climber

Category Archives: Injuries

How Craig DeMartino Became a Climber

When I started climbing 30 years ago, all I wanted was to BE a climber. I wanted to be strong in every climbing discipline: trad, sport, big wall, ice, and bouldering. I wanted to be able to move seamlessly between them and practice those arts at the highest level I could. After doing it for 15 years, I was pretty solid in the arts. Then one day I wasn’t.

They call them accidents for a reason. Not one person to really blame, really just a bunch of small, insignificant actions that resulted in a catastrophic failure that got me to a hospital bed clinging to life after a 100 foot ground fall. After surviving the fall and following days in the ICU and orthopedic care, my life went from one of action to one of reaction. My movement was stifled. For the next year I would react to what doctors told me and make a design on how to best “save” what I had left. They fused my spine in the Lumbar region, my neck at the C5/6 level, and finally, I found myself back in the hospital to amputate my right leg. A reaction to the fact I couldn’t walk without a cast. The reality was that climbing and my life would never be the same with the limb I had left. After the surgery, I fought to find out what was left of my former self. I loved my wife and kids and that would never change, but being a climber was a huge part of WHO I was and it seemed I was back to square one.

I was back to wanting to BE a climber, so that’s what I put my mind to. With the help of my wife and friends, I began to build back the climber and person I was before. The setbacks and fear were huge. Most times I climbed I wanted to quit and find something new. But if you climb for a while it becomes part of who you are and what you are. It’s very hard to ignore. For me it was like denying my DNA.

The first climbs were small, but I kept moving. Movement was what felt best. Even 15 years later, sitting still makes me stiffen and have trouble moving. As the climbs got harder, so did my adjustment to my new body. My windows of opportunity were small, so I pushed hard and tried to capitalize on them. This left me completely destroyed and needing rest and recovery. Improvements came slowly, but four years after the accident I found myself climbing El Cap in under a day and actually feeling like a climber again.

As with any journey, this one was not without its setbacks. Stump infections from a shower fall kept me in and out of the hospital for months last year. It cut into my crag time as you can imagine, but through it all, my wife Cyn and I would load the van, hit the road, and keep moving.

I’ve been really lucky to climb some amazing routes first as a disabled climber, to team up with other adaptive athletes and climb El Cap unsupported, and have strong finishes in the adaptive competition scene over the years. Through it all, the idea of being a climber is what keeps me going. Today, I remember my friends and partners much more than I do the routes and comp results. To be honest, I remember very few of my podium finishes, they are fleeting moments in time. Cyn keeps a record of her proud sends, and I often don’t even remember if I DID a route. But I DO remember the climbers I’m with. The connections I’ve made over the years with other climbers and places are what drives me forward. It’s the act of being in a space where everyone understands what you are talking about, where living in a car for a period of time is normal, where being a climber is what everyone is trying to do.

Getting hurt so badly ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. It’s changed how I live, work, and play. In short, I wouldn’t trade it or give it back for anything. It has taught me that there is more than me in this world. It has taught me to help others and stay humble. Its shown me the depth a relationship can have. It’s made me a better human by crushing the old one.

It’s what made me a climber.

40 Climbing Lessons

by Mark Anderson

A few years ago Steve Bechtel gave me an article called “40 Years of Insight” by strength Coach Dan John.  The article is a list of 40 lessons Dan learned in his 40 years of coaching strength athletes. I liked it so much, I keep it on my nightstand and re-read it periodically.

I can’t imagine I’ll have anything interesting left to say once I have 40 years of coaching experience, but as of today I’ve been on this planet for 40 years, so I decided to write my own version—40 lessons I’ve learned about climbing in 40 years of life. Nobody will agree with all of them, but hopefully everyone can find some use for at least one of these. [Warning: this is a bit of a novel, so you might want to break it up over a few days (Mark D)]

1. Set Goals—We need to reach for the stars if we want to have the slightest chance of reaching our potential. How we do that matters. Many people confuse dreams with goals, but there is one major difference—dreams almost never happen. If you want to get things done, you need realistic stepping-stones and an executable plan to progress between them. Establish a plan, follow the plan. That’s how you get things don

2. It’s Never Too Late—to take up climbing, learn a new technique, develop new strength, rehab a nagging injury. Every few years I discover another aspect of my climbing I’ve neglected and start improving it. In my late 20’s it was power endurance, in my early 30’s it was contact strength, then it was upper arm and shoulder power, then core strength, and most recently I found I had improved so much everywhere else that power endurance was once again a (relative) weakness. Whatever it is that’s been holding you back, start training it today. There’s still plenty of time to reap the benefits.

3. Baby Steps—Big improvements aren’t made in big leaps, they’re made in many baby steps, over years. You can go incredibly far using baby steps, but you have to take a few steps every day, to the best of your ability, for a long time. The good news is, you have plenty of time, the rock isn’t going anywhere.

4. We Don’t Climb in a Lab—I’ll take a real-world anecdote over a laboratory study any day. The climbing studies that have been done thus far are incredibly primitive and rarely (if ever) representative of real-world rock climbing. I couldn’t care less if a training program produces great results in the lab. The point is to get better at climbing rocks, so I follow programs that produce results on the rock. If a program has demonstrated the ability to do that, it’s a good program. If someone is trying to sell you something, the only question to ask is, “how many letter grades did you improve when you used this program?” You don’t need any laboratories, scientists, or double-blind studies. If they can’t answer that question convincingly, save your money.

5. The Weekend Warrior’s Best Weapon is Good Time Management—When I first started working I got a day planner with the Ben Franklin quote: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” In our 20’s, the Anderson mantra was “Maximize Fun,” which was a euphemism for waking up before sunrise, taking no breaks, and finishing after dark so we could cram as much climbing/mountaineering/canyoning into a day as possible. If it didn’t suck by the end of the day, then we failed. I don’t have many days like that anymore, but I am constantly hustling from task to task to clear space for climbing, bolting, or training. If you want to have it all (and you should), it really helps to be as efficient as possible in your daily life: plan ahead, stay on task, do simple things quickly, and do them right the first time.

Maximizing Fun on Lotus Flower Tower. We summited in the dark and got back to camp just before sunrise the next morning.

6. Big Fish Need Big Ponds—If you’re already the best climber in your gym, move! We need rivals to push us, heroes to inspire us, and mentors to show us the way. If you’re the big fish in your pond, find yourself a bigger pond that will give you room to grow. Moving to Colorado in 2008 was the make-or-break moment of my career. While I was incredibly excited about all the new rock, I also doubted my ability to ‘survive’ in a place so stacked with talented climbers. Frankly it started pretty badly. Everything seemed sandbagged, and for the first time ever I was waiting in line to try 5.14s. I enjoyed few successes in those early years, but ultimately it invigorated my climbing, forcing me to become much better.

7. Attack Your Weaknesses Directly—The best way to solve a weakness is to pick a goal route at your limit that perfectly exploits that weakness. You will have no choice but to ensure that correcting the weakness is your #1 priority in training. When I first started working 5.12’s, my footwork was terrible. I picked several projects at Smith Rock (where footwork is paramount), and although the process was initially terribly frustrating, the payoff has been enormous. Solving a weakness is not an extra-curricular activity, it has to be your primary focus.

8. Be A Maverick,—If you want to be as good as everyone else, do what everyone else does. If you want to be better than that, you have to do something different. For literally years, I was the only climber in my gym who used a hangboard (and everyone looked at me funny).

9. Invest in a Training Space—It’s ironic that as commercial climbing gyms have become increasingly prolific, they’ve also become increasingly useless to performance-oriented climbers. Second to making the decision to start training, the next ‘best-decision-I-ever-made’ for my climbing was building my own training facility. It finally allowed me to train the way I want, with no excuses about walls that are too steep, holds that are unrealistic, or poor route-setting. It puts me in complete control of my training. I don’t have to dodge birthday parties, heinous temperatures or primetime crowds. It has everything I need, and if it doesn’t it’s my own fault.

