Actually Following a Training Plan: Review of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual

Putting my training to the test on Ginseng (5.12c) at Shagg crag, Maine.

Putting my training to the test on Ginseng Route (5.12c) at Shagg crag, Maine.

In the 7 years that I’ve been climbing, I’ve followed exactly zero training plans. It’s not that I didn’t want to get better at climbing, or that I doubted the training plan would work. The factors preventing me from training, any longer than a day, stemmed from a combination of motivation, commitment, and time management…that is, until reading the Anderson brothers’ Rock Climber’s Training Manual: A Guide to Continuous Improvement. Their approach to climbing and training worked for me for numerous reasons. I went from being unable to realistically attempt the crux moves on 5.12s, unable to even make a single move between the rungs on the campus board, and being able to do a max of three 10 lb bicep curls to sending or close to sending my three 5.12b/c projects, loving the campus board, pumping 25 lb bicep curls – all within 4 months. Here’s why the Andersons’ approach worked for me:

You can purchase a copy of the Training Manual at their site.

You can purchase a copy of the Training Manual at their site.

Efficiency. In the past, I swore off training plans using the excuse that I was too busy – yet thought I could play around at the climbing gym a few nights a week and magically climb my way into upper 5.12 territory. What sold me on training was the recognition that my life is too busy not to train. As the Anderson brothers write, “For those who don’t have 40 hours per week to climb, training is by far the most time efficient way to improve; for working adults with families, it’s the only way to improve.” While there are beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of training within The Rock Climber’s Training Manual, following a blend of the beginner to intermediate plan is completely feasible while also working a full-time job and managing family and social responsibilities. Following this plan, I trained or climbed outside 3-4 days a week, with time to still have a life outside of training.

One of my least favorite parts of training, but worth it in the end!

One of my least favorite parts of training – weight assisted finger boarding – but worth it in the end!

Periodization. Periodization is a “strategy for physical training in which exercises are carefully varied to avoid plateaus and create synergies that result in a performance peak at a predictable time.” In other words, periodization forces you to spend time on your weaknesses, which ends up being a really good thing for your overall climbing. Having never followed a training plan, I have some very entrenched weaknesses. My friends would joke that I found a way to do every move static – but that was really because I had zero power or strength, outside of my fingers. The very thought of doing bicep curls made me want to puke. Somehow periodization made the pill easier to swallow because I knew that I only had to push through something like strength training for a few weeks before I got to move onto something I’d enjoy more. The Rock Climber’s Training Manual covers six areas in periodization: base fitness (2-4 weeks), strength (3-4 weeks), power (2-4 weeks), power endurance (2-4 weeks), performance (3-4 weeks), and rest (1-2 weeks). As an added bonus, periodization reduces the likelihood that you’re going to get hurt, unlike my standard pre-climbing trip approach of doing long gym routes over and over, never working power, and then going outside and blowing a pulley.

Training allowed me to make dynamic moves, something I'd always strayed away from in the past. (Photo credit: Mike Bowsher).

Training allowed me to make dynamic moves, something I’d always strayed away from in the past. (Photo credit: Mike Bowsher).

Data Driven. The Anderson brothers’ training plan encourages you to takes notes on each training session. I guess this is where the nerd side of me comes out, but I love tracking my progress and getting scientific about it. You get yourself a cute little training book, decorate it all up, paste in those pictures of your goal climb to remind yourself of why you’re doing bicep curls even though you hate them, and then let the data motivate you toward achieving your goal. I love seeing what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Seeing that I went from 10lb bicep curls to 25 lb bicep curls ignites a sense of pride. When I compare where I started on the campus board – literally barely able to move up one rung, to monkeying up all the way to the top, I can literally chart the progress that I’m making. It’s also effective because of the precise control over each exercise, that you’re tracking by weight added or removed. This prevents a climber from making too large a leap in their training, plateauing, or ending up on the injured list. On top of it all, all of these gains are made within only a few weeks.

Flesh for Lulu (5.12a/b) at Rumney is one of the routes motivating me through my training.

Flesh for Lulu (5.12a/b) at Rumney is one of the routes motivating me through my training.

If I were questioning whether the training plan was worth it at all, I only had to get on Pump Up the Volume (5.12b) and walk through the crux that I hadn’t even been able to attempt last spring, to know that the training plan was successful. Gaining the ability to make powerful, dynamic movements between holds justified the training plan for me. And the best part is, that I’m just hitting my performance peak…

As the Anderson brothers point out, the key to long term improvements in climbing isn’t how many tries we take on our projects, it’s how many macrocycles we complete (each revolution through the 4-month cycle is called a macrocycle). While this isn’t novel information at all to trainers, coaches, and sport scientists, it still seems to really blow climbers’ minds. So, after I finish sending my projects and I settle in for winter, you better believe that I’ll be starting up my second macrocycle, aiming for 5.13 next year.

