Almost like clockwork, every year I find myself struggling to hangboard through the month of August, seemingly the hottest month of the year. In order to be fit in time for prime Fall sending conditions, most of us will need to do some form of training in late summer, when conditions are far from ideal.
Some might wonder, why does it matter how warm it is, after all, its only training. The primary reason is that training in warm environs can trash your skin. Nobody wants to start a climbing season with a skin deficit, and in-attention to skin whilst training is a sure way to do just that. Another good reason is that a quality training cycle boosts your confidence and can help inspire a successful climbing season. For those that train in a methodical, controlled manner, its hard not to notice how much less resistance you can handle in bad conditions. Its nearly impossible to quantify the effect of the heat and humidity, so poor conditions can lead to a spiral of waning confidence and unispired training efforts.
Fortunately there are some low-budget steps we can take to improve our training conditions:
1. Prepare your Skin. Take some time on each rest day to tend to your skin. Assemble a Skin Care Kit, including tape, tweezers, cuticle cutters (ask your lady, or find them in the makeup department), nail clipper and a sanding block (hardware store). Cut away any loose bits of skin with the cuticle cutters, and sand down any remaining rough edges. Sand every finger pad each rest day to stimulate new skin growth. Don’t sand too much; 15-30 seconds per pad should do it depending on your choice of sand paper.
If training early in the morning (see Item #3), try to keep your hands above the covers while sleeping. Wash and then thoroughly dry your hands, then begin chalking 15 minutes or more before you begin your warmup so the skin can dry and toughen up completely. If you use Antihydral or similar drying agents for climbing, consider using them during hot periods of your training cycle. Chalk frequently and thoroughly througout the workout.
2. Prepare Your Training Environment. Ideally you are doing some form of hangboard training, and ideally you are doing it at home, where you can control your environment. If you hangboard/training area is located in a large or public area of your home, consider moving it to another location where you can better control the training environment. In many houses, the temperature and humidity varies quite a bit from room to room. The lowest floor of the house is usually the coolest, but some basements have high humidity. Generally rooms on the north side of the house will be cooler (or any room with minimal sun exposure). If possible, select a training room that is cool, dry, and small (making it easy to manipulate the temperature and humidity).
Prepare your environment by making it as cold and/or dry as possible before you begin your workout. First, eliminate any heat sources to your training area (for example, turn off the baseboard heater, etc, in the room where you are training). Cover any windows that receive sun exposure the day before your workout. The simplest way to do this is to draw the blinds, but if you want to go overboard, get some “Rigid Insulation” from your hardware store and cut it to the size/shape of your window.
If you have Air Conditioning or Evaporative Cooling, experiment with running this system in your training area all through the night before your training session. Some AC systems will ice up when the temperature drops below 60 degrees F or so, but 60 is much better than 75!
If, like me, you don’t have a mechanical cooling system, the best way to cool your training session is to open all the windows the evening before and run a strong fan all night long to circulate outside air into the training area. Wake up around sunrise, turn off the fan and seal and cover all the windows. This trick works so well that I stopped using my window-mounted AC unit. I can routinely get my training room down to the low 50′s (F) despite day-time highs in the 90s! Granted, I live at 7400 feet, where we have drastic temperature swings, but it will work to a lesser extent at any altitude. Once the room is cool, avoid adding heat to the room. Keep lights or any other appliances off, and stay out of the room (until its time to start your training session).
3. Start Early. The break of dawn is almost always the coldest time of day. In some areas humidity is lower in the afternoon, so if you live in a humid area, note the humidity and temperature changes to find the ideal training time. Most of us need an hour or two to hydrate and get our whits together before beginning a difficult training routine. If you are such a person, get in the habit of waking up a bit earlier in the summer months so you can get your workout in as soon as possible. This time of year I like to start my Hangboard workouts no later than 8:30am, but earlier is much better. At my house the outside temperature jumps about 20 degrees between 7 and 9am. Even those training at a public gym may be able to take advantage of this tip. Plan to arrive at the gym as soon as they open. If your gym is closed in the morning, train as late at night as possible.
4. Use a Fan. Thermodynamics tells us that adding a fan to a closed room will raise the room’s temperature. However, this effect is easily offset by the evaporative propoerties of circulating air (in my experience), and most training sessions are over before the air temperature has increased more than 5 or so degrees. If you have prepared your training area properly, the outside air will be much warmer than the air in your training room, so keep the windows closed, and just circulate the air within the room.
The size and number of fans required may vary depending on the type of training. For Bouldering or Power Endurance training in my barn, I use a large box fan to circulate air over a large climbing surface. Hangboarding only requires a small fan (this $16, 8″ fan is sufficient), assuming it is positioned effectively. I use two small fans since my hangboard apparatus is so large. The Honeywell fan is screwed to my hangboard mounting board and supplies plenty of airflow. The clip fan can be used to direct air into my pocket grips.
5. Clothing Optional. Normally I like to wear a shirt while training, but when its really hot the shirt comes off and I wear thin nylon shorts with no pockets. The higher your core body temperature the more likely you are to sweat, so do whatever you can to keep yourbody cool. Try to get your torso in the airflow during rest periods. Consider using a secondary fan while hangboarding for this purpose.
6. Don’t Breath on Your Holds! This may sound silly, but most of the water our bodies lose during day to day activity is lost through exhaling! When huffing and puffing during hangboard sets, use your lips and mouth to direct your exhaust away from your hangboard. I’ve considered wearing a snorkel but I haven’t gotten quite that extreme yet
If you have any other heat-beating tips please post them in a comment!