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Climbing Endurance: Muscle, Skin and Mental Training

Climbing Endurance: Muscle, Skin and Mental Training

At one point in your climbing journey, you will recognize that you want to climb harder and longer to level up. However, you may be finding it difficult to do so without climbing harder and longer.

Before you can climb harder and longer, you need to build training endurance.

For climbing, there are three main pillars for training endurance including muscle endurance, skin endurance and mental endurance. 

This article reviews these three pillars/aspects of climbing and what professionals recommend for improving them.

Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance is one of the more obvious of the three main pillars. However, it is also one of the more difficult aspects to build up, or at least it is a more noticeably difficult pillar that affects your ability to keep climbing.

This is likely because we associate every movement in climbing to be physically demanding on our muscles. 

To build endurance in your muscles, you need to take special care to ensure your physical longevity so you can build muscle endurance. Below are a few to consider:

Warm-Up

The beat of the warm-up drum may seem overplayed, but the positive impact that a warm-up is important. 

Warming up will allow your muscles to gain the plasticity needed to continually use them for a long period of time. 

Plus, it decreases your chance of injury. An injury, of course, would make it very difficult to build your endurance, let alone train at all.

Manage intensity

When building muscle endurance, it is important to consider how intense your training session is. The more endurance you have, the more intense you can climb. 

However, while you build the necessary endurance, you have to mind how intense your climbing sessions are.

Consider trying a longer climbing session with lower intensity or vice-versa to see what works best for you.

You can decrease the intensity by taking longer breaks between climbs or do less difficult climbs.

You can increase the intensity by doing more climbs in a shorter period of time or by doing more physically challenging climbs, on inverted walls, for example.

Diet

Many people associate muscle endurance with exercise and muscle stamina but it is also important to consider the nutrients you provide them.

By eating a well-balanced diet, your muscles will be able to maintain strength and build the way they need to to support your improved endurance.

Plus, a healthy diet can decrease your recovery time, which, in turn, helps you get back on the wall faster.

Rest/Sleep

Just like your diet, it is important to get enough sleep. Ensure that you are getting enough sleep so that your muscles can recover properly.

Without enough sleep, you are more likely to suffer the negative consequences of fatigue, which can be detrimental to your endurance.

Focus on Injury Prevention

So many climbers don’t consider injury prevention when they are intensifying their climbing regimen. In addition to listening to your body or how your tendons feel, you should also consider building muscles that can help prevent injury.

For example, practicing pushing motions such as pushups can help build muscles that are opposite of the pulling muscles most commonly used in climbing, and thus minimize injury from unbalanced shoulder muscles.

In addition, climbers should train their rotator cuffs to further minimize injury in their shoulders. 

Any muscles that are being neglected in your climbing training should be exercised and built to decrease the chances of injury.

Skin Endurance

Even if you have perfect muscle endurance and mental endurance, a skin tare or sore skin can ruin your climbing training. Because of this, it is important to build skin endurance.

Skin endurance isn’t something that just comes with callouses (which should be tamed properly to prevent skin tears).

It comes with continuous contact with the rock texture that you are training on. If you are climbing in a gym, you will need a different level of sensitivity for skin endurance compared to climbing on limestone, for example.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your skin health and endurance:

Sand Down Callouses

Callouses that become thicker than the rest of your skin, are more likely to catch on something and tare. Obviously skin tears interrupt your skin endurance and you have to start over with that section of your skin.

Use Salve

To help with the health of your skin, consider applying salve to your hand. Something like Joshua Tree hand salve or Climb On hand salve can improve your skin’s plasticity and it’s capacity to take on more abuse.

Adjust Chalk Usage

The amount of chalk you use can affect how your hands feel while you are climbing. 

One way to test out how much chalk you should use is by doing multiple climbing sessions with similar intensity and length with different amounts of chalk. Then evaluate how your hands feel a few hours after to see if you notice a difference.

Adjust Chalk Type

Consider switching between liquid or dry chalk to see what makes your hands feel best after. If you use liquid chalk, Friction Labs has great liquid chalk that is alcohol-free, making it easier on your hands.

I haven’t tried the essential-oil-infused dry chalk such as Joshua Tree’s chalk line, but many climbers report that it makes them feel like it is refreshing for their hands.

Wash Your Hands

After you climb, ensure that you wash your hands. This will get off any bacteria and/or chalk that isn’t good for your skin to stay on for a long period of time.

If you are concerned about how long your climbing sessions are but don’t have pain in your skin after climbing, consider washing your hands in the middle of a climbing session. 

Mental Endurance

Mental endurance is one of the most powerful endurance pillars needed for building your training endurance.

If you have the mental endurance, you may even be able to overcome some weaknesses you have with your muscle and skin endurance (not including injury).

To build mental endurance, it is important to understand your current mental state and where you’d like to be.

For example, in Vertical Mind (a great book about improving your mental power while climbing), if you have a fear of falling, you may suffer physically by over gripping or making mistakes while climbing.

Consider practicing the following to improve your mental endurance:

Use Visualization

Visualization is a powerful means for preparing your body for each move. Similar to how reviewing beta can help you conserve energy by knowing moves ahead of time, visualization can make each move a little easier.

Positive Self-Talk

The power of positive thought has been researched extensively. It has been suggested that you can perform better if you respond positively to your performance than if you respond negatively, via self-talk.

One way to do this is by checking in with yourself and ensure that you do your best to be positive.

Keep A Climbing Journal

A lot of climbers track their training sessions with a climbing journal to track how they feel about their performance in a climbing journal. 

A climbing journal is a great way to track your improvement and growth. In addition, it can be a great way to look back at your progress if you need the motivation to keep training.

Additional Thoughts

Building endurance is a long process, depending on your current situation. But given the time and effort, you can build your endurance and be able to train harder and longer.

The main things you should work on building your muscle, skin and mental endurance. 

With the increased strength of these three aspects of your climbing training regimen, you’ll have the strength to climb harder and longer.

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