10. Keep a Journal—Preferably multiple journals. I have reams of training log sheets, detailing every rep and set of every workout I’ve ever done. I have a “Training Calendar,” in which I forecast planned training and climbing sessions, and summarize them for each day, after the fact. I have a blog where I bore you all with grandiose accounts of significant (to me) adventures. I also have a spreadsheet capturing every 5.12-or-harder route I’ve ever climbed, another one for every first ascent, and detailed notes in all my guidebooks. These are my most treasured possessions. They are invaluable for entertainment, lessons learned and most-importantly, planning future training.

Jonathan filling out his logsheet during a winter training session in Las Vegas.

11. Get Into A Routine—The trick to sticking with a training plan, or maintaining discipline in general, is to have a routine. We’re all busy, and faced with obstacles that can interfere with training. If you have to shuffle commitments and make decisions on the fly, you’re sure to sacrifice training more often than you’d like. A predictable weekly schedule with few surprises may sound boring, but it’s the best way to ensure you accomplish your training goals for each day. That’s the key to making steady progress. Once training becomes a regular habit, something you expect to do, something you plan around, rather than something you have to plan for, discipline comes easily.

12. The First Step Is the Hardest—The hardest part of every workout is taking that first step towards the gym. Everyone has days when they just don’t want to train. A good way to overcome this inertia is to commit to at least doing a little something on every training day. In my experience, once you get warmed up, you usually find the motivation to go ahead with the scheduled workout.

13. Quality Over Quantity, or Intensity Over Duration. I’m a firm believer that in climbing, power is generally much more limiting than endurance. Even when it isn’t, nobody ever complained about having too much power. So it makes sense for most climbers to favor power in their training. Additionally, intense training takes less time. But the best reason to favor it is that it takes less out of you, so you can get a lot of training stimulus without digging a deep hole that requires extensive recovery. Fortunately this can be applied to endurance training as well—one ARC set done with intention and focus beats three sets of going through the motions any day. Whatever your training goals, train the best you can, for as long as you can, and then call it a day. Piling on a bunch of junk miles at the end will only make things worse.

Applying the proper intensity during a hangboard session.

14. Stick to What Works—The people who experience the most consistent, steady improvement do the same general things for years and years. Bouncing around between plans makes it impossible to optimize your training, because you’re never doing anything long enough to evaluate its effectiveness. Find something that works for you and stick with it. For a really long time. Make subtle tweaks as you learn and grow, but a solid system will continue to produce steady gains for decades.

15. Love the Process—The reason I’ve been able to get through ~400 HB workouts is that I love hangboarding (on some level). If you don’t love hangboarding, find something you do love and figure out how to make it work with your training program. In any field, those with the most staying-power love the preparation as much or more than they like the performance.

16. An Ounce of Prevention—…is worth a pound of cure -Ben Franklin. If you’re reading this it’s a safe bet you already know the importance of preparing your fingers for rock climbing. Additionally, pretty much every climber I’ve ever known has had elbow and/or shoulder problems at one time or another, sooner or later. The good news is that it takes very little effort to reduce the risk of injury to these crucial joints. The first step is to use good form in your training (especially hangboarding and campusing), keeping your elbows slightly bent and shoulders tight. Second, end each session with a few minutes of prehab exercises (for shoulders, try push-ups and internal and external shoulder rotations, and for elbows, check out this article). Finally, stretch your forearms after each climbing or training session.

17. Core Strength Costs Nothing—We all know that your fingers can never be too strong for rock climbing. The problem is that our fingers are incredibly fragile; they must be trained carefully, and then allowed to recover for long periods between sessions. While core strength takes a backseat, it is very beneficial. It’s also very easy to train without detracting from finger training, so there’s no good reason not to do it. You can train your core every day, or on off days (from finger training) if time is limited. In my experience a little bit of core strength goes a long way, opening up a new dimension of exotic and gymnastic rock climbs.

18. Take Care—I can’t remember how times I’ve hurt myself doing mundane things like unloading groceries, putting my kids in their car seats, or even sleeping in an awkward position. Be precise and thoughtful in everything you do. Don’t overgrip when climbing, or when opening doors. Sleep flat on your back. Practice precision movement and situational awareness all the time—don’t be clumsy, oafish or inattentive. Down climb when bouldering. It’s a good drill for regular climbing, a good skill to have for on-sighting, but most importantly, it will save your joints.

19. Injuries Aren’t the End of the World. When you have a serious injury, it always feel like the end of the world, or maybe just the end of your performance climbing career. Any athlete who wants to be the best they can be is going to push the limits of their body. If you flirt with the line between maximum improvement and injury, eventually you will cross it. Looking back, I’ve had four major pulley strains that could have been “career ending” had I chosen to accept that outcome. I’ve had countless tweaks in collateral ligaments, elbows, back, shoulders and knees. Many of them seemed devastating at the time, but none of them held me back in the long run. Train smart, take measures to avoid them, but if an injury occurs, remain optimistic and believe that you can recover 100%.

20. Logistics Matter—I’m a planner. I envy those who can roll up to the crag without a worry and crush 5.15, but that’s not me. I over-think everything, then think about it some more. Many great climbing projects have failed because some mundane detail was overlooked, and that’s what keeps me up at night. Mike and I scrapped our way up a lot of things we shouldn’t have because we’re really freaking good at planning. Whether you’re embarking on an alpine style ascent in the Karakoram, Nose-in-a-Day, or a weekend of sport climbing, create a detailed plan, walk through every possible outcome, and make sure it’s viable. Practice this when you’re young, and it will pay off when your life becomes more complicated. The skills I learned preparing for expeditions in the Alaska Range came in really handy once my climbing excursions become truly daunting (visiting sport crags with kids).

21. There Are No Secrets—If someone is trying to sell you the “secret” to better performance, run away. All the information you need to excel at climbing has been around for years, in books, journals, and/or the interwebs. The 80’s were the Age of Innovation, and while much knowledge was lost during the more recent Age of Grunting, you can still find the wisdom of yesterday in any number of great resources (such as: Wizards of Rock, Revelations, Beyond the Summit, Fingers of Steel, Performance Rock Climbing, A Life in the Vertical).

Photo: Nick Clement

22. Ration Your Skin—It’s literally your interface to the rock. Think about how much you care about your climbing shoes. Your skin is ten times more important. Skin care is 99% prevention. Once you have an issue, it’s probably too late (and you’ll spend ten times the effort on the “cure,” which will be one-tenth as effective). Get a skin care kit and use it daily. When on the rock, pace your efforts and conserve your skin. Check it whenever you’re hanging on the rope and quit while you’re ahead. Once its gone, it will be much more costly waiting for it to heal than it would have been to quit 5 minutes earlier.

23. Get up Early—You get the least crowds, the best climbing conditions, and the most beautiful light.

24. Invest in a Good Partner—The greatest asset for long-term success is a good partner. The best partners are dependable, provide moral support on and off the rock, and do the little things (like bringing your shoes over when you lower off). Those types of partnerships don’t just happen, they have to be nurtured. I’ve had a lot of great partners that deserve credit, including Mike, Fred, Janelle, Chris, Bobby, Ben, Marcus, Rob, Rick, Lee, Steve, Vern, Marc, Gabe, Grace, Lamont, Shaun, Adam, Mark, Evan, Boer and Kevin. My wife Kate is the very best possible partner. She’s the secret to my success.

25. Go Against the Grain—Climb in unpopular areas, at off-peak times. Once there, do unpopular routes. You get the place to yourself, you don’t have to wait in line, and you’ll be forced to learn a variety of techniques on many different types of rock. You also learn self-reliance and aren’t misled by everyone else’s bad habits (or bad beta).

