Have you been told you need more power when climbing? Have you been told you need more endurance? What exactly does this mean, and how do you go about getting it? Below, we share two simple workouts, 4x4s and ARCing, that will give you both power and endurance.
What is Rock Climbing Power?
For rock climbing, power is your raw explosive strength. It’s the ability to make dynamic* moves or generate static movement from start to finish. It does not always mean dynamic movement, but really equating it to movement at your limit, hard moves, and generation of movement from one position to the next.
Think of high-intensity movement.
*Dynamic moves are those made with lots of continuous movement. A dynamic move looks like a monkey swinging from hold to hold, keeping momentum flowing through each position. This is contrasted to static movements which are slow and balancing. Static (meaning meaning no motion) movements are typically used when positions require highly accurate movements for small foot and handholds.
What is Rock Climbing Endurance?
Rock Climbing endurance can be defined as “low intensity” climbing with high quantity movement. Here, you’re battling pump while performing a lot of moves (70+ movements). While training for endurance, it is critical that you focus on performing a lot of moves in a high-quality and precise manner. Climbing with sloppy movements made out of desperation will only train you to perform sloppy movements.
Related Post: See the full version of the Best Rock Climbing Training Infographic Ever!
Train with intention
Now that you know the difference between power and endurance, consider your current climbing project or a recent climb that you couldn’t send, and focus your training specifically on these limitations. Analyze your project and ask “what is making me fall?” Did you fall on a long sport route? If you fell after getting pumped, but then after a brief hang on the rope you are able to easily climb the crux, then you likely need to work on your endurance. Is your project a hard limit boulder or do you struggle with the moves even when rested? Then, most likely it is a need for strength/power.
When you go climbing, climb with intention. When you’ve made the decision to train and improve your climbing, your gym sessions need to be planned out and specific to your goals. You’re missing a big opportunity to improve if you just aimlessly climb around the gym, trying route after route.
The biggest tool you have in your training, whether it’s to send your goal route or boulder, is to start each training session with a particular goal. In fact, you should approach each individual climb with an intention to train or practice something specific. Perhaps you are focusing on a particular skill, a particular move on a project, or in this case, a particular fitness objective.
Are you falling because of strength/power, or lack of endurance?
Here we will introduce you to the two climbing workouts you need to know.
- 4x4s – for power
- ARCing – for endurance
4x4s and ARCing are the most famous rock climbing workouts. They have been the baseline of rock climbing training for decades.
Rock Climbing 4x4s for Power
While truly an exercise to improve both Power and Endurance, 4x4s are excellent for improving power for both new and intermediate climbers while avoiding the high-strain, high-risk exercises of constantly climbing at your absolute limit. Since they are effective and easy to remember, 4x4s are a great and simple training tool for training at the gym.
How to perform 4x4s
- Choose 4 boulders that are within your onsight limit or below.
- Ideally, choose 4 boulders of different styles (crimps, slopers, dynamic, static, balance etc.)
- Climb each boulder once, back to back–the only rest you should take is briefly moving between boulders.
- Rest 4 minutes.
- Repeat all four boulders again.
- Rest 4 minutes, and repeat this process until you have climbed all 4 boulders, 4 times.
4x4s are easy to remember. Climb 4 boulders, rest 4 minutes, repeat 4 times.
Finding the right combination of boulders can be a challenge, because you want them to be medium difficulty–not too easy and not too hard. You should be maxed out after you finish your 4th set, but not falling off the wall. If the boulders are too hard and you’re falling less than halfway through them, switch to easier grades. If you accidentally fall at the halfway mark, pull back on, finish that boulder, and continue. If you fall again, move on to the next boulder. Don’t spend time trying to solve the boulder problem. The goal is to get your body in the mode of training for climbing power. You’ll get the maximum benefit from this workout when you find the right combination of routes that you are able to fully complete yet require you to fight hard to finish.
More from Paul Roberts: 4 Steps to Overcome Your Fear of Falling
Why 4x4s are effective
By the 3rd and 4th set for the 4×4, climbing will be difficult. This workout is designed to force you to push the body to its max through many medium difficulty movements. The short time it takes to climb four boulder routes ensures that you are able to engage your mind, as well, in controlling your movements through the high difficulty.
Rock Climbing for endurance
ARCing – Aerobic Restoration and Capillary training
One rule of thumb for endurance is that it takes two weeks to build up great endurance, and less than two weeks to lose it. There are many tactics you can use to build a solid foundation of endurance, like building bases, pyramids, diamond drills, and simply getting pumped a lot! Recently, there’s been more exploration into the physiology of rock climbing conditioning and ARCing (Aerobic Restoration and Capillary Training) is a workout that remains at the top for building long term endurance gains.
By climbing and working your muscles at a below 50% maximum (well below the level of getting pumped) for an extended amount of time, your body will adapt by building larger capillaries that can hold and move more blood. This adaptation happens slowly over weeks, months and years of training. The end result is that you can delay the pump through harder moves and a longer time climbing, because more blood flow can move through the arms. Some argue its a key to endurance while others argue it’s worthless, but the fact that it works to help condition your body is irrefutable.
How to perform an ARCing workout
Find a route you can climb that’s well below your onsight ability and won’t get you pumped. It can be difficult to judge this, but you are looking for a climb that is somewhere between 30% and 50% of your maximum. If you don’t have a partner, finding a vertical to slightly overhanging wall with a lot of holds to boulder and traverse on is another good option. The key is that you are not trying to pull hard or get a pump, so climb easy and long.
Once you have your route and have warmed up, get on the wall and climb with minimal resting positions for 15 to 40 minutes. I suggest working up to the 40 minute limit in increments, doing a set of 15 minutes one day, then returning another day to perform a set of 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes or longer.
ARCing is easy to remember: find an easy climb, climb it continuously for 15-40 minutes, practice your climbing skills.
Focus on using your feet, performing movements, and training the body position and footwork, which will keep your mind occupied on the long and monotonous easy climbing you are doing. This will help ingrain patterns and good habits in your climbing. Developing climbing skills on easy climbing will help you deploy good technique later on when climbing at your limit.
Is ARCing too boring for you?
If ARCing for 40 minutes sounds too boring, try taking those 4x4s from earlier and applying that workout to route climbing. Performing a 4×4 workout on long route climbs that are below your onsight level will help build strong pump endurance. Performing a series of climbs in a row versus the typical pattern of climb, rest, climb, rest will dramatically improve your endurance.
Stay focused on improving your weaknesses
While it is more fun to climb at your limit each session, it’s also impossible to maintain that level of exertion while avoiding injury and burn out. Runners don’t race every time they run. Basketball players don’t compete each time they pick up a basketball. While climbers are unique in their need to develop strength, endurance, skills, and mental capacity, climbers are still human. Power/strength workouts can take days to recover from to lock in the gains from the workout. Be sure to leave time to rest after a power/strength workout. ARCing may be boring, but you can perform low-intensity exercises almost every day, and they provide a great opportunity to transform climbing drills into climbing habits.
Identify your need for improvement, and climb with intention!