I climb three or four days a week on average. What’s the best combination of rest days and climbing days?
—Jim Munson, Cleveland, OH
There is no ideal sequence of training/rest days. However, there are some basic guidelines for structuring your training, according to your ability level and goals or the climbing or training season. Novice climbers (5.7 to 5.9) are advised to climb no more than three times a week, unless they are very cautious and make sure that their second day on is always a very light, endurance-based day. Mid-grade climbers (5.10 to 5.11) should regard three days a week as the minimum requirement, and if they can increase this to four without getting injured they will undoubtedly improve faster. Advanced to elite climbers (5.12 to 5.14) will need to climb up to five or even six days to keep making gains, but not all year round and only at the high point of training phases. The way to do this is to cycle the intensity of your consecutive days on: for example, hard day (possibly strength-based), then a medium day (power-endurance based), then a light day (stamina-based), and finally a rest day. Repeat.
If you are really keen to get strong, then you can make great improvements using a day-on day-off structure. When it comes to gaining strength, it is always better to maximize the quality of rest and training rather than the quantity. Developing endurance is simply a matter of putting the time in. A two-days-on/one-day-off schedule works well, or even better, three-on/one-off.
At the beginning of the training season you would be ill-advised to try to do four or five days a week, as your body simply won’t be prepared. However, you can work towards increasing the number of days as you adjust progressively to the workload. Coaches refer to this as developing the fitness to train. Finally, as the climbing season or an important trip approaches, you can start to taper off and reduce the number of days on per week in order to rest and peak.
If you really can’t be bothered to plan your training properly, then a good combination for a mid-grade climber is bouldering and strength work on day one, routes and endurance on day two, and rest on day three. Then repeat.