Kate and I atop the Moai after climbing Sacred Site, 5.10-

26. Mileage Over Difficulty—We master moving over stone by doing lots of it, not by doing a few harder moves many times. When I was breaking into 5.12 I would routinely climb 15 pitches per climbing day and never less than 10, whether I was climbing trad or sport. I stretched my partners’ patience, but it made me a better climber. If technique is your weakness, forget about projecting routes at your limit for a few years and just try to climb as many pitches per day as possible when you go outside. Visit as many different crags as possible and climb the widest variety of routes. These routes should still be challenging, but nothing that takes more than 3 tries to send. You can and should still train systematically indoors, but when you’re outside, climb for volume.

27. Figure Out the Beta Yourself—I’m all for doing things the easy way, most of the time. If I‘m loading a sack of bricks into my car, I’ll certainly take the easy way.  When I’m trying to improve myself, I’ll take the hard way. The easy way to get the beta for your project is to watch Youtube videos or other climbers. That may get you to the chains faster, but figuring out the beta yourself will make you a better climber.

28. You’ll Never Send What You Don’t Try—In 2008 I was climbing at the Left Flank in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge with Mike. I was having one of those great days of onsighting—I hadn’t fallen all day and I’d sent a number of hard-for-me routes up to 12d. I was debating out loud the pros and cons of risking my precious final onsight attempt of the day on the classic 5.13a Table of Colors (a grade I’d never onsighted before). Mike said “You’ll definitely never onsight 5.13 if you never try one.” At some point, if you want to do hard routes, you have to try hard routes. I’ve surprised myself many times, including on that day in 2008. It’s understandable to have reservations or anxiety. Anytime you try something truly challenging, your risk failing in spectacular fashion, but you have to give yourself the opportunity to succeed or you never will.

29. Less is More—Generally, climbers climb too much, train too much, and rest too little. Particularly with training in vogue and so many coaches offering new exercises, we tend to add more and more training volume without taking anything away. If you’re lacking “pop,” you’re not psyched to train, or packing for the next climbing day feels like a chore, you’re likely over-doing it. I tend to follow my training plans religiously, and the thought of skipping a workout is heresy. In retrospect, I’ve found that dropping in an extra rest day here or there has only ever helped, and often it’s made my season. Whatever climbing problem is bringing you down, there’s a good chance an extra rest day will help solve it.

30. Conserve Your Energy—It takes a tremendous amount of energy to climb at your limit (especially after age 35). The biggest jump in ability I made in the past decade came when I took a temporary break from rest-day aerobic exercise in 2011. The result of that break was so profound it’s now permanent, except for one or two months a year of cycling in the summer. I miss the daily meditation of trail running and cycling, but not as much as I like climbing a letter-grade harder. If you’re doing any extra-curricular activities, they‘re likely detracting from your climbing performance. Whether those activities are worth the impact is a judgment call for you to make, just realize its having an effect.

31. Eat Lots of (Lean) Protein—I’m not a nutrition geek. I’ve read a fair amount about it and figured out how to lose weight when I need to and feel strong while performing. If I had to summarize my recommendations in one short sentence, it would be: eat lots of lean protein. This will fuel your physical gains, provide plenty of energy for day-to-day life and suppress the glycemic response that causes over-eating. Yes, you also need some carbs and fats, but unless you have an exclusive sponsorship deal with Starkist Tuna, chances are good you’ll consume sufficient quantities of both without thinking about. You can make this pretty complicated if you want (calculating grams per body mass, ingesting at regular intervals, protein shakes just before bed time on training days), but following this simple suggestion will get you most of the way to your climbing goals.

Sea bugs are a great source of lean protein.

32. Pay Attention When You’re Belaying—Obviously you have someone’s life in your hands. Take that seriously. Furthermore, from a performance perspective, engage in your partners’ climbing. Discuss their beta, study their movement, offer suggestions and invest in their success. You will liven up the monotony of belaying, your partner will appreciate it, and you’ll learn a lot in the process.

33. Learn to like Falling—There are climbers who enjoy falling. If fear of falling is an issue for you, don’t be satisfied with barely tolerating it. Take it a few steps farther, to the point that you actually like it. Then trying hard will be second nature. This is constantly a work-in-progress for me, but when I’m climbing my best, falling is fun.

Falling off at the Crimp Crux–an experience I was all-too familiar with. Photo Mike Anderson.

34. Write Down Your Beta—Once I started writing beta down, it forced me to really think about how my hips and shoulders were involved in generating movement, and that propelled my technique to a new level. Get into the habit of writing down your beta in narrative form, at least for crux sections. It will help you think through how you’re moving and why. If you have any gaps in your sequence, or limbs that aren’t contributing, that will become immediately apparent.

35. Belief is Essential—Half the benefit of all the endless training sessions I do is convincing myself I can yard on a 1/8” crimp, lock-off a 1-pad mono to my nipple, or link 30 more moves when I’m pumped out of my mind. Remember what you’ve endured in training and take it with you to the crag. The same for working a project. Build belief you can send it by sticking the crux move, doing it again, and then linking through it. It’s ok if you don’t believe at first, you can put in the necessary work to build your confidence over time. But you won’t have a prayer of sending until you really do believe you can.

Belief is essential!

36. Expect Adversity. Every climber will face adversity. How you deal with adversity will determine how close you get to your potential as a climber. That’s true for a given route or for your career as a whole. It’s easy to be psyched and work hard when things are going well. It takes a lot of guts to persevere when everything is breaking against you. The closer you get to your potential, the more adversity you will face. You’ll be closer to your physical limits, and so constantly flirting with injury, illness and burnout. You’ll also need all the external factors to go your way (they rarely will). The good news is that most of my greatest successes came shortly after crushing defeats. The failure showed me what it would take to send and motivated me to work extra hard for the re-match.

37. Don’t Solo—There’s nothing harder than trying to explain to a late-teens/early-20’s male climber that they really don’t know everything, and they really will see the world differently when they (truly) grow up. In the classic Western movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s character Will Munny says, “It’s a hell of a thing killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.” Consider that when you solo, you aren’t just risking your present life, you’re risking your future life—a life that likely will be filled with joys and wonders you can’t yet imagine (to say nothing of the impact on those who love you). Do the future-you a favor and rope up. Even if you (absurdly) assume climbing is infinitely more valuable than every other part of life combined, think of all the climbing you’ll miss out on if you break your neck. It’s simple math, soloing’s just not worth it.

38. End On A High Note—Whatever your highpoint, be it a new hangboard PR, best onsight or sending a hard project, chances are whatever follows will be a letdown. For many years I would “celebrate” after big sends by attempting to onsight some route I had been longing to climb. I always struggled and I almost never sent. The worst part is that I was then bummed for failing the onsight instead of stoked for sending my much-more-significant project. Eventually I figured out that we don’t get very many “best moments,” so it’s wise to savor them.

39. Be Present—Yoda’s initial evaluation of Luke Skywalker was spot on: “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing…” Focus on the task at hand, give 100% of yourself to it, whether during a hard send, while training, or life in general. If you’re watching the sunset, open your eyes and absorb every ray of light. During workouts, focus on recovering and prepping for the next set between efforts, rather than staring at text messages. When you’re struggling to figure out a crux sequence, don’t covet the next route over, wondering if it might suit you better. Absorb yourself completely in the route immediately in front of you. Make yourself available to give your best effort.

