Category Archives: indoor climbing

Podcast: Panel Discussion on Training

By Mark Anderson

On January 17th, the Boulder Rock Club hosted a panel discussion on training. The panel included myself, renowned climbing coach Justen Sjong, Chiropractor & Physio Dr. Brent Apgar, double-digit boulder and author Peter Beal and Physical Therapist Dr. Stacy Soapmann. It was a really fun and informative event. We fielded questions submitted online as well as questions from the live audience. The discussion was pretty lively and lasted a good 90 minutes.

Louder Than Eleven was on-hand to record the event for the community. You can listen to the Podcast here:


Our discussion covered the following topics:

  • How to identify Strengths & Weaknesses (@ ~2:49 in the podcast)
  • How to get Strong Fingers (8:12)
  • What is Core Training and is it a waste of time? (10:09)
  • Injuries, Prevention, Rehab and how these relate to Training Volume and Intensity (18:40)
  • The problem with the Gym; Indoor Training vs. Outdoor Climbing; balancing learning how to move well vs. how to perform well vs. training to get stronger; and what is Good Technique? (33:13)
  • The importance of Adventure and Route Finding, and the value of figuring out Beta (47:13)
  • Selecting the right Project, how to train for Freerider, onsight vs. redpoint grade (51:29)
  • Rehabbing Over-use Injuries in climbers, hardware vs. software and the power of the mind in healing (56:15)
  • Youth Climbing, training & injuries; American Ninja Warrior and the future of Comp Climbing; and is it healthy to be elite? (1:06:45)
  • Definition and value of Antagonist Training, training Patterns vs. Parts, proper Form (1:15:51)
  • Diet, Nutrition & Fuel with respect to performance; Alex Huber; individuality & variety of diet; sleep & rest; intermittent fasting (1:22:46)

I hope you find some of this useful, or at least entertaining. Thanks to everyone who participated in the panel, all the attendees, the BRC for hosting, Tara Gee for moderating and especially Brent Apgar, Aubrey Wingo and Mark Dixon for organizing.

The Anatomy of A Limit Boulder Problem

Limit Bouldering is one of the best ways for rock climbers to train power.  When done properly, Limit Bouldering trains max recruitment, contraction speed, core strength and inter-muscular coordination.  If that weren’t enough, Limit Bouldering is also highly sport-specific, so the skills developed will translate directly to the rock.

The crux of Limit Bouldering is finding suitable training terrain.  If you have the luxury to set your own routes, the best option is to build your own Limit Boulder problems from scratch.  Even if you can’t set your own routes you can “make up” problems at your local gym using a system board, or any other part of the wall that has suitable holds and steepness (be sure to take notes on your made up problem so you can remember the holds each session).

So what makes a good Limit Boulder problem?

  • Dynamic movement, featuring dynos that are technically difficult, to holds that are complicated and difficult to latch (if you want to do simple, straight up dynos to flat edges that is all brawn and no brains, use the campus board!).
  • Representative of actual rock, in particular, your goal route(s).  Obviously that can vary depending on the climber, but in most cases that means:
    • Not particularly steep.  Problems in the range of 10 to 30 degrees over-hanging are sufficiently steep to mimic the vast majority of routes in North America
    • Low-profile hand holds, such as small edges and pockets, that are not overly incut and difficult or impossible to pinch.  Such holds are hard to pull “out” on, requiring good core tension and body position.  (Examples of ideal Limit Bouldering holds are discussed extensively here)
    • Small, but plentiful footholds (just like you find outside!) that are complex and require precise foot placements
  • One or two intense crux moves.  The key is really to focus on a few REALLY difficult moves.  This is in contrast to the typical gym boulder problem which may be as many as 15 moves long, with each move roughly the same difficulty.  That is power endurance, not power.  Limit Bouldering is about power.  Your problem can have as many as 8 or so moves as long as “the business” is 1-3 significantly harder moves (with the others being of relatively moderate difficulty).
  • Crux moves close to the ground, so that you can try them repeatedly, without a pump, without having to climb into position, and so that you can really “go for it” without fear of a long or awkward fall to the ground.

Below are two examples of Limit Boulder problems I’ve used in my training.  Each of these problems literally took me several training cycles, spread over YEARS, to send.  If you can do all the moves of your Limit Boulder problem on the first day, it’s not hard enough.  The hardest moves should require many sessions to do in isolation, and linking the entire problem should take close to an entire Power Phase, if not several.

Problem #1: “Yellow Jacket” (~V11?)

This problem overhangs about 8 degrees and features a big, barn-door dyno to a rugged half-pad edge, just wide-enough for three-fingers. Here is a detailed look at the handholds:

"Yellowjacket" Topo

“Yellowjacket” Topo

Hold #1

Hold #1

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #1 with a hand for scale.

Hold #2

Hold #2

Hold #2 with a hand for scale.

Hold #2 with a hand for scale.

Hold #3

Hold #3

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4

Hold #4

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

…and the problem:

The target hold (#4) has to be hit just right in all three dimensions.  It’s probably a bit rougher than I’d like, and I certainly had to limit the number of attempts per session to spare my skin, but it’s irregular shape really punishes inaccuracy.  That’s the only limit move on the problem, but none of the holds are positive so if your hips sag or swing out from the wall you can come off at any point.  The contorted setup makes the crux move much harder to stick on the send, so you really have to pay attention to your hip movement and flagging foot.

Problem #2: “Iron Cross” (~V12?)

