Monday, October 24, 2016

Climbing Training Fall 2016 - Conjugate Periodized Energy Systems

My family and I are moving to Spain on January 1st for 4 months to live and sport-climb. We couldn't be any more excited. My wife and I are currently in the midst of our training programs gearing up for this trip. Our first stop will be in Chulilla (for at least a month), a small village surrounded by enduro limestone pitches situated about 30 mins from the 3rd largest city in Spain, Valencia.

Chulilla, Spain

The double sided horse-shoe shaped canyon holds thousands of pitches and starts a 5 min walk from our apartment.

Pinch me

I have been training for climbing in varying consistency for about the last 8 years, (but more so for the last five years coinciding with my wife's first pregnancy and then the birth of my oldest daughter Ayla Jo). I feel like it took these five years for me to even learn how start to training effectively and efficiently. (Note: training for five years does not mean I got stronger! I began training in that crazy time in a new parent's life where they get real weak, discouraged from climbing, and some quit the sport. Performance climbing is a demanding sport even more so as you get older and as even more so once you have kids. Until about the last year I simply was able to maintain my climbing performance through the thick and thin times of parenthood. Often I was banging my head against the hangboard for weeks at a time only to get thwarted in any type of performance phase by sick kids, limited time, limited sleep, weather, poor programming, not enough time on the rock, etc. At times it was really discouraging! But I kept my head up (and down on the training grindstone) knowing that simply trying to maintain at any level was important and that life would get easier and I would eventually make some gains. Finally, that time is starting to come.).

Sparkly shoe repeater sets.

The biggest game changer for me in my training for climbing was building my own home gym last December (the L-Town Climbing Dojo) complete with Moonboard, Vertical warm-up/ARCing wall, Campus board, Hangboards, Gymnastic Rings, and Rock Rings. The ability to get a work-out in at home, while my girls are napping, after they've gone to sleep, before they get up or I go to work, after work, or simply with them has been paramount for me to continue to progress in climbing with my full time job, family life, and non-profit volunteering. It's dusty, dirty, cramped (eveyone blasts their head into the campus board at some point), floods during big rain and snowmelt, leaks, gets hot, gets cold...  I fucking love it!

Matty Van Biene introducing my girls to the darkside

The Main Event: modified Moonboard with supplementary jugs

ARC Wall on the L with screw on jibs/holds

Do u even Campus bro?

Hangboard zone with pulley eyebolts, gymnastic rings, rock rings (for weighted pull-ups). 

Kid Wall (we build crushers here)

I have experimented with various training programs and protocols, most extensively with the Anderson Brothers Rock Prodigy Training Program and they're book the Rock Climbers Training Manual. While this program is no doubt a very effective periodized program to produce peak performance approx 3-4 times/year I felt like for me it had some short-comings so I began to seek out different programs.

Mark Anderson taking down his hardest redpoint to date: Shadowboxing, 14d. These guys are super inspiring bone-crushing dads with full time jobs.
I recommend reading their book, following their programs and checking out their website.

This fall I am following a Conjugate Periodized Energy Systems training program based off of UK sport-climber Alex Barrows online training PDF "Training for Sport Climbing." Alex is a prodigy of Brit Tom Randall, who I feel is perhaps at the forefront of climbing training when it comes to data analysis, strength/weakness deficiency evaluation, and energy system conjugate periodization. Already I've had great results with this program and I gotta say, I think these Brits are really on to something.

Alex Barrows 

Tom Randall

What I like about it compared to the Anderson's Brother's*:

  • More movement, less hangboarding. I am clearly still working on my 10,000 hours of practice for the sport and putting hard movement aside for 4-8 weeks at a time during the ARCing and Hangboarding phases just doesn't seem efficient or appropriate for an intermediate climber. 
  • I did not like that I would get strong on the hangboard or powerful during my bouldering phases and then put these aside for weeks to months revisiting them only during the next cycle. These power and strength gains are hard-earned and should at least be maintained at all times. Likewise, endurance gains made during the power endurance and performance phases are also not maintained for weeks to months until the next cycle. The conjugate periodized program focus's on one to two climbing facets but at the same time maintains others. 
  • It focus's on strength and power throughout all facets of the program which I agree is the most important trainable skill/trait for rock climbing.
  • The conjugate style or periodization differs from the Anderson Brothers in the ability to maintain a somehwhat high level of performance for longer or more frequent periods of time during the cycle of throughout the year (though perhaps at the costs of a less highly peaked performance period). The higher the peak the greater the valley.
  • Enduro 40m limestone pitches are about as far out of my granite crimping forte as it gets. I know I will need "fitness"  like never before and I think these guy's approach it in a very systematic and trainable manner (not that the Anderson' brothers didn't). The Anderson Brothers main form of high-end endurance training is the linked bouldering circuit which is super effective and very sport specific. This new program includes that exercise but also adds in a few others for variety and undulation in training (which I think is important). 
*It sounds like from the Anderson Brothers most recent podcast (linked below) that they are addressing many of my criticisms listed above. I'm very eager to see the tweaks they make in their programming.

I recommend that everyone interested in this stuff read Alex's full PDF that is linked below.