40. There’s More to Life Than Rock Climbing—I hope everybody has at least one opportunity in life to completely immerse themselves in their passion. I dirt-bagged for a little over a year in my twenties. I’m glad I did. At the time, it felt like the ultimate life, but in hindsight it doesn’t hold a candle to the life I live now. At some point it’s wise to open yourself up to other opportunities. Life will offer a multitude of diverse experiences. Shun none of them. I’ve sacrificed a lot of experiences because I couldn’t skip a workout, or I needed to rest up for a hard redpoint attempt. Looking back on roughly 25 years of this, the thing that strikes me is how few of my memories involve actual climbing. My favorite climbs aren’t the hardest climbs I’ve done, or the climbs that got the most press. The moments that stand out are the places I visited, the wildlife I saw on the approach, and the people I shared it all with.

Review of the Latest Climbing Research

By Mark Anderson

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Our friends at Trango generously footed the bill to send Mike and I to the International Rock Climbing Research Association’s (IRCRA) annual conference, held in Telluride, CO earlier this month. Ben and Jason at Fixed Pin Publishing also stepped up big-time to provide attendees with complimentary copies of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. The conference was a who’s who of climbing researchers, medical experts and performance gurus, providing a great opportunity for us to spread the word about our system of training and line of Trango training products. We had the opportunity to meet and compare notes with the likes of hangboard queen Eva Lopez-Rivera, Volker Schöffl (climber-surgeon and author of the landmark book “One Move Too Many”), mental master Arno Ilgner (author of The Rock Warrior’s Way), Ben Spannuth (badass sport climber and creator of the Bam Board), Eric Horst (author of the Training For Climbing series of books), as well as prolific climbing researches Phil Watts, Nick Draper and Vanesa Espańa-Romero.

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Mark discussing the evolution of hangboard technology that preceded the Rock Prodigy Training Center.

 

Our primary purpose in attending was to present our two papers: “Evaluating the Rock Prodigy Training Method” and “Finger Strength Improvements with the Rock Prodigy Training Center Hangboard.” We gave a 30-minute presentation covering both topics. It was a bit intimidating presenting pseudo-scientific material to a conference room full of PHD physiologists and researchers, but we were very well-received and generated a great discussion about the evolution of hangboards and the importance of ergonomics in training tools. A number of attendees came up after our presentation to compliment us on the Forge and RPTC designs (and ask where they can buy one in Europe!)

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The highlight for me was a long—albeit broken—conversation with Eva Lopez. We compared notes on hangboard training methods, hangboard design (Eva designed the innovative and popular “Progression” and “Transgression” hangboards), and laughed together about the many internet debates over whose hangboard routines are superior. [We heartily agreed that the climber’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals are surely the most important factor in selecting the optimal routine.]

The world’s foremost hangboard experts (in no particular order)? From left to right: Mark Anderson, Eva Lopez, Mike Anderson

I also learned (from the truly impressive Volker Schöffl and team) that there are a lot of climbing injuries I’d never even heard of. One key takeaway is that, if I ever have a serious climbing injury, I’m going to Germany to get it diagnosed and treated. Dr. Schöffl is on a whole different level when it comes to understanding and treating climbing injuries. He’s done extensive studies comparing the various treatment options (that he likely pioneered) on injuries that your local hand surgeon has probably never even heard of (let alone treated).

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Mike going through the survey results

 

Our secondary objective was to learn about the latest advancements in climbing training and injury treatment knowledge. There were some 35 papers submitted from a truly international cast of experts (including contributors from Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, UK, and perhaps the most remote relative to rock climbing: Michigan). Below is a BRIEF summary of the findings I found most interesting/relevant to performance-oriented climbers. I’ve tried to provide links where possible so you can dig into the details if you’d like more info. [At some point all of these papers should be posted to the IRCRA web site, but they did not seem to be posted as of the date this post was published]

    • Dr. Vanesa Espana-Romero of Universidad de Cadiz, Spain presented a review of the literature to update our understanding of the physiological components of rock climbing.  According to her summary of the research, the top 3 key attributes are finger strength (relative to body weight), finger intermittent endurance and upper body power. There is little or no correlation between systemic aerobic fitness (measures such as heart rate, VO2 Max, etc), however, climbers tend to have better local aerobic endurance (within the forearm muscles). Also, flexibility isn’t correlated to climbing performance…I still plan to stretch though.

 

    • Shaking of the hand “near the body” while resting increases re-oxygenation [thus improving recovery?] ~32% compared to simply relaxing your grip over a hold (and NOT shaking the hand). Presumably because placing the forearm under the level of the heart increases vasodilative responses, thus increasing blood flow. [Reference]

 

    • Time to failure when performing repeated crimp grip contractions (10s on, 3s off) at 40% of 1 Rep Max (1RM) was significantly increased in “cold” conditions (50 degF, vs. control of 75 degF). The temperature difference did not significantly affect 1RM. I recommend taking a copy of this study to your local climbing gym in hopes of convincing the management to turn down the thermostat. [Ref. “The effect of cold ambient temperatures on climbing-specific finger flexor performance” by KC Phillips, B Noh, M Gage, T Yoon]

 

    • Dehydrated climbers did not perform as well on a Treadwall test. [Ref: “Effect of hypohydration on climbing to failure on a treadwall” by KD Hewitt, T France, G Gonzalez, M Probst, et al]

 

 

    • If you want to improve your 1 Rep Max for a 5 second dead hang, training for 8 weeks with 3-5 sets of 1, 10-second rep (with 3 minutes rest between sets) is superior to training for 8 weeks with 3-5 sets of 4-5, 10-second reps (with 1 minute rest between sets). [Ref. “Comparison of the effects of three hangboard training programs on maximal finger strength in rock climbers” by E Lopez-Rivera & JJ Gonzalez-Badillo]

 

IMG_2863

Eva Lopez presenting her paper comparing three 8-week hangboard protocols.

 

    • The use of chalk significantly increases hang time to failure on a hangboard (compared to NOT using chalk). [Reference]

 

    • Intermediate-level climbers make more technical mistakes when leading routes than when toproping. [Ref. “Anxiety level and ability to climb routes in recreational indoor climbing” by P Czermak]

 

    • “High” climbing level and/or intensive finger training (such as campusing) correlates with risk for early onset osteoarthritis in the hands of young climbers. [Ref. “Long term Radiographic Adaptations to the Stress of High-Level and recreational Rock Climbing in Young Athletes” by P Hoffman, S Hinterwimmer, AB Imhoff, T Kupper, and V Schöffl]

 

    • Forearm compression sleeves might beneficially affect lactate removal after climbing. [Reference]

 

    • A couple different presenters showed research that supports the theory that “near term” finger strength improvements may be mostly due to neurological adaptations, rather than hypertrophy. However, nobody directly studied this.

 

IMG_2859

Mike and I discussing training philosophy with Eric Horst at the end of our presentation.

Thanks again to Trango for sponsoring our trip, and thanks to all of you who participated in the Rock Prodigy survey! If you have any questions about any of the research presented, or would like to discuss any of the finer points, please post up in the Rock Prodigy Forum.

Reflections on the Time Value of Climbing Ability

Readers of the RCTM should by now be familiar with our concept “The Time Value of Climbing Ability” (if not, you can read about it on page 12). In a nutshell, the more you improve, the easier climbs at a given grade become to send, and therefore, you can send them more quickly. So if you invest your time in improving, rather than investing that time in trying to send, the resulting improvement will payoff in the ability to send much more quickly in the future. This may sound simple and obvious, but lately I’ve noticed that some really smart climbers have trouble embracing this concept.

Smith Rock.

Smith Rock.

For many climbers, the unrestrained desire to climb all the time will be their undoing. This becomes particularly apparent when injuries and rehabilitation are involved, but rehabbing from an injury and improving are really just different ends of the same spectrum. Imagine “Jake” has a minor ligament strain in his ring finger. Jake also has a road trip scheduled for early fall. Laying out his training schedule it becomes clear that he won’t be in shape for his fall road trip unless he compresses his re-hab and skips all the extra rest days his Physical Therapist recommended. So that’s what he does, and three weeks in his “minor” ligament strain is now a minor tear, and a major bummer. It will take Jake 6 months to get healthy again, assuming he’s ever able to find the patience he couldn’t muster a few weeks ago.

