Usain Bolt can probably outrun me, but I'll outclimb him. Easy.
"You've got to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run."
-Don Schlitz, from The Gambler (popularized by Kenny Rogers)
In the last post, "Know When To Hold 'Em...", we talked a little about sprinting versus resting, and why one isn't better than the other in every case. Instead, they are distinct techniques, and you may need to access both on a single climb. We've talked about learning to recover while mid-climb, and how to train for that. So, how to train for the inevitable sprint?
First, how do you decide when to sprint, and when to rest? Through training, and through experience, you'll learn more and more about the limits of your body. If you can gain a clear understanding of the size holds or type of stance you need to really recover, then you'll know if you can stop and shake out or not. Pay attention to the response of your body when you train, or when you are on pumpy pitches, and you'll begin to understand the place where your anaerobic threshold lies. The anaerobic threshold is simply the point at which the buildup of lactic acid exceeds the body's ability to remove lactic acid. When you've effectively crossed the anaerobic threshold, and there is no recovery stance in sight, it's time to move... and fast.
As with any technique, it's best to learn how to sprint in a controlled environment before applying it to a real life "performance" situation. As I was once a very slow, methodical climber, I added several exercises to my training that helped to increase the pace at which I could climb precisely.
1. Kaukulated Precision.
Ron Kauk, practicing precision for a LONG time.
The first time I climbed with Ron Kauk, I expected him to move slowly and gracefully, as I'd seen him in short videos. I was shocked to notice that he moved FAST. Every movement was at top speed, but when his foot landed on a smear, or his fingers twisted into a lock, they never moved. Not a single readjustment. He was onsighting, but I would have sworn he had climbed the route hundreds of times before. Amazing. Years later it occurred to me that I could teach my body to do the same thing, thus saving valuable time and energy. This exercise should become a part of all your warmups, and with enough diligence will eventually become a part of every move you ever do. The premise is simple... when you grab a hold, use it. Don't readjust. Same with footholds. Don't take your eye off the foot until it is securely on the hold, and place it exactly right the first time. At first, placing everything accurately may slow you down a bit. With time and practice though, accuracy will become a built in part of your movement. If you aren't readjusting every hand and foothold 2 or 3 times, you can cut your time on a long sequence in half, without rushing any movement.
2. The Race
Major League Baseball players regularly see 90+ mph fastballs during a game. When taking batting practice, they rarely see a pitch over 75 or 80 mph. Why? So they can focus on the basics and mechanics of their swing, and build it to a point that they can use it effectively in a game.
You'll need a stopwatch for this one, or an awfully accurate, very in tune, internal clock. Find a sustained route or long boulder problem that is at a level you can climb comfortably, with no danger of failure. First, climb it at your natural pace, and keep track of the time spent on the route. Work to slowly decrease your time on the route, but do NOT sacrifice technical precision. Any speed that you develop can quickly be cancelled out by sloppy technique. Be sure to keep your breathing even throughout, and try to find a "rhythm" in your climbing. Aim to increase your speed by about 10 percent each attempt, and if you find yourself losing precision, don't be afraid to back down and practice at a slightly lower speed.
Once you've mastered easy moves at a faster clip, you can move on to more challenging routes, and try out "The Race" on increasingly harder moves.
3. Controlled Burn
Often times when you watch a very good climber, they fall when you least expect it. The moves didn't even look hard. Did they just let go? Well, part of what makes them a good climber is that they hold their technique and poise together long after they've gotten pumped and tired. Chances are, when you need to sprint through a sequence, your forearms will become increasingly more stiff, and since the rock gods are great route setters, the hardest moves will inevitably be the last. For those, you'll need to have your technique remain solid. To train for that situation, you'll need to get yourself pumped silly, but on terrain that you have zero chance of technical failure on. There are several ways to go about this... my favorite, and easiest on the skin, is to climb a route that is fairly difficult for you, nearing your maximum. When you've acquired a good solid pump, quickly bail to a route that is about 2 number grades below the first. Focus hard on maintaining your technique, your breathing, and your overall poise. If you find yourself succumbing to the coordination reducing effects of lactic acid, lower the grade further until failure is happening purely from pump, and no degradation in technique. Slowly advance the grade you train on, and soon people will wonder why you let go on your project. The moves didn't even look hard, and you surely didn't look pumped...