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Making dynamic moves between small holds - typically the hardest moves we encounter -  requires substantial muscular power.  Dave Graham on Jaws II.

Making dynamic moves between small holds – typically the hardest moves we encounter – requires substantial muscular power. Dave Graham on Jaws II (5.15a). ©Lee Hansche

Muscular power is a universal requirement in athletics and a fundamental discriminator in many sports. Generally speaking, power is the ability to generate a large amount of force in a short period of time. Jumping, sprinting, and explosive lifts are good examples of activities that require power. Climbers define power as the ability to quickly exert high force on a set of holds. Climbing power is typically needed to execute cruxy, dynamic moves between small holds. No aspect of climbing performance presents such a clear-cut limiting factor as a climber’s power, and improving one’s power is critical to long-term improvement.

To succeed on powerful, dynamic moves, climbers must be able to apply a great amount of muscular force in a short amount of time. Plyometric Training

Power Training Methods

The ideal power-training exercise would increase motor-unit recruitment, increase fiber-contraction speed, and be sufficiently sport-specific to develop technical skill and specific body strength. Climbers can accomplish these objectives through a combination of the two fundamental power training methods: limit bouldering and campusing.

Limit bouldering is arguably the ideal method for improving power and contact strength while focusing attention on sport-specific factors like technique and body strength. Limit bouldering is climbing short boulder problems that feature one to two crux moves that are right at the climber’s limit. Limit bouldering entails focusing on short boulder problems that emphasize one or two extremely hard moves (rather than problems that entail six to eight pretty hard moves, or 10 to 20 kinda hard moves). To improve recruitment and power, the number of repetitions must be small, and the intensity very high. Bouldering at a lower intensity is enjoyable and can be applied to other training goals, but for power training, the moves must be extremely difficult and few in number.

Gullich going big on the original Campus Board.  Note how low his left hand is!

Gullich going big on the original Campus Board. Note how low his left hand is! ©Kurt Albert

Campus training involves footless dynos between like holds, and is probably the best method of pure power training available to climbers due to its plyometric nature. Unlike limit bouldering, campusing is relatively easy to quantify, so climbers can track progress from workout to workout and year to year. Campusing also permits better isolation of specific grip positions than limit bouldering. This power training method is also very helpful for improving the intramuscular coordination required to make accurate dynamic moves. Practicing dynos, or campus, moves improves spatial awareness and motor skills, resulting in improved “aim” when launching toward a target hold. In just a few sessions it’s possible to progress to a point where virtually every campus move is a “deadpoint.” This accuracy translates directly to the rock, a skill element of campus training that is often overlooked. The campus board is an extremely powerful tool for teaching climbers of all abilities and experience levels to move with speed and accuracy.

Learn more in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual . Power training topics include:
• The physiology of Maximum Recruitment, Power and Contact Strength
• Detailed description of Plyometric Training
• Overview of power training methods
• Detailed Limit Bouldering training routines
• Clear descriptions of effective campus exercises
• Detailed Campus training routines for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced climbers
• Additional tips for effective Campus training
• How to properly quantify and document your power training
• How to schedule Power Training into a comprehensive training program

RCTM.com Articles related to Power Training:

  • How to Build a Campus Board …Previously we described how to install a hangboard, even in tight spaces. In this article, we’ll expand these approaches to Campus boards. Campus training is important to the Rock Prodigy method, but it’s often the first training activity to be skipped because it requires unique equipment. This is unfortunate because; as described in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual, campus training develops several vital attributes for climbing: Read more…
  • Contact Strength, Max Recruitment, & Power Training  ‘Contact Strength’, ‘Max Recruitment’ and ‘Power’ are terms used often by climbers in training, but their actual meanings and inter-relationships can be somewhat ambiguous.  As the first in a mult-part series on the subjuect, this post will attempt to clarify these terms and explain precisely what they mean for Performance Climbers.  Each muscle in the body is composed of a multitude of individual muscle fibers.  When your muscle completes a contraction, not all of these muscle fibers are contributing to that contraction in a useful way.  Some fibers may contract at the wrong time, or too slowly to be effective, some may not contract at all.  Read more…
  • Bouldering for Power   Power is an essential element of climbing performance.  One could argue (and many have) it is the most critical physical aspect of climbing performance.  As Tony Yaniro famously said, “if you have no power, there is nothing to endure”.  If you cannot execute the hardest individual moves on your goal route, everything else is moot.  It’s certainly true that every performance-oriented climber can benefit from improved power.  Last year, I discussed at length how to use a Campus Board to improve power.  While highly-effective at developing pure power, Campus Training is only moderately specific to climbing.  Bouldering can provide ultra-specific and effective  power training, provided it is done “properly”. Read more…
  • Campus Training Part 1: History, Theory & Campus Board Construction  The legend of the original Campus Board is well-known and often re-told, not unlike the Epic tales of the ancient Greeks.  The incomparable Wolfgang Gullich installed the first board at a Nurnberg gym known as “The Campus Centre” to help elevate his finger strength to levels that could only be described as “futuristic”.  The board consists of a ladder of finger edges, and the training method is to move dynamically between these edges with feet dangling.  Read more…
  • Campus Training Part 2: Frequency & Exercise Overview  The next order of business is to discuss frequency.  Of all training activities, this one has the highest Gab-to-Grab ratio of them all.  That is, far more time is spent talking about Campusing than actually doing it, and that is how it should be.  This training is used sparingly because it is extremely high intensity, and has very limited specificity to rock climbing compared to other mutually exclusive activities like limit bouldering.  In other words, limit bouldering offers a lot more upside than Campusing, and its not safe to do large amounts of both, so err on the side of too much limit bouldering.  Personally, I dedicate about 5 minutes of training time to bouldering for every minute of Campusing (and that doesn’t even account for the fact that every minute of “campusing” really only entails about 5 seconds of contact with the Campus board).  My typical Power phase will last 3-4 weeks, and entail alternating workouts focused on Campusing and Limit Bouldering.  Read more…
  • Campus Training Part 3: Basic Routine  Like any training activity, begin with a thorough warmup.  I like to start with 15 minutes of low intensity ARC-style traversing.  Treat this period like any ARC set, focusing on using good technique and smooth, relaxed movement.  Near the end of this period do some active stretching while still on the wall.  Next do what we will call a “Boulder Ladder” for lack of a better term.  Begin with easy bouldering (starting at V0 or whatever the easiest available problems are).   Read more…
  • The Most Important Phase …First, the Power Phase is important because, if you’ve done well, the Strength Phase has created a bunch of big dumb muscles. You should be stronger, but not necessarily capable of efficiently applying that strength to the rock. The Power Phase will hone those big dumb muscles into a well-coordinated machine that can perform with speed and precision on the rock. But foremost, the Power Phase is critical because it is often the ‘transition phase’. This is the period during your training cycle when you shift your emphasis from training on plastic to climbing on actual rock… Read more…
  • Designing a Transition Phase  …For most climbers, the Power Phase is typically the Transition Phase, but it could be the Power Endurance Phase for some, or a period of weeks in between that overlaps these two phases.  As discussed, it is vitally important that this transition from indoor training to outdoor climbing goes smoothly, with momentum and focus building like a crescendo towards your initial opportunities to attempt the season’s primary goal route(s).   However, its much easier said than done.  Often, by the time we begin the Power Phase, weeks of ARCing and Hangboard training have likely sapped our appetite for training on plastic, and yet outdoor climbing is still too far away to provide immediate motivation.  The lack of structure during Limit Bouldering workouts can further compound this problem, making it easy to lose focus during training sessions….  Read more…  