That’s hypothetical but I see it all the time in real climbers (and in myself). We have a short-term goal that we are obsessed with. In the grand scheme of our career, it’s just another route, but at present it’s the most important thing in the world. Often there really is no sane reason for this single-mindedness, but we want to have it all so we push and push until something snaps. The irony of this is that what seems really important and life-changing in the present often seems far less significant with the passage of time.

My first Smith Rock 5.12 was the “first pitch” of a route called Heinous Cling (aka “Lower Heinous”), front and center in the legendary “Dihedrals”. I first attempted this route many times on toprope over the summers of 1995 and ’96. Once I was onto the training thing, I returned in 2001 and eventually sent after several days of work. It was a big deal for me. I had done a couple other routes that might be 5.12, but this was the first I had done that was solid at the grade. Also it was at Smith, a crag I revered above all others.

In 2007 I was at Smith to work Scarface. Each day before heading over to the base of my project, I stopped off at the Dihedrals to run up Lower Heinous for my daily warmup. I’ve probably done the climb more than 30 times by now, and I’ve done nearly 700 5.12s. Thinking back to the time I spent struggling and fretting over my first few 5.12s makes me laugh. If I only I had known how trivial it would become with time.

I’m not saying that such ascents are meaningless. We all need to go through the process of slaying these dragons, building confidence to try harder climbs, as well as learning better strategy and tactics as we overcome the struggle (and accept the occasional failure). Furthermore, the joy of striving towards and achieving a goal is essential to fueling further effort and progression. I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not gone through the process of selecting, training for, and achieving short-term goals time and again. It’s a delicate balance, made more precarious by the influence of our Egos and our desire to constantly exceed our abilities. I’ve certainly found myself on the wrong side of the equation at various times, and in some cases I’ve paid a hefty price for my lack of patience.

My first 5.13, Goliath, took six climbing days and the better part of the season.

My first 5.13, Goliath, took six climbing days and the better part of the season.

If you find yourself constantly sacrificing your long-term interests in favor of the climbing opportunities immediately in front of you, you may very well be undermining your own development. This can manifest itself in many ways. For some climbers, its perpetually selecting slightly too-hard redpoint projects that devolve into mutli-week or even multi-season campaigns of downward-spiraling fitness and motivation .   Other climbers love climbing so much that they sacrifice recovery periods. They think a little bit of “easy” climbing on a rest day, or before a workout, won’t hurt. As a result, they carry a little bit too much fatigue from one workout to the next, permitting only mediocre effort during the workout, culminating in lackluster improvement. [Perhaps that little bit of extra climbing is worth it. That’s a personal question, but I would say certainly not! There are other ways to have your cake and eat it too. For example, carve out a week at the end of your Performance Phase for these less demanding objectives. Then when it’s time to train your can really focus on training.]

It’s taken me a while to get to this place, but these days I’m rarely in a hurry.  I know I’m always improving, so the longer I wait to attempt a goal route, the easier it will be.  Sometimes I want a more difficult challenge, or I want to reach for something that is a bit beyond me (or more often I mistakenly think something is closer to my grasp than it really is), so in those situations I will be more aggressive.  But most of the time, I’m quite content to focus my energy on the day-to-day task of getting just a little bit better every day, waiting for my goals to come to me.

Don’t be in such a hurry. Take the long view. Chances are you have many good years ahead of you. Use the time you have right now in such a way that will produce the most results in the long term. If you stick to your plan, follow through with diligence, the results will come. Whatever route or boulder problem you’re stressing over at this moment, don’t worry about it. It’ll come together, and then eventually it’ll become a cooldown, and then maybe even a warmup. One day you will marvel that you ever thought it was hard.

Mission (im)Possible!

Last spring I climbed Mission Overdrive in Clear Creek Canyon, a linkup that begins up Daniel Woods’ 5.14c(/d?) test-piece Mission Impossible, and then traverses right at mid-height to catch the upper half crux of the canyon’s mega-classic 5.13d Interstellar Overdrive.  At the time I was curious to investigate the complete Mission Impossible, but the remainder of my season was already booked solid. 

Mission Impossible from across the canyon, finishing up the headwall.

Mission Impossible from across the canyon, finishing up the headwall.  Photo Adam Sanders

After returning from St. George in mid-January I decided to focus my attention on Mission Impossible.  I had worked out the first half the previous spring, so I focused on the upper half.  Where the lines diverge, an easy jug rail leads left to a great rest, followed by about 15-feet of easy 5.12 climbing.  Above this lies the crux, composed of two back-to-back boulder problems separated by a relatively big, incut horn. 

Battling shallow slopers and thin crimps on the ‘Mission’ crux – the lower half of Mission Impossible.

Battling shallow slopers and thin crimps on the ‘Mission’ crux – the lower half of Mission Impossible. Photo Adam Sanders

I was able to suss the first boulder quickly, but the second was completely baffling.  The holds essentially disappear, leaving about a 6-foot gap from a slopey 1-pad edge just above the horn, to a series of arcing horizontal slashes that traverse the lichen-streaked headwall.  There was no chalk and no hint of a sequence between these holds, only a few slippery pegmatite micro-crystals.  However, there were many footholds below the void, and a 2-foot tall depressed channel running horizontally across the left side of the wall, the bottom half of which formed a short, 75-degree slab.  This mini-slab had a few imperfections, ripples really, that provided just enough relief to offer the scantest purchase.  On a vertical wall these ‘razor crimps’ would be pitiful footholds, but situated on the slab, with good footholds below, they presented potential.

After half an hour of thrutching I discovered a desperate sequence of slaps between the razor crimps, followed by a burly rockover onto the incut horn, and finally a precision stab to the distant horizontal slash.  These were hands-down the hardest moves I’d ever climbed on real rock.  It was hard to imagine linking this boulder problem after 60-feet of pumpy climbing, but experience told me that if I could do the moves, eventually I could build the muscle memory and fitness needed for a redpoint.

Entering the ‘Impossible’ crux, with my right hand on the incut horn, and left on the lowest ‘razor crimp’.

Entering the ‘Impossible’ crux, with my right hand on the incut horn, and left on the lowest ‘razor crimp’.  Photo Adam Sanders

Over the next couple days I rehearsed and refined my sequence, battling the canyon’s fickle conditions.  Finally, on the fourth day of work I redpointed up to the lowest razor crimp, but failed to stick the second.  I was able to bag my first one hang, and then on the next burn I made it one move further, falling going for the third crimp.  Two 1-hangs in a day, I was stoked!  This was going better than I expected.  I spent the rest of the burn trying to link into and through this crux from as low as possible.  It was hot, and I was struggling, but each time I managed to pull through. 

After one link, I noticed I had sliced a thin layer of skin off my right ring finger pad.  The second razor crimp has a jutting crystal positioned between the middle and ring fingers, and it was cutting harshly into my ring finger.  I foolishly persisted, and on the next link this scalpel sliced completely through.  My journal entry for the day summed it up perfectly: “Blood everywhere.  Didn’t have any tape with me, and wasn’t ready to quit, so I tried to find another way to use the right hand there, and in the process managed to make the finger pad worse.  Totally fucked now”.    I took a few extra rest days, and then taped my mangled finger the best I could, but I struggled to match my previous efforts over the next few climbing days.  By the end of January, with bitter cold temps and snow on the horizon I decided to retreat to my hangboard and let my wound heal.

Finger pad carnage!  I can smile about this now.

Finger pad carnage! I can smile about this now.

