Begin with an open mind. Try to look at your climbing from as many different angles as possible. Most people are quick to assume that they know their weaknesses, and slow to accept difficult truths about their climbing. Often the things holding you back may be surprising. With your climbing in general, and especially any training program you undertake, I urge you to challenge your assumptions.
Memorize these. Say them to yourself before you enter the gym or hike in to the crag.
#1: Don’t get hurt training. The point of training is to make progress and injuries are the bane of progress. If it feels like it might be too much, it is. Better to skip a workout than to get hurt. If you get hurt training, your training has failed.
#2: You know yourself best. You know more about yourself and your climbing than anyone else. Don’t blindly follow my plan, or anyone else’s. Take responsibility for your climbing & training. Experts can guide you, but only you can sit in the driver’s seat.
#3: Eyes on the prize. Your goals probably involve actual climbing – and that comes first. Spend most of your available climbing time with your climbing shoes on. Try not to sacrifice time on the wall or time outside for training activities. Don’t forget why you’re training!
#4: It’s better to do some than none. It’s way better to do just enough than to do too much. Punching the clock is more important than what numbers you put up. Tracking specific numbers is useful, and might squeeze out 1% more improvement. But what matters most is showing up, and doing the work.
Priorities (what to do if you get busy)
If life gets busy, and you can only accomplish some of your training, here is the recommended priority order for most uninjured athletes:
- Time on your goals (e.g. outdoor routes)
- Climbing sessions (redpoint strength, mileage, board session)
- Sport strength (hangs, pulling, deadlift, core)
- Technical drills (hip lockoffs, rooting, etc.)
- Accessory strength (squat, press)
If life gets really busy, that’s fine. Just get done what you can, and let the rest go. Try to start fresh next week, or in a few weeks, with more energy.
Putting it all together
At the beginning of each week, sketch out a rough plan for what you’ll do each day. It’s OK to adjust as you go, such as based on outdoor conditions, and it’s OK to leave things undone for the week if you run out of energy. This ability to plan your own training is an essential part of continuous improvement regardless of who your coach is.
Make sure you refer back to your plan before you start training each day. Take note of any instructions for the workouts you’re going to do. The details do change from week to week, so pay close attention!
Log your sessions and feedback in the plan sheet. Every day is ideal, but at least every week will work. I will use these logs to keep track of how your training is going, and respond to questions. For more, see “What should I record in my training log”, below.
The RPE scale (Relative Perceived Exertion)
“Relative Perceived Exertion” is an abstract, subjective scale which can be used to measure the difficulty of activities. It’s different for everyone – doing a 5.12 on El Capitan would be an 8 or 9 on the scale for most people, but it’s a 2 or a 3 for Tommy Caldwell. Breathing, focus level, physical pain, and facial expression are all good ways of figuring out the RPE. The scale is something like this:
RPE 0 – Sitting below a climb discussing beta with friends. Breathing and body are relaxed.
RPE 1 – Standing still at a rest point on a very easy climb, can still discuss beta/logistics with partner if needed
RPE 2 – Paying attention to the moves, but still able to focus on other things like gear, beta, or logistics. Breathing is calm.
RPE 3 – Starting to try. Relaxing is possible, but hard. Some slight negative sensations are present in the body.
RPE 4 – Focusing on anything but the movement is becoming difficult. Breathing is noticeably elevated. Only a major error would lead to a fall.
RPE 5 – Working, maybe with a light pump. High level of body tension. Talking to partners or dealing with logistics is difficult but possible.
RPE 6 – Pretty hard, but a level that is reached during most sessions. Breathing is very elevated and conscious. Very focused on the moves.
RPE 7 – Trying hard, breathing hard. Getting pumped. Focus is on the current move; planning ahead is hard. Falling is very possible.
RPE 8 – The crux of a project route. Feelings of intensity and it may be hard to breathe. Grunting or squeaking. Getting pumped. Staying at this level for long will almost certainly lead to a fall.
RPE 9 – Extreme try hard. Holding your breath and/or yelling. Some non-injurious pain is expected. Falling is imminent.
RPE 10 – Screaming bloody murder, veins popping out, pain is almost guaranteed, extremely unlikely that you can remain attached to the wall
The RPE scale used on the drill indicates the RPE of performing the drill on a climb, not the RPE of the climb itself. For instance, for a V5/6C climber, doing the Hand Stall drill on an overhanging V2/5C might still be an RPE of 7 or 8 just because of the steepness. This is why RPE makes more sense than trying to prescribe V-grades.
Different levels of effort are good for different aspects of climbing:
RPE 1-4 are good for warming up, doing aerobic or mileage climbing, early injury rehab, or focusing on other elements of the sport like socializing, practicing gear/logistics, or adventuring.