If you’d like to learn more about Michael and Mark Anderson’s approach to training, you can check out their site and order a copy of their book here:

Climb on! ~Cate

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18 thoughts on “Actually Following a Training Plan: Review of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual

  1. Tiffany says:

    This is just the boost in motivation I needed. I’ve been struggling to put any effort in recently, unclear of my goal or how to go about achieving it. Thanks so much for this!! Think I’ve got a new book to purchase…

  2. Jess says:

    Great post! What are your strategies for sticking to your training plan?

    • Cate says:

      Might need to write a post just on that Jess! I’d say the best way to stick to it is to train with other people. I’m lucky that my husband is also following a similar training plan, as is my good friend, Andy. Having other people to train with and hold you accountable is key. I also found that if you can get yourself to commit to 2 weeks, then you’ll start seeing results. Once you start seeing results, they will start motivating you to keep going. Writing down your progress is also important so that you can actually track your progress.

  3. v10Princess! says:

    DONE! Just ordered myself a copy of the book. Thanks CXC!

  4. Trish says:

    This is really incredible!! Thanks so much for this article, I’ve been stuck at a plateau all year and I think this will totally do the trick to help me break it. Ordering one now, thanks Crux Crush!! 🙂

  5. Cindy says:

    So what kind of specialized training equipment is needed to follow this program? (i.e. campus boards, bouldering walls, gym membership…)

  6. Isabelle says:

    That’s awesome! I’ve dipped my toes into components of the book but haven’t embarked on a full-blown training cycle. The density of the book itself makes it pretty daunting!

    I was wondering what other “SEs” (supplemental exercises) you used besides bicep curls. Did you do any other lifting?

    • Cate says:

      Like I said, I HATE anything to do with weight lifting so I avoided having to go into a weight room like the plague. Luckily, we have olympic rings hanging in our home wall as well as a hangboard. The SEs that I did were bicep curls, leg lifts while hanging from a hangboard, inverted rows using rings, and push ups using the rings.

  7. Flannery says:

    Psyched to read about your results & your review! I am just finishing the power phase of the bouldering plan in their book and am feeling stronger than ever too. I can’t recommend their book enough 🙂 Keep crushing!

  8. Sarah says:

    Awesome post! I’ve plateaued at 5.11+ and I’m ready to accelerate my improvement… Considering doing this program!

    • Cate says:

      I highly recommend it Sarah! I just sent my goal climb (Flesh for Lulu 5.12a/b) this weekend and am psyched for more sending!

  9. Cate,

    I’m really stoke that our program worked for you! Thanks for sharing your experience on your website. You hit the nail on the head when you said that you don’t have time NOT to train…that is exactly how I feel. Between work, and running my kids around to their activities, my only shot at maintaining (let alone improving) is to train very efficiently. Congrats on your progress, and keep up the good work!

  10. Becky says:

    I can also feel confident in endorsing the Anderson’s training plan. Myself and a couple other girls at my gym cycled through the plan and I can confidently say it has raised my climbing level around two letter grades. Just got back from a climbing trip and the climbs I got on in spring felt infinitely easier this time around!

    Take the time to write out a plan and stick to it. It’ll work!

  11. […] copy of Training for Rock Climbing, googling the Rock Climbing’s Training Manual (click here for a review from those ladies over at Crux Crush- it’s going to be a future purchase) and […]

  12. Josh says:

    Hey! Great review. A month ago a friend and I started the training in the Anderson’s book, and we love it. It’s so much easier to keep motivation across training sessions when you can look back and see where you were a few sessions ago.

    We’re getting to the end of the first “strength” phase, and already I feel like I’m seeing improvement.

    I think I’ll be doing my own review in a few months. Keep us updated!

  13. Tracie says:

    Having had a new baby and working full time my time for training is super limited and my chances to go outside are slim and sad. That being said – I don’t want to lose all my ability to climb. Do you think this is a good guide for those of us starting at close to zero (Iost most my strength and endure post baby) with little time? I’ve tried another program before but couldn’t do the intro workout so I got frustrated :/

    • Cate says:

      Tracie – I totally recommend this training workout for someone getting back into climbing after a baby. The thing I liked best about it is that it was completely manageable, while working full-time and also raising my 9 month old son. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy – but following a training plan actually allowed me to climb more than I might have otherwise while also feeling like I was making gains. At first it was really frustrating to feel so weak and have zero core strength. Following a training plan, and writing down what I was doing actually allowed me to see the gains I was making, which was super motivating. At the same time, be realistic. You have a baby. There are times when you are not going to be able to finish your workout because your baby decided that you are leaving NOW. There are times when you may just be too tired to train because you were up 3 times in the middle of the night. Do what is manageable for you. You will still see gains.

  14. Madi says:

    Oh my! I just discovered your web-sight and am so stoked to read this post. I am currently on week 2 of hang-boarding after jumping on board with a friend from the gym to join him in this training program.
    Where you were Cate when you started is strikingly similar to where I am now and your review has just mounted inspiration to another level.
    Thanks for the post. I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of your sight!

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