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What is endurance training in climbing?

Endurance training is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of training for climbing.

We think that, because we fall off when we’re ‘pumped’, we need to get pumped more often to improve this aspect of our climbing. But is this true?

Training needs to be specific

For training to be specific, it does not need to look or feel like the climb you are training for. The training should be specific to the adaptation you’re trying to improve. Therefore, training endurance needs to target the right ‘energy system’, which we don’t necessarily achieve just by training to the point where we feel pump.

The Energy Systems

Generally speaking, there are two energy systems: the aerobic energy system and the anaerobic energy system (although maddy goes into way more detail in the video below).

The anaerobic energy system is used for short bursts of energy, producing energy rapidly but only for a short period of time.

The aerobic energy system creates energy slowly but has a large capacity to do so. If we’re using this energy system when we climb, it allows us to climb at a low intensity for a sustained period of time. This is because it doesn’t have the same byproducts associated with it as the anaerobic energy system that cause muscle fatigue.

If you want even more detail on the energy systems, check out this blog post.

Why just ‘getting pumped’ isn’t enough…

Volume is key for developing our aerobic energy system. Intensity is key for developing our anaerobic energy system.

Just getting really pumped hits the middle ground between volume and intensity. It’s not really an effective strategy, as it targets neither systems effectively.

Pump is also associated with high levels of fatigue because these efforts are exhaustive. You’ll therefore take longer to recover from this session which may not be the best use of your time or energy.

How can we train endurance?

We have three options:

  • Short intervals
  • Long intervals
  • Continuous

Short Intervals: 1 ON, 1 OFF

  • Climb for 1 minute
  • 1 minute rest off the wall
  • Complete 10 times
  • During the 1 minute climbing, you should build a pump
  • During 1 minute rest, you should fully recover

Intense way to train aerobic energy system. You shouldn’t be near failure, even though you’re pumped.

Long intervals: 5 ON, 3 OFF

  • Climb for 5 minute
  • 3 minute rest off the wall
  • Complete 3 times
  • During the 5 minute climbing, you should only build a light pump that should always feel manageable
  • During 3 minute rest, you should fully recover

Lower intensity of climbing than 1 ON, 1 OFF. You should always be able to shake on the holds you’re on.

Continuous climbing: ARCing (Aerobic Recruitment Capilarisation)

10-30 minutes of continuous climbing at a very low intensity. You should be able to climb almost indefinitely, building no pump on the wall. The final minute should feel the same as the first minute.

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4 responses to “What is endurance training in climbing?

  1. Hi. I really appreciate your content. I have two question regarding the interval endurance training you mentioned.

    I’m working on endurance at the moment, and I have been doing the intervals you mentioned for a few weeks now.

    With the facilities available at my bouldering gym, 1 on, 1 off and 5 on, 3 off is quite manageable.

    My first question is: I find that the 1 on, 1 off set is a bit too short for a session. I compensate for this by bouldering for about an hour (stopping when I feel ready to work on hard projects) before the endurance training and doing weighted pull ups and front levers after. How many sets of 1 on, 1 off would you recommend for this type of session?

    Question 2: I am able to complete the 5 on, 3 off at a spray wall at the gym. However as the wall is quite steep, I worry that the intensity is too high. I’m not feeling recovered after three minutes, but still able to complete all the reps. What would you recommend: Sticking with 1 on, 1 off, or reducing the time on the wall to say 3 on 2 off x 5, or just accept that I get pumped?


    1. Hi Sondre!

      We’re glad to hear you’re enjoying our content!

      Question 1: We’d recommend 10 sets of 1 rep. You should choose a route or circuit that will achieve a 4/10 RPE. You should feel moderately pumped but you should be recovered enough to complete each set without failing. Begin with 60 secs on, but you can progress this over time to 1 min 20 secs and 1 min 40 secs. Our recommendation is at least 15 minutes of climbing before the workout. This exercise can be completed along with other climbing/training in a session.

      Question 2: 5 on, 3 off is to be performed at a very low intensity: 2/10 RPE throughout the entire workout. It is likely that by performing this exercise on such steep terrain, you aren’t quite hitting the endurance stimulus but rather your anaerobic energy system. If you’re able to, you should perform this workout on less of a steep wall – this will help. Otherwise, there are other ways to hit the endurance stimulus, such as on a hangboard!

      Hope this helps! Let us know if you have any further questions!

  2. If we compare the continuos training to the arobic endurance protocols in the Crimpd app that uses 30% and 40% of Max, at what intensity of max would the Continous climbing as off-the wall training with e.g. a lifting pin and a pinch block be recommended as? Lower than 30% perhaps?

    1. Hi David. Great question. If you’re performing an ARC protocol which is a very low intensity and high volume exercise that involves continuous climbing on the wall to improve the capillarisation in your forearms, you’re aiming for a 2/10 RPE for anywhere from 10 to 30+ minutes of continuous climbing.

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