Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Aerobic Endurance Training in Sport Climbing. Capacity (IV): Periodization and Load Progression

Versión en español

After looking at the methodology in the previous post, I would like to end this series about Training Capacity (also known as ARC) by presenting some examples of load progression: a) from a microcycle or week to the next (in the same mesocycle) and b) from a mesocycle to the next (between consecutive groups of weeks) or from a macrocycle to the next (groups of mesocycles, spanning several months).

The evolution of the load, as always, must be individualized, attending to our characteristics (level, training experience, age...), goals and even to the facilities we have access to. In the image, data gathering during a coaching session with my wonderful trainee Isabel Carbonell. Picture by Javipec

A- How to progress from one week to the next

It is easy to deduce that, being this entry about capacity, the natural path is to increase the total session volume.

1. Continuous method

In this case we will slowly go up in the number of minutes as weeks go by.

Example 1 (medium level)
  • week 1, load microcycle 1: 8' of easy climbing
  • week 2, load microcycle 2: 10' of easy climbing
  • week 3, load microcycle 3: 12' of easy climbing
  • week 4, recovery microcycle: 6' of easy climbing

Example 2 (medium-high level, long training experience)
  • week 1, load microcycle 1: 15' of easy climbing
  • week 2, load microcycle 2: 18' of easy climbing
  • week 3, load microcycle 3: 20' of easy climbing
  • week 4, recovery microcycle: 10' of easy climbing

2. Long interval training

Once we know how long we want each set to be, we will increment the number of sets per session:

Example 1 (medium level)
  • week 1, load microcycle 1: 3x5' of easy climbing:2'
  • week 2, load microcycle 2: 4x5' of easy climbing :2'
  • week 3, recovery microcycle: 2x5' of easy climbing:2'
Example 2 (medium-high level, long training experience)
  • week 1, load microcycle 1: 3x8' of easy climbing:90"
  • week 2, load microcycle 2: 4x8' of easy climbing:90"
  • week 3, load microcycle 3: 5x8' of easy climbing :90"
  • week 4, recovery microcycle: 2x8' of easy climbing :90"

Are there any other options for load progression?

Depending on our objectives, we could increase the duration of each set while extending the recovery pauses; a more advanced variation would be to leave the pauses unchanged.

Shortening the recovery pauses is an even more advanced alternative. As we will learn later, it can be used to progress between macrocycles or even seasons (groups of macrocycles).

What would not make a lot of sense
in this case would be to increase the relative intensity of each set. A different question is absolute intensity; as our physical condition improves, we almost inadvertently will change the size and distance of the holds we choose. But this modification will be a consequence of training, not an intentional action.

In any case, the choice of parameters to tweak will be a function of the level of the climber, their characteristics, goals and time constraints. I recommend you start this way:

Basic guide for load evolution in Capacity methods

  1. Set the total volume you want to reach.
  2. Choose a set duration that is "manageable" (interval method) or that you will climb in one go (continuous method).
  3. During the first 2 to 3 weeks of the mesocycle, start with a reduced volume and then increase the number of sets until you reach the volume you established in point 1; the 3rd or 4th week will be for recovery, halving the number of sets.
Eva López training capacity. Picture by Javipec

B. How to progress between mesocycles or macrocycles

According to your objectives and level, for the next macrocycle or mesocycle (group of microcycles with a specific goal in the context of your planning), you can choose between extending the duration of the sets or shortening the pauses between them:
  • Intermediate level: In this case I prefer to go for longer sets.
  • High level: the second strategy, reducing recovery time, will probably be the most suitable tool we can resort to, because it will be likely that we have already maxed out all the other variables (especially set duration and total session volume). Beyond this point, beware... we need to realize that when a certain volume near the limit we can tolerate is reached, it makes no sense to keep on adding to it and we should better focus on a different effect or endurance objective.

As an example, assuming a previously set volume of 25 minutes...

  1. First mesocycle: week 1, 3x5’ :2’; week 2: 4x5’ :2’ and week 3: 5x5’ :2’. Week 4 is a recovery microcycle, 2-3x5’ :2’.
  2. Next mesocycle: week 1, 4x6' :2' (24' total); week 2, 5x6' :2'; week 3, down to 3x6' :2'.
  3. In a subsequent mesocycle you could start with 5x5' :90" and so on...

How many days per week should I train capacity?

If you are new to capacity training or have a medium level, every other day:
  • 2 days if you climb outdoors in the weekends.
  • Up to 3 days if you don't go rock climbing in the weekends.
If you have a long training experience, a high level and want to especially prioritize this content, you can work it almost all training days:
  • Around 3-4 days per week if you climb in the weekends.
  • Up to 5-6 days if you don't climb outdoors.

The place of Capacity training in the session

If the session is of the kind called a complex session (several contents vs selective session), we need to decide which contents have higher priority and which are complementary at each stage, and then decide how to train each one. This analysis should begin by questioning why we want to work each content at all; in this case, if and why capacity is useful for our purposes.

If you usually train 2 days in the weekdays, you will need to perform complex sessions, and probably to include these contents. In general, it is sensible to follow the rule of starting with the more intense, power-demanding or [technically] complex methods and follow with easier and simpler contents. In other words and in this order: maximum strength, boulder, high-intensity endurance (intensive interval and repetition methods that we will look at in the future) and capacity.

On the other hand, the order can differ to the point of being just the opposite if the goals and, more importantly, the level and objectives justify it. For a high level athlete it can be interesting, at certain points in a macrocycle, to place the capacity at the middle or at the beginning of the session, before the strength, power or high intensity interval contents, with the objective of creating a shock load due to the pre exhaustion or even depletion.
Matilda Soderländ, Eclipse Cerebral, 8b, Rodellar. Picture by Javipec.

Where to include Capacity in a Macrocycle

It will be the main focus on the days that are devoted to working qualities related to endurance, during the initial (called general, base or introductory depending on the author) mesocycle, for all levels (always respecting the advice on method, set duration and pause duration). For lower and mid-levels, this applies also to the specific mesocycle.

It will be a complementary content some days in any mesocycle if the goal is to diversify the training stimulus after high-intensity or high-stress phases (this would be a transition microcycle) or as an active recovery method in high-intensity (shock) or competitive microcycles.

How long should you train your capacity for?

As we learned in this series' entry about physiology, capacity develops mostly by structural changes, that take longer to set in. Even though some effects might be noticeable after 3-4 weeks, we could establish a minimum period of 6-8 weeks for these to be significant.


If, after several weeks of using this methodology, you notice the following positive effects:
  • It takes longer to get depleted while you try your project or you don't get depleted at all, even if you stay a long time on the route, falling repeatedly.
  • You don't get exhausted or as tired as before to train capacity, and the next day you still can perform moderately intense climbs.
  • And, of course, you can fight longer while onsighting or trying a route...
Then... you will know your training is on the right path. On top of achieving that, the methods that you will use next to develop other kinds of aerobic endurance and power endurance will have a greater effect. And this is also important.

And, once again, remember that this series has dealt with capacity, but it will be crucial for your training to also work contents related to maximum strength and boulder.

I, for one, am not in favor of devoting whole mesocycles to just one of the qualities that influence performance. But this is a topic for another blog entry...


Why we need to train Local Aerobic Endurance: Let the Numbers Talk
Objectives and Bases for Designing an Endurance Training Program in Sport Climbing
Aerobic Endurance Training in Sport Climbing: Capacity (I). Physiological Adaptations
Aerobic Endurance Training in Sport Climbing: Capacity (II). Training Load Elements: Objectives, Intensity and Volume
Aerobic Endurance Training in Sport Climbing. Capacity (III): Training Methods