When you’re a brand new climber, progress is fast. However, these quick gains don’t last, and many intermediate climbers feel frustrated by a plateau. If you’ve been climbing for one or two years and feel like you’re not improving as fast as you used to, it might be time to incorporate some structured training. You probably still won’t progress at the speed of your first month of climbing, but adding some specificity to your climbing can help you break into that new grade range.
I’ve been sport climbing for about two years, and recently I started to feel like I was stuck. I felt limited by my power: whenever I tried a harder grade, there would be an individual move I just couldn’t quite pull. I decided to focus on building strength for the summer, and this allowed me to break into new levels of climbing.
If you feel like you’re in a similar position, this plan is designed to help break through the plateau and unlock new sends, whether your weakness is power or endurance.
Tip: Check out our Notion template to schedule your sessions and keep track of your progress.
The plan is 18 weeks long, with three different training blocks. For each training block, you’ll do five weeks of the outlined training sessions and then one de-load week before moving on to the next block.
For the de-load week, do two moderate climbing sessions of either sport climbs or boulders. Don’t try at your limit; just go and have fun. It’s tempting to continue to train if you feel good, but it’s always better to rest before you’re forced to by injury.
There are variations for both boulderers and sport climbers. The training outlined in the plan below is the max you should do. If you feel tired or a part of your body feels extra sore or tweaky, skip a day of training. It’s better to miss a day than to get injured and be out for a month.
Many of the sessions can be adapted for climbing outside if that’s where you happen to be. Additionally, you’ll need access to some dumbbells and a pull-up bar.
Weeks 1 through 6: Strength and Power
Strength and power is the foundation of what allows us climbers to do hard moves. Strength and power take time to build, but it’s easier to maintain this type of fitness than it is to maintain endurance. That’s why it makes up the first chunk of the plan: you’ll work on your power, and then do enough to maintain your new gains while you build up your longer-duration energy systems.
For five weeks, you’ll do four training sessions, three of which are climbing-based and one of which is an off-the-wall strength session. Then, do one de-load week.
1. Limit Session One: Bouldering
A limit bouldering session is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: climbing boulder problems or moves right at your limit. This does not mean you go into the gym and try every V4 you see! Instead, warm up by climbing easier problems for about 20 minutes.
Your goal then is do between three and seven moves that are right at your limit, meaning you are mostly climbing to failure. Falling means you are doing it right! Limit bouldering doesn’t have to be about sending problems. You can try parts of harder boulders, or even make up your own moves using a combination of holds.
Between each attempt, take off your shoes and rest for at least a few minutes. The goal of this session is not to climb volume.
After the warm-up, the session should last around 60-90 minutes. When you feel your power starting to drop off, call it a day. You won’t leave the gym feeling exhausted or pumped, because that’s not the point. Both sport climbers and boulderers should do this session.
2. Limit Session Two: Bouldering or Sport Climbing
If your focus is bouldering, the second limit session will be the same as the first. If your focus is sport climbing, you’ll do this limit session on the wall.
Warm up by doing a couple easier routes. Then pick three climbs that you can’t send, but that you can do every move on. Climb each once– expect that it will take a while for you to get to the top. You should be falling often, resting, and then trying a few more moves. If you can’t get to the top, that’s OK! Rest at least fifteen minutes between climbs.
3. Volume Session
When you’re limit climbing, you aren’t doing a lot of volume. This is great for building power, but when you are within the first few years of climbing it’s important to climb a lot. Climbing is a skill sport, so time on the wall means improved technique, efficiency, and body awareness.
So for one day a week, go climb and have fun! Don’t try climbs that are totally at your limit– pick boulders or routes you could do in 1-3 tries. This day can be done outside or in the gym. Climb for as long as you like, but don’t get overly exhausted.
4. Lifting Session
Doing a few focused weight lifting exercises can improve your upper body strength and power.
