Outdoor Climbing Season: How to make the most of it and more!
If you want to hear directly from an elite climber about how to make the best of your outdoor climbing, that isn’t me! I am totally an intermediate climber (as defined by Eric Horst, lol) and not a pro athlete! I teach high school English, I am almost 40, I am almost 5’4″, and as a climber, I am building a base of 5.11 outdoor sport climbs to maybe get me to 5.12. BUT, just because I am not an elite climber doesn’t mean that I can’t take some advice from pros and apply it to myself with some consistency and fidelity and see where it takes me.
For me, there is a lot that goes into an outdoor climbing season that isn’t climbing. It isn’t just the climbs you put up outside. It is the recovery, the nutrition, the antagonistic training, the mental training, the planning and preparation, the problem solving, and of course, remembering why you are there out there climbing rocks in the first place.
I’ve absorbed a good bit of training advice from a couple of different pros, and started applying it to myself. Doing so has made for one of the most fun and productive outdoor climbing seasons I have ever had! TBH, I am climbing better at 39, than I did at 29. So, I want to share with you a few tips and strategies I learned from some pros, that I was able to apply to my, very normal and very intermediate, climbing ‘career.’
Timing your Best Outdoor Climbing Season: Planning and Training
While you can certainly just go climb more often to get stronger. I honestly enjoy having a slightly more organized plan. Having direction and structure just works better for me. This season, my boyfriend and I started loosely using the 4-3-2-1 training schedule that Eric Horst talks about in his book Training For Climbing.
While reading his book, it was comical how many times I was reminded that I am, at best an “intermediate climber” aspiring to be an “advanced intermediate climber.” It was like every 3 pages. Lol. Not that I mind, but it is a bit comical for sure. Anyway.
So, planning with the 4, 3, 2, 1 training schedule. You basically start it 10 weeks out from your trip. We bouldered hard for 4 weeks, then did hard top tope repeats for 3 weeks, then lead hard for 2 weeks, then tapered. (Side note: The first 4 weeks was supposed to be volume to build endurance, but, oh well.) Going into the gym with this direction was a game changer. I used to leave the gym with heavy and worked forearms, but going into the gym with this structured plan, we were leaving the gym with a new kind of fatigue. I felt it in my hands. It felt good. Sometimes we would take 3 days off, just to be sure that our hands would be 100% recovered from each sesh.
Side note: we climb at Reach Climbing and Fitness just outside Philadelphia. Of the 10 climbing gyms I have ever been to in my life, it is by far the best!
Summer Outdoor Climbing: jump in lakes, build mileage, fun times only!
My fall climbing season this year started in the summer, and my summer trip gave me a couple of things I didn’t know I needed.
It was really unique for two reasons. First, I didn’t go with my boyfriend. When we are on climbing trips together, I just don’t wear the pants! I don’t look at maps much, I don’t pick out climbs, I hang fewer draws. But, going solo with other friends, well, I was kind of more on my own! I didn’t know I needed this independent boost of confidence! Here is a post I wrote about the little bit of extra independence I felt going on a climbing trip without my boyfriend.
The second unique thing about my summer trip was that it was super low key, and I needed low key outdoor climbing. I am almost always nervous about leading outside, and the NRG is a bit notorious for run out climbs, so I can get anxiety leading up to a NRG trip. Having a trip where we were just focused on leading a 5.6, 5.7, 5.8 climbs and just enjoying the time outside was great for my head. Here is a post about enjoying that low key easy going summer climbing trip! Summer 2021, I definitely want to do the same, just get out and climb a bunch of 5.8, 5.9, 5.10s just to log time on real rock and have fun.
Mental Training and Finding Purpose
Mental training and identifying your purpose in climbing is as important as physical training in climbing. There are two main reasons why mental training is as important as physical training. First, a solid foundation for your mental training starts with knowing your purpose in climbing. If your purpose in climbing is a grade or a climb, then that is a very superficial and thin foundation. Your purpose for getting out has to go deeper. I am sure that your love for climbing and the outdoors does go deeper, you just can’t let that foundation be forgotten, which can easily happen.
Second, you have to control what goes on in your head when you begin to struggle on a climb with the beta or strength required for a move. If you haven’t done some mental prep for this situation, it could get quite ugly upstairs. You don’t want a bunch of negative self talk noodling around in your head, when you should be thinking about strategy and technique.
Problem Solving: Be Ready to Learn
Achieving harder grades in outdoor climbing is not just about getting stronger. It is about learning new skills and overcoming weaknesses. With each new outdoor climbing season comes new climbing goals. With each new goal comes new skills that you need to learn as well as new weaknesses to train! This ties into mental training. When you run into those skills and weaknesses, you have to be mentally ready to unpack whatever it is that you need to learn to achieve those goals.
When you can’t pull through a crux sequence with good technique, or at all, or when you fall off a climb you want to send that is at your limit, yelling or swearing or just feeling bad about yourself and your ability gets you no where. You have to think and learn. Thinking and learning will get you there. Do you need to climb faster or rest longer? Or maybe you need to use your feet better? Do your friends use different beta your should try or maybe you need to invent your own beta? Do you need to memorize a sequence? Personally, this climbing season is not even over and I have definitely had my fair share of lessons learned!
I thought that this season I could maybe try to climb 5.12. I started doing a lot of resistance training during Covid lockdown, and when my climbing gym finally opened back up and my endurance came back, I actually felt stronger! The consistent resistance training had really helped me. I learned a ton with just taking my first baby step into experimenting at this new level of difficulty for me.
Making your best Outdoor Climbing Season: This season AND next!
One thing I learned I was missing in my attempt to try 5.12 outside was a foundation. Ha! Seems so obvious! So, in his book Climbing 5.12, Horst says that if you don’t have a foundational pyramid of routes, you probably won’t succeed at new grades. I think he is right. Lol. So, I am building a pyramid. It isn’t done for the season, as we will still hit the RRG for a week over Thanksgiving. Hoping to tick off an 11.b/c!
So, my 2020 climbing adventures are not over yet! When 2020 comes to a close, I will be in the final stretch of my 30s. I turn 40 next November, and I’m going to try… to climb 5.12… I say this with some fear and insecurity, but I’ll see how it goes! lol! If you want to check out my plan to try to reach this lofty goal, check out my post here!
Game Changing Climbing Resources
Again, I am not a professional athlete or elite climber, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t take advice from elites and pros to apply to my own training! These resources have been inspiring game changers for me.
Thrive Fitness is a body weight resistance training program for endurance athletes. THe program is designed to build muscle strength and power without muscle mass gains. Perfect for an endurance athlete who wants to be strong and not bulky. I use this resistance training program when I am in a 4, 3, 2, 1 training phase for climbing!
These are the same book. One is a Kindle version! This book covers it all. Injury prevention, antagonistic training, recovery, tracking progress, more. Horst couldn’t have been more thorough.
Thinner, Leaner, Stronger is a heavy weight resistance training program that I use when I am not leading up to a climbing trip. As a female athlete trying to get stronger, I can use a little bit of extra muscle mass! This book also talks a lot about nutrition, bulking, maintaining, cutting, it has it all!