Your body has are three types of energy systems or muscle functions: strength, burst, and endurance. For climbing, it's important to develop these energy systems in the right balance. Many times you will find climbers with high strength to weight and high endurance and can static climb incredible moves, but cannot dyno for anything! The opposite is true for many boulderers, who can "dyno" to overhanging slopers, but cannot climb much past 30' vertically before becoming pumped.
Your training plan needs to be customized specifically for your current need, in other words, your training needs are dynamic. You should continually analyze your performance and modify your type of training to target and improve specific muscle functions.
It's the balance of strength, burst, and endurance that create the five types of training.
The best way to gain strength is by stressing the muscles to their maximum ability using strenuous repetitive resistance. This stimulates muscles to synthesize more contractile protein, thus increasing strength.
You can do this by climbing strenuous bouldering, overhangs or strenuous routes in a series of sets. Do the problem or route four times then take a break to allow your muscles to recover. Repetition is the key - This is the same principle weight builders use. Apply it to climbing. Repeat a strenuous problem four times.
You can also isolate specific muscle groups and train with weights. Choose a weight or resistance that you can barely move five to ten times before your muscles give out. Do four sets of the exercise (of 5 to 10 repetitions). Do these exercises three or four times a week. Target specific muscles and muscle groups - don't exercise for exercise sake. More muscle mass than you need is just additional weight.
Add more weight if you can do more than 10 repetitions, take weight off if you can not do at least 5 repetitions. Faithfully and methodically continue this pattern. Your strength will improve after just a few weeks of training.
Burst Training will develop your muscles capacity to provide "burst" power. Burst training will improve your ability to do dynos, dead-points, burst climbing and other functions requiring muscle burst power. Burst training is very taxing on muscles and should never be done without adequate warm-up and stretching. (See the sections on Training Principles for more information warming up and stretching).
The principle to develop burst power or speed climbing is simple: Train in maximum intensity bursts and completely recover before your next set. Glucose is converted to ATP and Lactate. Allowing a complete recovery will recharge the glycogen (glucose) in your muscles and give your body a chance to remove the lactic acid - preventing the aerobic system from fully kicking in, thus stressing the burst or speed function of your muscles. (See How Muscles Work, for more about muscle systems).
Quadricep burst training will improve speed climbing. When you work out your quadriceps, make quick, strong movements, not slow straining exertions. You may need to lower the weight to a level less than that of strength training. Strong leg and thigh muscles capable of burst speed will increase your push off speed from the hold, lengthen your reach dynamically and improve your speed climbing.
Since speed requires a high degree of coordination, you can make significant improvement by just improving your muscle memory. This technique in other sports is called Assisted Speed Training. Repetition at the speed of the actual event will improve coordination and thus improve speed. For example, a sprinter would sprint downhill to train his muscles to move in coordination at that speed.
Climbers can use the principles of assisted speed training to improve speed climbing. A climbing machine can be set at easy resistance and allow a climber to train muscle memory at a very fast pace for long distances. Traversing quickly will also help improve hand-foot-eye coordination, thus improve speed. Again, the principle of Assisted Speed Training is to improve muscle memory, not strength or burst.
Continuously repeating, low resistance exercises will promote muscle endurance. To gain maximum muscle endurance, you must exercise for close to two hours to deplete your muscles' glycogen and to stimulate new blood-vessel formation and maximum aerobic-enzyme development. You can, however, gain considerable endurance with shorter periods of exercise, particularly if you intensify the exercise. You need to exercise at less than maximum strength for at least 20 minutes, three times a week to see a benefit.
The harder your workout, the quicker you will deplete your muscle glycogen. An all-out effort of 10 to 15 minutes on a bouldering overhang prior to your endurance workout should sufficiently deplete your glycogen. Once your glycogen is depleted, you will feel exhausted. This is not a comfortable feeling. Most climbers go sit down on the crash pad at this point - but if you are going for endurance, this is the time to traverse, slow, unrelenting pain for two hours.
Two hours of continuous low intensity exercise will promote new blood-vessel formation and aerobic enzyme development. If you can take it, train at least two hours, three times a week. It should be emphasized, however, that it takes a long time for most athletes to build up to 2 hours of continuous exercise. It doesn't seem to make much difference whether you work out in one continuous two hour stretch or if you split your two hours into two or three sessions throughout the day. Choose whichever schedule is best for your day.
