Keep It Simple, Stupid

Climbers are constantly bombarded with new training ideas, but Duncan Brown reminds us that mostly getting stronger is not about the new, it’s about consistency

WORDS: Duncan Brown, IMAGE: Simon Madden

Put together a room full of climbers who train hard year after year and chances are that you will get a room full of different opinions about how to go about it. Add the wonderful Internet where every single day you will hear about new training methods, tools, ideas, plans, programs and tricks for becoming the best climber you can be, and it can all become very confusing.

Now, to be fair, when used correctly the majority of the training that you read about online or hear about in the gym is probably pretty reasonable. Generally the problem isn’t the information itself, it’s the way that information is implemented.

‘So and so does this,’ and ‘Such and such sent all those hard routes on their trip.’ ‘This person does that and‘ they won all those competitions.’ ‘Yeah, but another person did all this different stuff and they are a total crusher.’

In our quick-hit, fast-paced, instant-fix modern culture you want results and you want them now. So if there’s a bright and shiny new way of doing things that may be better than what you’re currently doing, then you jump ship and take up the new thing with boundless enthusiasm. When, 15 minutes later, you haven’t seen any groundbreaking improvement it’s on to the next new training fad. And so it goes.

Fingerboarding is one of the most basic forms of training, and it's easy to measure your progress. Image Simon Madden

Fingerboarding is one of the most basic forms of training, and it’s easy to measure your progress. Image Simon Madden

Your body reacts to the stimulus you present it with. Do something with your body regularly and it will adapt to that new stress. But the key word is ‘regularly’. Just as doing the same thing for too long leads to plateaus, chopping and changing your training all the time does not allow your body the chance to produce a maximum level of adaption to the stress it is experiencing and, as a result, you never truly make good gains.

So how can you avoid the pitfalls of succumbing to an endless cycle of fads and thus never truly taking advantage of your training? Well, here’s a few guidelines that should help you steer yourself down the right path.

  • Keep It Simple, Stupid – Trying to do too many different kinds of training and using too many different training tools at the same time is a common mistake. Figure out what the focus of your training actually is, choose a couple of tools suited to training that and use those tools effectively.
  • Make a Plan – To avoid the temptation of skipping from training method to training method, plan your training schedule. It will also help you avoid plateaus.
  • Measure your progress – Find a handful of measurable, relevant parameters that you can record and regularly retest yourself to make sure your training is effective. If you choose parameters relevant to what you are trying to improve and you don’t see positive progress then you know your training isn’t effective.
  • Stick with it – Your body reacts and adapts to stress and training stimuli very well, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Doing two weeks of a new plan and then giving up or changing it because you haven’t sent your project yet does you no favours. You need to train with a longer-term mindset. Look for increasing levels of improvement next month, next season and next year, not the next day. Patience and commitment is what makes a good athlete.

When you are planning out your training and have decided what aspects you need to focus on – strength or endurance, fingers or core – how long you will need to focus on them will vary according to your needs as well as the kind of training itself. Strength and power tend to take the longest time to make gains in. These phases of your training can be multiple months long, indeed it can be a good idea to continue to do some sessions of these all year round in order to maintain gains. Many sports use an off season to do large amounts of strength and recruitment training and then drop these aspects down to a maintenance level during the performance season.

Anaerobic and aerobic endurance are much more easily targeted energy systems that you can train effectively for much shorter periods and see very substantial gains. Often times six to eight weeks of training these energy systems can be more than enough to reach optimal fitness levels for you to perform at your best.

Figure out what you want to train, choose a proven method by which to train it, measure your progress and stick it out for the long haul. Keep it simple and the progress will come.

The following are some simple ways you can measure your training progress.

Finger strength

  • Measure the smallest sized edge that you can hang for six seconds.
  • Measure how long you can hang until failure a fixed sized edge. A 20mm edge is a good size.
  • On a 20mm edge, what percentage of body weight can you hang on each hand doing a one-arm hang using a weight vest or pulley system (to take off weight if you can’t hang one-armed without assistance)? Test both sides for accuracy.
  • Performing a two-handed hang on your 20mm test edge, what is the maximum amount of added weight you can still perform a 6-second hang with?

Climbing Fitness

  • Use a set circuit that will be on the wall long enough for you to retest over time and that is somewhere around your flash level and see how many moves you can do before failure.
  • On a wall that is suitable for you to climb on continuously without getting pumped too quickly (approximately two grades below your flash level), time how long you can stay on the wall before failure.

You can measure all sorts of parameters – any kind of exercise that you are attempting maximum repetitions of (pull-ups or push-ups, for example) as well as any strength exercise involving additional weight (deadlift, bench press, squat, shoulder press, etc). Look at your training and see what you can measure, designate a session to testing and recording and then every month or so do a retest and measure your improvement.

Duncan Brown coaches at the brand-spanking new BlocHaus ( in Canberra. You can read more his articles or find out about his coaching services at

This piece originally appeared in Vertical Life issue 23Download the full issue for free here.

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