For this session, warm up with a band. Then, perform the following exercises, resting a few minutes between sets. For each exercise, choose a weight that is challenging but manageable, meaning you can maintain good form on all of the reps.
- Pull-ups: Aim to do three sets of four repetitions. If bodyweight pull-ups are too easy, add weight on a harness. If they are too hard, use a band and do assisted pull ups.
- Dumbbell rows: Perform three sets of six reps.
- Clean and press: Perform three sets of six reps.
- Tricep kickbacks: Perform three sets of eight reps.
Weeks 7 through 12: Power Endurance
After the first six weeks, you should be feeling snappy and strong. Now it’s time to move on to the next phase: power endurance. Power endurance is the energy system you use when you do 15-40 sustained moves in a row. This is a common occurrence on sport climbs or longer boulders. It’s an anaerobic system; pure endurance is aerobic. Power endurance is not about being able to recover on the wall, it’s about being able to continuously do hard moves for a relatively short period of time.
1. Limit Session
You’ll still do one limit session per week: bouldering for boulderers and sport climbing for route climbers.
2. Volume Session
You’ll also keep doing one volume session per week.
3. Workout 1: 4 by 4s
After a warm-up, choose four boulder problems that are just below your flash level. Try to pick pumpy and powerful boulders, not slab climbs.
Do the first boulder four times in a row. Don’t shake out or try to recover. Rest for five minutes, then move onto the next boulder problem. That’s one set.
After one set, rest for fifteen minutes. If you feel exhausted, stick with one set. If you have the energy, you can do two or three sets.
4. Workout 2: Spray Wall Circuits
If you don’t have access to a spray wall, you can do this on an overhanging bouldering wall. Create your own problem that is between 20 and 30 moves long. You want to be able to complete the circuit, but barely.
When you’re creating your problem, try to keep the climbing consistent and avoid large rests. You can make the circuit go up, sideways, and down. Count moves by each time a hand moves to a new hold– don’t include foot placements. Once you’ve built the circuit, climb it 4-6 times with six minutes of rest in between.
Creating the circuit can be quite strenuous, so try to create it during a volume session and come back to it for the workout.
Weeks 13 through 18: Endurance
Endurance is the system that is the quickest to build and the quickest to lose– that’s why it’s the final phase of the plan. You’ll find that you maintain the strength and power you built at the beginning of the training cycle by just doing one or two sessions a week, while your endurance will improve fast.
This is the part of the plan where things start to differ more for boulderers versus sport climbers. Endurance is important for all climbers to focus on: you’ll get less pumped on easier sections of routes and boulders, which makes you more likely to be able to do the hard moves. Training endurance also helps your body adapt to the loads of climbing and be able to handle more volume down the line. However, route climbers should focus more on endurance than boulderers. Variations are specified below.
1. Limit Session
To maintain the explosive power, continue to do one limit session per week. Ropes or boulders is fine.
2. Volume Session
Continue to do one volume session per week.
3. Workout One: Up Down Ups
This workout is best done on ropes–lead or top rope works. You can also do it on boulders by doubling the exercise.
After warming up, pick a climb that’s two grades lower than your onsight level. Climb up, then climb down, then back up (repeat if bouldering).
You should feel pumped by the end! Do 3-6 of these total, depending on energy levels.
4. Workout Two: Climbing Routes
This workout is only for sport climbers. Boulderers can pick one of the following options: repeat a power endurance workout, or do another limit bouldering session.
Choose routes that you can climb without falling but that are still challenging. Try to pick long routes: the goal is to climb for 5-10 minutes. If you need to, you can climb two routes in a row.
Warm up, then climb 4-6 of these moderately challenging routes with 10 minutes rest in between. This might seem similar to a normal sport climbing session, but the goal is to climb consistently instead of climbing routes on which you will take or fall.
Then, it’s time to perform! Take a few weeks and focus on projects or hard new climbs. Enjoy the benefits of the hard work you’ve put in. You can repeat this training program multiple times throughout the year, adjusting it as you get stronger.