This four-move problem overhangs 35 degrees and consists of  small, sharp crimps that each need to be latched just right in order to have a shot at sticking the subsequent move.  This problem is a bit unusual in that there aren’t any foot-only holds (every foothold is also used as a handhold, and the handholds are well-spaced).  As a result, each foot move is difficult, and every foot needs to be placed just right.  The key holds:

Topo of "Iron Cross"

Topo of “Iron Cross”

Hold #3

Hold #3

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4

Hold #4

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

Hold #5

Hold #5

…and the problem:

The first move pulling off the ground may be the hardest individual move, a long precise stretch to a rounded crimp.   The second and third moves are not super hard, but they need to be done just right in order to have a chance on the last move–a big, difficult dyno that is certainly the redpoint crux.  Having a really hard move at the end is not ideal for a Limit Boulder problem, so I worked this like two problems (approaching the last move by starting at the third move) until I had mastered the dyno.

Now that you know what it takes to make a good Limit Boulder problem, you can get some holds together and get setting.  Winter is the perfect time to build confidence–and power–on a long-term indoor project.  Set something that will expand your perception of what is feasible and get to work turning your skepticism into belief!

Climbing Gym Workouts for Improving Endurance

January is a pretty popular time to start a training program for many people, what with the combination of New Year’s resolutions and falling off the exercise/healthy eating wagon over the holidays.  And for climbers, this time of the year is the perfect time to start building a training foundation with which to get ready for spring season.  A year ago at this time, I was starting my first training cycle with the Rock Climber’s Training Manual.  I saw great results from the program not only during the spring, but throughout the year, and I’m optimistic for similar gains this year.

For those of you not familiar with the program, the Rock Climber’s Training Manual (aka Rock Prodigy Method, reviewed here) takes the climber through 4 distinct conditioning phases – Base Fitness, Strength, Power, and Power Endurance.  The intended result is a peak sending season that can be appropriately timed for prime climbing seasons or special trips.  The goal of the first phase (Base Fitness), is to gradually build a foundation of endurance that the body can build on during the latter phases to come.

Another day, another auto-belay...

Another day, another auto-belay…

The following is a compilation of my favorite endurance activities to do during my Base Fitness phase, which usually lasts 2-3 weeks for me.   ***On outdoor days, I stray from the plan and just hop on what everyone else is doing :)

ARC TRAINING – Most efficient, and most boring.

This exercise is what the RCTM authors recommend for Base Fitness workouts.  ARC stands for Aerobic Restoration and Capillarity Training, but you don’t need to remember that word.  All you need to know is that for it do be done correctly, you need to feel kind of pumped, but not desperate, the entire time your on the wall.  The RCTM authors recommend that ARC-ing be done 2-4x per week (lower if you are also climbing outdoors during this time, higher if you are not), for 60-90 minutes per session.  As long as each set is at least 20 minutes long, you can break your total “on the wall” time up however you want – ie, three 30 minute sessions versus two 45 minute sessions.  I have found shorter sessions to be a lot less mind-numbing and easier to stay focused.

I’ve also found that changing up the type of ARC-ing between sets is helpful mentally.  For instance, doing one set by doing low traversing across the entire gym, and the next one on an auto-belay.  If you are lucky enough to have access to a tread wall, you can simply change up the angle.  It’s a lot more fun (but a little more time consuming) to ARC with a partner – choose a section of wall with several routes in your grade range, and take turns running laps both up and down, ideally not coming off the wall at all during your set, then be the belay slave while your partner does the same.

GYM MILEAGE – Moderately efficient, and is always fun.

Baby Zu doing a bit of her own traversing while watching big brother’s climbing team practice…

So maybe you can’t convince anyone to belay you for 30 minutes at a time.  Doesn’t mean your stuck traversing 3 feet off the ground for your entire session.  If you’ve got a partner, climb!  Choose routes that are challenging but still doable while tired, and log as many as you can with minimal rest in between.  Don’t get sucked into hang dogging a project, and don’t spend a lot of extra time talking in between burns.

BOULDER FOR POINTS – Least efficient, but always fun.

This is similar to a bouldering interval workout that I like to do during my Power Endurance phase, but a lot less rigid.  Basically, climb as many boulder problems as you can in 45 minutes or so, giving yourself a point for every V grade you send (V1 = 1 point, V5 = 5 points, etc.  If I’m including V0’s, I will say that two V0s = 1 point.)  Start easy and slowly progress your way up to your typical onsight level, but not beyond.  You should aim to be on the wall for as much of the set as possible, and only doing problems that you can still send while tired.  (Problems that have been up for a while and you have wired are great for this!)  Set a minimum point goal to achieve, and then the next time you do the workout, try and increase your score.

COMBINING ACTIVITIES – Best balance of efficiency and fun.

Though it may not be perfect execution of the RCTM program, I’ve found that I stay committed a lot better when I have more variety in my workouts, so my typical endurance workout often features a combination of the above exercises.  After a couple of strictly ARC-ing workouts, I usually start adding some of the other activities into the mix, still aiming for 90 minutes of workout time divided into 3 or so sets.

If you are after a strict, regimented training program, you probably will prefer the RCTM program over my “hybrid-ish” methods.  Buy the book, and jump in full force so you can be crushing come spring time!  But if you are new to training, or like me, are constantly trying to find a balance between family, training, and everyday life, you can still be in plenty good shape for spring season.  While it’s still probably helpful to buy the book, use it as a resource to structure a loose training plan that works for you (and potentially the rest of your family’s) schedule, and then do the best you can with what you’ve got, switching things up as needed.

That being said, who else is boosting their endurance for the sending season ahead?

