If you are considering making climbing your main training or exercise activity then you may be wondering how many days you should be climbing each week. For me, I wanted to train every day I could so that my climbing skill would improve, but I learned you shouldn’t climb every day.
In this article, I will outline the science and common discussion among climbers about how many days you should climb each week for maximum improvement and gains.
If you don’t like to read, here is a quick summary.
In general, there is no “one recovery timeline fits all” rule. Instead, it is based on many factors that change depending on who you are.
On average, if you are climbing as hard as you can for a long climbing session, then 3-days per week is appropriate.
If you want to climb more than 3-days per week, consider making your climbing session less intense or shorter so your muscles don’t need as much time to recover between sessions.
What The Science Says
There have been many studies about how long you need to allow your body to recover if you want the most strength gains. This indicates that recovery from your exercise may be just as important as the training itself.
However, there has been a lot of contrasting conclusions between studies. For example, this study suggested that there was no significant difference between groups that took short vs long rest periods between training sessions.
Other studies, however, averaged the length of a decent rest period based on a number of factors. Unfortunately, the factors range so much from person to person that an average doesn’t properly correlate with the general climbing community.
There are many factors that change how often you can climb and below are the most commonly discussed factors among climbers.
How Intense Your Climbing Session Is
Just like when you are at the gym, the more intense your workout or climbing session is, the more time your muscles need to recover.
If you take your muscles to the max, they need time to recover. If you just warm up your muscles, you can keep climbing.
See below for how to make your climbing session more intense.
Total Volume Of Your Weekly Training
The volume of your training includes how long your climbing session is as well as any other exercise or training you may have throughout the week.
The more you workout, the more time your body needs to recover.
See below for how long your climbing session should be.
Climbers that are new to training or new to exercising, then you will likely need more time to recover compared to climbers that have been climbing and training longer.
It takes time to acclimate your body to training.
Your age plays a big role in how much training you can do and how much time you need to recover. Someone that is in their early 20s is usually able to perform harder and longer than someone that is in their 50s, no matter how fit you are.
There have been multiple studies that suggest there is a significant difference between the optimal recovery time for men and women.
For example, this study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance said that the optimal recovery time for strength development and function was 48 hours for males and only 4 hours for females.
How Long Should Each Climbing Session Be?
Just like the different factors listed above, a long climbing session looks different for different climbers. If you commonly climb for 2 hours and don’t feel tired or sore after a climbing session, then you can usually climb longer or increase the intensity of your climb.
With that being the case, there isn’t a basic rule-of-thumb for the length of your climbing session. Instead, you have to listen to your body and figure out for yourself how long your climbing session should be.
To help you do this, I’ve outlined three considerations below when you are evaluating how you feel and if you should keep climbing.
Consider Your Tendons
It can take months longer for your tendons to acclimate to the demand of climbing than it does for your muscles to acclimate. With this in mind, it is important that we constantly check in with ourselves to evaluate if we need to give our tendons a break, or if we are ok to keep climbing.
If you read this blog often, then you have heard this before: If your tendons hurt, stop climbing. The send isn’t worth an injury that can take you away from climbing for months.
Consider Your Muscles
While we are working our muscles and making them stronger, we are constantly taring them (it is during the recovery process of the tares that we develop muscle growth). Some climbers are more focused on getting to the end and they don’t pay attention to soreness or fatigue related to their muscles.
Fatigue and soreness is a good indication that you should either take a break and see if the fatigue or soreness goes away, or you should end your training session and begin the muscle recovery process.
Consider Your Skin
As for the length of your climbing session, also consider your skin. A lot of times climbers are so focused on finishing a specific climb or paying attention to how their tendons feel but you also have to consider how long your hands can handle the constant strain on the skin.
For example, when I first started climbing, I couldn’t climb longer than an hour without my hands feel like they were burning at the end of the session. Now, my skin has acclimated and I can climb for a lot longer period of time.
How Intense Should Your Climbing Session Be?
The intensity of a climbing session is based on how much energy you spend while in your climbing session. This also affects how long your climbing session should be and vice versa.
If you climb for a long period of time then the intensity of your climbing session should decrease.
In addition, if you want to take longer rest periods between climbing sessions and get the same value or gains as frequent climbing sessions, consider increasing the intensity of your climbing session to compensate.
Below are some ideas for adjusting the intensity of your climbing session.
Take Shorter/Fewer Breaks
A lot of times when you are in a climbing gym, you may see groups of people sitting around chatting or taking turns between 4-6 people on the same route. These breaks increase the time your system is in recovery and decreases the intensity of your workout.
Because of this, taking shorter or fewer breaks is probably one of the most common ways that climbers increase the intensity of a climbing session.
In contrast, if you want to decrease your climbing session intensity, consider longer or more frequent breaks.
Include Non-Climbing Exercises
Adding pushups between each climb or an intense ab workout at the end of your session is a great way to increase the intensity of your climbing session.
Sometimes climbers will replace breaks from climbing with 20 pushups.
By keeping your body engaged in an activity the entire time you are climbing, you will have a more intense climbing session.
In contrast, avoid non-climbing exercises if you wish to decrease your climbing session intensity.
Climb Faster or Slower
When you climb faster, you are more likely to expend more energy making large amounts of dynamic movement compared to slowly getting up a route.
That additional energy expense makes climbing faster a good way to increase the intensity of your climbing session.
You can also increase your muscle expenditure by climbing even slower than you usually would. For example, holding onto each handhold for at least 5 seconds before moving onto the next hold can make your body stay in difficult positions longer, thus expending more energy.
Keep in mind, however, this is muscle fatigue dependent and probably won’t benefit your technique.
In contrast, attempt to climb at a more comfortable pace if you wish to decrease your climbing session intensity.
Wearing a weighted vest is a great way to increase the intensity of your climbing session. It doesn’t matter how far or fast you climb, the additional weight will make the route more difficult muscle-wise, and thus expend more energy, which, in turn, increases the intensity of the climbing workout.
In contrast, avoid wearing a weighted vest if you wish to decrease your climbing session intensity.
Climb Inverted Routes
The angle of the climb heavily affects how much energy is required to complete the climb. Not only does it make it so you get tired faster, you are also more likely to engage more muscles throughout your entire body (especially your core).
Engaging more muscles makes climbing inverted routes more intense.
In contrast, climbing on 90-degree angle walls can decrease your climbing session intensity.
When You Need A Rest Day
Until you have tuned into your personal ability and sweet balance between training and resting, you can feel out whether or not it is ok for you to go climbing or if you should take a rest day based on how you feel.
The following are common signs you need a rest day:
- Sore Muscles
- Issues Sleeping
- (full list with explanation can be found here)
It has taken a long time for me to figure out what my optimal climbing session intensity is paired with how often I climb each week. However, if I take a day off that is usually a training day, or even more like a couple of weeks (quarantine for COVID-19, for example), then I have to readjust.
For me, I’ve spent the last few months figuring out what works best for me. Here is what I found:
- if I do a moderate-intense climbing session for 1 hour, then I can climb for 4-5 days per week.
- If I do an advance-intense climbing session for 1 hour, then I can climb 3-4 days per week.
- If I climb a casual-intense climbing session for 3 hours then I can climb 3 days per week.