I am referring to systematic strength and conditioning training which does not involve a wall or rock. I have been a serious climber for about 5 years now and I am often surprised at the spontaneous approach many recreational climbers take to training. In the athletic performance world, we refer to this as strength and conditioning or physiological training to improve performance.
In my 5 years of climbing I have been surprised to see how unstructured apparently good technical climbers are when it comes to their physical preparation.
Physiological training to improve performance
Rather than taking a systematic approach to their training I see half hearted attempts to squeeze in a few pull ups or a poorly executed long lever on the gymnastic rings at the end of a climbing session. I often look over and wonder why they bother and don’t just continue climbing for the final 20 minutes of their session or spend that time stretching. This mindless activity I think is done out of desperation because they are unsure what to do. Now these guys and girls are keen climbers, climbing 2- 3 time per week and have probably been climbing for over three years.
So why is this common place in recreational climbing and not in other recreational sports such as football or rugby where it the norm to engage in physical training to maintain and improve their fitness for their sport. Is it because elite climbers give the impression that they don’t need to train to climb ? Is it because may accomplished climbers and climbing instructors down play physical conditioning?
Or is it because there is this peculiar social norm among climbers that its cool not to care about training and climbing is enough to get better at climbing? I think so!
A sloppy and un-systematic approach to training
This is why I think many recreational climbers adopt a sloppy, un-systematic approach to their training. This approach is adopted early on in their climbing careers and many are never presented with a systematic approach to improve their climbing.Well, the impression of the happy go lucky elite climber is a myth. The truth is that behind all great climbers there is a strength and conditioning programme, and there is a very selective few who don’t engaged in regular strength and conditioning training. Although it is not cool or news worthy, most are doing it. For the few that don’t, and this will be a small minority. They will benefit from favourable circumstances which most recreational climbers don’t. Firstly, they may have started climbing or gymnastics when they were children and so now have the finger strength of Hercules because their bodies have developed robustness during these formative years.Or they have other genetic gifts bestowed upon them by their parents which mean they have superior flexibility or an obscene strength to weight ratio. Or others may just have a nomadic lifestyle which allows them the time to refine their skills and strength on the rock or climbing wall when most of us are at work.
So the truth of the matter is that all but a few elite climbers don’t train hard in private. It is climbing folk law and an illusion of not needing to train and condition ones self off the wall to improve your climbing. This down playing of strength and conditioning is probably why most recreational climbers apply a spontaneous and unsystematic approach to their climbing. All climbers regardless of their grade can benefit from time efficient and systematic training to improve their grades and to achieve similar results as the professionals.
Uzo Ehiogu is the Founder of Inside Edge Physiotherapy. He is a Specialist Physiotherapist, Strength and Conditioning Coach and a climber.
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