“ARC” is short for Aerobic Restoration & Capillarity training. This training method was first described in the legendary Performance Rock Climbing. If you are unfamiliar with ARC training, you can get the rundown here. Many climbing periodization plans call for massive amounts of this training; as much as 90+ minutes per workout, with several workouts per week for several weeks. Considering the long, repetitive sessions coupled with relatively low intensity, its pretty much certain these workouts will become stale sooner or later.
There are some things you can do to alleviate this problem. First and foremost, evaluate how much ARC training is really appropriate for you. Some plans call for six straight weeks of exclusive ARC training, some call for none. My recommendation is that beginning climbers should do the most ARC training, perhaps as much as six weeks per training cycle (although I never did more than four weeks when I started training as a 5.11 climber). As you progress as a climber, you can gradually reduce the length of your ARC phase, assuming your technique continues to develop at a pace at least equal with that of any strength gains you experience. If technique is always your limiting factor, continue to emphasize ARC workouts. Even advanced climbers with great technique can benefit from longer ARC phases if they are training for ultra-endurance-oriented climbs (like those at the Red River Gorge, for example) . At this point in my career, my ARC phase is never more than 6 days, and some seasons I don’t ARC at all. That said, a paltry three ARC sessions can be enough to bore me out of my mind.
Here are some things I do to keep my ARC sessions a bit more engaging:
-If you have route-setting privileges, create pre-set traverses, (or vertical routes/treadwall routes). At first simply climb these routes, but then repeat them (over the course of a single session, and/or progressively throughout the phase) gradually eliminating holds (trying to do the traverse in the fewest possible number of moves).
-Movement drills. Pick a particular movement and then practice doing that move over and over. You can select 4 or 5 particular moves and set aside 5 minutes or so for each movement. Do a set number of reps (say, ten–something easy to track in your head), with each hand/foot (left and right). You can add slight variations on the theme, and use progressively smaller holds to make the moves more difficult. Here is a brief list of example movements you can drill, feel free to add others (you may find it helpful to print this list and keep it handy for your next ARC session):
- Silent feet movements
- Straight Arm reaches
- Inside Flag
- Outside Flag
- High step
- Cross over
- Cross under
- Twist-lock & reach across
- Reach up from low under cling
- Reach across body from low under cling
- Undercling over head & step up
- Heel Hook to rock-over
- Drop Knee
- Extended foot stab
- Hip thrust
-Practice awkward rest positions. Try to find spots where you can just barely get a rest or “unlikely” rest positions (big stems, underclings, etc). In particular try to find rests on steep terrain. If you have a goal route in mind, and you know what the rest stance are like, attempt to replicate them and practice the positions (they should get easier over time). On less steep terrain practice resting on insecure, slippery feet. Stances like these tend to encourage over-gripping, so focus on remaining relaxed. Learn exactly how much weight you can put on your feet, using the bare minimum of hand strength.
-Try “Fartlek” style workouts. This Swedish running workout involves alternating periods of higher and lower intensity. For example, set a time interval, say 5 or 10 minutes, within the 30 minute session, to climb on smaller holds, or steeper terrain than you could normally sustain during the ARC set. Try to increase your focus during the hard interval. When the higher intensity interval is completed, follow that up with an equal length interval of easier climbing where you can relax, let your mind wander, or work on technique with easier moves.
-ARC outside. The trick is to find a crag with the right type of routes. Stay away from slabs, dihedrals or other routes that allow you to stand on your feet the whole time. You want routes that require you to hang from your arms but aren’t overly pumpy. If the routes have easy rests, limit your time at these rests or avoid them entirely. If you have a willing parnter take turns climbing 2-3 routes in a row before switching belay/climbing roles in order to get your “set” time as high as possible. Ideally you would have enough draws, etc that you could just lower & immediately move to the next route without removing your shoes or resting between routes. Remember this is training, not play time; continue to hone your technique during these sessions. As you add outdoor sessions, continue to get atleast one indoor session per week. While outside sessions can be better for training technique, indoor sessions are usually better for training local endurance.