An old John Bachar training log. Note the free solo list.
I used to hate climbing inside, but coming back to plastic willingly has been a great learning experience. Indoor training can offer great results and help you meet your outdoor goals.
Here are a few things I think are important to a healthy gym experience. Reading the list in front of me these things seem extremely basic, but were never given any emphasis to me when I began climbing. Hopefully they can assist beginners in building a strong foundation and help more advanced climbers reintroduce these practices into their existing routine.
NOTE: I am not a doctor or nutritionist. These are merely observations I have made from personal experience.
1. WATER: It doesn't get much simpler than this. We spend obscene amounts of money to look for it on other planets, but most people do not drink enough, especially in a climbing setting.
I've found that the amount of water I drink the day before usually translates to how hydrated I feel the next day. Keep this in mind when taking a rest day to avoid soda, energy drinks and beer. It's also important to remember to drink water during a session in frequent small sips. It's been my experience that I will be so psyched that I'll forget. If you're planning an endurance or high volume workout where you'll be sweating a lot bring water and something with electrolytes as well.
Note: Dehydrated muscles can lose up to 30% of their contractile strength.
2. FOOD: I have seen so many people starve themselves before or during a session, especially gym climbers. The beginners see or hear this and emulate the local hardman at the gym. Do not do this to yourself. Not only are you weakening your body but you are also increasing the risk of injury.
The big complaint I hear about food is that people feel too heavy or tired if they eat before/during a session. The solution I've found is to take lighter snacks and eat a small amount of them at a time. When I go to the gym I'll normally bring food for two purposes: Base energy and quick energy.
Base energy: Something with a low Glycemic Index (GI) such as Nuts, whole grains, or a Clif Builder Bar. This should be eaten at the beginning of a workout and in theory last as your base throughout.
Quick energy: A lot of climbers use caffeinated drinks or gels for this, but I do not use caffeine. I have tried a lot of things for this purpose and found that bananas offer the best results.
3. REST: Rest, rest, rest! I am terrible with this. I get so psyched on something that I cannot sit down. I fiddle with the moves, pull on here and there, and consider that my resting period. Then I'll jump right back on and curse at my diminished returns. Resting is as much a part of training as pull-ups, both on the wall and the ground.
Buy a wristwatch with a chronometer and an interval timer. It will be the best $50 you invest in your training. Now instead of guessing about your rest you can time it out and see if your body needs more or less. This can also work inversely if you want to train harder and give your body less time to recover.
4. PLAN: When I go to the gym without a plan I feel similar to when I showed up at a Fiction Writing workshop without an idea. Sometimes it was fine, but mostly I just fumbled around and put out subpar work.
You do not need to have a written regiment, but just have some idea of what you are looking to get out of a gym session before you get there. Is this a relaxed social session? Are you looking to sweat or trim down? High volume power endurance? Project Day? Hardest single move? Hangboard and cross training?
The combinations are endless and with a full repertoire you can keep your muscles guessing and your mind stimulated.
5. SAFETY: Yes, people sign waivers and take belay classes, but the convenience of a gym dulls the senses. The only thing worse than getting injured outside is getting injured in a gym. Take the extra time to ask for a spot, double check a figure eight, or move a pad so your landing is level.
Note: Angie Payne, the first woman to climb a confirmed V13, was out for nearly a year with an ankle injury due to landing on uneven pads.
6. FUN: Yes, fun! Rock climbing should always be fun. This may sound silly, but I have nearly lost sight of this multiple times when getting invested in a project. If you are not having fun in a gym chances are you're bored. Switch up your routine, make up your own boulder problem or route, or take a couple days off. Maybe your motivation has moved to sport climbing, or to bouldering. Remember that there is a reason you fell in love with climbing.
7. GOAL: I intentionally placed this last because the goal is the obvious end product. The feeling of climbing something that you thought was completely out of your reach is indescribable.
It is great to have goals both long and short term, but if you are already doing everything above then you should have no problem getting to that next bouldering or sport grade, becoming more comfortable on lead, dropping a couple pounds, or whatever else you may want to achieve.
With cooler temps quickly approaching I hope these thoughts help your training for future trips outside!