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Intermediate Programming

In Uncategorized | on March, 17, 2012 | by

It’s easy to get the most out of your regularly scheduled climbing as an intermediate climber. In fact, this deliberate approach of using the climbing you are already doing IS TRAINING!  It’s all the “training” you’ll ever need to do as an intermediate climber.

The one simple thing that most climbers are missing for maintaining steady progress after they are no longer a “beginner” is comprising the week’s climbing schedule into one Heavy, one Medium and one Light climbing session. It’s really as easy as that. There are many variations (more days per week/less days per week/or more bouldering), but with this one simple thing in mind, much of the frustration surrounding improvement at the intermediate level can be remedied.

This weekly rhythm of loading and unloading is precisely how one takes advantage of the body’s hormonal response to stress as an intermediate climber.

Suppressing anabolic hormones such as testosterone with one Heavy session per week is what triggers the endocrine system to Super Compensate… to buffer itself from stress similar in intensity in the future. It takes more of a concerted effort than that of a beginner, because the body is much more conditioned to the activity of climbing. It needs to be “encouraged” to adapt. The system also needs to recover, but because of the improved level of  conditioning as a climber, climbing (and climbing hard!) does not necessarily interfere with the body’s return to hormonal equilibrium. Tapering the volume you climb at 100% of your ability is how you navigate the unloading part.

The words “Medium” and “Light” refer only to the amount (or volume) one climbs at 100% of their ability. During a training cycle, the climber is only interested in tracking the amount of work they are doing at their limit. No other climbing needs to be recorded or remembered because no other kind of climbing stimulates an increase in one’s ability.

Unfrequented or unfamiliar terrain is essentially what any climber who wishes to focus on technique has to do. There is no way to “practice” technique on terrain that you are comfortable on (familiar or unfamiliar) because no technique is developed. An important distinction on the topic of technique is that during the intermediate phase of development many climbers do neglect climbing on a wide variety of terrain. For progress not to be unnecessarily impeded later down the road in the advanced stages, it’s important to have exposure to many different kinds of terrain… if not different styles of climbing.

So no matter what your specific goals are relative to your desire to improve, it’s climbing at your limit that has the greatest potential for generating an adaptive response. Which is the goal of any sensible training program. The first week’s schedule for a route climber that consistently climbs 5.10 but who only periodically climbs into the mid 5.11 range may look something like…

Sunday: 5.11a-5.11b-5.11b-5.11c-5.11c   Tuesday: 5.11a-5.11b-5.11c   Thursday: 5.11b

The warm up sequence before climbing at intensity is not listed. It could be 5.9-5.10a-5.10c (on any of these given days), it does not matter. What is important is to warm up on different climbs in preparation for the day’s training load by exercising one’s ability to on-sight… possibly falling on one of the last warm ups. The second week in our example would then change slightly to…

Sunday: 5.11b-5.11b-5.11c-5.11c-5.11d   Tuesday: 5.11c-5.11c-5.11d   Thursday: 5.11c

The hardest part for most climbers who begin to train effectively is the significant increase in volume they are climbing at their limit. Often, the rhythm for many climbers is to warm up and try something “hard” but then quickly back off in intensity. This method works as a beginner climber (or for a “lifestyle” climber who is not TRAINING) but the intermediate climber needs something more substantial to deliver a legitimate stress response to the body’s endocrine system. It’s hard, and there is a lot of failure along the way. As long as there is progress though (especially on the more difficult routes), then you have chosen well. You will surely be closing the gap between where you are, and where you want to be. The third week…

Sunday: 5.11b-5.11c-5.11c-5.11d-5.11d   Tuesday: 5.11c-5.11d-5.11d   Thursday: 5.11d

You’ll notice that the way the routes are listed, there is a minimum of 3 different routes being attempted on the Heavy Day (listed as Sunday in our example). Two different routes are attempted on the Medium Day and only one route is listed for the Light Day. Once a route has been successfully climbed, it is replaced by a new climb at the same or greater intensity to insure the greatest increase in one’s ability. Onto the fourth week…

Sunday: 5.11c-5.11c-5.11d-5.11d-5.12a   Tuesday: 5.11d-5.11d-5.12a   Thursday: 5.12a

The exposure to so much climbing at one’s difficulty is mentally taxing. I have found through both my personal experience and those that I have worked with, that six weeks is the maximum time span for the training cycle to be productive. The six week marker helps to keep not only the motivation levels healthy but the body too. You’ll need both entities intact and ready to go for the next six week cycle, so it’s time to begin to back off, allowing everything to gel into a new place… the new level of ability. The fifth week…

Sunday: 5.11c-5.11d-5.12a   Tuesday: 5.11d-5.12a   Thursday: 5.12a

Essentially, we have backed off to two medium days followed by one light day. For those of you who are questioning whether the body is truly getting the rest it needs or not (because of climbing at 100% of your ability), simply does not appreciate how resilient the human body is. It’s not like you are new to the activity of climbing. It’s been years of climbing now, and there is reason you may not be climbing at the level you feel you should. It’s one of two things: 1) You have never allowed your body to be properly rested EACH and every week as you have on this schedule or 2) The climbing you have been doing has not properly stressed your body enough to invoke changes at the deepest level we are currently aware of… the subtle hormonal fluctuations indicative of a positive or negative growth index.

Trust me, you’re fine. The final week of the training cycle is the sixth week…

Sunday: 5.11d-5.12a   Wednesday: 5.12a

This is the week to be respected. If you’re an addict like me, you’ll be chomping at the bit to get back out on the rock or back in the gym because you feel great… and I’m sure you do! But whether you are preparing for another training cycle or ready to go on a long road trip, you can’t argue with the wisdom that in either case you’ll want to be 110% sure that ALL Residual Fatigue has vacated the system. This way you will be able to go into the next training cycle with confidence and the motivation necessary to get the most out of it.


And if it’s that road trip you’ve been dreaming about for the last several months… well, you’re completely knitted up and more than ready to face whatever it is that inspires you along the way. Good luck!