Last winter I followed a basic periodized program. Now I want to take things further. I’m clear on the idea of breaking your training up into microcycles and prioritizing them toward either strength or endurance. Most people agree that you shouldn’t follow the same program every year. Can you recommend some other structure tips?
—Tim Cook | Vancouver, Canada
The first step is to plan a macrocycle (a long-term program of three to six months, which consists of microcycles usually between three and six weeks each). Every macrocycle should start with high-volume endurance work, before moving on to strength training and then concluding with power-endurance to tie things together, presuming that you are training for sport climbing.
The next step is to lay down the critical relationship between intensity (move /route difficulty) and extent (number of moves/routes/problems) throughout the course of each microcycle. If a microcycle is prioritized toward strength, then you will conduct a training ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 strength-to-endurance workouts and vice versa for an endurance-prioritized microcycle. Whether it is a strength- or an endurance-prioritized microcycle, it should always commence with high-extent/low-intensity work and move toward high-intensity/low-extent work as the phase progresses. In the case of endurance microcycles, for example, you should always start with sets of triple laps on routes at the gym, or up-down-ups and long circuits of 70 to 100 moves. As the weeks progress, move on to double laps on routes and mid-length circuits of 40 to 70 moves, before hitting a climax for the phase on harder single routes and shorter circuits of 20 to 40 moves. This concept is well-known for endurance training but perhaps less commonly practiced when it comes to strength/power.
For strength work, your initial bouldering sessions should be mileage-based, where you will emphasize completing 20 or 30 mid-grade problems. Over the course of a few weeks, you then gradually reduce the number of problems and make them harder until you end the phase by working projects that are beyond your capability. This simple concept should also be reflected in your hangboard and campus sessions throughout the microcycle. Start with relatively high reps (e.g. 10 to 15) or long hang times (e.g. 10 to 15 secs.), then drop the extent and increase the intensity using a pyramid structure. Aim for 6 to 8 rep sets, or 6 to 8 sec. hangs, at the mid point in the microcycle, and finally 2 to 4 rep sets, or 2 to 4 sec. hangs at the climax of the phase. This approach will not only reduce the threat of injury by ensuring that your muscles and tendons are not pulling beyond their capability at the start of each phase, but it will ensure that healthy training stress increases progressively.
An alternative concept to experiment with is to increase the number of training days (or sessions) per week as each phase progresses. For example, the first week may only involve two light sessions; the second week, three sessions; the third week, four sessions; and the fourth week, five sessions. This way your training will move forward in waves, which gather momentum as you develop fitness to train, and the most demanding weeks are always followed by crucial recovery weeks.
This approach can be combined with the previous concept to great effect. However, be sure to allow sufficient time to progress, or you will simply fail to make your targets and be forced to spread the sessions out or ease up.