Developing improved endurance is key to becoming a stronger climber.


By Abi Cotler

Looking for endurance workouts to boost your climbing supremacy? There’s lots you can do at every level, especially with system boards at your disposal. Recently, I spoke with Mesa Rim Climbing Coach Nayton Rosales about training and got the 4-1-1.

Before we got into endurance exercises, he gave me some background—thanks for the solid education by the way, Nayton. I, personally, learned a ton! Here’s all I didn’t know:



When the intensity is measured from 9.5 to 10, you are at the complete limit of exertion which means you can only sustain it for one to three moves before you fail. Because this takes less than 10 seconds it uses your anaerobic a-lactic system, which doesn’t produce lactic acid. This system works without oxygen and is responsible for powerful movements. The buildup of lactic acid is what causes that feeling of “pump” in your forearms and usually occurs when you climb something for about 12 seconds or longer, depending on the intensity.

Typically, if you climb something that lasts 12 seconds to 2 minutes, you use your anaerobic lactic system which produces that lactic acid or “pump” that is managed either by ceasing the climbing or finding a big enough hold to recover on. Either option helps your aerobic system flush out that lactic acid and convert it to energy to continue climbing.



Next, let’s define the three main energy systems and are commonly referred to as Strength, Power Endurance, and Endurance. Knowing how to train these specific zones can be confusing, so let’s define them.

  • Strength or the Anaerobic A-Lactic (ATP-CP) Energy System is used during brief, near maximal efforts that can only be sustained for about 0 to 12 seconds. The intensity measures around 9.5 to 10 with no pump level. Some examples include doing a hard crux move on a boulder problem, hanging on a small edge or crimp that you can only hold for a few seconds, doing traditional or weighted pull-ups that cause you to fail after one to three reps. 
  • Power Endurance or the Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System is used during highly fatiguing power endurance exercises that last 12 seconds to about roughly 2 minutes before power output needs to drop. Intensity Level is around 8 to about 9.5 (Out of 10) and you are likely very pumped. As a result, waste products such as lactic acid accumulate in the blood and in muscle cells. A burning sensation in the muscle, shortness of breath and fatigue are all symptoms of lactic acid buildup. These are all familiar sensations most climbers experience. Some examples of training protocols that require power endurance include climbing a roped route, doing climbing intervals or 4x4s in the bouldering area and doing repeaters on a hangboard. 
  • Endurance or the Aerobic Energy System is something that can be sustained for about 2 minutes to about 90 minutes at a lower intensity level of around 5 to about 8 (Out of 10). At this intensity, your muscles are fueled by oxygen primarily and you may feel a light to moderate pump. Some examples of this would be during arc-style training sessions when you are on the wall for 5-20 minutes at a time, “up, down, ups” or ladders on ropes.


Typically, while climbing, you use all three energy systems at the same time. Depending on what type of training you’re doing, you’ll use one more than the others.

For example, when bouldering, you are likely using more of the anaerobic a-Lactic and anaerobic lactic systems. While rope climbing, you’ll likely use the anaerobic lactic and aerobic energy systems to power you through.



To see the most benefit while training, you it’s a good idea to target a specific energy system. For endurance, some exercises you can do that target that specific energy system would be:


Ladders aka Suicides

This exercise requires you to be on lead or top rope. You begin by climbing up to the first bolt, down climb back to the beginning, then climb to the second bolt then back down, then continue to follow this pattern up to the anchors. This usually takes about 20-25 minutes to complete depending on the climb. Ideally, you want to pick a climb where you can sustain a pump level of around 5 to 8 (out of 10); when done correctly you will stay below the anaerobic threshold and be powered by the aerobic energy system which keeps blood flow to the forearms, increases capillary density and helps stave off the pump.


Up, Down, Ups

Up, Down, Ups also require a rope partner. Choose a route that’s slightly harder than your ladder climb and proceed to climb to the top of the route, downclimb to the beginning then climb back to the top without weighing the rope. Depending on the climb, this can take from about 6 to 10 minutes.


System Board 3 on 1 off

If you don’t have a partner you can use the system wall to do slightly higher intensity endurance training. Here you would spend 3 minutes on the wall then 1 minute off. You can 4 to 6 sets of these depending on your fitness level. Another variation is to do 1 minute on, 1 minute off at about 10 sets.



The system board is a good tool that works many different things in your climbing. You can use it to target strength by doing hard, powerful moves. You can use it to target power endurance by doing 4x4s or climbing intervals with minimal work-to-rest ratios. You can work endurance by spending long periods of time on the wall as well.

If the system board is set in a symmetrical way, you can work on deficiencies in your technique by setting moves or problems that mirror each other to see if one side is weaker. 


There are plenty of ways to train your endurance systems and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But if your goal is to become a more accomplished climber, including some form of endurance training into your regular routine is a must.