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Unlocking Rock Climbing Potential: Navigating Productive Capacity and Yield Potential for Optimal Performance

In my previous article titled “How to Incorporate 'Only Green Days' into Your Climbing Training Routine,” I elucidated one of my core philosophies regarding climbing training. I extensively discussed what these days entail and emphasized their paramount importance in determining one's progression rate as a climber. The most accomplished athletes in our sport are those who attain the most green days, evade plateaus (represented by yellow days or periods), and, naturally, circumvent setbacks (depicted by orange, red, or black days) throughout their careers.

But how do they achieve this? What is their secret? Do they work harder, or do they work smarter? The answer encompasses both. They work harder when it is intelligent to do so and vice versa. They modify their approach to training based on its intelligence. Whether this adaptation stems from conscious decision-making, innate inclination or disposition, or the result of effective coaching or guidance, it stands as the pivotal element accounting for their accelerated upward trajectory compared to the average climber.


training for climbing requires understanding your position


Each individual possesses a unique capacity for productive training and climbing. Research in sports science confirms the variability in individual responses to climbing training. Studies have shown that factors such as genetics, muscle fiber composition, and skill level influence an individual's climbing performance and response to training stimuli (Ref: Watts et al., 2019). For instance, if I instructed 100 climbers, each typically climbing at a V5 level, to converge at a climbing gym and attempt the same V5 boulder problem continuously for 3 hours, resting for 5 minutes between attempts, they would each undergo a distinct experience. Some might conquer the boulder problem on every attempt throughout the entire 3-hour period and feel rejuvenated the next day, possibly even exhibiting improved performance. Others might successfully complete the boulder problem for the full 3 hours but feel depleted the following day, resulting in diminished performance. Some might falter before reaching the 2-hour mark, necessitating a rest day afterward. This variability illustrates the concept of capacity.


Capacity


Your capacity represents the total potential physical output you can achieve within a given timeframe. Numerous factors and attributes contribute to determining this capacity. It exhibits an inverse correlation with the intensity of training; the higher the intensity, the lower the capacity, implying a reduced volume of training achievable (Ref: MacLeod et al., 2018). Furthermore, short-term capacity is significantly influenced by factors such as accumulated fatigue from preceding training sessions, quality of sleep, hydration, nutrition, and motivation levels (Ref: Fullagar et al., 2015). Long-term capacity can be cultivated by gradually escalating training volume while remaining within a manageable range.

Charlie Schreiber bouldering outdoors

The aforementioned example of the V5 climbers failed to address these critical factors; it solely identified the grade at which they climb. Consequently, each of these climbers possesses a distinct profile, rendering it unlikely for them to respond uniformly to the same training program (whether daily, weekly, or across cycles).


It is imperative to comprehend your productive capacity. This denotes the total workload (volume × intensity) that your body can undertake, recover from, and adapt to within the recovery window subsequent to a training or climbing session. In the previous article, I expounded on how various training loads necessitate differing recovery and adaptation periods, with longer or more intense sessions mandating extended rest. However, this viewpoint oversimplifies matters, focusing solely on the post-session phase and overlooking the yield potential with which you commence the session.


Yield Potential


Yield potential denotes the extent of performance enhancement achievable via neurological and physiological adaptation, considering the current condition of your body or mind. Hence, identifying the yield potential and the corresponding productive capacity for a training or climbing session holds immense significance in determining the optimal training stimulus, volume, and intensity required to attain the most favorable outcome (i.e., the greenest day possible). This assessment should precede each session to ascertain how to adhere to or adapt your training regimen accordingly.


Simple physical tests, warm-up routines, and even data analysis of prior training periods can aid in determining these two factors on the day of the session. The sooner you align your training with your yield potential, the better! It is unwise to exhaust an energy system or muscle group attempting to heal simply because it was part of your training plan for the day. Such a practice impedes improvement and lengthens the recovery window until new peaks are reached.

Moreover, during a productive session where gains seem imminent, it is essential to recognize when to cease training to capitalize on the gains achieved. Persisting beyond the productive capacity threshold risks plummeting into the red zone; greed invariably leads to losses.

This holds particularly true when training for power, coordination, or skill development—domains where adaptations predominantly occur at the neurological level. Neurological gains can be compromised or diminished when physiological fatigue is introduced either before or after the neurological stimuli. In essence, training for power, skill, or coordination in a fatigued state or inducing fatigue post-training undermines the potential for neurological adaptations. It is advisable to schedule separate sessions to allow for uninterrupted development of neurological adaptations.


Mastering these concepts can lead to exponential improvements in performance over time. As your total capacity increases, so does your productive capacity. Consequently, the quantity of high-quality training you undertake, and thus the signaling to the brain and body for desired adaptations, also increases. Enhanced comprehension of your evolving yield potential, the factors influencing it, and effective session management leads to an augmentation in the quality and quantity of Green Days. This heightened frequency and quality of sessions are instrumental in propelling individuals to the highest echelons of our sport.

I staunchly believe that genetics dictate our initial prowess in this sport, but our habits determine the pace of our improvement.



References:

  • Watts, P.B., Martin, D.T., Durtschi, S., & Ferris, S.M. (2019). Anthropometric profiles and performance comparisons of indoor and outdoor climbers. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 14(2), 167-177.

  • MacLeod, D., Sutherland, D.L., Buntin, L., & Whitaker, A. (2018). Physiological determinants of climbing-specific finger endurance and sport rock climbing performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(7), 1969-1976.

  • Fullagar, H.H., Skorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A.J., & Meyer, T. (2015). Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(2), 161-186.

  • Krakauer, J.W., Ghazanfar, A.A., Gomez-Marin, A., MacIver, M.A., & Poeppel, D. (2019). Neuroscience needs behavior: correcting a reductionist bias. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, 22.

  • Baláš, J., Panáčková, M., Strejcová, B., Martin, A.J., & Pecha, O. (2016). The impact of individualized training prescription on performance in recreational climbers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34(10), 942-946.

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