After five weeks of solid strength and power training my skin was perfect and I was ready to get back on the horse (this time with a roll of tape threaded onto my chalkbag belt!).  At the end of my first day back on the route I shocked myself by redpointing up to the incut horn.  I struggled to repeat the razor crimp moves – perhaps my power was lacking, but my fitness was far beyond my expectations.  I felt a bit more limit bouldering and campusing was in order, so I returned to the Lazy H for one more power workout.  The next day on the route, the second of the season, I matched my previous highpoint on the first burn, and then made it one move further, to the highest razor crimp, on the next burn. 

Once this crimp is secured, I throw my right foot high onto the incut horn, and make a long stab to the first horizontal slash.  On this burn I snatched for this slash, touched it, but wasn’t close to latching it.  Still, after falling on redpoint six times at the razor crimps, I’d finally made some quantifiable progress.  Learning from the previous season’s disaster, I quit while I was ahead.  I was feeling confident, but also, quite suddenly, I felt a wave of pressure – now I knew the send was close at hand, and I would need to climb at my best over the coming days.

Perched on the highest razor crimps, eyeing the horizontal slash that marks the end of the ‘Impossible’ crux.  Photo Adam Sanders

Perched on the horn, eyeing the horizontal slash that marks the end of the ‘Impossible’ crux. Photo Adam Sanders

I spent two stressful rest days obsessing over the beta, my skin, and my diet.  Hardly a moment passed without thinking about the route or my preparations.  This kind of stress is not pleasant, but I think it actually helps.  Many athletes talk about performing their best when they feel ‘butterflies in their stomach’.  It conjures the fight or flight response that taps into our body’s ultimate strength and endurance.  But where technical precision is required, it can certainly be an impediment, resulting in jittery foot movements and poor dynamic control – it’s a precarious balance.

Finally it was Sunday, time to go climbing again, and another opportunity to clinch my goal.  It was cold with a slight breeze, nearly perfect.  I climbed smoothly up to the mid-way rest, shook out my hands for several minutes and tried to warm my numb finger tips.  Eventually I ventured upwards, latching each crimp with relative ease.  I felt great.  I latched the highest razor crimp, and rocked up on my right foot with only a moderate pump.  Perhaps I was overzealous, or just unprepared to feel so collected, but I lunged wildly for the horizontal slash, over-shooting it by a few inches.  I was able to find the hold but not control my now-downward sailing momentum.  I managed to grunt out a pair of expletives during the long descent onto the rope.  I had it, I felt fine, I should have stuck the move easily, but instead I panicked.  It was frustrating, but still, it was my best burn so far, and I was now very close.

Clearing a small roof just below the upper crux.  Photo Adam Sanders.

Clearing a small roof just below the upper crux. Photo Adam Sanders.

By the time I was ready for my second burn, the crag was teeming, and a small gallery had formed, including strongman Jon Cardwell, who was patiently awaiting his turn on the route.  Jon is originally from Albuquerque, and I watched him develop into one of the best young climbers in the country during my seven years climbing and training at Stoneage Climbing Gym in New Mexico.  It was oddly inspiring to see us now working the same route (although I imagine he’ll find it much more accessible than I 🙂 ).

The first half was merely a formality by this point, and I quickly worked up to the midway rest.  I thought through my sequence, recalling how to grip each hold, when and where to shift my weight, and preparing my mind for a struggle through the final headwall.  Once I could feel my fingertips again, I cast off.  I cruised to the razor crimps, feeling only the slightest pump.  I moved methodically from edge to edge, not statically, but with complete control.  The moves had never felt so easy.  I targeted each hold, and reeled them in, one after the other.  Finally I rocked up onto the incut horn, preparing to dyno.  I delayed for a moment, and then coolly –and statically – reached up to the horizontal slash; gotcha!  I danced powerfully up the final eight moves, my excitement building as I neared the lip.  I clipped the chains, unleashed a loud yodel, and mantled onto the summit.  Mission accomplished!

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 2: Going Big!

As implied here, I’m inspired by the climbing career of the legendary Jerry Moffatt.  During his prime, Moffatt was the best climber in the world, and he dominated on redpoints, onsights, boulders and competitions.  What inspires me most though, was his commitment to hard work and his dedication to training.  He was a phenom in his early years, but that didn’t stop him from putting in long hours in training rooms, on the Bachar Ladder, and the campus board.  He was near the top when 5.12+ was the world standard, and he managed to stay on the crest of the wave as the grades exploded all the way to 5.14c over the course of two decades.

Moffatt notes in Revelations that his best effort on the Campus board was 1-5-8.  Since I first read that, 1-5-8 has been in the back of my mind.  That is something I might be able to do someday. Furthermore, although I haven’t been able to find anything definitive, I’m pretty sure Moffatt is at least a few inches taller than me.  He looks to be within an inch or so of Ben Moon who is 5’11″ (I’m 5’7″). Considering the obvious height dependence (or perhaps more precisely, arm-length dependence) of Max Ladders, I feel like it would be quite an accomplishment for me, to match Moffatt’s best.

[Historical aside: Moffatt also says in Revelations he did 1-5-8 statically, which begs the question, if he could 1-5-8 statically, why didn’t he do anything harder than 1-5-8?  Surely he could have.  Examining pictures of the original Campus Board and the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield, it looks like they didn’t have half-steps, so 1-5-8.5 was off the table.  Still, if Moffatt could do 1-5 statically, surely he could do 5-9 as well.  Perhaps the original Campus Board didn’t reach that high. The below pics shows at least 9 rungs, and this video appears to show Gullich campusing up at least 9 rungs on the original board (watch from 0:40 to the end). 

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

However, it’s quite possible that either or both of these boards evolved over time. Just because they have 9 rungs in these pics, doesn’t mean they had 9 rungs when Moffatt was using them in his prime.  The 9th rung of the Schoolroom board clearly looks “tacked on”; it’s not evenly spaced, and the material doesn’t match the other rungs.  The classic film The Real Thing shows footage of Moffatt and Ben Moon campusing together (beginning at about 5:00 in this clip ).  Moon does 1-5-”9″ (the 9th rung is not at the proper height for a true 1-5-9; it looks to be at about 8.5).  Moffatt does many sick campus moves in this footage, but he doesn’t match Moon’s 1-5-”9″.]

Last year I did 1-8-15 on my Metolius-spaced board, which is pretty close to 1-4.25-7.5 in Moon Spacing.  So I was somewhat close, but as soon as I switched to Moon Spacing I discovered that 1-5 is extremely difficult for me.  I could do the move, but as soon as I latched rung 5, I felt a deep ache in my low shoulder.  The pain didn’t feel threatening, just quite unpleasant, like the burn you feel in your muscles when you have a deep pump.  It was impossible to sustain this position for more than an instant, let alone try to explode upwards from this position. This is where height dependence comes in to play on big campus moves.  The distance between rung 1 and rung five is about 34.6 inches.  The distance from my finger pads (when placed on an edge in a “half crimp” position) and the middle of my armpit is 27″. So even when locking my low hand all the way down to my armpit, I still have to eek another 7.5 inches of reach out of my body to span between 1 and 5, and I’ve discovered that to do so requires significant shoulder strength.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off :)  Here's me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5.  Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I've found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off 🙂 Here’s me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5. Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I’ve found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

I’ve tackled this weakness in two ways, and I would say each has contributed equally to my improvement.  First, several years ago I added some shoulder strength exercises to my Strength Phase.  For the 4-5 weeks preceding my Power Phase I will perform 3 sets of “Lateral-to-Front Raise” and “Shoulder Press” exercises after each hangboard workout (in addition to other exercises).  This has helped prepare my shoulders for campus exercises, and for doing big/reachy moves in general.  Furthermore, Explosive Pull-ups, Biceps Curls, and Hanging Leg Raises all strengthen muscle groups that are essential to limiting campus moves.  The pull and upper arm muscles are obviously pivotal to generating upward movement, but are also key for slowing decent, making it easier to deadpoint each move.  Not surprisingly, your abdominal muscles play a significant role, and you may notice your abs feel sore for a day or two following the first campus session of each season.  It’s tremendously helpful to prepare these muscle groups prior to beginning your Power Phase, so you have good strength to build off of when you hit the campus board. 

