What the Heck Is Power Endurance?

What the Heck Is Power Endurance?

Maybe you've been climbing in the gym, and a friendly climber comes up to you and asks what your workout is for the day. It’s easy to get lost in the clutter of training articles posted online and tell the fellow climber that you are just trying some of the new climbs. Being polite, you ask the same question and return, and they immediately say, 'oh, you know, just another power-endurance day.' You say something along the lines of 'cool,' and then move on with your climbing while thinking, what the heck is power endurance? It's a term that is all the hardcore climbers throw around, so maybe it's time to find out what it's all about. 

What Is Power Endurance?

overhang bouldering in rock climbing gym

Power endurance is the ability to sustain just under sub-maximal effort for a long duration without a decrease in muscle efficiency. It is one of the most vital skills

for becoming a top-level climber. No one likes to climb one hard-ish boulder and feel exhausted for the day, nor does a climber like to climb two-thirds of a rope climb and have their muscles become useless so close to the top. In these moments, having a solid power endurance base will save the day.

When you train to increase your power endurance, you aim to improve how long you can climb moderately difficult climbs. The goal is to build up the maximum time you can perform hard moves before your muscles protest, lactic acid builds, and your forearms fail to work causing you to fall. 

It is helpful if you know the terms anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic (with oxygen) systems. The simplest way to separate the two systems in climbing is to view boulder problems as anaerobic and rope climbs as aerobic. The panting, out-of-breath feeling associated with coming off a challenging boulder indicates you have exhausted your anaerobic system. However, when climbing moderately hard for two or more minutes, you will likely tap into your aerobic system. Power endurance training is considered aerobic exercise. Since you are climbing for a more extended period, you tap into your aerobic system, thus increasing endurance (think jogging). The power portion comes into play with the difficulty of the climbs and sustaining that difficulty. While you will not want to do a power endurance at your max climbing grade, you will want to pick moderately challenging climbs. As you progress through a power endurance workout, you should feel yourself having to try hard to make it to make each move and finish the climb.  

Don't be fooled, though. While increasing your power endurance significantly improves your climbing, the workouts are often grueling. Ask a seasoned climber at your local gym, and they will likely express a love-hate relationship with power endurance workouts. Yeah, they hurt, but they work. Power endurance is an excellent mental strength test as you gain physical strength simultaneously. It will cause you to ask yourself, can I make one more move when everything in your body wants to quit? Can I pull hard two more times? Can I deal with a moderate but consistent pain or discomfort and still execute smoothly on the climbing wall? Maybe at first, your answer will be 'no,' but with time, patience, and determination, you'll be a pro at training power endurance and will be able to keep up with all the hardcore climbers at your local gym!

Power Endurance Workout

Some common power endurance workouts include 4x4s and circuit climbing. 4x4s are probably the most famous climbing workout. And for good reason! 4x4s are one of the most efficient ways to increase your power endurance. So what’s the problem? They suck. To perform a 4x4, pick four boulder problems just below your onsight level (your onsight level is the level at which you can likely complete a climb on the first try). Try to pick problems on overhanging walls. You will then climb each climb 1 time without resting between. Rest for 4 minutes. Repeat 4 times total. 4 climbs, 4 times!

Are you ready to train power endurance? Let us know how it goes in the comments below, or comment your go-to power endurance exercise!