You’ve just made the fourth clip on your project. You can see the chains dangling 10 feet above you. This last stretch is a little runout, you think. And of course, the powerful crux move is next. You set your feet but your arms start to give. You’ve worked this section a thousand times, and even though you nail it every time in isolation, you don’t seem to have the power left when you reach it in sequence. You take.
Sound familiar? It’s difficult to balance endurance and power as you begin climbing training, especially when you have a specific project in mind. Whether that project is the new 5.10 in the gym or leading your first 5.13 outdoors, sometimes the key to improve climbing performance on ropes… is to boulder.
While there are other disciplines and focuses of training, power, endurance, and strength are the big three for climbing. Here’s a quick recap of what I mean when I say:
Power: Short-term. Explosive movement, bursts of “strength,” ability to draw on a conserved bank when needed.
Endurance: Long-term. “Slow burn.” Ability to climb for extended periods of time without pumping.
Strength: Muscle, tendon strength. Pulling or hanging. General ability to pull moves and hold holds.
This is important to understand because in order to be a successful climber, you generally need to have a healthy balance of these three attributes. Outliers exist. And by the very nature of our bodies, different climbers excel at different things. For instance, Alex Puccio has some unmatched strength, but we don’t see her projecting 5.15. But on the flip side, Margo Hayes CRUSHED 5.15a, yet doesn’t have a hard boulder tick (that I know of) to her name! This doesn’t mean that Puccio has no endurance or that Margo has no strength. No way. These are some of the strongest climbers out there. But they serve as a memorable demonstration of the natural strengths and weaknesses of climbers.
Power Endurance: Bouldering
This is the point we have been building to. Power endurance is the real reason that bouldering can have such a dynamic impact on your rope climbing. In short, power endurance is exactly what you think it is: the ability to do multiple powerful, or difficult, moves in a row without pumping out. Because bouldering generally trains power while rope climbing generally trains endurance, training on boulders AND ropes translates your performance on one to the other. Power endurance is often the key to successful training and is what many training programs build to. If you boulder often, you likely are lacking the endurance side of power endurance, and if you rope climb often, you are likely lacking the power side of power endurance. By training the opposing discipline regularly, you will see results in the other.
So what’s the workout?
The classic power endurance workout that you see plastered all over the internet is 4x4s.
4×4: Pick four intermediate routes (routes you can complete 16 times, but just barely. This is generally 2 to 3 grades below your redpoint or max). Climb the first route 4 times in a row with no rest in between, then rest for 2 minutes and do the same for the next 3 problems. This is one set. Rest 5 minutes in between sets and aim for 2-3 sets.
If 4x4s work for you, by all means, continue doing them! There is a reason everyone knows about 4x4s: they work. They are a classic, proven power endurance workout. But if you’re anything like me, you are bored to death by the second set. And that’s no way to climb. So let’s dig into why 4x4s work in order to understand how to create a power endurance workout that is not entirely mind-numbing.
The (Better) Alternative
Power endurance is best trained by prolonged exposure to difficult moves. This is tough because difficult moves, or cruxes, often mean that we are falling off them. So a good power endurance workout focuses on climbs that we are able to complete, even if we barely do so. As for prolonged exposure, we have to be sure that we are not over resting. Over resting can be avoided by implementing a timer. So our new definition of a power endurance workout is: climbing difficult climbs with minimal rest in a defined amount of time to ensure prolonged exposure. There are tons of ways to implement this into a climbing workout.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and climb as many problems just below your redpoint as you can in the time. Rest for 5 minutes, and do it again with slightly lower grades.
Pick an area of the gym. Set a timer for 7 minutes and climb every problem beginning with the most difficult one you can complete and finishing with all of the 0s. Rest for 5 minutes and move to another section of the gym.
Next time you are falling on ropes, come into the gym, slap on a beanie, and do a power-endurance workout in the bouldering area. You will be surprised at the improvements you will see in your rope climbing!
For focusing on power, we've laid out 4 Power Exercises To Up Your Bouldering Game.