“Learn how to train, then train hard, then train smart. Most people will never have to go past step two.”
When I first heard this statement, it caught me off guard. It rubbed me the wrong way that someone would consider training smart as the last step in the process. "Smarter, not Harder," has been the mantra of productivity for years, and for good reason. However, the more I thought about it, the more this idea started to make sense to me.
Hear me out on this: I don't believe our standards for training should be so low that things like "Have a plan," and "Recover," should be placed on the pedestal of "smart training". That should just be training! Training means that you are following a principle-based plan with a specific goal in mind. If you aren't doing that, then you aren't training - you're just exercising.
Learning to train means understanding and employing the fundamentals:
Have a plan and follow it.
Track your training.
Prioritize rest as much as you do your training: sleep plenty, drink water, eat real food, and take rest days.
Have a good reason for everything you do in your training. Random training will give you random results.
There’s a difference in developing strength and demonstrating it. Understand that difference.
Build strength that helps you both climb better and become more resilient to injury.
Climbing is a skill sport. Physical training shouldn't take up more than 20-25% of your training time.
Listen to your body. Burnout and injuries will normally make themselves known before they become serious, if you are looking for them. This is where a journal can be worth its weight in gold (currently $1,340/ounce). With a composition book weighing 5.6 ounces and a Process Journal weighing 7.5 ounces, that’s still a lot cheaper and less time consuming than shoulder surgery.
If you get hurt training, you’re doing something wrong.
Find enjoyment in your training. If you’re going to be there, you might as well have a good time. It will be more sustainable if you do.
When in doubt, simplify.
These all sound like common sense, right? If you want to hear more on these ideas, Kris and I recently sat down and recorded a five part podcast series discussing where we see common practice and common sense part ways in climbing and training.
If you can stick to these concepts, you’ll be training "smarter" than 99% of the people out there. From there, try hard - unbelievably hard. If you’re checking all of these boxes, but you aren’t putting in the hard work, it won't take you very far. When you're chasing a goal, think of a training plan as the direction you are traveling, and your effort as your speed - neither is very useful on their own.
When you take into account the role that mental, technical, and tactical skills play in climbing, most people will never have to get beyond the "try hard" step for their physical training.
Like many good things when taken to an extreme, training "smart" can become more burden than benefit. Which is why I agree that it should be saved for the final step. In this era of four hour work weeks, 80/20 analysis, minimum effective doses, and general life “hacks,” it can be easy to forget that hard work and fundamentals still need to be the base of any good plan. What I often see are people getting lost down the rabbit hole of training smarter and smarter when what they really need to do is knuckle down and train harder.
Adding in the newest pop-science sports fad to your routine doesn’t make your training "smart" any more than putting a body kit on a Civic makes it a race car.
You might be wondering, “Why shouldn’t I do the extra little things if it makes me progress faster?” My argument is if focusing on the extra stuff steals resources - be it money, time, energy, or will power - away from you covering the basics, then it’s a distraction. If you already master the basics and work hard and you want to start digging into the minutia that will push you fractions of a percentage point forward, then absolutely go for it. Be honest with yourself though, and figure out what it is you really need.
Start by keeping it simple and trying hard. If you can do those two things well, there’s a good chance that your physical preparation will never be the weak link in your climbing.