For busy people with kids, traveling jobs, multiple jobs, school work, or family responsibilities it can be really hard to follow the training plans laid out in most rock climbing training books. Coach Chris explains how you can break down the classic training session into bit sized chunks and see big improvements even while meeting your other obligations. (Don’t worry! it’s a lot simpler than the C++ program above;)
If you’ve ever followed a structured training regimen designed by a competent coach, then you likely trained 2-4 sessions per week that clocked in anywhere from 1-4 hours a piece (usually 2-3). The sessions were likely multifaceted, combining exercises in an efficient way to target as many areas of fitness as possible while staying within the bounds of a healthy training load and remaining mindful of between-session recovery. The sessions may have looked something like this:
- Cardio & mobility warmup 10 mins
- Boulder warmup 30 mins
- Limit boulder 60 mins
- Hangboard & mobility 30 mins
- ARC cooldown 20 mins
That’s a perfectly reasonable training session that should take around 2.5 hours (including warmup) and targets power, strength, aerobic capacity, and mobility. I’ve done many sessions just like this and they absolutely work. Just add another 2-3 similar sessions per week, and you’ve got yourself a full value training program. Easy right? Sure, provided you have 3 hours available to train 3-4 days a week and can access a facility that has all of the training equipment you need for every session.
The problem that I have with this style of programming is that it simply doesn’t suit my lifestyle. I currently live on the road, so you can forget about regular gym access. Even if I did have regular gym access, training indoors kind of defeats the purpose of being a climber bum for me. Before life on the road, I worked 5-6 days a week at a strenuous job and couldn’t bear the thought of training for 2-3 hours before or after work almost every day. I pulled days like that every now and then and they were survivable, just not sustainable. On top of that, the gym I frequented was woefully lacking in training equipment. The point is: whether it’s gym access, time commitment, or equipment availability, we don’t all have the luxury of training under ideal circumstances. Sometimes we have to figure out how to make it work, which can be–and generally is–harder than the training itself.
Enter the Chunk Program:
My less-than-elegant, pain in the ass, do-what-you-gotta-do solution to making the magic happen when life gets in the way. – Coach Chris Fornieri
The concept is simple: break up your sessions into individual workouts and do what you can, when you can. Sticking with my original example of a training session, this is what it would look like in chunk form:
- Chunk 1: Hangboard 30 mins
- Chunk 2: Limit Bouldering 60 mins
- Chunk 3: Mobility 10 mins
- Chunk 4: ARC 20 mins
Keep in mind that this is only a single session broken down, so you’d have to break the other sessions down as well and gather all the pieces before attempting to put them together (maybe “Puzzle Programs” would be a more fitting moniker…). To craft a program from chunks, you have to think about the time you have available for training, recovery windows, and equipment availability; then start plugging in chunks where you can. Let’s build a theoretical chunk program:
- Limit boulder (60 mins) – 1x
- Hangboard (30 mins) – 2x
- Mobility (10 mins) – 2x
- General Strength (60 mins) – 2x
- Anaerobic Capacity (30 mins) – 2x
- Aerobic Capacity (45 mins) – 1x
This is a pretty generic outline for a typical week in a strength cycle. Actual programs will surely differ, but this is a good estimate for a normal training load.
Time Availability example
Monday: 2 hours
Wednesday: 2 hours
Friday: 3 hours
Saturday: 5 hours
Sunday: 3 hours
This strikes me as a fair, even conservative, assumption of time available for training for an average 9-5 working person with periodic other commitments. Let’s assume that this person can get to a gym with full facilities on Friday, Sunday, and Monday; but not on Wednesday or Saturday.
Monday: Limit Boulder x0.5 & Hangboard (~1.5 hours)
Wednesday: General Strength & Mobility (~1 hour)
Friday: Limit Boulder x0.5 & Hangboard & Anaerobic Capacity (~2 hours)
Saturday: General Strength & Mobility (~1 hour)
Sunday: Anaerobic Capacity & Aerobic Capacity (~1.5 hours)
This schedule assumes the athlete’s ability to perform strength workouts at home, (if I can figure it out living in a van so can you). It provides adequate rest between high intensity workouts, and uses the athlete’s days with no available time to train, as full rest days. Notice how limit bouldering was split into halves in order to keep the volume lower so it could be followed by another high intensity workout. For athletes that have a very tight weekly schedule that makes it difficult to spread out gym-based workouts evenly throughout the week, this Chuck Programming schedule will get the job done.
Final Thoughts on Rock Climbing Chunk Programing
If you used to have a lifestyle where you could train for long periods several times per week, then Chunk Programming is a pain in the ass. It can drive you crazy trying to make everything fit in a way that allows for adequate rest and utilizes facility access optimally. If you have the option, avoiding chunk programs can make training a lot simpler. Chunk programming is for those of us with extremely hectic life circumstances, who are still motivated to get our training in and get it done right. A simpler solution for busy folk that maybe don’t care as much about getting their training perfect is to just do fewer sessions overall, but increase the volume of each session by 25-50%.
There are some hidden benefits that I’ve discovered from using chunk programs for the past few years. With so many different workouts at so many different times, I’ve had to perform a lot of warmups. I’ve become much more in tune with warmup specificity than ever before, which has allowed me to warm up more efficiently (better and more quickly) than I ever used to. Thinking about the specific stresses you’re about to put your body through and getting a proper, time-efficient warmup that targets those stresses and doesn’t waste time on others, will go on to serve you in all aspects of your climbing. Do you need to get your legs warm to hangboard? Do you need to climb before lifting weights? Getting more in tune with specific warmups that meet specific demands can only be a good thing.
Here’s the big benefit for me: sometimes it’s nice to finish a workout and not be full-body wrecked. I used to hate finishing a multi-faceted 3-hour training session and speeding off to work because it would leave me ruined the next day (and the day after). With chunk programs, recovery is a bit more pleasant. Heck, it even allows for more recreational climbing when I’m training while on a climbing trip. If I were to commit to full training sessions on the road, I’d be spending most of my time training and recovering and practically none of it climbing for fun. Chunk programs allow me to climb several times per week and still get the training I need.