Mantling the Plateau

In the sporting world, rock climbing seems to exist in a vacuum. Practices and principles commonly accepted in the more mainstream sporting arenas are largely absent in your climbing gym or down at your local crag. Ask any climber to list their “required gear” for a trip to the local crag, climbing gym or bouldering cave and expect to hear answers like harness, rope, chalk bag, shoes, mat, belay device and possibly coffee. These items are a given, however any serious climber will likely also name something not usually found on that list: a notebook. Most competitive athletes in all other sports record their training sessions in some form or another in order to review performances, identify areas for improvement and plan a strategy for future workouts.

A notebook, or some other form of training log, is critical to the development and success of any ambitious climber. If nothing else, it can identify areas of weakness in your climbing game or illuminate any bad training habits you may not realize you have (like climbing the same grade all day, every day). If your goal is to get stronger and climb harder grades, an indoor climbing gym is a highly effective way to maximize your workout time for the most gains possible, when used wisely. Make no mistake about it; if all you do in the gym is trade off climbing and belaying on the same grades every day (can you produce a to-scale drawing of your regular routes?) you are not getting the most out of your time!

The biggest danger the absence of a training log presents is the tendency for climbers to come in to the gym and do the same routines day in and day out. This is all but guaranteed to bring you rapidly to a performance plateau! If this sounds like you, utilize a personal log to track and quantify the work you’ve done and develop a strategy to break through. This is as simple as:

  1. Writing down your specific goals (a grade you want to move up to in X amount of time, specific routes you want to complete or improve at, competitions you wish to enter, etc.)
  2. Recording your daily climbing sessions (duration of time spent climbing [not socializing/belaying!], specific routes climbed and notes for your performance on each route [did you figure out a toe-hook to stabilize you for the crux? Find a better rest spot before that difficult clip? Etc])
  3. After a week of recording your sessions, you should have enough information to write up a plan for improvement—perhaps work on strength on Mondays (incorporating lock-off pull-ups, core exercises and hangboard sessions), focus on endurance on Wendesdays (climb/downclimb laps on routes 1-3 grades below your ability level or find a top-rope where you can do back-to-back climbs of descending difficulty without having to untie, trading off the belay every 3-4 climbs), and project your target routes or climbs one grade above your ability level on Fridays

You can round this out by adding notes about how you were feeling that day going into the gym then how you feel following your session. This will give you a good idea of how hard your sessions are and whether or not you should be easing off or stepping things up. For the complete picture, record how much sleep you managed the night before as well as how your nutrition has been (the relation between the types of food you eat and your energy levels/physical performance is an eye-opener for many!). It only takes a couple of minutes to jot down these critical pieces of your performance puzzle, and often makes a profound difference in your approach to climbing (I often use the ‘memo’ app on my cell phone to jot down workout notes on-the-fly so I don’t have to carry my notebook around everywhere). Commit to a couple weeks of studious training with a climbing log and prepare to be shocked at how much faster you start improving!

Talk to one of VR’s guides or Team coaches for workout strategies, or visit our ‘systems wall’ room for cutting-edge training articles and workouts!

Steve Carroll
Vertical Rock Outdoor School