Climbing, Endurance, Over-Training, and Finding Balance

I started rock climbing again. I thought it would be a more enjoyable way to build up my strength since I really loathe the conventional methods. It will not be quite as specific as regular strength training so I still need to maintain my PT sessions. Well at least it will provide a bit more variety to my work out routine.

While I am not as strong as I used to be back in the day when I was climbing four times a week (all day Saturday and Sunday), there is an improvement in my grip strength since I started training with Fitness Achievers (more about them in another post). The last time I tried climbing at Camp5, I found that even the 5C holds were giving me trouble. Clearly, whatever we’re doing during PT is working.

The most glaring weakness is my lack of endurance. Particularly on the longer autobelay routes, I find myself fatiguing towards the top. Run through enough routes and I struggle to climb even the easy 5C routes. After about an hour of climbing, I’m ready to pack up. Between that and my wimpy feet crying from the discomfort of my Cinderella climbing shoes, I feel like I’m going nowhere fast.

Nevertheless, I figured I should stick to baby steps. Consistency is key. The plan was climb at least once a week. Keeping to it has not been quite as straight forward as I thought it would be. I’ve even made a financial investment with a new pair of shoes, one size larger than my old ones. I thought compliance would be greater if my feet weren’t suffering so much. I think I might have jumped the gun.

A New Pair of Shoes for Motivation

Evolv Supra Climbing Shoes

I bought the Evolv Supra in a slightly larger size, but I’m still struggling with them. The shoes fit fine and I can walk around in them okay. It is the moment when I have to edge a small foothold that makes my eyes smart. How ever did I endure this before? My old Saltic shoes are smaller and even they don’t hurt like this. Maybe I just need a chance to break them in. Or perhaps I need to try Moo Moo’s shoe-expansion trick.

Evolv is a new brand of climbing shoes I have never tried before. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on how good (or bad) I think this shoe is until I toughen my feet up. All I can think about, when I’m on the wall, is how much my feet hurt and how much I don’t want to apply pressure to my toes. I told myself to “suck it up” and climb anyway. Pushing past the pain helps a little.


Building Endurance

This has been my problem across the board, not just with rock climbing. It is the switching up of activities that really drains me. It isn’t even muscle-group specific. Take flycycle for example. After a particularly grueling arm workout, my legs will feel sluggish when we shift back to cycling. Even though we didn’t really work the legs during the arm workout, I will still feel fatigue in my legs.

Lack of endurance was a costly deficiency at the Spartan Beast. All my upper body training went out the door because I was drained from the inclines. I couldn’t even climb the rope at the end and I thought that was a give away obstacle. So yeah, I really need to work on this before I try another Beast.

I’ve run long distances before and I can always get to the end. Even if it’s just dragging my feet, I know I can keep going. The kind of endurance I’m trying to build is different. I don’t want to do a Spartan race and forfeit the obstacles because I’m too tired to do them. If that’s the case, I might as well do a trail run or road race. The purpose of a Spartan race is to complete the race with little to no obstacle fails.

Back-to-Back Fly-Tribe

Yesterday was my first time doing a back-to-back spin-box class in quite a while. It was a last minute spur of the moment decision. I confess that there was some trepidation going into it. It probably did not help that I pushed the Jungle Babes through a fairly intense hike the day before. We were trying to clock mileage and incline as part of our training for Spartan Kuching so I wanted to go quite hard.


I was relieved to find that my bike was one of the “lighter” bikes when I got to Fly. Even then, my legs fatigue fairly early on. I didn’t take it easy in class, but I wasn’t going all out either, for obvious reasons. I debated dropping the weights for the arm workout since I was going to box after. Then I figured that this is exactly what I needed to push – upper body fatigue – so I stuck to my usual weights.


There was a bit of a break between classes so I felt okay going into boxing. I tried to go as hard as usual but I could tell I wasn’t all there. I had enough juice to keep going and that was about it. My punches weren’t as hard and my technique was shady. I know I don’t have a great technique even on a good day, but it was definitely worse after a class of spin. By the time we got to the last round of boxing, I wasn’t in my own head anymore.

Excessive Athletic Training Makes Your Brain Tired

According to a recent study published in Current Biology, working out too hard makes your brain tired. Well, I could have told you that. During any highly intense classes, I literally feel my brain checking out.

I’m pretty uncoordinated on a good day – a boxing sequence that others take in stride will stump me until I’ve had a chance to practice it enough. When I’m physically fatigued, I can feel the battle between my brain and body as I try to coordinate any kind of sequence. If the moves get too fancy, especially late in the class when I’m already tired, everything falls apart. If you can imagine what a speech stutter looks like in physical actions, that is exactly what I look like executing these moves when my brain has gone on strike.

The evidence showed that physical training overload led the athletes to feel more fatigued. They also acted more impulsively in standard tests used to evaluate how they’d make economic choices. This tendency was shown as a bias in favoring immediate over delayed rewards.

Science Daily

It’s not just temporary brain fatigue during a workout that we should be worried about. Over-training compromises executive function even after the workout is over. So say you’re trying to lose weight, working out too hard could be sabotaging your efforts because you would be more susceptible to overeating after. As Mathias Pessiglione, one of the study authors, says, “You don’t make the same decisions when your brain is in a fatigued state.”

I thought this was a particularly significant point because we’ve become a culture that demands 500% on everything. It’s always “go bigger”, “push harder” – more extreme, greater intensity. But too much of a good thing is also bad. Vitamins in excess can be toxic. Overdosing on your meds won’t make you better faster, it could make you worse. More is not always better – something I often have to remind my inner kiasu.

Striking the Right Balance

Honestly, I haven’t figured this one out. Sometimes I know I push too hard and other times I’m sure I could work harder. If this is as hard as I can go, am I doomed to physical mediocrity? I look at my Spartan elite heroes and marvel at their zero-to-hero journeys. Are such journeys even possible for someone like me?

There is an endless debate about nature versus nurture – how much we’re born with versus how much we can develop. What takes us further – the stuff we’re made of, or the stuff we build ourselves? While the answer is neither one or the other, we would be naive to believe that we can achieve anything if we only put our minds to it. A truer statement would be “we can achieve anything if we only put our minds to it up to a certain point“. Just like this comment I once read back in the day when climbing was my obsession:

Anyone can train themselves to climb a 7C. For 8A and beyond, you have to have the genetics for it.

Eric Horst

So I guess let’s just see how far I can go…


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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