Related Images:

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Kids Climbing Wall

by Mark Anderson

Growing up, I rarely had the opportunity climb. As a teenager, I occasionally had the chance to try it, typically on the most pitiful excuses for climbing walls you could imagine (one vertical sheet of 4×8 plywood with 2x4s nailed on for holds, and the like). The small geographical area within my reach was completely devoid of rock, but the local libraries had enough books to pique my interest—Steck and Roper’s 50 Classics, Harlin’s Climber’s Guide to North America, Watts’ Smith Rock guide. I knew I wanted climb, despite virtually no experience actually doing it. It wasn’t until the end of college that I finally had sufficient freedom and transportation to really get into it.

I now have two kids, Logan (4.5 years old) and Amelie (2). I sincerely don’t care if they become climbers, but if they choose to pursue it, I want them to have the opportunities that I lacked, and that means regular access to climbing terrain. The Lazy H Barn provides them far more opportunity than I had, but it’s a bit of a hike for their small legs, and they can’t physically open the door. Not to mention, the terrain isn’t exactly designed for them, and the few vertical sections quickly become dull. I expect as they grow up they’ll find it more enticing, but currently they rarely climb in it more than about once a month.

With that in mind, I decided last year to build a climbing wall inside the house, designed specifically for the kids. This would greatly improve their access, especially during winter when our place is frequently snowbound. We have a pair of really kid-friendly gyms on the Front Range (ABC Kids in Boulder and CityROCK in Colorado Springs). These gyms have done a great job of including elements that make the experince fun and entertaining. I wanted to do the same because more than anything, I want climbing to be fun for them.

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding)

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding).

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

A look at the Monkey Bars that connect the two walls.

A look at the Monkey Bars and catwalk that connect the two walls.

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

The finished product.

The finished product.

A closer look at the right half…

A closer look at the right half…

…and the slabby left half.

…and the slabby left half.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

I got a number of great holds sets for this wall from e-Grips. In addition to their outstanding collection of killer normal-human grips, they have a number of sets that are super kid-friendly. Many typical jug sets don’t work so well for kids because their stubby fingers aren’t long enough to reach into the incut part of the “jug”, effectively leaving them with a sloper. The sets described below are kid-tested and great for small hands:

Big Buttons These are the perfect thickness for tiny hands, super incut and non-slopey.

Meridian Pulls Medium-depth edges for adults, moderately-incut full-finger jugs to kids.

Pure Line Finger Buckets Full-hand buckets for small-sized climbers.

Pure Line Mini-Jugs These are actually pretty monstrous from a kids’ perspective—two full hands, but thin enough to wrap their short fingers around.

Jr. Bugguy Interesting shapes, but also plentiful kid-size features. Best on slabby to vertical walls.

Sea Food The Sea Horse and Starfish are among Amelie’s favorite holds.

Jungle Animals Easily Amelie’s favorite set. Every time she comes in the room, she runs and points out the Ape, gesticulating while say “ooh-ooh, ahh-ahh”. Holds like these really do help attract the kids to the wall. That said, this set is non-positive, so best used on a slab.

The wall has been a huge success. My kids love it, and so far, so does every other kid who’s seen it. Instead of me asking Logan if he wants to go out to the barn (to which he usually says “no”), he’s asking me to come climb with him.  Both Logan’s and Amelie’s climbing skills have improved dramatically since it was finished. I really try not to push my kids towards climbing, but if erecting a fluorescent opportunity right in front of their faces influences them, so be it. 🙂

The Lazy H Climbing Barn

by Mark Anderson

Piggybacking on last week’s post about designing a home wall, here is a quick virtual tour of the Lazy H Climbing Barn. Note that I didn’t go through any logical process when designing it, I just eye-balled everything, and I paid for my impatience with a wall that was too steep. Six months in I was compelled to tear it down and re-build it.  Other than that, I’m pretty much happy with it (see more below).

The Lazy H. Note how the barn is built to match the sloping hillside.

The floor dimensions of the Lazy H are roughly 12-feet by 24-feet, (with the 24-foot-long walls running roughly east-west). The south exterior wall is 12-feet high, and the north exterior wall is 8-feet high, with a slanted roof spanning those walls (with no interior bracing aside from the joists that support the climbing surfaces). The barn was built decades ago to match the contour of the sloping hillside. There isn’t a square angle in the place, and if I were doing it again I would tear the entire rat trap down and start over!  It was used as an actual barn until I moved in.  At that point the roof was full of holes and there was literally a mountain of horse manure on the floorless ground.  Every flat surface was covered in rodent feces.  I spent the first several days just shoveling shit and wheeling it outside. So many memories 🙂

The climbing surfaces are as follows:

  • Both the east and west walls are a single vertical plane. I estimate I have about 280 square feet of vertical terrain total, but about 100 sq ft of that is basically useless.
The vertical East Wall of the Lazy H.  Good for my kids, but otherwise designed to not interfere with the South and North Walls.

The vertical East Wall of the Lazy H. It was designed so as to not interfere with the South and North Walls.  It’s great for my kids who love to climb up to and stick their heads out of the window, but I don’t use it except to connect the North and South Walls when warming up or ARCing.

The vertical West Wall of the Lazy H.  This wall is great for warming up and ARCing on small, insecure hand and footholds.  It has a few boulder problems that I climbed regularly when training for To Bolt Or Not To Be.  They haven’t been touched in the six-plus years since :)

The vertical West Wall of the Lazy H. This wall is great for warming up and ARCing on small, insecure hand and footholds. I credit it with keeping my footwork honed.  It has a few boulder problems that I climbed regularly when training for To Bolt Or Not To Be. Those problems haven’t been touched in the six-plus years since 🙂

  • The eastern-most two-thirds of the south wall is composed of a single plane, 16-feet wide, running floor to ceiling, overhanging 8 degrees.

The 16-feet wide, 8-degree overhanging panel on the east end of the South Wall. This is prime ARC and warmup terrain. It also has a few Limit Boulder problems that are generally thin and hard on my skin.

