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Can Old Guys Get Stronger?

As an older climber with a long history of climbing and athletics, I find that age, lifestyle, work commitments and other responsibilities have been taking their toll on performance.

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As an older climber with a long history of climbing and
athletics, I find that age, lifestyle, work commitments and other
responsibilities have been taking their toll on performance. While I still
maintain a dedicated and refined training routine, progress seems to be
stalling. Any advice from the coach that will help the baby-boomer crowd stay
in the game?

— Richard M. Wright, Lakewood, CO

Editors note: This article first appeared in Rock and Ice issue 174 (January 2009). Thanks to developing research, Neil has since modified his views on the topic. That said, some of the below is outdated. Look for an updated article on this topic in the upcoming issue of Rock and Ice, Spring of 2020, issue 264.

You can’t realistically expect to get stronger or fitter as
a veteran if you have been climbing and training all your life. Only veterans
who are new to climbing can hope for pure strength improvements. Remember,
however, that climbing is not track and field. Tactics, skill and technique
play a larger role in our sport than strength gains. Improvements in overall
climbing performance are truly in the cards for older climbers, whether novice
or experienced, if you use brain over brawn. I’m not saying don’t train; but
over time, training should focus more on technique and you should incorporate
more recovery into your schedule. Without seeing your program, I can’t say why
you are stalling, but if you are still doing the same volume as you did when
you were younger, then inadequate recovery is the most likely reason for the
plateau. Less is more as a veteran, and if you rest more you will gain more.

In addition, completely avoid high-intensity exercises such
as campusing or deadhanging. The extra five or 10 percent you may or may not
gain by doing these high-impact exercises is not worth the six months out with
injury. The older you get, the more the scales should tip towards endurance
training, and I would suggest cutting powerful bouldering out altogether by the
time you hit 60. Pay extra attention to nutrition and hydration and get
sufficient sleep. I would also advise regular antagonist training sessions
(including push-ups and reverse wrist curls) as these become exponentially
important to stave off injuries.

[Also Read  What to Expect When Expecting – Rock Climbing While Pregnant]

Above all else, don’t stray from trying to climb with
perfect technique. Give yourself continuous technique prompts—laser-precise
foot placements, straight arms, twist in on steep terrain, regulate the
breathing, and so on.

Pay close attention to your warm-up and listen to your body
as if you were tuning a piano. Warm-up using a pyramid sequence of routes—not
too many, nor too few, and in the perfect ascending grade order. Get your rest just right between each
burn, and above all else pick the right routes! The older you get the more
demoralized you may become if you select routes that are all about raw power or
withering endurance. Stick to climbs that require a bit of skill and subtlety
and you can continue to meet the challenge long into the future.


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 174 (January 2009).