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April 5, 2024

Green Training

Insights from a Coach By Charlie Schreiber

Green Training

When training for climbing, the goal of the athlete is to improve steadily over time.

The best athletes in our sport are the ones who maintain a steady and steep upward trajectory, avoid setbacks and experience training days where they see progression in ability and strength.

While this progression can be attributed to many different factors, I have come to believe that the best athletes accomplish more during individualized training sessions because of adaptation.

Adapting versus only recovering

  • appropriate volume of training (across all time periods; daily, weekly, etc.)
  • appropriate scheduling
  • appropriate mindsets around training
  • discipline and/or natural tendencies to make better decisions

I would like to describe a concept that has been game-changing in my own climbing training and that of the athletes that I coach.

This is a concept I call, “Only Green Days.”

This is a concept that has been a game-changer in my own training and that of the athletes that I coach. A green day can be described as a completed session in training which results in adaptation and improvement of skills and strength. This adaptation to training sets an athlete up to achieve new peaks by the next training day(s).

On a Green Day, the athlete enters the training day with no significant fatigue, allowing them to feel that they are at a current peak of performance or trainability. The Green Day is executed by training effectively in a way that sends a stimulus to the body that will yield desirable adaptations in performance. The green day is locked in and achieved when the next climbing session is done!

Now for the tricky part... What and how much training should you do, and when should you stop? Do the perfect amount of the wrong type of training, and you will not improve. Do too much “proper/appropriate” training, and you will not improve and will most likely regress!

I would like to mainly focus on the concept of overtraining and its effect on the rate of improvement.

Assume an athlete enters a session fresh and fully recovered from their previous training session. Throughout the session, as the athlete trains, expends energy, and tires their body, their performance dips as fatigue begins to set in. Naturally, as fatigue sets in, the athlete’s maximal performance and strength, power, endurance/coordination have a correlating decrease in potential. The greater the level of fatigue and damage or load placed on the athlete's body, brain, and energy systems, the longer the period of recovery needed to get back to baseline. BACK TO BASELINE (key point of this article). You do not train to get back to baseline! You train because you want to improve. However, improvement only happens when you adapt to new stimuli.

Therefore, the body needs more time than is needed to move above baseline and reach new peaks in potential and capability. The magic happens after you are fully recovered, yet allow the body extra time to adapt and become stronger and smarter! As you can see, recovery is when our biological resources that have diminished through training return to resting values, whereas adaptation (recovery beyond repair or refueling) is when we experience growth or supercompensation. (Check out this awesome journal article for more information on recovery vs adaptation)

Our skin, which coincidentally acts similarly to your muscles and other soft tissue, is a great visual for this concept that happens inside our bodies!

If you climb until you have rips in your skin, splits, and maybe even see blood, then your skin will need to recover back to baseline. Your skin will not come back stronger as the body received too much damage and an “injury” was caused.

But if you climb until your skin is a bit irritated and then stop, then the body will recover and adapt to the appropriate stimulus. Continue to irritate the skin slightly and give it adequate recovery and adaptation time, and it will continue to come back stronger. BUT just because it is stronger now does not mean you can’t do an even more intense move now and rip your new thick skin and find yourself on the couch again waiting for a split to heal (which will come back just as your original fragile skin and need to be trained up again).

One can easily spoil a perfectly executed green day by making lifestyle or nutritional choices that negatively impact the effectiveness of the recovery/adaptation window or period. Follow an excellent training session with a terrible night’s sleep, some alcoholic drinks, and low protein intake, and the green day can fade to yellow, orange, or even a red day. "(And these are just a few of the MANY things that can impact recovery in a negative way)!"

The colors of the days are associated with the quality of the outcome of the session.

Green Day: Increase in performance or potential

Yellow Day: Maintained (no increase or decrease in performance or potential)

Orange Day: minor decrease in potential, carrying slight fatigue (can possibly become a yellow or even a green day by increasing the recovery/adaptation period)

Red Day: Significant decrease in potential, carrying significant fatigue (will require a long break in training and/or deloading period in training to rebalance fatigue levels over several days or weeks).

Black Days: injury inflicted during a training session followed by a long period of lowered performance or potential and contraindication of specific and desirable training protocols.

This simplified color scheme can help guide climbers to visualize and understand their performance and potential trajectory, as well as aid in planning and developing awareness and autonomy in regulating their inputs and achieving consistent positive outputs.

Long-Term Improvement Differences

Since long-term improvement or regression is the sum of the short-term outcomes, athletes should prioritize making each and every training session as productive and “green” as possible!

Warren Buffet once famously said (when speaking about accumulating wealth), “Rule #1: Don’t Lose Money! Rule #2: See rule #1.”

This is the exact same way I approach my training and advise my athletes. If you know you are under recovered and believe that the next session will not result in improved performance, do not train or climb; add recovery time; or change the stimulus; but this is an entirely different subject and one that I believe deserves its own article. Your goal is to achieve as many green days as possible! You can only do this when you are fully recovered and adapted!

I have found that following strict training schedules and abiding by fixed recovery windows (12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, etc.) is an overly simplified approach to managing the body and its many dynamic variables.

If you have ever followed a day-on, day-off, repeating schedule and felt as if your performance or potential during sessions was unpredictable or full of days of lower performance, you most likely could have benefited from taking extra rest days. Too often, people try to get to the gym and climb often, regardless of what their body is telling them, because, well, that's what people do, and that's how you improve! Right!? Not quite.

Over time, the athlete who has the best ratio of green days to other color days will, on average, experience the greatest percentage of improvement.

This can be very well visualized by assigning number scores to each day type as well.

Green Days = 1 to 5 points (depending on quality)

Yellow Days = 0 points

Orange Days = 0 to -2 points (depending on quality)

Red Days = -3 to -5 points (depending on quality)

Black Days = -10 to -100 due to severity of injury

These points are not based on any mathematical evidence or model but serve as a simple reference for understanding the sum and outcomes of day types over the short and long term.

Using simple math, the athlete that only trains once per week but improves by .01 points each week will improve more than the athlete that trains four times per week but has a mix of positive and negative day scores that sum to a negative number at the end of the training period.

This is crucial to remember the next time you decide to go climb or train anyway, hoping for a miraculously good session that defies your instinctual feelings, allowing emotions to push a tired body against your better judgment. Instead, you can go for a walk and get some good sleep, avoid a setback, and take a step forward in the form of a green day tomorrow!

If you or someone you know struggles with making these types of decisions and may have a habit of letting their desire for greatness repeatedly get in their way of making good training decisions, it may be time to reach out to a coach or create an accountability system! As a previous culprit of constant overtraining, I can confidently say that this was by far the biggest reason for my recent jump in performance and potential. This concept and visual have helped guide me and countless of my athletes to break out of multi-year plateaus, avoid injuries, and finally achieve the goals we knew were possible.

Without changing the inputs, we can not change the outputs… You can change; the time is now.


Stay tuned for my next article, where I will dive deeper into this subject and explain how to better understand and adapt training stimuli for your sessions in order to accurately match your yield potential, ensure maximal productivity, and use warming signs to stop sessions at the right moment!

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