I’m not a huge fan of physical training to improve climbing performance – i think there are much greater gains to be made from improving technique, tactics and mentality – but there comes a point where pushing yourself physically is both beneficial and necessary. But, assuming you’re going climbing because you like moving around on the wall, how can we design some training in such a way that we’re not hanging from a fingerboard, getting bored staring at the wall?
I was introduced to Pyramid Training while i was swimming competitively. If our peak was a 200m freestyle set, we’d build up by doing 4 sets of 50m, then 2 sets of 100m, then the 200m. Crucially though, we’d then repeat the 100m sets and finish repeating the 50m sets. For a good explanation of pyramid training, albeit in the context of weight lifting, click here.
It can be hard to explain in words, so i’ve drawn it up in a handy graph:
Pyramid Training with Press Ups
Let’s say you want to complete 100 press ups as part of your training, before bed for example. Doing 100 press ups in one fell swoop is going to be out of the question for the vast majority of us so a pyramid allows us to get the volume of training in!
The above diagram, if you add up all the sets, gives 100 reps overall. It’s broken down into five sets of 20 and each set is then either done in one, two or four groups, with a short pause in between.
For some things, a total of 100 is simply too much; even Alex Megos can’t do 100 one arm pull ups for example! But he might be able to do 6. So in that scenario, we might put our middle set at 4, sets 2 and 4 would then become 2 reps, and the first and last sets would be one rep.
The only golden rule here is that the number 4 is your friend. For those with a mathematical bent, this may seem obvious but for those not as good with numbers, notice how each column is the same size (each set has the same number of reps) and in each column, the reps are all the same size. This is important so stick to multiples of four for the middle column and the others will naturally fall into place.
Adapting the Model for Climbs
So, with the top three paragraphs in mind, how can we adapt this model so we can still climb?
We still want to be completing the route so our max should be our flash grade. You could use a climb that is harder that you have totally wired but remember it needs to be something you can guarantee to finish and it shouldn’t be at your peak. If we take the example above, my peak wasn’t 20 press ups, i could do much more, but as part of a pyramid, it worked well. So i’d suggest stick with flash grade for now.
The two columns either side of this should be easier, obviously, but how much easier is hard to gauge. Remember that you should be aiming to complete the entire pyramid so don’t overdo it. In the graph below i’ve suggested one or two grades below your flash grade but if you’re not getting to the end of the set, try dropping this further.
Each colour block on the graph represents one climb. So for the first set, you’re completing four climbs; for the second set you repeat the climb twice; the peak climb is completed once; and then back down again. In total, you should be getting to the top of the wall 13 times.
When selecting your climbs, you have two choices: the easiest is to find three climbs and repeat the easiest four times, repeat the next twice, and so on. Alternatively, you could select four easy climbs, two medium and one hard. Judging the suitability of these climbs will be significantly harder and take much more judgement. However for those of us that don’t like doing any training (possibly because it can be boring) having seven climbs to do rather than three may be more tempting to finish.
Expanding the Pyramid
This pyramid has two climbs leading to the peak but it wouldn’t be difficult to have three columns or even more. Adjusting the maths is the tricky bit there and you may end up with 8 repetitions of an easier climb at the start or the end.
Alternatively, you could change the maths to have reps of
4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4
The choices are endless; the important part is to make sure you finish the whole set and feel quite tired at the end of it.
Adjusting the Models for You
These pyramids show you a principle or a model that you can use to help you got fitter and stronger. Putting them into practice requires some context and some adaptation and i can’t tell you how to do that on an article online; you need to figure that bit out for yourself. A full pyramid of 100 is fine for press ups but for me, there’s no way i could do a set of 20 pull ups so i would need to adjust the numbers and i might go for a max of 8.
Likewise with the adaptation for climbing: those grades need to work for you. There are many factors that come into play here – such as wall angle, type of holds, style of route, etc. – so selecting the right routes might take some time. Once you’ve got yourself a little circuit though, repeating it will be much quicker.
Finally, don’t forget that completing a pyramid regularly will see you get stronger, given that is the primary purpose of it! Once you are stronger, the same number of reps (or difficulty of climbs) will no longer achieve the same thing and so you’ll need to adjust it as needed. Knowing when to do this will only come from you and how you feel. Try and remember how you felt when you first started pyramids and how tired you were when you finished. That is the level of fatigue you should be achieving every time. Being as the number 4 is our friend, i’d suggest evaluating every fourth pyramid.
Book me for Some Guidance!
Reading this is all well and good but it’s easy to miss something or to not quite understand and not realise. After all, this is tricky to try and explain in this medium.
If that sounds like you and you’d like some help, the good news is that i can provide the guidance you need! This can either be in person or could be via online consultation. Prices are per hour and depend on group size:
Online Consultation £15 per hour
1:1 £20 per hour
Small Group (2-6) £15 per person per hour
Large Group (7-12) £10 per person per hour