Training isn't all about success. In fact, much of it is about failure. Reaching muscular failure is often viewed as a training success; failure at a specific movement or grip will teach you far more about your climbing than constant success. However, failure to make progress within your training is exactly that... a failure. Maybe that's a bit harsh... we'll call it a setback, since you have every opportunity to reevaluate and move it forward.
We all, at some time or another, will have to face the reality that we just aren't getting better as quickly as we like. It's that realization that should force you to take a step back and try and determine where you've taken a wrong turn. These little detours aren't always so easy to spot, as up to now, it's obviously worked for you. Not any longer.
There are thousands of ways that your training can be rendered ineffective or inefficient. I'm assuming that if you've gotten to the point of reading this blog, you've successfully run the gauntlet through at least several hundred of those ways. Discovering the sticking point is now much more difficult. After much deliberation over a list of about 25, I've decided on the 5 ways I see experienced climbers derail their progression.
This one is especially hard to avoid. Let me first say that I believe ego to be a positive motivator when used with control. It's when out of control that ego becomes dangerous, and can manifest itself in a number of ways, including leading you directly into several other of the top 5 derailers. Just a few examples you've all seen or experienced:
The new hot girl (or guy) at the gym is working on a steep juggy problem, so you feel the need to go send the V7 you have dialed right in front of her. Then the V8. Then you downclimb the problem she's working on. And back up it. Now you're pumped AND stupid. Good work.
It's an Anaerobic Endurance phase, and just before you begin your 4x4's, all your friends are having a campus session. You know you're closer to doing 1-5-8 than they are, so you join in. You never get 1-5-8, but now you're too powered down to even complete one set of the 4x4 you've been closing in on. Good job.
You're in a strength phase, but a new purple with cheetah print route has gone up on the lead wall, and out the roof. At 12+, you could onsight it AND get the F.A. You fall at the end, blow the onsight, and get pumped silly, which ruins your power for the rest of the night. Dumb.
#4. Performing Too Soon.
Number 4 is sneaky. Good temps can lure you in with barely a whisper, and two weeks later you're back to square one. The scenario: You've trained hard...and smart... the entire off-season. A month before your training cycle is complete, the humidity drops, the temps become prime, and unexpectedly, the season has arrived! You're out the door to the crag, and putting in early work on the project. You decide to skip your workouts in favor of saving energy for the real thing. Next week, the temps are holding, and you're making redpoint attempts. A week later, as if it never happened, the temps are back to the 90's. Humidity is at 80%. You didn't send. Back in the gym, you can barely even send your previous warmups. All of your hard earned power disappeared with the weather window, and when the real season begins, will you be ready?
I see this one often enough to find it alarming. I also often hear people defend their training choice by citing this common training mistake. "Well, it works for Bill Ramsey." "Sharma doesn't train." "Patxi trains every day, why can't I?" I could be wrong, but there is a good chance that you aren't, and never will be, Bill Ramsey, Chris Sharma, or Patxi Usobiaga. Just a guess. Ramsey and Patxi's training would maim the average human, and Sharma's style of training would strand most of us right where we are... if not below. You also aren't me, so you shouldn't do exactly what I do. You aren't the strong guy at your gym, so why mimic his workout? Smart climbers adapt their training methods to fit their strengths, weaknesses, available time, level of commitment, etc., etc., and so on and so on. Essentially, you have to determine what is best for your training, and chances are that it won't be the thing that sounds the most fun to you.
Just to paint the picture: You read Bill Ramsey's workout online, and it immediately sparks your interest. "I love getting crazy pumped while I workout! I love pullups! I love working out ALL THE TIME! This is definitely for me!" Sure it is, if you're Bill Ramsey. Here's the difference... you've now been doing this workout for 2 months, and you still can't boulder V2. Bill could boulder V6 in his sleep long before he did 47 million treadwall laps. It's true, you now have amazing endurance. As long as the moves are V1 or easier, you're money. Fantastic.
#2. Doing The Same Ol'.
Most people I know, myself included, are easy prey to this trap. If it's been working, why fix it? Campusing and limit bouldering have worked for me for years, why on earth would I do 4x4's? The short answer: Because you want to get better. This isn't rocket science... as you progress, your returns on the same workout will diminish. No question.
In this same camp are the climbers who only work on their strengths, while never attacking the weaknesses that limit them. Its the same thing, week after week, season after season. Even if you began working on your weakness, and never reevaluated, there's a good chance that it's become a strength, and you're now stuck in this rut.
Eventually both of you will be left searching for the routes or problems that best suit you rather than improving your skills to make harder routes or problems possible. That's a sad moment, because it means that you believe you've reached your physical limit. Or, maybe you have reached it, and you feel enlightened to have realized it. Better you than me.
#1. No Plan.
I'm amazed by the people who come into the gym to "train" with barely a vague idea of what they are going to do. On Tuesday, they do a 4x4. Thursday, some campusing. Saturday, a little bouldering and an off-the-cuff core workout. Many of these people record their results in some sort of journal, but without a control, and so many independent variables, what exactly is the data telling them? I'm guessing that it tells them whatever they want to see in it.
I'm all for training by "feel". It's my preferred way of navigating most of life. Regardless, I have to be honest about the fact that all of this training we do is an experiment, and without a controlled variable, there essentially is no experiment. You can't possibly know what caused you to perform better in a given season if every step of the process is an independent variable. You can think you know, but you'll have no data to back that "feel" up.
Me, I've got a plan, and I'm sticking to it.