RPE 3-7 are good for technical improvement. Much easier and there isn’t enough challenge; much harder and movement is no longer high quality. For optimal progress, most climbing should happen in this zone.
RPE 6-9 are good for strength/power gains, improving your confidence by trying harder climbs, and essential for breaking through plateaus. However, the chance of injury is higher, and the amount of climbing that one can do is lower.
RPE 10 is not recommended, but might occur in a once in a lifetime limit performance.
RIR or Reps in Reserve
RIR is a way of expressing how comfortable you are with a given exercise or session. A good general idea of RIR is that 10 – RPE = RIR. So if you’re doing an RPE7 lift, you should stop when you feel like you could do 3 more reps. (10 – 7 = 3 more reps.) This could be expressed as RPE7, or 3 RIR.
This isn’t perfect, but it’s more useful than trying to load every lift as a percentage of your 1-rep-max, which is the old school way of thinking. Sometimes you didn’t sleep well, or your climbing session was hard, or you’re just distracted by life. In those cases, RPE and RIR are better ways of gauging how hard you should try. Don’t be captive to numbers – pay attention to your exertion level.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I track the interval sets, like repeaters / isometric clusters?
An interval timer on your phone, like this one for iPhone or this one for Android. Set it up for the number of sets, and the work:rest ratio (like 5:5) and it’ll count you through the workout. You can also save these workout templates.
What should I record in my training log?
For a climbing-based session like Redpoint Strength, or an open session, record the problems/routes you did and how the session felt as a whole. Recording RPE for training sessions is very useful, for you and for me.
10 problems V4-V5, felt tired at the end but good session. RPE6
or, for a sport session:
10c warmup, onsight
11a warmup, onsight
11c, fell third bolt
11c, redpoint second try
For a conditioning session with loads, report loads & how they felt. You can use RIR to indicate how many reps you had in reserve.
1 set 135×5
1 set 155×5
3 sets 165×5. Felt good until the last set, maybe 2 RIR
For a conditioning session without load, just report how it felt.
For a finger training session, report loads (if there are any) and how the session felt generally.
My training volume is too high. What should I do?
As a general rule of thumb, don’t try to push through your training. If it feels like you’re overtraining, you probably are. Back off, contact me, rest a little bit more and skip a few sessions. I will adjust your plan and help you figure out what’s going wrong.
My training isn’t hard enough. What should I do?
Contact me. I will help you figure out what loads/volumes are too low for you, and what we can add to help reach your goals. Don’t add more climbing. Random junk climbing, like random junk food, is bad for your health.
How do I figure out what sessions to do when?
Each drill or targeted session has some instructions about how to combine it with other sessions. (Under “combinations”.) In brief, here’s the order you should perform activities in:
Power or finger strength
Climbing session or drills
Better to mix workouts of the same mode (like a hard drill and a climbing session) than to do multiple workouts of different modes (like training power and endurance on the same day.)
If you’re not sure how to set up your week, just ask and I will help!
What if I feel like crap on a training day?
If you feel really bad, just don’t train. It’s fine. We want your training to be high quality.
If you just feel kinda bad, I suggest going to the gym/crag, warming up as usual, and giving it a go. If you warm up and still feel bad, you can:
- Do an easier session than you planned
- Do your planned session, but at lower loads/sets/reps (using autoregulation)
- Call it and go home – totally OK.
If you warm up and you feel better, go for it. I have sent projects on days where I felt terrible when I woke up.
However, be honest with yourself. “Pushing through” should be the exception, not the rule. If you push through once you might find victory. If you push through all the time you will almost definitely wind up with overuse problems and regret it.
Is it okay to climb for fun outside the plan?
You should discuss this with me so I can put sessions in that represent this extra time. As your coach, I want to keep an eye on your total training volume and make sure we are progressing your load and work capacity. If you “hide” climbing time from me, I can’t do my job. If you find you are climbing a lot more or a lot less than your plan indicates, let me know!
I don’t know how to do <X> exercise. How do I learn?
DM/email me first. I can send you form videos, and if you send me a video of yourself I can give you a form check. If you want to research for yourself, here are some good resources:
- For general and barbell training movements, refer to exrx.net, Starting Strength
- For kettlebell movements, refer to Strong First, Mark Wildman, Hardstyle Kettlebell Pro
What if I don’t have problems that are <X> moves long?
Either add moves to the beginning if they’re too short, or drop off the problem halfway up if they’re too long. This is training. Getting to the top is not what matters in training. You have climbing time for sending.
What if my problems are too hard?
The biggest and easiest thing to do is to use any feet on existing problems. This solves many issues. If your drills are still too hard, get in touch with me and we can discuss options.
What if I have other questions?
Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
DM me! @coachjfire on Instagram
Near Bend, Oregon? Get in touch and we can meet in person to talk about whatever drills or exercises you need help with.