach you could, theoretically, reach as many as nine mini-peaks within a year. Bear in mind that it is physiologically impossible to be on top form or to make maximum gains every week, and this ought to sound like a pretty good program for a journeyman climber. You could also do two light weeks, a medium two weeks, a hard two weeks and finally a very hard two weeks, then rest and peak and hence make your “waves” last 12 weeks instead of six. In comparison to the previous example, this would allow you to reach a slightly higher level (temporarily, of course) and keep you at that level for slightly longer, but clearly you would reach this level less frequently. Note that you would experience this elevated level immediately after the recovery week/s, so try to climb well on the crag at this point before resuming the next wave of training.
The next detail is to schedule your climbing trips and to allocate themes to training waves that correspond with the desired type of climbing. In other words, a month or two prior to a bouldering trip, you would do two or three strength sessions and one endurance session within a given week. Alternatively, running up to a sport-climbing trip, you would do two or three endurance sessions to one strength session. To me, this concept of “prioritized phasing,” rather than the notion of long-term peaking, is the most useful component of periodized training for the majority of climbers.
Clearly, if you don’t know when you are going to be going bouldering or doing routes outside, simply alternate between a strength-prioritized cycle and an endurance-prioritized cycle. This way the body will be subjected to correctly organized and themed training stimuli, and change should kick in before you stagnate.
Another refinement is to run slightly longer waves to address your weaknesses. For example, those with poor endurance could run two-month endurance phases and one-month strength phases in continuous succession. Again, these phases can be repeated indefinitely provided you use the wave concept and that they always commence after a period of recovery. The million-dollar question is whether this approach will produce better gains in the long term than the better-documented approach of going for a big peak only once or twice within a year. There are few convincing test results here so please keep a training diary and let me know how you get on by logging onto my forum at rockandice.com