The pressure the progressing climber feels to improve often stands in the way of sitting down and resting. Still, reduced volume and time under tension is not only crucial to progression, but necessary for injury prevention. The deload week is essential
What is a training cycle?
In climbing, high performance athletes train in cycles. Boulderers will often begin with a strength cycle before moving into a power cycle. Route climbers, by comparison, will do a strength cycle, followed by a power cycle, and conclude in an endurance cycle. Some route climbers may even begin with endurance before strength if they are new to training.
The reason we do not begin with a power cycle is that it pays to have structures in place that will resist the high tension of power training. Jumping into weighted pull ups, campus board, or MoonBoard without having spent time building strong muscles throughout the upper body will force the tension onto the tendons and ligaments. While injured muscles hurt, injured tendons and ligaments can take over half a year to heal.
Ensuring that we have spent time building strength to support the forthcoming power training is important. How long is a cycle? As there are many body types, many climbers have many different views. Most describe cycles in three-week to four-week blocks. In a three-week block, the third week is reserved for deload. In a four-week block, the fourth week is reserved for deload. The six-week strength and power cycle, two three-week blocks, with two deload weeks on each third week is considered one of the quickest plateau smashing approaches to progression.
As mentioned above, the six-week strength and power cycle can break plateaus. Although many folks plateau for many reasons, the deload week will help those who plateau because of exhaustion. In climbing, many push hard for too long in their training. Newer climbers fear regression.
When you begin climbing, taking time off feels like the recipe for regression. This is how many enter their plateaus. Due to their determination to progress, newer climbers can abstain from rest and train harder and harder. Eventually, they equalize to this level of stress and begin to feel recovery on their rest days. This can provide a frustrating confirmation bias.
Climbers will feel like they are recovering on their rest days, and yet still feel incapable of progression. They don’t realize their level of fatigue. The deload week serves to fix this problem by allowing the athlete the space to recover. Fatigue does not make you stronger until you rest.
How to Deload
Taking time away from climbing is not as scary as it sounds. To begin, you are not actually taking time away from the sport. Instead, you simply climb less on your normal training days.
The main concept behind deload is reducing training volume by 50%. This oversimplification is a good place to start. You will climb the same number of sessions as before, but reduce the time spent climbing and training by half.
With that established, take a deeper look at the point of deloading. You have taken time off climbing to rest and become stronger. There remain elements crucial to progression in your deload week’s training. While reducing volume is crucial, reducing the time spent at peak intensity is just as important. Still, you must reach that peak intensity.
For climbers in the V0-V8 range, it is recommended that you warm up to the point of projecting. Once you can pull sufficiently strong attempts on your project, begin to cool down. We are hoping to approach peak intensity, but we do not wish to sustain it. Even if we try and reduce our session duration by 50%, recovery will only occur if we also reduce intensity. If you wish to climb as much of the reset as possible, climb mindful attempts with lots of rest. You should leave the gym only having just begun to break a sweat.
Hangboarding on Deload
For those who do a lot of off-the-wall training, the same concept applies. If you usually hangboard, train weighted pull ups, dead-lift, or complete other forms of off the wall training, maintain the exercises but reduce the sets. For hangboarding, warm up until you approach your max. Whether that means hanging a small edge, completing a difficult one-arm hang, or completing a weighted hang, hit your maximum and stop. We want to remind our fingers of peak intensity, while allowing them the space to recover.