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06Training | Aerobic Resoration and Capillary Training

Welcome to this, the first in a series of posts focusing on training for climbing. I have chosen ARC as the first post for selfish reasons - it happens to be the first part of a training cycle that I am undertaking at the moment! Later posts will flesh out my own periodised training program, as well as a series of 'byte-size' workouts for those with limited time to train.

Aerobic Restoration & Capillarity training, or ARC, is the best method of improving base fitness level for climbing, and is the foundation which all subsequent training can be built upon.

Why is this?

Everyone who pushes themselves when they climb has probably felt that dreaded sensation when a comfortably easy climb suddenly turns into a fight against terminally pumped arms.

What has happened?

With increased intensity our muscles are working harder – increasing the contraction of muscles diminishes the blood stream restricting the supply of oxygen. Muscles need oxygen to function effectively over extended time periods, but can continue for short periods without: this is anaerobic exercise( as opposed to aerobic exercise). Unfortunately anaerobic exercise generates by-products in the blood (lactic acid), which inhibit the functionality of muscles. In a technical sport like climbing, a buildup of lactic very quickly leads to a massive loss of ability..

So how does ARC training help?

ARC training increases the threshold (sometimes called the Maximum Steady State {MSS}) at which your muscles switch over to anaerobic respiration, through increased capillarization in your muscles. In other words, we are training to increase the network of blood supply to the muscles. In endurance sports, it is said that the MSS is the single-most important determinant of performance. While climbing is not a solely endurance orientated sport, we have to accept that there is likely to be an endurance component to any roped-climb, and even on a longer boulder problem.

How do we improve MSS?

In order to do this, the training must be at or near your MSS over a long sustained period of, between 20 and 30 minutes. This is best performed by climbing on vertical or slightly overhanging ground that places a steady load on the forearms to give a moderate, but sustainable pump. This is repeated 3 times, with a rest period of 10 minutes between repetitions. ARC sessions should be completed three times a week.

Making it Interesting

It must be said this is perhaps the most mentally demanding phase of any training program. Why? Because it is so boring! And there is always the nagging feeling that it all a bit easy, and there is a temptation to go straight into a full-on power endurance session, especially if your local wall has just been reset! Because of the sheer number of moves you are going to complete in each session, it makes sense to use these sessions to practice or hone you technique(my mantra is 'training with poor technique is training to fail'). To this end, compile a list of climbing moves that you are going to practice before each session, and identify areas of the wall to do them on and make up a circuit incorporating them. In reality (unless you have a home wall), the wall might dictate which techniques you can link up in one 'rep'.

    Possible techniques to practice:
  • Twist-lock
  • Cross over
  • Cross under
  • Under cling reach
  • Under-cling rollover
  • Overhead under-cling
  • Gaston
  • Heel Hook to rock-over
  • Drop Knee
  • Mantle-shelf
  • Foot to hand move
  • Back-step
  • Inside Flag
  • Outside Flag
  • Rock-over
  • High rock-over

Don't know what these all of these techniques are? We are compiling a photo-glossary for you so come back soon...

A good circuit to train on will require you to weight your arms continually without causing an unsustainable pump, but as well as working your arms it is also worth training for those awkward rest positions and resting on insecure footholds. Remember that climbing is a full-body sport, so training leg stamina and practicing to minimise over-gripping should be an important part of your ARC sessions.

Outdoor training: If you have a specific route you are training for, try and find a route that duplicates the type of climbing you are going to encounter, as well as mimic the rests you expect to find. In the past I have identified routes that have a similar angle as the routes I am working towards and top-roped them (both up and down)- ideally you will need a similarly committed belay partner!

ARC training and periodisation

The first thing to assess before embarking on any training program is to assess where you are, and where you would like to be. If you are an intermediate climber (F7a-F7c), what are you training for? If it's a power route at the Cuttings, then you might want to reduce the ARC phase of your training (outlined in the table below,) whereas if it's a 30m route in Wallsend Cove then the suggested 4 week ARC will certainly pay dividends later on on that red-point. As you can see from the table, for more advanced climbers who already have a good level of basic fitness then I suggest you reduce this phase slightly, unless you are going to Rodellar that is! If you are a beginner you are perhaps wondering why there isn't a table for you? That's because periodised training is a bit premature for you - you are far better just trying to climb as much as possible and maximising your exposure to as many different techniques, therefore ARC training is a good method of improving, with the odd bouldering session thrown in.

ARC training at a climbing wall

Ed Babington ARC training at the Project Climbing Centre, Poole

Outdoor climbing as training? Climbers at Winspit Quarry

Outdoor climbing as training? Climbers at Winspit Quarry

Periodised training by week (Intermediate level)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
ARC Power PE Projects Rest
Training Performance Rest
Periodised training by week (Advanced level)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
ARC Power PE Projects Rest
Training Performance Rest

Next Time: Body conditioning and aerobic fitness.

Written by Rob Kennard on 8th January, 2015.

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