  • West of this panel is the door, which is 4-feet wide, about 6-feet tall, with a campus board above it (at a 15-degree angle).
  • West of the door is a vertical panel, 4-feet wide and 11-feet, 10-inches tall.

The west end of the South Wall hosts a Campus Board, overhanging 15 degrees, and a vertical panel, 4-feet wide by almost 12-feet tall. The vertical panel is useless except as a buffer between the Campus Board and the East Wall.  Note the ceiling cutout to make room for an extra rung on the Campus Board.

  • The North wall has a 4-feet-by-8-feet vertical panel at it’s west end. This is to allow access to storage space behind the rest of the north wall, but basically serves no other purpose (although it does allow the vertical West Wall to be a bit wider). If I were doing it over I would extend the central, overhanging section of the North Wall to cover this space.
The west end of the north wall. Pretty much useless, although it allows for a novel arête feature.  I’d much rather have 40 square feet more of 35-degree overhang…

The west end of the north wall. Pretty much useless, although it allows for a novel arête feature. I’d much rather have 40 square feet more of 35-degree overhang…

  • Next to that is the money wall, a 12-feet wide by 10.5-feet tall plane overhanging 35-degrees. I use this wall far more than any other surface. This wall has a 12-inch vertical kick plate at its base, then runs for 10.5-feet in the 35-degree overhang direction. From the floor to the top of the 35-degree overhang is 10-feet in the vertical direction. Some of the problems on this wall continue onto the ceiling section for up to four more feet of travel, but these moves are usually fairly trivial relative to the rest of the problem.
The Money Wall, my happy place for Limit Bouldering.

The Money Wall, my happy place for Limit Bouldering. If only it had some more holds!

  • The eastern-most section of the north wall is an 8-foot wide roof system. It begins with a two-feet tall vertical kick plate, then the “roof” (overhanging 65-degrees) runs out for a distance of 64 inches. Finally a headwall panel runs up from the lip of the roof for 72 inches at a 17.5-degree angle.

The roof system on the east end of the North Wall. This got very little use until the last year or so, when I accumulated several outdoor roof projects. Since then I’ve made a point to do several Limit Boulder Problems on this section, along with a couple problems in my Warmup Boulder Ladder. Still, for the amount of space it consumes, its a terrible waste.

  • The ceiling varies in depth based on where the walls join (from 3-feet at the east end, to 4-feet in the center, to ~13.5’ on the west), but it runs at a consistent 72.5-degree-overhanging angle. I don’t use it for anything except to support a few finishing jugs (all used by problems on the 35-degree wall) and to link between the North and South Walls while ARCing or warming up.

Things I like about the Lazy H:

  • Tons of terrain. Really, more than I need. I could get by just fine with only the 35-degree wall and the 8-degree wall.
  • I love the 35-degree wall. The only thing I would do different is make it bigger 🙂
  • There is enough variety that I can train for pretty much any angle, within a few degrees. Still, I rarely stray from the 35-degree wall, and I find that for my goals, training on that wall seems to carry over fairly well to other angles.
  • The 8-degree wall is great for ARCing.  That said, I don’t ARC much anymore, and if space were limited I would build much less ARC terrain and trek to a gym when I wanted to ARC.
  • It’s small enough that I can control the temperature pretty well between the windows/door, a box fan, and one space heater. Note all the walls and ceiling are insulated with ~R-13 fiberglass.
  • I built the floor to be “soft”. The floor joists are 12-feet long 2x4s with no other bracing, which is way under-designed. You can bounce up and down on it, and I think this will spare me some degree of arthritis later in life.
The Lazy H is essential a long corridor, and occasional I will smack into the South Wall when stick big dynos to the top of the North Wall.  Also, it gets crowded in here really quick.

The Lazy H is essentially a long corridor, and occasionally I will smack into the South Wall when sticking big dynos to the top of the North Wall. Also, it gets crowded in here really quick.

Things I dislike:

  • I wish the floor plan were “deeper” than 12-feet (so there was more space between the north and south walls). I will occasionally swing into south wall when sticking big finishing moves on the north wall. And it’s pretty tough for more than one person to climb in there at a time.
  • I wish it were closer to the house (it’s about 120’ from the house, add another 30’ to get to the nearest door). Getting out there once is no problem, but I often need to run back to the house for various reasons, and that is a pain when the weather is bad.
  • Heat can be a problem, especially in the summer. My ideal training temperature (inside the barn) is 45 degrees F. I wish I had a wall of deciduous trees to the south, so the barn would be shaded in the summer.
  • I wish it were square!

All told, I feel extremely fortunate to have such a fantastic training area.  When I began building it, I had doubts that I would enjoy it enough to continue using it.  Seven years later, I couldn’t imagine training anywhere else.  It has easily paid for itself (in terms of money saved on gym memberships and gas) and its a huge hit with my kids and their friends.  I seriously doubt I would be the climber I am today without the companionship of the trusty Lazy H.

For some brief footage of the Lazy H in action, check out this video.

