This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 236 (August 2016).
The concept of pacing yourself for an entire year’s climbing can be
daunting—most of us are challenged by a weekly schedule, let alone one encompassing 365 days.
The best approach is to push forward in waves, with periods of hard climbing followed by periods where you ease off the gas. It also pays to switch styles: for example, from sport to trad or from slabs to cracks. Stick with a theme or climbing style for long enough to realize improvements, then change before you stagnate. Take some time off, too, to sustain your motivation. Challenges to expect along the way will include maintaining your strength and productivity, keeping up with supportive conditioning to avoid injury, and avoiding burnout.
CLIMBING AND REST-DAY SEQUENCES
It’s hard to generalize about the best approach for climbing/rest-day structure, although initially you’ll need more rest, and as fitness improves, you may be able to do more hard days consecutively. Many climbers can cope with more days on in a row when focusing on onsighting compared to redpointing (since onsighting moves are less powerful and you may chew up less skin). For onsighting, the sequence of climbing days to rest days will depend on how hard you push yourself, how long your days are, how steep the routes are and so on. A good rule of thumb is to go for a smaller number of harder routes on the first day, followed by an easier mileage day. The third day, you can rest, or as fitness improves you may even be able to go back to hard routes because the second day essentially serves as active rest. For redpointing, avoid going day-on-day-off on the project until you either do it or run out of psyche. Instead, spend a day on it, then do a day of onsighting to maintain your fitness and motivation.
Rest-day recovery sessions are the key to surviving the rigors of long trips. Start with a run and follow it with some stretching and a suspension/TRX session (go easy if you’re doing steep climbing the next day). Move on to some rubber-band finger-extensions (using Metolius or Power fingers devices) to work your forearm extensors, and then some shoulder work with stretch-bands (Therabands). Finish with some self-massage using a foam roller and massage balls.
If the type of climbing you’re doing at a given point in the trip is endurance- based (e.g.: trad or sport onsighting), try to use a portable hangboard at least two or three times a week, preferably before rather than after climbing. Hang your board from whatever is handy and do deadhangs, pull-ups and leg raises or front levers as part of your warm-up. (See this column, Rock and Ice No. 235, for porta-board routines.)
Use the winter months to train and get strong for sending in the spring when conditions are optimal at most destinations. Focus on hangboard training and bouldering, as well as some suspension training (see this column, Rock and Ice No. 233) and supportive cardio work. Your endurance is likely to improve as soon as you start climbing regularly, so don’t worry about that. Your power and all-around fitness, however, can be expected to deteriorate as soon as the busy climbing season ends.
If you have been bouldering, capitalize on your strength and skill gains to transition into sport climbing. If you don’t feel powerful, ease in with some multi-pitch or trad climbing, rather than having your face rubbed in the dirt at a tough sport venue. If you’re feeling strong from bouldering but lack endurance, a redpoint project is an obvious choice, but finish each day by working out on easier routes or go onsighting the following day to build fitness.
If you were bouldering or training in the winter and sport climbing all spring, this is a lot of climbing by anyone’s standards. When temperatures
rise, consider stepping back so you don’t burn out. One tactic is to ease off or switch to trad; the height of summer is a great time for high, shady
mountain crags or sea cliffs. Alternatively, if you’re ever going to take a complete break for a week or two, this time is the most logical.
Theoretically, autumn should be the best time for hard sending, especially if it’s the final round of your year’s sabbatical and you are
sitting on a load of climbing experience. The only thing that may scupper the program is if you’ve gradually lost power throughout the year without
realizing it. If so, a stint of bouldering or a few hangboard top-up sessions should prevent you from getting shut down by the intensity of hard
Neil Gresham has been training and coaching for two decades. In 2001, he made the second ascent of Equilibrium (E10 7a/5.14X) on Peak District gritstone, and last year established Freakshow (8c/5.14b) at Kilnsey, also in the U.K. On October 13, 2016 he made the first ascent of Sabotage—an 8c+ (5.14c) extension to Predator (8b/5.13d) at Malham Cave, North Yorkshire, England. Sabotage is Gresham’s first climb of the grade.