Over the last 4-5 weeks I’ve been following a plan to prepare for a week-long trip to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. For those of you unfamiliar with the Red, the climbing is most often characterized by monstrous endurance and resistance routes.

Jonathan Siegrist on his recent sendfest in the Red

Climbers who perform at a high level in the Red possess an amazing balance of aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Below I share a quick explanation of the difference between aerobic and anaerobic as well as sharing the plan I’ve been following for the past several weeks. We’ll see how it goes!

A quick explanation of aerobic and anaerobic energy production…

Aerobic: This is the body’s most efficient energy production mode and can be sustained indefinitely because the body is able to use oxygen in the energy production process. The body can only sustain aerobic energy production at steady, sub-maximal levels of exertion. Ie. A route that you don’t get pumped on at all and that has no moves that are difficult for you. Another great example is going for a long steady run.

Anaerobic: At a certain level of exertion (this is different for each person and called the anaerobic threshold) each person’s body will no longer be able to supply the necessary energy using the aerobic system. At this point the body begin to supply energy using the anaerobic system which does not utilize oxygen and can only be sustained for 1-3 minutes. Anaerobic energy production is inefficient in producing long-term energy because of the build up of lactic acid that it produces. This lactic acid buildup seriously inhibits muscle function and results in that all too familiar pump. The anaerobic system is good at producing energy for short bursts of high intensity exertion. Ie. A crux on a route or a boulder problem. Climbers can train to increase their body’s ability to function well with a high build-up of lactic acid. This is called anaerobic endurance.

Here’s the catch! In climbing, unless you specialize in one-move-wonders, you need to train both systems.

Climbing, more than most sports, is extremely complex and difficult to categorize. Over the course of a route or long boulder problem, a climber will draw energy from a both aerobic and anaerobic systems. Moving through cruxes at their limit the climber will utilize the anaerobic system for energy and then at rests and through easier sections the climber can recover because his energy is being drawn from the efficiency of the aerobic system.

Check out this video of Sharma on Pachamama in Spain. The routes Sharma is doing, you know are amazing performances of anaerobic endurance.

The Red River Plan

The plan I followed over the last several weeks focused on building anaerobic endurance as well as building finger strength, power, and aerobic endurance. Here it is…

Day 1

Hangboard – (Absolute finger strength): Why this for the Red you might ask? Think of the V13 boulderer who goes to the Red and onsights 5.13+ in the Madness Cave. He may not have the best aerobic endurance but the moves are not hard for him and the holds feel easy to hang onto.

Pick 4 grips on the hangboard. Train your weaknesses!

Perform 3 sets on each of the four grips. You’ll need a stopwatch right in front of you for this. One set = Seven 7 second hangs with 3 seconds of rest between each hang. Rest 1 minute and repeat 3 sets for each grip. Rest  2 minutes between each grip. If you can complete One set without dropping off the board, increase the weight 2-5 lbs. For the sake of your tendon pulleys, use an open grip rather than full closed crimp grip.

Open Grip

Closed (full crimp) grip

Traverse into Boulder Problems x 5:

Create a 30+ move traverse at sub-maximal level (ie. if you boulder V7 create a V4 crux or cruxes in the traverse split up by rests). Have the traverse end at the start of a boulder problem slightly below your max (For the V7 boulderer V5/V5+ would be perfect). The goal is to recover on some good holds before the final boulder problem. Crush the boulder problem and then rest 1 minute before repeating or repeating into another problem. Do this 5 times.

Cool Down: Aerobic Recovery Capillary (ARC)

15-20 minutes of traversing. The goal here is to stay in the Aerobic zone (just slightly below your anaerobic threshold) for the entire 20 minutes. You’ll be able to tell this by staying just below the point where you’re getting really pumped but still at a level where your getting fatigued. Kind of like going for a long run or bike ride. This exercise will increase your local endurance as well as build more capillary density in the forearm muscles. Capillaries move nutrients to and from the muscle and help speed recovery.

Core: Complete 15 minutes of core exercises of your choice.

Day 2:

Campus Board: (Power)

Ladders and Touches

Perform one ladder up and down. Rest 1 minute and then perform one set of touches doing 2-3 touches with each arm without stepping off the board.

Here’s a great site with some video of these 2 exercises:

Repeat this 4 times.

Boulder Pyramid: This is an excellent anaerobic endurance exercise!

Pick 6 boulder problems and arrange them in a pyramid as below.


Complete this pyramid 4 times moving between problems as quickly as possible. Rest 2 minutes between completing each pyramid.

Cool Down: Aerobic Recovery Capillary (ARC) (See above)

Core: Complete 15 minutes of core exercises of your choice.

Rest Day: Think about doing some aerobic exercise for 30-60 minutes. This will accelerate recovery and help build general aerobic fitness.

Day 3:

Repeat Day 1…

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