Learn to Train: Local Endurance for Climbers

Climbing a route below your limit still feels pumpy. Or you have trouble recovering in the middle of a route, even while resting on a jug or climbing easy terrain. You need to train local endurance, to climb longer and recover more easily. How it works ?

Local endurance is your ability to stay on the wall for long periods of time at a certain grade. The main benefit is that it raises the difficulty level at which you can rest. If you can climb 5.10 without feeling pumped, then reaching a section of 5.10 climbing after a crux provides an opportunity to shake out and recover. You’ll feel fresh for the next hard section. However, if you lack this level of endurance and reach the next crux dog-tired, you’re probably in for a ride.

Though a 5.12 climber might find 5.10 routes easy, that doesn’t mean he can climb 5.10 indefinitely. It just means he’s not that pumped by the end of any single 5.10 route. A high level of local endurance means that climbing below a certain grade for up to 45 minutes at a time, or even longer, won’t get you pumped.

Local endurance

Local endurance is a muscle group’s ability to sustain effort over a period of time. When climbing, your forearms fail because blood isn’t getting to the muscle tissue, but it’s not because your heart isn’t pumping fast enough. Instead, the blood is having trouble reaching your forearms, which creates the pump. This means you’ll have to train your forearms, rather than general cardio abilities.

Feeling pumped means the muscles in your arms aren’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood, which helps muscles create the chemical ATP efficiently. ATP is required to release muscle fibers after they’ve been contracted. So if there isn’t enough ATP available, your muscles can’t relax. This is why you have a hard time opening and closing your hands when you’re really pumped. Once muscle fibers lock up, they squeeze the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in your forearms shut. Which means less oxygen reaches other fibers as well, and the pump grows in a vicious cycle. When zero blood is reaching your muscles, they lock up and you fall.

The goal of local endurance training is to prevent that shutdown of blood supply, providing your forearms with ATP, so fibers can relax and flex with each move.

How to Train Local Endurance

The most popular form of local endurance training for climbers is called ARC training. Which stands for Aerobic, Respiration, and Capillarity. The aim of ARC training is to create more of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in your forearms. By climbing lots of terrain below your limit, you’ll actually develop more small blood vessels. And the existing ones will become wider. Both changes will make it harder for a pump to set in, meaning you can climb longer and recover faster.

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