Second, I started trying 1-5 regularly.  About a year ago I started to introduce this move (or 1-10 on my old Metolius-spaced board) in my campus sessions (aka, “Max 1st Move”).  At first I just tried to stick the move, then drop off.  Eventually I start trying to match the high rung as my strength improved, or go to rung 5.5 or 6. 

As I was improving with 1-5, it became apparent that 1-5 is very hard to move out of, because you’re so extended the low hand can’t contribute much to the second move.   Improving your shoulder strength as described above will help a lot, but there are several other complimentary ways to improve at the second move:

1) Get ridiculously strong, such that you can do a 1-arm pull-up from a small campus rung 🙂  However, as discussed last week that kinda defeats the purpose, and there are much easier ways to do it.

2) Use momentum.  On the biggest moves, momentum becomes critical.  It’s much easier to pull up if you keep your hips moving and never stop pulling upwards.  Follow the methods described in Basic Tips, realizing their importance becomes magnified on bigger moves. 

Additionally, in the Basic Tips post I discussed aim and accuracy.  I find it’s much more difficult to accurately place my fingers at the correct depth than it is to deadpoint to the proper vertical height.  Failing to place your finger pads deep-enough on the rung can (and often does) ruin a set.  If you don’t get deep enough, you will either fail to latch the rung, or need to bounce your hand into position before proceeding, thus killing any momentum.  For this reason, I find it helps on difficult moves to aim “through the board”.  Assume you are trying to latch a rung that is a quarter-pad deeper than your rung really is.  This will often result in smacking your tips into the plywood, so don’t over-do it–try to aim for a 1/4″ or so deeper than you need.  Your tips may get slightly bruised and sensitive, so go easy at first.  With practice, you should be able to hit the correct depth on most moves without this technique, but on the most challenging sets, this can really help ensure you can keep your momentum flowing upward to the top.

3) Push with your low hand.  This is critical, and probably the biggest difference between medium and large moves.  For shorter folks in particular, once you are in the 1-5 position, your low hand will not be able to maintain a normal position for pulling for long (with your palm facing the board).  Once you’ve pulled up off Rung 5 a few inches, your low forearm will be more horizontal than vertical, and your palm will be more or less facing the ground.  Get in the habit of pushing down from this position (another reason I like the Shoulder Press is that it trains the Triceps for this motion).  Push for as long as you can maintain contact with Rung 1, before stabbing upward for the high rung (Ben Moon exemplifies this at 6:55 here.  His low hand pushes until his low elbow is nearly locked and his low arm is pointing straight down).  

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing).  The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5.  The center frame is a point midway through the second move.  The right frame shows the right hand's last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing). The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5. The center frame is a point midway through the second move. The right frame shows the right hand’s last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This will help with smaller moves as well, not just 1-5-9, but it takes practice.  Dedicate a few sets each session to practicing this movement.  Do the first move of your Max Ladder, but rather than focusing on latching the second move, focus on pushing with your low hand.  Don’t even try to latch the high rung, just try to improve your ability to generate upward movement by pushing with your low hand.  Once you start to get the hang of it, then try to focus on latching the high rung.  Note that this will be easier to do on steeper boards and vice versa.  If your campus board is less than 10-degrees overhanging or so it will be difficult to push properly.

This is another aspect of campusing that translates directly to rock climbing (and something that even beginners can benefit from improving immediately).  If you watch me climb, you will notice that I’m almost always pushing down with my low hand until the last possible moment, particularly on big moves.  Many climbers ignore their low hand once the shoulder passes it.  This is a mistake, and it puts unnecessary strain on the opposing arm’s fingers and pull muscles.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

There are other factors that can affect your campus training besides strength and movement:

Body Weight – As in all aspects of climbing, body weight is a significant factor.  If you’re strictly training, and not trying to perform on the campus board, there is no need to be at your fighting weight.  However, in the interest of minimizing injury risk, it’s a good idea to be within 10 lbs or so of your fighting weight.  As discussed, campusing with added weight can increase the risk of injury, and it doesn’t really matter that much to your elbows if the added weight is iron or fat 🙂

If you are trying to perform on the campus board (for whatever reason, such as to set a personal best), dropping to at, or near, your fighting weight will definitely help.  As with any weight loss, don’t overdo it, lose weight intelligently, and incorporate it into your Seasonal Training Plan to ensure you can sustain it through your performance phase.  For me, I struggle to stay at my fighting weight for more than about 4 weeks, so if I get to that weight in time for my Power Phase, I’m likely to struggle mid-way through my Performance Phase.  Most climbers are concerned with their performance on the campus board, and so would be better off timing their diet to peak later in the season.

Arousal – As with any power-oriented exercise, your mental state of arousal can play a big part.  In other types of climbing, excessive arousal can be a hindrance (like a technical route where precise footwork is required).  There is certainly a technical aspect to campusing, as discussed at length.  It’s important to work on the technique, but it’s also important to just go for it at times and see what you can do.  If you are stilling learning the technique, spend the first half of the workout going slow, working on individual aspects of your Max Ladder, and using your conscious mind to control your actions.  Then get aggro for the rest of the workout.  This is the time to get fired up and go for it.  Don’t worry about doing the movements perfectly; focus on giving each attempt your most intense effort.

Different people have their own triggers, so experiment with different methods and see what works best for you.  I like to listen to  upbeat music, usually Hip Hop or something with a strong beat.  Occasionally I’ll grit my teeth and make a “GRRR!” sound just before I start a set.  I’m not much of a screamer, but I will occasionally let out a brief ‘yelp’ as I begin the second move of a Max Ladder.  Some folks have tried external stimulants like caffeine (and who knows what else in the ’80s), but I generally avoid that kind of thing.
 
Record Keeping – One could argue you aren’t training if you aren’t keeping track.  I went many years without documenting my campus work, and it was a huge mistake.  I had no idea what my plan was, or any way of telling if I was getting better.  As soon as I started documenting my workouts I started making significant progress.   Use a log sheet like the one shown here to document each set of your workouts.  Make not of your personal bests, and strive to match, and then surpass them, each season.  Also, use the log to desribe your campus board’s specifications in case you ever change venues.

At my ever-advancing age, I’m constantly tempted to think I’ve peaked as an athlete, and my best years are behind me.  Three years ago, at the spry age of 33, my personal best was 1-7-13 (in Metolius Spacing,  which equates to roughly 1-3.75-6.5 in Moon Spacing).  I couldn’t do 1-5 at all, let alone pull off of it.  Three weeks ago, I put all these tips into action, and sent 1-5-8, Moon spacing (admittedly, with some slight dabs against the wall):

Perhaps 1-5-9 isn’t out of the question for me after all?

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 1: The Basics

Campusing is one of the best training activities for climbers who are looking to improve explosive power and contact strength (detailed rundown on these terms here).  However, campusing is one of the most difficult training activities to perform well. Many would-be campusers struggle during the initial stages of learning to use this tool, they become frustrated, and so they move onto to other tools never realizing any of the benefits of this type of training.  This post will provide a few tips on how to campus well, which will make sessions more enjoyable, reduce the risk of injury, and ensure that you maximize transference of this training to the rock.  …And it will help you ‘burn off your mates’ on the campus board 😉  While I’m at it, I hope to explain to any remaining skeptics some of the reasons campusing will help you improve your rock climbing.

