Strength Endurance Training

Strength endurance is the ability for muscles to fuel themselves anaerobically for long periods of time. Hard sport climbing is a precise example of an exercise which requires great strength endurance, especially in the forearms.

Strength endurance for climbing is a combination of several factors:

1. maximum grip strength
2. lactic acid tolerance
3. capillary density

Capillary density is the most difficult thing to build up, especially if you are over the age of 20, we won't address that here.

To understand how maximum strength impacts strength endurance, we must understand a little bit about how the muscles work. At low levels of effort, muscles are able to flush out by products of energy production as fast as they are produced, this is important, as build up waste from muscle use is what ceases the chemical reaction used by muscles to do work. Up to about 30-40% of your maximum strength output, muscles operate aerobically. In climbing, we rarely operate in this aerobic zone with the primary climbing muscles. Once the anaerobic threshold is passed, lactic acid starts to build up in the muscles. This is what causes forearms to get "pumped". As muscle effort increases, so does lactic acid production. This build up of lactic acid is what causes muscles to finally fail. So if less effort can be put forth by the muscles, less lactic acid is produced, and muscles can give a sustained effort. Increasing maximum strength allows muscles to do the same exercise with less effort, this means muscles produce less lactic acid, and they can sustain the effort for a longer period of time.

Building maximum strength should always be a part of a training program, however if you want to see very fast gains in your strength endurance, you are going to want to increase your lactic acid tolerance, as well as the size of your lactic acid reservoir. This is what strength endurance training does.

The goals of strength endurance training are:

1. Raise the anaerobic threshold of muscles. This allows a climber to sustain climbing at a higher difficulty.
2. Raise the lactic acid tolerance of muscles. This allows muscles to perform even when lactic acid reservoirs are very high, or "climb through pump".
3. Increase the size of the lactic acid reservoirs of the muscles. This allows a climber to perform anaerobically with more intensity for a longer period of time, before becoming pumped.

There are many ways to exercise which can stimulate the above adaptations. One of the most famous, and one of my favorites, is the 4x4 (four-by-four), which will be the subject of the next post.