Designing a Home Training Wall

by Mark Anderson

A home climbing wall offers many advantages to the performance-oriented climber. Chief among them are:

  • Convenience – with a wall literally in your backyard, commuting time and cost is eliminated along with most other excuses for skipping workouts. Those with families or pets can train with their loved ones without disturbing others, and the gym is open 24-7!
  • Control – you are the supreme dictator of your home wall. You call all the shots, including everything from the type of terrain, to grip shapes, to temperature and music selection. You can even decide whether or not shirts are required 🙂
  • Solitude – this is also a drawback of a home wall, but solitude can be a huge plus for training enthusiasts. Certain activities, like ARCing and Linked Bouldering Circuits, can be very difficult to do in a crowded public gym.
  • Route-setting privileges – For performance oriented climbers, this is the primary advantage of a home wall. First and foremost, if you can set your own routes, you can tailor them to your goals and weaknesses, allowing you to get the most from your training. Furthermore you can decide when to add new routes and when to take them down. You can afford to spend a few months or even years working a problem without worrying about the gym staff stripping it at any random moment….
  • “Benchmarking” – Piggy-backing off the last point, home wall users can leave “benchmark” problems or circuits up for many seasons or years, allowing them to gauge their fitness and progress over time. This can be extremely motivating as problems that were initially mega-projects gradually evolve into warmups.
Limit Bouldering on my home wall -- "The Lazy H Barn"

Limit Bouldering on my home wall — “The Lazy H Barn”

This is not a detailed step-by-step guide to home wall construction, but rather, this post will discuss some top-level design philosophies for home climbing walls. Even if you are a member of a good gym, adding a small, supplemental “woody” can help you get the most out of your training.

The first step in building your home wall is selecting a good space. Generally the taller the wall the better (up to at least 12-feet or so). Most home interiors top out at 8 feet, so a garage, basement, attic, shed, barn or other out-building may be the best option. You want your wall to be protected from the elements, so if you select an exterior building, ensure it is at least somewhat protected from moisture. The ability to control the environmental conditions to some extent is a big plus too. Most walls will be too hot more often than too cold, and it’s usually easier to add heat to a space than it is to remove it, so favor a location that is generally relatively cold (such as a basement or shaded room) as opposed to one that is generally warm (like an upstairs room or building with lots of southern exposure).

Another factor to consider is the wall’s proximity to your living spaces. Some folks are more social and will use the wall more if it’s centrally located. I like to have no distractions and complete control over my man-cave, so my detached barn works well for me. That said, I regularly have to post hole through knee-deep snow to get there in the winter, which can be a deterrent to training. If nature calls mid-session, it can be a major pain to get back to a bathroom. I think the ideal option for me would be a detached building that is adjacent (within 10-feet or so) to my house, so I could be isolated, but with easy access to/from the house.

The Lazy H Climbing Barn.  Not a bad venue—isolated, with ceilings up to 12-feet high, and located at a nice cool altitude of 7400-feet.

The Lazy H Climbing Barn. Not a bad venue—isolated, with ceilings up to 12-feet high, and located at a nice cool altitude of 7400-feet.

Once you’ve identified the perfect venue, you’re ready to start designing your wall. Three major factors will drive your design:

  1. The size and shape of your available space
  2. Intended uses of the wall
  3. Long term climbing goals

Space will be a limiting factor for virtually everyone, so it’s important to consider how you plan to use the wall, and prioritize those activities to ensure you create the best terrain for the most important activities. Rock Prodigies might perform any of the following training activities on a home wall:

Determining which activities are most deserving of limited real estate is personal, but here are some things to consider.

  • Your ability and experience level will likely influence your training priorities (and therefore your terrain priorities). Those relatively new to climbing tend to benefit more from ARCing and other skill-development activities, while advanced climbers will often spend more time on Limit Bouldering, Campusing and PE training.
  • Every activity will require some type of warm up, so warmup terrain should be a high priority. Fortunately Warm Up Terrain and ARC Terrain can be very similar.
  • ARCing requires the most terrain, so those with limited space will have a hard time building a suitable area for ARC training. However, ARCing can be one of the most difficult things to do in a public gym. If you’ve had trouble ARCing at your gym (due to crowds, unsuitable layout, poor hold selection, infrequent hold spacing, etc), AND ARCing is a priority in your training, consider ARC terrain a high priority. One way to overcome a small space is to build a wall with very high hold density. This allows for long, circuitous routes in a small area while minimizing the need to retrace your steps.
  • Hangboarding can be done just about anywhere and does not require high ceilings. If you have the option to set up a hangboard in another space (like a closet or the corner of a rarely used room), then do that, and save your precious home wall space for climbing terrain. If that’s NOT an option, consider building a removable hangboard mount that allows you to remove the board whenever you aren’t in a Strength Phase.
  • Limit Bouldering is arguably the best use of a home wall for several reasons. First, it demands the least space, so even those with a small area can usually build something that works for Limit Bouldering. Next, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find goal-route-specific Limit Bouldering terrain in public gyms. I’ve ranted about this on many occasions, but in a nutshell, public gyms are looking more and more like American Ninja Warrior obstacle courses than representations of actual rock. To get the most from Limit Bouldering, it must be done on realistic terrain and holds. The best bet may be to create such terrain yourself.  Another advantage of LB terrain is that it is relatively steep, allowing more climbing distance within a given vertical height.
Steeper walls provide more travel (but don't let that be the driving factor in your wall design).

Steeper walls provide more travel.  That said, maximizing travel should NOT be the driving factor in your wall design.  The driving factor should be maximizing utility, and an overly steep wall will be useless for some activities (like ARCing).

  • Campusing is important for advanced climbers, but it is trained relatively infrequently (maybe 4-6 times per season). I love having my own campus board, but if space were limited it would be the first thing to go. Campusing at a public gym is a piece of cake, since no one ever uses the campus board, instead opting for whatever flavor-of-the-month Crossfit exercise is trendy at the time 🙂 That said, your local gym’s board may well be a disaster. If that is the case, consider setting up a removable campus board, or building it in a separate space so you can maximize the climbing terrain on your home wall.
  • There’s nothing worse than trying to get through a Linked Bouldering Circuit at a crowded gym, constantly dreading some unsuspecting climber will interfere with your workout. Fortunately, LBCs can be done on the same terrain (sometimes even the same problems) as Limit Bouldering, so if you have LB terrain, you have LBC terrain. Only a very lucky few will have suitable terrain for Route Intervals, so those are best done at a public gym. Usually this is fairly easy to do since you only need to monopolize a single route (as opposed to say, ARCing, where you are constantly traveling against the grain, or LBCs that require the use of 6 or more boulder problems).

