Developing Aerobic Capacity for Climbing

Sport Climbing Felicia KohTeam Singapore Athlete Felicia Koh (Photo Credit: SSC)

By Isabel Leong

Your aerobic capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during an exercise session. It is usually measured during a brief period of high-intensity exercise. Having a high aerobic capacity improves mental and physical alertness during a climb, hence is extremely useful to harness it.

With regular training, your aerobic capacity can and will improve. When people exercise, the body needs to be able to utilize oxygen.  The more people exercise, the more efficient the process becomes, and the more oxygen your body can utilize during a workout. As the ability to use more oxygen increases, you will have the capacity to work at a higher level of intensity, and you will also definitely see an improvement in your endurance because your muscles can now work harder, longer. People with high endurance possess high aerobic capacity.

Circuit Training and Interval Training are 2 aerobic methods that can be adapted by climbers at a gym to improve their endurance, power-endurance and aerobic capacity.

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 (e.g. forearm endurance, leg strength) to work out. Then decide two exercises for each of the two muscle groups. Next, decide the order that you will do the exercises so that you alternate the two muscle groups.

The circuit should last for half an hour or so. Let's assume a climber's primary goal is leg strength and the secondary is forearm endurance

For leg strength:

a) boulder on a vertical 90 degree wall, including down-climbing x4;

b) dyno x4.

For forearm endurance:

a) boulder on a 45 degree overhang for 2 minutes;

b) traverse on a 70 degree wall for 5 minutes.

Since the sequence must alternate muscle groups, the circuit is like this:

1) boulder vertical up and down x4

2) boulder on 45 degree wall 2 minute

3) dyno x4

4) traverse back and fourth on 70 degree wall for 5minutes.

Repeat the circuit again until you reach the 30-minute mark.

Of course, you can implement different circuits depending on they type of muscle you wish to work, the nature of the exercise—burst, endurance or strength—and how far you can push your limits.

2. Interval Training

Interval training can be described as short bursts of almost-maximum work, alternating with shorter periods lower 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.

To apply Interval Training to climbing:

Climb hard long enough to get your heart rate up. Next, embark on an activity that lowers your heart rate, either by walking or traversing at a vertical wall. Before your heart rate fully recovers, transition back to hard climbing. This kind of training is, I admit, uncomfortable. The increased lactic acid brings fatigue and discomfort. It makes you feel like you are not going to make it. Push on! You will discover that you are actually stronger than you think you are.

Interval training increases your heart stroke volume and help your body become more efficient at lactic-acid removal, thus increasing your aerobic capacity.

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