Base Fitness

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Long endurance climbs , like those at Maple Canyon, require a high level of Base Fitness. Steve Bechtel on Toxic Turkey, 5.13c.

Long endurance climbs , like those at Maple Canyon, require a high level of Base Fitness. Steve Bechtel on Toxic Turkey (5.13c), Maple Canyon, UT. ©Janelle Anderson

In nearly every sport, athletes begin their training by establishing a training foundation, which gradually prepares the body for the work to follow in the coming training phases. This base-building phase provides a transition between the active rest period and more intense training activities by gradually exposing the body to a moderate version of the training stress to come. In climbing, this is generally accomplished by climbing at low intensity and long duration, and is often described as “climbing mileage,” that is, racking up thousands of vertical feet of climbing. With the critical role that technical skill plays in climbing, these sessions have the added importance of providing an opportunity to learn and refine technique. For grade-obsessed sport climbers, these training sessions also provide an excuse to broaden one’s horizons on invigorating, lengthier, moderate climbs.

The Maximum Steady State

The highest level of intensity at which a muscle can continue to function aerobically, and thus, indefinitely, is called the Maximum Steady State (MSS; aka aerobic threshold, anaerobic threshold, or lactic threshold). Climbing at an intensity level above the MSS relies sufficiently on anaerobic respiration (glycolytic and/or phosphagen) that such effort becomes unsustainable, ultimately resulting in fatigue and eventual muscle failure. In endurance sports, it is often said that the MSS is the singlemost important determinant of performance, and so the majority of training activities are geared toward improving it.

Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity Training

Moderate traversing in the gym is a great way to perform Base Fitness Training.

Moderate traversing in the gym is a great way to perform Base Fitness Training. ©Frederik Marmsater

For rock climbing, the most practical method for raising the MSS is “aerobic respiration and capillarity” (ARC) training. This consists of climbing for long, sustained periods as close as possible to the MSS. This is best performed by climbing on vertical to slightly overhanging terrain that places a steady load on the forearms so that a moderate, but sustainable pump ensues for upwards of 30 minutes. (Interval training is also beneficial for improving endurance, and is discussed on the Power-Endurance page.) In climbing, ARC training is used to:

• Develop a foundation of muscular fitness to prepare for more-intense training
• Improve local forearm capillarity for improved aerobic energy metabolism
• Improve grip control (to prevent “over-gripping”) and pump-management skills
• Aid recovery from intense training and performance efforts
• Acquire and practice new movement skills and techniques

Because of the moderate intensity, ARC training gradually develops muscular fitness in all of the prime movers needed for climbing. This provides a gradual introduction to the more-intense activities that will be introduced later in the training cycle, stimulating modest adaptations to prepare the body for the upcoming additional stress. More importantly, this training establishes the base level of fitness that each climbing performance relies on, and off which other performance characteristics (strength, power, and power-endurance) build. Therefore, Base-Fitness training is an integral part of any training program.

Learn more in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. Base Fitness topics include:
• Comprehensive explanation of muscle function
• The cause of muscle fatigue in climbing
• How muscle attributes and the forearm pump inform our training
• The goals and benefits of ARC Training
• How to properly perform ARC Training
• How to utilize Outdoor Mileage Training
• How to incorporate Skill Practice into Base Fitness Training Sessions
• How to schedule Base Fitness Training into a comprehensive training program

RCTM.com Articles related to Base Fitness Training:

  • Spice Up Your ARC Routine    “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.  Read more…
  • Training Intensity  …AKA “ARCing”, the earmark of this training is its LOW intensity.  Sounds simple, but this can be one of the most difficult to gauge correctly.  Even if you find the right intensity, it can be difficult to keep it up for the long set lengths involved (routinely greater than 30 minutes).  The danger of too much intensity is that the effort will become anaerobic, theoretically producing different results than those desired.  In my experience most climbers err on the side of too little intensity and I think this is a mistake.  These workouts should not be effortless; try to push yourself by climbing on steeper terrain or avoiding the best holds.  Avoid vertical (or slabby) terrain and any hands-free rest stances.  Read more…

If you have questions or comments about Base Fitness Training, please post them on the RCTM Forum.  We will try to respond as soon as possible.

7 thoughts on “Base Fitness

  1. Pingback: When are your ARC Days? | eeebahtoehey

  2. In an ARC session that involves 2 or more sets, is there a recommended amount of rest time between the sets? Does it depend on the length of sets? So 2 x 20 min would involves less rest between sets than 2 x 35 min? Thank you!

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    • J, I usually rest for 5-10 minutes
      Just enough to take my shoes off, get some water and relax a bit, but not so long that I lose my warmup or completely depump. I don’t vary the rest period based on set length.

      Like

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