Put down the steamed broccoli and step away from that weights bar. Adrian Baxter busts the top seven myths of climbing training.
1 - Stronger is always better
Not in climbing. Absolute strength is far less relevant to climbers than relative strength to your body weight. Whilst strength in certain muscle groups is obviously beneficial, having a good strength-to-weight ratio is nearly always more important.
2 - You need to be able to do 100 consecutive pull-ups
Big biceps will only get you so far in climbing, on most routes good technique, finger strength and endurance will be the defining factors. Two words: Steve McClure. I rest my case.
3 - Adam Ondra hasn’t had a rest day in six years
Whilst it’s true that professional athletes might well not have a rest day for over 30 days, that doesn’t mean they’re training the same fitness or muscle group every day. They’re still human; they’d literally fall apart. They will follow strict guidelines of what, how much and how often to train. They will constantly be going through cycles of different exercises and fitnesses to avoid overtraining certain muscle groups and get the ideal amount of recovery.
4 - Warming up is a waste of good training time
Good try. Sorry, a good warm-up prior to climbing has been proven to actually allow you to train for longer at a higher level, together with increasing the speed of muscle contraction, increasing the economy of movement and increasing the range of motion in joints.
5 - Stretching for an hour before climbing is essential
There is some truth in this myth, but only if you actually get your stretches right. Research now suggests that static stretching prior to exercise can actually reduce strength during performance by over 20%. However, dynamic stretching can improve the speed and even strength of contractions. Get it right and you’ll crank.
6 - But climbing’s different, it’s not a sport
Although climbing is highly technical and can be hugely psychologically demanding, it’s still based on fundamental sports science principles. Until very recently the climbing world has been oblivious to this, but you only need to compare the grade of a World Cup final route in 1990 (F7c+) to what it is today (F8c/+) to understand what effect taking heed of these principles has had.
7 - If you can still move your arms, you haven’t done enough
There’s nothing quite like leaving a training session as the (just about) living embodiment of “no pain, no gain”, only to find out the next morning that you’re injured and can’t climb for six weeks. Change your mantra to “leave with something left to give”. You’ll be far less likely to over train, reduce your chances of injury and be able to train more often.
BMC member Adrian Baxter competed in over 25 international lead-climbing competitions for Great Britain between 2000 and 2010. He has trained British Junior Team members, including Kitty Wallace, Tyler Landman and Michaela Tracy, on-sighted 8a+ and redpointed 8c. Together with Steve McClure, he’s recently released ClimbCoach: an app aiming to help you train more effectively.