In summary, I think the highest priorities are Warmup terrain, which can double as ARC terrain in a pinch, and Limit Bouldering terrain, which can also be used for LBCs. That said, it is possible to warm up on a hangboard. It’s not fun, but plenty of Rock Prodigies do it. It is NOT possible to Limit Boulder on a hangboard, so LB terrain will be the top priority for all but complete beginners (who would benefit more from ARCing). If you have extra space, throw in a Campus Board if power is a priority in your training, or add more ARC terrain if Skill-Development is a higher priority. If you have an embarrassment of riches like me, add both!

A slightly overhanging wall like this one can be used for both ARCing and Limit Bouldering.  Include an assortment of large holds for ARCing, and small, realistic holds for Limit Bouldering.  However, the disadvantage of less steep walls is that they will provide less climbing travel (in the direction of the wall) for a given ceiling height.

A slightly overhanging wall like this one can be used for both ARCing and Limit Bouldering. Include an assortment of large holds for ARCing, and small, realistic holds for Limit Bouldering. However, the disadvantage of less steep walls is that they will provide less climbing travel (in the direction of the wall) for a given ceiling height.

Now that you’ve figured out your training priorities, what does that terrain look like for you? Ideally we could have a wide variety of wall angles, but most of us will have to make some tough choices. The final consideration is your goals, relative to your ability. Since this is your terrain, it should be specific to your goals. If you live in Bend, Oregon, climb exclusively at Smith Rock (where routes are rarely steeper than 10 degrees overhanging), and your ultimate, lifetime climbing goal is a redpoint of the dead vertical To Bolt Or Not To Be, it will be easy to determine what your goal terrain looks like.

The author climbing Smith Rock’s To Bolt Or Not To Be

The author climbing Smith Rock’s To Bolt Or Not To Be.  Photo Mike Anderson

The rest of us will need to do an informal survey of our favorite climbing areas.  Fortunately most of us have a relatively narrow range of angles that we really like. Furthermore, if you live in North America, terrain steeper than 20 degrees overhanging is quite scarce. Look through some photos of your favorite crags or goal routes and estimate the cliff angles to come up with a range of steepnesses that are representative of your performance preferences. Also, you’re not building the wall solely for the ensuring training cycle—it should be something you grow into, so dream big when considering potential goal routes.

PNG 150dpi

The approximate steepness of a few of my recent goal routes.  Photos (L) Ken Klein and (C) Adam Sanders.

Once you have a sample of goal-route angles, add a few degrees of steepness and then use those augmented angles to inform your wall design. The reason for this is that artificial holds, especially footholds, will always be bigger than the outdoor holds they emulate. Furthermore, small holds are hell on your skin, to the point that they can create skin injuries that will limit the duration of your training sessions, and may even impact your outdoor climbing. It’s better to go with slightly larger, more comfy holds, and compensate by kicking the angle back a bit further. Plus you can downsize holds much more easily than you can change the wall angle. Erring on the side of “too steep” will give you the potential to grow into your wall as you improve.

You now have a range of angles to train for. It’s tempting to build a wide assortment of angles with tiny increments between them to perfectly match every goal route on your list. However, the best artificial walls have only a few large planes (or even one) of a consistent angle. For some reason, this just feels better. The Lazy H has a variety of angles, but I spend 95% of my Limit Bouldering on one uniform wall, approximately 12-feet wide by 11-feet high. All the aretes, roofs, dihedrals and other features were fun for the first week or two, but the single consistent plane sees all the action. If you have a lot of space, go with two angles—one optimized for warming up/ARCing at your ability level, and one optimized for Limit Bouldering at your ability level. If you have more than a lot of space, like a huge barn, only then consider including some other angles, but mark my words, much of that extra terrain will be neglected.


When bouldering (including Warmup Boulder Ladder problems and Limit Bouldering), I spend the vast majority of my time on this wall.  It’s wide, uniform surface allows for a high concentration of smooth-yet-challenging problems.

One final note: invest in quality hand holds! The smaller your wall, the more essential this is, because each hold on your wall represents an opportunity cost. If your holds suck, the wall won’t be fun to use, and that will certainly impact your training. When I’m having fun in the Lazy H, my sessions are longer, more intense, and more productive. You can read some of my hold recommendations here and here.

Later this month I’ll provide a brief virtual tour of the Lazy H, detailing the dimensions and angles of each wall, what I like about it, and what I would do differently.

Clear Creek’s Wildest Free Climb – Part 2

This is part 2 in a two-part series.  Part 1 can be viewed here.

“Foot stabs” like this require good core strength to keep the hips tight to the wall in order to maintain pressure on the extended foot.

“Foot stabs” like this require good core strength to maneuver the extended foot into place, and to keep the hips tight to the wall so that pressure can be maintained on the extended foot.

The most significant obstacle to climbing my looming Bunker project appeared to be a lack of specific core strength. My career for the most part has been spent standing on my feet, not swinging and stabbing them over my head, as is often required for roof climbing. I had pretty good core strength for the types or routes I usually climb, but Born on the 4th of July would require completely different core strength. I ordered a set of gymnastics rings and selected a set of exercises to help solve this problem. [extensive details on my core training regimen coming next week]

From a skill perspective, I knew it would help to practice moving in the horizontal plane. There’s something to be said for familiarity with a set of skills when you know you will be required to execute them in an intimidating situation. We call this “stress-proofing”—when I’m dangling 800 feet above the river, 40 mph gusts battering my backside as I pull out loops of slack to clip that swinging quickdraw, it would be nice to know I can trust my “bicycle*” maneuver to keep me in place. [*Pressing the top of one fore-foot against the back of a protruding piece of rock, and the bottom of the other fore-foot against the opposite or front side of the protrusion, effectively squeezing it between your two feet.]

