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It was the early 1990s, and Frank Dusl was making the same transition that many American rock climbers were: He was rebuilding his style of climbing from vertical granite crack climber to overhanging limestone sport climber. There were so few steep routes at the time that the ones that did give a good pump were well-known and sought after. Climbers would flock to the few developed caves in the country, and desperately seek to “get endurance” by doing lap after lap on pumpy terrain.
For some, it worked, but for Frank, pure pump-fighting endurance ceased to be the problem. It was doing hardmoves on long and steep climbs—not just jug hauling—that was holding him back. It was in the garage behind his parents’ house in Lander, Wyoming, that Frank happened into learning big lessons in training applicable endurance.
Across the globe, climbers figured out the same things over and over: that they didn’t need multi-million-dollar gyms to get good (and in fact these might be a liability to getting good), that being able to do hard moves over and over again was what we really needed, and that it was discipline and drive that created success. Importantly, we learned that this could happen in a garage—no autobelay needed.
When it comes to “endurance,” what we’re really talking about is the ability to output power over and over again in a state of increasing fatigue. Because of this, I like to look at the practice not as endurance training, but fatigue management. The rock is not asking us to have a high VO2 max and massively oxygen-adapted muscle fibers throughout our bodies. We don’t need to be able to sprint, nor do cyclic exercise for hours at a time. It’s asking us to be able to be calm enough to relax when fatigued, to be able to move blood in and out of the working muscles efficiently, and to maintain the ability to do hard moves in less-than-ideal situations.
We need to address climbing better when fatigued, and we can do that in our training. Rather than seeking out a crippling pump—something any spring-break frat brother can figure out at the Chuckawalla Wall—we need to seek out climbing as hard as possible without getting pumped in the first place. If you …….