Recovery: Part 2

In response to my last post, Recovery, my friend, and fellow training believer, Lee Smith, commented:

"I am still very much a novice with recovery, and have much to learn, but it is WITHOUT a doubt the secret to sending the majority of the Red. I notice, you however, do not seem to train this very much anymore. Is this because your base for recovery is so trained up? If so, how long did that take?"

In the crux of Jesus Wept, 12+, and totally fresh. 

Its true.  In fact, I'd say I never "train" recovery anymore.  While it was a main focus of most phases of my training for several years (it was a part of local endurance, as well as anaerobic endurance phases), I now only do short "tuneups" immediately before and during "the season".

Other than being involved (participating and coaching) in movement based sport my whole life (gymnastics, polevault, wrestling, skateboarding), I have no background of physiological study.  Nothing "formal", anyhow, so initially I made most of my training decisions based on feel.  This one certainly began that way.  As with any strength, I noticed that I was getting less and less gain from my recovery workouts, and felt that I should move away from it for awhile in favor of focusing on a weakness.  As I had based my whole philosophy of training for Red River climbing around recovery, I found it hard to move away from, for a few reasons:

#1.  Perhaps the most damaging, I had become, in the gym, the guy who could hang on forever and shake out on anything.  My ego had most definitely gotten involved.

#2.  Training had up to this point been about being on the wall for hundreds of feet at a time, and feeling absolutely worked after every session.  By taking recovery out of the equation, I would fail sooner, and never get that full body beat down I had come to equate with successful training.

#3.  I still believed the key to the Red to be in recovering while on the climb, and I was afraid to lose what I had worked so hard to gain.

I knew I needed a change, and to help with the transition, this time I was gonna need hard evidence to back up the "feel".  I found my first piece of evidence in Eric Horst's "Training for Climbing", in which he details switching from a "4-3-2-1" training cycle to a "3-2-1" cycle.  The "4" is a volume and endurance phase, and is completely left out of the more elite "3-2-1".  Horst as this to say about it:  "Since the elite climber possesses highly refined technical skills and a voluminous library of schemas, there is much less to be gained during the four week volume climbing phase of the 4-3-2-1 cycle."

The second piece I needed came from Hague and Hunters excellent book "The Self-Coached Climber", in which, while describing a general training plan for moving from 5.13 to 5.14, they suggest that the main aerobic endurance goal is to get your continuous climbing level up to 11c or higher.  Because I had trained mostly endurance, and little power, I could already continuously climb at about 12a, even though I was peaking at 13a.

The third came from simply trying it once.  After my first period of about 8 weeks training no sort of recovery or local aerobic endurance, I discovered that my recovery SKILLS hadn't eroded at all.  It took my body a session or two to be back to normal, but the techniques I had learned had become autonomous, and were more than enough to recover at most rest stances.  I then went another 12 weeks with no endurance training.  Same situation... after just a couple of sessions of long laps, I was right back where I started, only with more power and power endurance.

Running laps on Dave The Dude, 11d.

So, in direct answer to Lee, I believe that because I've brought the techniques involved with recovering on route to the autonomous level, I no longer need to focus on training that part of my climbing.  Same as I no longer train specific movements that I have dialed in, such as drop knees, outside flagging, and rocking up onto a foot.  The physical needs for recovery are fully trained through your local endurance and power endurance training, so the mental and technique are the real goal of recovery training.  How long did that take?  I have no idea, because I'm fairly sure I trained for it long past the point where I could have effectively stopped, or cut back immensely.   If I were going to give advice (which I'm going to), I'd say this:

First, FEEL when you're ready.  When you get to a rest stance, and you no longer have to remind yourself to breathe deeply, or to monitor your heart rate, or to relax, you're ready.  You'll be consistently practicing it all season long on your projects, so it will continue to become ingrained.  If you're looking for a concrete way to measure it (which I know you are), the best I can offer is this... I believe that my recovery training aided my ability to stay relaxed and climb efficiently, thereby increasing the level that I could climb continuously for 30 minutes.  Measure that.  I'd suggest that you have that level be at about 1.5 number grades below your goal redpoint number.  Certainly no more than 2 number grades below.  In a place like the Red, where the ability to hang on for ages is paramount, you'll need mid 5.11 climbing to be easy enough to recover on if you hope to send more than a handful of the forearm busting 5.13's.  

**All photos by Anne Skidmore at**

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