  • Whole-Body Strength Training  …During the Power Phase, I adjust the type of exercises and number of sets depending on the day’s climbing activity.  On Campus Training days, I skip all the “Pull” exercises and biceps curls, to avoid excessive strain on my elbows, etc, but I perform three sets each of the remaining exercises.  On Limit Bouldering days, I perform the same 4 or 5 exercises used during the Strength Phase, but I only perform two sets each.  During the Power Endurance Phase, I do as I would on a Limit Bouldering day, but I often vary the exercises somewhat (for example, favoring Lock-Off Laps over other pull exercises).  Read more…
  • Training at the Crag  Nothing beats bouldering if you want to build power while climbing on real rock.  Smith has some bouldering, but it tends to be pretty miserable due to the freakishly sharp stone.  As a great compromise, I would highly recommend “roped bouldering”.  In many ways this can be even more effective than real bouldering, as usually the fall consequence is less serious.  The flip side is that it works best with a dedicated partner (although it can be done solo with a rope soloing device and much gear fiddling).  The procedure is simple: find a route with a boulder-problem crux, get a rope on it (preferably toprope through the next highest bolt above the crux) and work the boulder problem repeatedly off the dog.   Read more…
  • Training Intensity  …This one is pretty simple on paper; give 100% or more to each set, once you are properly warmed up (if campusing, your warm-up should inlcude some low, then moderate intensity campusing), then rest however long you need to be able to give 100% again.  The tricky part is summoning 100% intensity for a 5-10 second effort.  In my experience that is easier to do during a progressive strength training or power endurance routine, where you can gradually dial up the intensity over several minutes.  In a true Power scenario, you will need to summon that intensity very quickly.  A gradual warmup can help with this, as well as learning how to tap into elevated states of arousel.   Read more…
  • Tips for Effective Campusing Part 1: The Basics  Campusing is one of the best training activities for climbers who are looking to improve explosive power and contact strength (detailed rundown on these terms here).  However, campusing is one of the most difficult training activities to perform well. Many would-be campusers struggle during the initial stages of learning to use this tool, they become frustrated, and so they move onto to other tools never realizing any of the benefits of this type of training.  This post will provide a few tips on how to campus well, which will make sessions more enjoyable, reduce the risk of injury, and ensure that you maximize transference of this training to the rock.  …And it will help you ‘burn off your mates’ on the campus board 😉  While I’m at it, I hope to explain to any remaining skeptics some of the reasons campusing will help you improve your rock climbing. Read more…
  • Tips for Effective Campusing Part 2: Going Big!  …Moffatt notes in Revelations that his best effort on the Campus board was 1-5-8.  Since I first read that, 1-5-8 has been in the back of my mind.  That is something I might be able to do someday. Furthermore, although I haven’t been able to find anything definitive, I’m pretty sure Moffatt is at least a few inches taller than me.  He looks to be within an inch or so of Ben Moon who is 5’11” (I’m 5’7″). Considering the obvious height dependence (or perhaps more precisely, arm-length dependence) of Max Ladders, I feel like it would be quite an accomplishment for me, to match Moffatt’s best. Read more…
  • Campus Board Refurbishment- What’s Your Angle?  When I built my gym in the Lazy H, I never really put much thought into the angles of the walls.  I mocked it up with the joists and basically just eye-balled it.  Almost immediately it became clear that my campus board wasn’t quite as steep as it should be, and this has been an itch in the back of my mind for a long time.  During my fall campus phase I started doing some research on the “standard” angle for a campus board.  This research revealed that there is no standard, although one could make a really strong argument for 15 degrees overhanging, as a compromise if nothing else.  This is what Metolious advocates in their brochure, and some sources indicate this is the angle of the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield (although others say 12.5), a board that many others are modeled after.  Read more…
  • Training Efficiently  My strategy for maximizing training efficiency dovetails nicely wtih a complimentary training objective — favoring strength and power training over endurance.  This allows me to emphasize high intensity training, which is short in duration, almost by definition (there are brief periods during each season that I focus on endurance training, but even then I favor higher intensity endurance training followed by plenty of rest).  Furthermore, I only perform activities that I strongly believe provide a direct benifit to my performance; I don’t do any filler or “crosstraining”.  Read more…

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


4 thoughts on “Power

  1. Pingback: Introducing RockClimbersTrainingManual.com! | Lazy H Climbing Club

  2. Pingback: Training Takeover: 8-Weeks to Rock Prodigy Status | The Rock Climber's Training Manual

  3. Pingback: How to Become an Expert Climber in Five Simple Lessons (Lesson 3) | The Rock Climber's Training Manual

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