Your fast twitch muscles have a limited capacity to metabolize oxygen. The fast twitch muscles are subdivided into type IIA and IIB for strictly anaerobic and some aerobic capability. You can improve the aerobic capacity of the type IIB fast twitch muscles by conditioning. As the name of the training implies, you combine the two types of training into the same session.
To gain strength-endurance, increase the duration of a specific exercise movement. For example, do your pullups slowly. Don't worry about a specific number of repetitions, go for duration, using heavier weight than normally used for endurance, but less than for strength training.
In strength training you usually have four sets. For strength-endurance, you should increase the number of sets. Six to eight sets using a lower weight than normal strength training, and using slow movements will provide increased strength endurance.
Climbing requires a high level of forearm and finger strength-endurance. Work on improving the length of time you can dead-hang. You should be able to go past a minute without too much pain. Keep working it up to two minutes and beyond for improved endurance.
You can also modify an aerobic training method called Interval Training to promote strength-endurance. See the section below on Interval Training for more info.
For endurance and strength-endurance, you need to have a high aerobic capacity. Circuit Training and Interval Training are aerobic methods that can be easily adapted by climbers at a gym to improve their endurance, strength-endurance and aerobic capacity.
There are two commonly used aerobic training methods that provide a good balance between Strength and Endurance. They are Circuit Training and Interval Training.
1. Circuit Training
In Circuit Training, you have a predefined "circuit" or group of exercises that are repeated in a cycle. First define both a primary and secondary muscle group/function to work out. Then decide two exercises each that will work these two muscle groups/functions (so you have four separate workouts). Next, decide the order you will do the exercises so that you are exercising the primary muscle group (exercise 1), then the secondary muscle group (exercise 2), then back to the first muscle group (exercise 3), then the second muscle group (exercise 4). As you go through the circuit, keep your heart rate above 60% or you will not gain much cardiovascular benefit, and keep your heart rate under 85% so you don't diminish the strength improvement. The circuit should last 30 minutes.
Example of how to apply Circuit Training to climbing - Let's assume a climber's primary goal is leg strength and the secondary is forearm endurance (you can substitute any muscle group, and substitute any muscle function such as strength, burst or endurance). The climber decides on two exercises for leg strength: a) boulder vertical (not overhung) including the down-climb four times; b) dyno to 7' four times. The climber then chooses two exercises for forearm endurance: a) boulder on 45 degree overhang for one minute; b) traverse on 70 degree wall for five minutes. Since the sequence must alternate muscle groups, the circuit is like this: 1) boulder vertical up and down four times; 2) boulder on 45 degree wall one minute 3) dyno four times 4) traverse back and fourth on 70 degree wall for five minutes. The climber continues repeating the circuit 30 minutes. Again, this is just an example to illustrate how to use Circuit Training for leg strength and forearm endurance. You should apply the principle to the specific muscle groups/functions that you personally need to improve.
2. Interval Training
Interval training can be described as short bursts of less-than-maximum work, alternating with shorter periods lowered intensity work. The idea of interval training is to work at high-intensity to push your pulse to its target for a short period with an interval of partial recovery before working again. During the work phase, the heart rate should be kept between 60% to 85% percent of your maximum heart rate. The rest intervals should be long enough to allow your heart rate to drop within 60% to 40% of your maximum.
To apply Interval Training to climbing: Climb hard long enough to get your heart rate up (just be conscious of your pulse, don't try to actually take it while climbing). Get down and walk to lower your heart rate - or instead of walking, transition to a vertical traverse and continue bouldering at lower intensity. Before your heart rate fully recovers transition back to hard climbing. This kind of training is uncomfortable - it causes sore muscles! The increased lactic acid brings fatigue and discomfort. Some can take it and some can't. However, it will increase your heart stroke volume and help your body become more efficient at lactic-acid removal, thus increase your aerobic capacity.
You should use exercise to target and improve a specific function of muscle (strength, burst, and endurance). High frequency, low intensity training develops aerobic enzymes in the slow twitch muscle fibers used for endurance. High intensity, high-speed workouts promote strength and burst and develop the fast-twitch muscles. You should continually analyze your performance and modify your training to target and improve specific muscle functions. Understanding how to target and train specific muscle functions will help you develop and manage your training plan.