A "bicycle" maneuver.

A “bicycle” maneuver.

After returning from Germany I was physically spent from such a high volume of climbing, and nursing a mild shoulder impingement, so I took the opportunity to practice my roof-climbing at the local gym. With a pound or 15 of croissant-fueled ballast, I worked my way through the many roof problems, practicing skills like toe-cams, heel hooks, and the aforementioned bicycle.

In mid-winter I took my new strength and skill to the streets, nabbing another Clear Creek prize along the way, the roof-centric open project Double Stout. This litmus test re-assured me that I was on the right track. As the winter snows began to ebb, I redoubled my focus. Spare moments were spent analyzing video from my recon bids, imagining potential sequences around the blank sections, and convincing myself that I would be good enough to execute them, but there was only one way to know for sure.

Practicing roof climbing on Double Stout.

Practicing roof climbing on Double Stout. Photo Mike Anderson.

In late April the Bunker was finally good to go, so I headed up with Kate to give it a shot. There were at least two moves in the first roof I couldn’t do last year, so I would know right away if I’d made any progress. The fingertip rail in the first roof was damp and seeping during my first foray, and I was unable to do a difficult crossing move on the rail. The move seemed plausible, but I kept slipping off the wet rock, so I moved on to the next trouble spot—a big dyno out to jugs on the lip of the low roof. I stuck the slap on my first try, and it felt easy. So far so good.

The tenuous cross move in the first roof.

The tenuous cross move in the first roof.

With one down and several more stumper moves to go, I proceeded quickly to the final visor. I was pretty much entirely unable to climb the visor last year. I mimed some moves with Mike taking 50-80% of my weight at the belay, so I had a sense that they could go, but I was miles from doing them at that time.

The visor crux begins with a long span to a jug rail a few feet out from the crook of the roof. From this rail you can reach out into a crack system that cuts diagonally through the nearest half of the roof. This crack pinches down in one place to create a pretty nice—albeit wickedly sharp—two-finger pocket, and flares open to offer a big pod in another spot. The pod curves as it deepens to offer a set of slopers on the “bottom” side (from the climber’s perspective). Beyond the pod, the crack veers off and pinches down to a seam. A couple feet further a big horn of rock protrudes downward (and slightly west), offering a nice pinch grip. As you near the lip a detached flake emerges from the roof, at first providing a 1.5-pad incut edge, and then flaring into full-finger jugs just before the lip. The lip is adorned with a gnarly blob of knob-covered stone that provides a pair of killer jugs and plentiful footholds.

An awkward stance in the crook of the visor.

An awkward stance in the crook of the visor.

Months of film study had convinced me I knew the sequence, so I set out to execute it. Full stop! My plan to grab the pod sloper, toe-cam in the jug rail and then drive-by to the horn was a disaster. I could barely match in the pod, and even then I had no hope of releasing my toe-cam with any sort of control. The next 30 minutes were spent doing what I do best—putzing around on the rope, groping for possibilities. I messed around with the two-finger pocket, various matches in the pod, and other holds further afield.

A big reach out to "the pod".

A big reach out to “the pod”.  (The knotted orange rope is there to help me pull back on to the rock in the event of a fall.  Since I’m unable to clip again until I reach the lip of the roof, a fall in the latter half of the visor would leave me dangling far below the roof, making it difficult to pull back onto the rock and try again.)

Eventually a new concept emerged: matching hands in the pod, walking my feet around in front of me, and then swinging out to reach the horn. Not easy, but I was able to do all the moves individually. The next bit was at least as hard—linking from the pod/horn to the jug flake. I continued with the same strategy, leading with my feet, and discovered with good core tension I could stab my feet out to the knob garden at the lip. From this position it was barely possible to “unwind” from the pod and slap my left hand to the initial edge in the detached flake. No longer extended, I could get my hips closer to my feet and pull through with my right hand into the good flake jugs. From there it was a formality to swing out to the lip.

Stabbing my foot out to the "Knob Garden" at the lip.

Stabbing my foot out to the “Knob Garden” at the lip.  Note the sage-colored washcloth in the lower left, used to dry a damp hold at the start.

By this point it was raining so I didn’t try the mantel onto the wet moss-covered slab. I looked over the lip, spied a few good jugs and declared it NTB—Not too Bad. I was elated with my progress but still slightly concerned about that first hard move in the opening roof.

The next time out the finger tip rail in the first roof was still damp. Realizing this was the key to the entire route, I put in some more effort on this section, and I was eventually able to do the move in parts, but each time I tried to link the entire boulder problem my fingers would fling off in one spot or another due to moisture. Eventually I was convinced the sequence would go in dry conditions, so I moved on to practice the visor sequence and suss that NTB mantel I mentioned earlier.

As my clever foreshadowing suggests, the mantel wasn’t as easy as it looked. There are two big jugs to work with, one right at the lip, and another about an arm’s-length deep on the slab. The slab itself is about 45-degrees steep, covered in “rock lettuce” (tiny bushes of lettuce-shaped lichen)and offers few appealing footholds. From the jugs, you can throw a left foot over the lip, but due to the angling nature of the visor, that foot is well above head level. Pressing out the mantel begins easily, but then you need to move your low hand up to make room for your hips and the dangling right foot. But there are no more holds, only a plethora of moss-covered bumps, and one finger-tip-wide horizontal crack.

