Build your training around your life (not the other way around)


You may think that as a climbing coach, my main job is to load a ton of work onto my clients. You might be surprised to learn that when new clients come to see me, I often have to reduce their amount of training. Many climbers do too. As a coach, I help my clients narrow down their routines and figure out what to focus on.

There is an almost endless amount of training information on the internet and about a million different protocols. And you can often feel like you’re missing out on something important or not doing enough to push you towards your goals. But the reality is that you probably need to eliminate some training protocols and sharpen your focus.

Here are three questions I ask my clients that you can ask yourself to simplify your training and create an effective plan.

What are your goals?

One of my favorite goal-setting quotes is, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else. —Yogi Berra

Without setting your goals for a workout program, it’s impossible to direct your energy productively. You can work tirelessly for a few months without being able to see the results of your efforts. Goals give you insight into the what, when, where and why of your training. Setting goals also has performance-enhancing psychological benefits, including increased motivation and confidence.

Also Read: The Training Bible, All You Need for a Full Year

For example, let’s say you have a rock climbing trip coming up and you want to prepare. You’ve heard that max hangboard hangs are really helpful for gaining finger strength, so you’ve prioritized half-crimp heavy hangs. Also, your friends love Moonboard, so you join them twice a week. Your fingers feel super strong and your power is on point. But when you show up for your 90-foot resistance sport climbing project at the Red River Gorge, you’re pumping the mini pitchers with open hands before you even get to the crux.

Because your training effort was not organized around your goals, you are now on your journey into the best bouldering shape of your life, but without the stamina or fitness needed for your goals.

Before starting a training program, specify which climbs or types of climbs you want to achieve, and adapt your training concentrate on this style of climbing.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Another important factor in deciding where to focus your training is identifying what you are already good at versus your areas that need development. Continuing to work only on your strengths puts you in the land of diminishing returns: the same amount of effort yields less and less results. Instead, this effort could be focused on your weaknesses. Working on this handy fruit will help you become a well-rounded climber and a better athlete overall faster.

For example, maybe you are a very good competitive climber. You can read complex sequences and have a great awareness of your body. You are able to flash tricky dynos and are technically proficient. But when you encounter moves of pure strength, you struggle. Although you are able to push your way past certain moves, your overall strength is lacking. You find that you are able to do the climbs that suit you quickly and stop on the ones that don’t. While you can still spend three hours on each new set that comes up, one of those hours might be better spent building core strength where your gains will be noticeable and can soon be applied to the wall. Working on a weakness will ultimately be a more productive use of your time.

What are your non-negotiables?

Committing to a training plan inevitably means making sacrifices. But you shouldn’t dread every time you go to the gym for your workout or hate everything you do. A negative attitude can lead to burnout. Showing up regularly is one of the most important parts of training, so think about what it takes to keep your passion alive.

For example, maybe one of your favorite parts of rock climbing is connecting with others. While not all sessions can be social during your training schedule, you may decide that the bouldering meet you and your friends do every Thursday is non-negotiable. Based on this, you plan your workouts so that your limit bouldering session takes place on Thursday. This way, you can work on projects with your friends and use your conversations to take the longer rests needed between attempts. Knowing you can climb with your friends helps you get through the toughest workouts and keeps you motivated throughout the program.

To create your training plan, start by choosing two to three priorities based on your goals, strengths/weaknesses, and non-negotiables. Do these priorities consistently for at least three to four weeks before trying to add more. If you feel you have the capacity to take on more, you can introduce other training activities that support your priorities. However, if these items start to take time and energy from your original priorities, you’re better off reducing them.

Simple doesn’t always mean easy and sticking to two or three priorities over time will yield better results than overdoing it and burning out after just two weeks.

Juliette Hammer ( is a distance climbing coach based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She helps climbers of all levels achieve their goals through technical and strength training.

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Richard V. Johnson