And in case any of your are too lazy to motivate to train, i'm gonna let CT get on ya:


  1. It's inspiring to see that training can bring one out of various climbing funks. For me, the funk is one of chronic injury and as soon as the healing process, I'll be looking into various training resources. Better late than never, I suppose. As you seem to know quite a bit about this, I'll probably reread this and/or hit you up in a month or two for some ideas. BTW, I'm sure you've heard all about it but Chulilla is absolutely amazing and January is the time to go.

  2. Sounds good Drew. No Spain for you this year?

  3. Good post Sol, I think you did a great job breaking down alot of Barrow's article, there's a ton of information there.

    How many hours a week do you think your putting into the dojo?
    the whole nursing school + 2 jobs thing precludes many hours of training. How many hours a week are you training? If you had to cut something what would it be?

    Which components do you find most useful for your endurance gains?

    Are you hangboarding the same amount as previous seasons?

  4. The other issue I have is a few things barrows forgets in his paper:

    What do we do for tapering? How long is the taper?
    How long is the actual peak supposed to last?

  5. Jon,

    I'm putting in 9-16ish hours a week in the dojo over 3-5 sessions (though that's a guess and I'm not keeping track). A good session warming up well, doing some limit bouldering, a bit of hangboarding, some anaerobic or aerobic capacity work and some supplemental core and antagonist training definetly takes 3+ hours (about how long it takes one to drive to the crag and do a warm up or two..). While it's great when I'm able to do that, I dont discount the "Power Hour" where I get done what I can over 40-60 mins (Will Anglin has a great Training beta podcast where he describes his power hour).

    If I had to cut out something it would be in this particular order: performance rock climbing outside, low intensity endurance work: arcing first then aerobic capacity, aerobic power, anearobic power, and supplemental core training.

    I'm just moving into my Peak Phases of my training so I'm really just getting going on the endurance work. So far I feel I have built up my power endurance a bit simply from getting stronger and from doing the short maintenance sessions that I've programmed in thus far. Really psyched to get pumped silly here over the next 6 weeks before we embark to Spain. So far I've made big gains doing the anaerobic capacity workouts and I saw an immediate increase in my bouldering ability once I started doing them, also seeing noticable gains in aerobic capacity 3 min on, 1 min off x4 with moderate pump (usually start off on the biggest holds of my 40 degree board for a set or two then over to foot on campusing to finish up if I start to edge into terminal pump).

    I am not doing as much hangboarding as I've had in the past. That is both planned and a result of daddy life continuing to dilute my efforts (though the least it has in 4+ years). Planned: I know that 20-40m spanish limestone pitches will not require the same type of finger-strength that the crags of the PNW do (think Smith, Index, L-Town sport). Unplanned: definetly getting pretty sucked into limit bouldering on the moon board for power and strength and that is diluting my hangboarding efforts, still figuring out where to put the fingerboarding in in my sessions (right after the warm up, after the limit bouldering, day after..?). I've pretty much gone to Eva Lopez style max hangs, though I am getting in some repeaters every few weeks. I am doing at least one campus sesh a week which is pretty finger intensive and I do find the anaerobic capacity circuits to help with my finger strength. So... partly planned, partly a product of poor programming due to being a novice with this type of program. I do intend to focus a bit more on the fingerboard until we leave (and have a sick travel board to maintain fingerstrength while we're gone).

  6. I posted this original blog post on the Rock Climbers Training Manual forum and just got a few incredible responses from climber/avatar JCM who takes my synthesized info on Barrows post to the next level (and beyond) with some great info on structuring each session, each phase, transitions between each phase, and does a great job of incorporating hangboarding into his daily workouts:

    For the taper all I have is what he wrote in the article that I synthesized above. Still a major learning process for me and I think the taper will be hard. Main principle: 50% of the volume you were doing before, explosive bouldering/campusing, no capacity or arcing.

    How long will one peak... No clue. I think longer than via the RCTM. My geuss is 4 to 8 weeks if one adds in some supplemental power and finger strength. Not sure how exactly i'm going to manage my 4 month trip to Spain. We're spending the first month in Chulilla then moving to Valencia for a month. I'm thinking peformance for the month in Chulilla with perhaps a bit of bouldering or gym climbing that the 3rd or 4th week if I feel that it's necessary, then in Valencia a mix of sport and bouldering and prolly a bit of a touch up with some training. Then I think we're moving up north to Lleida for the last two months and I'll just have to see where I'm at, I do know that there is both sport and bouldering as well as a gym so I'll have to see where i'm at physically and what my goals will be for the last two months. I do know that i've spend 5 or so years with pretty limited outdoor climbing and quite a bit of training (proportionally, though not actually a high volume, the high volume work has been parenting and nursing) this is a great window for me to really drop the training and focus on all of the elements of climbing outside and GODDAMN IT, I intend to do so.

  7. You mention that during your maintenance phase you focus on the "power" elements of each system. Does that mean you solely focus on capacity during the peak training phases? Increase capacity then work on "filling the tank" so to speak during maintenance? your maintenance period during your peak performance phase? What does your weekly schedule look like?