Throwing my left toe up onto the lip in an attempt to mantel onto the slab.

Throwing my left toe up onto the lip in an attempt to mantel onto the slab.

I could make an argument for ending the route at the jugs at the lip of the roof. Sport climbing is an entirely arbitrary construct, and many routes end in the middle of a blank wall, where the holds run out, where the rope ends, or where the climbing stops being enjoyable. It’s the route developer’s decision, there’s no peer review or sanctioning body to appease. However, I really wanted to top this thing out. Since the moment I first considered it might be possible to climb, I wanted it to go to the top. The entire appeal of the line to me was the improbability of it. A magical accident of fate that provides just enough holds to transform something that logic and statistics would deem totally implausible into something that is just barely possible.   Think of the odds! That the roof could exist in the first place, defying gravity for millennia; that I would find it, untouched and waiting to be climbed; that the rock was solid enough to support my weight, let alone its own. And finally the odds that there are just the right combination of completely natural features, the right size and shape, to permit an unbroken chain of free moves! Stopping at an arbitrary point would destroy this miracle of intertwined geology and organics. It would negate the entire endeavor….

A few more burns over the next week allowed me to dial in the sequences and become comfortable with the runouts. I still hadn’t “sent” the opening roof, but I hadn’t tried it while dry either. The weather was steadily improving, and I figured with a bit of luck, I only needed to scratch and claw my way through that roof once.

Finally we arrived on the dry, cool Sunday morning of May 3rd. The very first left hand crimp was wet, not a great omen, but I had fixed a wash cloth to dry it mid-move. I reached out to the finger tip rail—it seemed dry. I went through my sequence, working out to the lip and slapping for the flat mini-ledge at the lip. My left foot popped off as I hit the jug, but I was able to control my swing and reel myself back on. The next section was totally trivial by now, and I quickly climbed to a great rest below the visor.

Clearing the first roof.

Clearing the first roof.

I hadn’t done any Power Endurance training this season—other than working this route—but I figured if I took my time at this rest, and sprinted through the cruxes, I might have enough fitness to make it through. After a long, steady recovery, I was ready. I monkeyed out the relatively brief middle roof, clipped out to the second bolt in the visor, chalked up one last time, and punched out towards daylight. Everything unfurled as I had envisioned. I committed to the slaps, hit every hold just right, and kept my core tight throughout. Before I knew it I matched on the jug flake and reached up to a big knob over the lip. Tactically I was unsure whether to sprint or rest, so I compromised. After a few quick shakes, a dab into the chalk bag, and a moment of visualization, I went for the mantel.

Shaking out at the lip, contemplating the mantel.

Shaking out at the lip, contemplating the mantel.

I threw my left foot up onto a sloping edge, craned my head over the lip, and stabbed my left hand into a fingerlock in the crack. I had considered this beta when I first attempted the mantel, but feared a foot slip would result in me hurtling toward the end of the rope, two or three fingers lighter than when I had started. I like my fingers where they are, but I ultimately exhausted any other possibilities and committed to the fingerlock sequence. With a very carefully placed left toe, and fingers wedged firmly, I was able to squirm upwards just enough to scum my kneecap over the lip. Precariously poised, I moved my right hand into a press and stepped up onto the floating slab.

Success! Stepping up onto the slab.

Pressing up onto the slab…Success!

Born on the 4th of July is not the hardest first ascent I’ve done, but it’s my proudest.  I don’t ever want to leave something unfinished, and so I’m generally fairly conservative when deciding whether or not to equip a potential line.  Considering my relative lack of skill with this type of climbing,  it took a real leap of faith to rappel over the edge and fire up my drill.  It felt like a tremendous gamble, and I’m proud of myself for having the nerve to commit to learning a new style, building new strength and putting in the days on the rock to unlock the sequence.  Making the gamble pay off was extremely rewarding, and I’m sure it will give me the confidence to take more chances on new lines in the future.

To All the Guy Climbers: A Rant and a Salute…

It was pretty crowded in the gym last Sunday.  The weather was crappy and there were a LOT of birthday parties going on.  I was patiently trying to maneuver through my fairly extensive warm-up routine before retreating to the training area to do some Power Enduro laps.  I was almost ready, just needed to do a handful of more challenging problems that I had really dialed. There was already someone (a 20-something guy) working one of the boulder problems I was interested in doing.  He tried several times, and kept getting stuck at the crux, 3 moves in.  I waited until he took a break…Read the rest of this entry →

Rock Climber’s Training Manual Part 2 – Power/Power Endurance

A few weeks ago I posted about how things were going for me in first two phases (Base Fitness and Strength) of the Rock Prodigy Training Program.  Now that I’ve completed the latter two training phases (Power and Power Endurance), it seems appropriate to share another progress report. Power has never been my strong suit.  When I get shut down on a route/problem, it’s generally because I just cannot execute a particular move.  On the flip side, however, if I CAN do all the moves on a route, linking them together *usually* comes fairly quickly.  Bouldering at the gym has helped, as well…Read the rest of this entry →

Rock Climber’s Training Manual Part 1 (Base Fitness and Strength)

When I first started climbing, I didn’t bother with any sport-specific training of any sort. My formula for improving was to just climb.  However, once Cragbaby #1 came into the picture, our midweek climb time was greatly decreased, which meant the time we did have needed to be a little more efficient.  I started keying in on my weaknesses and choosing routes/problems/techniques that focused on those (for example, adding some off-set pull-ups and movement drills to increase lock-off strength.) Then I broke my ankle in February of 2012.  I knew I’d go nuts if I didn’t do SOMETHING, but I couldn’t…Read the rest of this entry →

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