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How to Peak for Outdoor Climbing Trips

Learning how to peak for outdoor rock climbing can maximise your performance out on the rock

Professional athletes optimize their training for competitions. Depending on how they prioritize their year, different athletes will aim to peak for different events. As we saw in the run up to the Olympics, many World Cup regulars stepped back from the Series in order to peak for Tokyo. By taking a long view, they could arrive primed for the competition. This same process can be applied to rock climbing.

Figure 1 by Tudor O. Bompa PhD

What is Peaking?

Peaking is the result of setting up your yearly training for your main events. The goal is to maximize your performance by syncing your recovery with training. In bouldering we aim to maximise power and in lead a person may aim to maximise power, endurance, or power endurance depending on the route and their innate abilities.

Step 1 – Schedule

Your results will benefit from setting a schedule with your year’s main events. For competition climbers, this may look like World Cups, while outdoor climbers will focus on their bigger trips. We schedule our trips in advance so that we can better optimise our training.

With our peak points identified, we can break our year into training blocks. We can call these blocks microcycles. These will differ based on the number of trips you plan on taking. Let’s presume that you have a perfect schedule.

  • January 1 – January 14: Bishop
  • June 15 – June 30: Squamish

These trips fall six months from one another and allow the climber all of the time in the world to optimise.

Let’s presume we’re bouldering in both Bishop and Squamish and so we are optimizing for power. Our goal will be full recovery and optimal power on the first days of our trips.

Longer cycles allow for better training results. Training, according to Tudor O. Bompa PhD, “is a complex process organized and planned over various phases and implemented sequentially.” Read Bompa’s excellent article here.

Peaking occurs before the transition phase’s drop in performance, as shown in Figure 1. Trying to extend peak conditioning over the long term is dangerous as peaking is unsustainable. Strength and conditioning builds your base to resist the stress of the high-performance phase, but the high-performance phase cannot lift your base by itself.

Maintaining the high-performance phase will increase the pressure on your ligaments and often produces injuries.

Step 2 – Pre-season

“An inability to cope with a high volume of work means that high-performance expectations are groundless.”

The strength and conditioning phase, or the pre-season phase of your peaking schedule, will necessarily include volume. In bouldering, maintain volume in climbing over the long term often leads to injury.

Avoiding injury is essential to the pre-season, and finding less-finger intensive exercises can be a good way to break up the training. Adam Ondra said it is better to climb for one hour a day, four days in a row, than to climb for four hours in a single session. This statement is as anecdotal as any other, so take it with a grain of salt, but a single hour session optimizes the amount of power the body has. As such, it restrains the climber from trying hard after their form begins to break down.

Although few will have the time to hit the gym with this consistency and frequency over such a large number of consecutive days, training with your fingers in mind can increase the strength gains in the long term. Determining the other portions of your body that need strengthening, and focusing on them, can help increase your body’s ability to perform without over-tiring the fingers.

With all of that said, Alex Megos has also said that more is more, in training, so long as you remain injury free. This offers climbers who are particularly in tune with their bodies space to push themselves further. For those that can, it works. Britain’s Aidan Roberts endured a months long training block with upwards of 25-hours-a-week of training. In doing so, he attained incredible strength, though even he admitted that he was lucky to not get injured.

The training itself will follow three or four week blocks, built around a steady increase in load. Within these blocks, athletes increase the load before resting in the third block. Intensity is maintained in the last week of these blocks, but volume drops to facilitate better recovery.

Step 3 – The Competitive Phase

As shown in Figure 2, the first three microcycles will increase the load as described in the previous section. The last two micro-cycles will see a progressive unloading of the program. The goal of this is to reach a level of supercompensation before the trip.

Figure 2 by Tudor O. Bompa PhD

“Supercompensation,” says Bompa, “refers to the effects of work and regeneration on the individual, as a biological foundation for physical and psychological arousal for the main competition of the year.” It pairs maximal recovery with maximal performance in preparation for peaking.

Correctly unloading is essential for peaking and will take great consideration. Although the load will decrease, the increasing strength of the athlete will allow for greater and greater force generation from the athlete to the wall. As the load reduces, the intensity will increase through recovery. This will feel amazing, but it is also worth watching. It is risky to over pull in the deload phase.

Step 4 – Peaking

Once you have unloaded from the fifth micro-cycle, your trip will begin. Warm into the style of the area, when you arrive, but recognize that peaking occurs over the span of days. Try the harder projects earlier.

Step 5 – Transition

Recovery after peaking is essential and allowing space for your body to so is wise. Wait until your body and mind want to start training again. You have plenty of time until your next big trip.