Campusing well is composed of at least the following three elements.  As such, all of these elements can be improved through dedicated campus training, and once honed, will improve your outdoor climbing. 

Contact Strength – As discussed here, this is the ability to quickly latch small, distant holds.  This is essential for grabbing and securing a distant campus rung, but more so it is critical to executing any dynamic move on the rock.  Contact strength requires both strong fingers, and the ability to contract them quickly.  The first trait is best achieved through dedicated hangboard training, the latter is best developed on the campus board.  By attempting to execute increasingly more difficult moves (usually, latching more distant rungs) your fingers will be required to generate larger force, and to generate it more quickly (so the rung can be latched before you fall away). 

To improve your contact strength, you need to dyno.  These can be done on the rock, on a plastic bouldering wall, or on the campus board.  The campus board is ideal because the rungs are not sharp or abrasive, so you can attempt dynamic moves many times in a single session without thrashing your skin.  I prefer a campus board to plastic bouldering because the movement is much more simplified, allowing you to focus completely on producing power during the latch.  Establish a baseline of campus moves you can perform, and then incrementally increase the difficulty from your baseline as you progress.  If you can’t perform basic or matching ladders, ask a partner for a power spot until you get the hang of it.  Another option if matching ladders are too difficult, is to try a simple match: start with one hand on Rung 1 and the other on Rung 2, lift your feet off the ground, then match the low hand from Rung 1 to Rung 2. 

Putting my contact strength to the test on Breakin the Law, 5.14b, St George, Utah.  Dan Brayack Photo.

Putting my contact strength to the test in St. George, UT. Dan Brayack Photo.

Moving with Momentum – For the wickedly strong, campusing can be done statically.  However, that misses the point  (or at least, it’s beside the point).  Momentum is a critical element of difficult climbing, and if you are striving to climb near your limit, you must learn how to utilize momentum. Many of the best climbers in the world utilize momentum constantly.  That is, they use momentum even when they don’t “need” to, because when used well, it makes climbing easier, saving lock-off power for where it is truly needed. (Furthermore, campusing slowly or statically eliminates the need for good contact strength to latch rungs, drastically reducing any potential for improvement to your contact strength.)

The campus board is the best tool we have for developing and practicing the use of momentum in climbing, because momentum is almost always required on the campus board, and the holds are smooth to the touch, so they don’t punish dynamic movement like abrasive rock does.  If a campus move can be done statically, then the climber could certainly do a more difficult move.  A well-performed campus move at your limit will DEMAND the flawless use of momentum. 

The “Max Ladder” is the best campus exercise, consisting of three moves.  The first move is an explosive pull-up from the first rung, with one hand reaching high to latch a distant rung.  During the second move the low hand reaches through, without matching, to latch an even higher rung.  The third move is a match to the rung reached during the second move. During this exercise, many climbers explode off the first rung, latch the center rung, and then pause, adjust the high hand, etc, before launching into the second move.  This is a mistake. Try to make your max ladder a continuous, flowing movement.  Try to keep your hips in constant motion.  Theoretically, it would be nice if you could keep your hips moving continuously upward. In reality, there will probably be a very brief pause in upward motion once you latch the first move, however, your hips should keep moving, swaying noticeably to the side (the side that latched the center rung) to build momentum for the next move.  Think of your hips as tracing an upside-down “J” on each move, with the two moves flowing seamlessly into each other.

Your hips should trace an upside-down "J" pattern on each campus move.

Your hips should trace an upside-down “J” pattern on each campus move.

Of course, achieving momentum in campusing (and climbing) is easier said than done.  Often the first move is latched poorly, making it impossible to proceed without adjusting or bouncing on the rung.  That is why it is essential to campus accurately.

Accuracy – Of the three elements of campusing well, accuracy holds the most promise for beginners.  It may take years of training and climbing before the need for substantial contact strength becomes apparent in a novice’s outdoor climbing.  But climbers at every level can benefit from teaching their body to precisely locate holds in space.  Campusing will train you to aim precisely for every rung.  Usually in only a few sessions you can learn to deadpoint most moves, making rungs much easier to latch.  Furthermore, by deadpointing, the strain on your shoulders, elbows, and fingers is minimized, vastly reducing the risk of injury.  This is true while campusing and while climbing in general.

During a perfect deadpoint, your arm will be at its furthest (safe) extension, and you will just barely be able to reach the hold when your hips are at their apex.  This is an ideal worth striving for.  Practically, this will be difficult to perform initially, so as you are improving your deadpoint skills, focus on preventing your hips from falling away as you latch each rung.  Attempt to latch the hold when your hips are at their apex, and then bend your arm as necessary to take up any “slack” before your hips begin to fall.  This too will take practice and focus, so break up your efforts into individual moves that you can learn to perform well before moving onto more complex sets.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of heigt to latch the high rung.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of height to latch the high rung.  Focus on the trajectory of your hips, not your hand.  Ideally your hips will rise, then pause, but never descend.

From a purely mechanical perspective, there are three linear dimensions or axes to consider when aiming for a distant hold (there is also rotation about each of the three axes, but that usually isn’t a huge factor in climbing).  In simple terms, you need to aim for and hit the correct vertical position, horizontal position, and depth.  The campus rung simplifies matters by vastly reducing the need for horizontal accuracy (for advanced climbers, campusing to pockets can provide an all-encompassing challenge).

The first step in achieving accurate hand placement is to keep your eyes on the prize.  Many climbers unwittingly blink or close their eyes during dynos.  Don’t do that!  Notice how good free-throw shooters (or golfers attempting a putt) pause and stare at the basket for a moment before shooting.  During this period the subconscious is making numerous calculations in preparation for the ensuing movement.  When you step up to the board, grasp the first rung with both hands, then pause and stare up at the target hold for a moment before lifting your feet off the ground.  Keep your eyes open and fixed on the target throughout the movement. Have a partner verify that you are keeping your eyes open and locked on target (or film yourself). 

When performing two back-to-back moves, as for a Max Ladder, moving with momentum will prevent you from staring down the target rung before the second move, so take a moment to locate both rungs before your feet leave the ground.  With practice, you will keep both rungs in view as you complete the set.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

For improving vertical and depth accuracy, practice the following exercise (which we will call “Touch and Release” to distinguish it from “Touches”, which are used to improve lock-off strength).  From a matched position on Rung 1, lunge upward, release one hand and attempt to touch a pre-determined distant rung.  Do not attempt to latch the rung. After you touch it (or try to touch it), release your low hand and drop to the ground. Repeat this exercise, attempting to improve your hand placement on the distant rung, ultimately striving to place it perfectly on the rung at the deadpoint, with no wasted movement and all four finger pads engaged on the top surface of the rung.  Once you can routinely touch the rung well, put pressure on the rung for an instant before dropping off the board.  Repeat as necessary until you are confident you could latch the rung.  Then try to latch the rung.  Consider using a power spot when first attempting this exercise, but eventually strive to do it solo.

The below video shows the whole process of a well-executed Max Ladder:

    • Staring down the rung before starting,
    • Latching each rung with speed
    • Moving with momentum,
    • Striving to deadpoint (I overshot the first move slightly, but the second move is a pretty good deadpoint).

Another important consideration for campus training is rest between sets.  This is a power exercise, meaning the Time Under Tension should be short and the rest should be(relatively) long.  I’ve experimented with rest periods of 45, 60, 90 and 120 seconds between sets.  In my experience, longer is better.  Bring a stopwatch, and rest as long as you feel you need, but at least 90 seconds.  Currently I rest for 60 seconds between warmup sets, and 120 seconds between every other set (that is, I start my stopwatch, and begin a set every even minute).  Two minutes feels like a long time, but it definitely makes a difference (compared to 90 seconds rest).  If I feel it will help, I will rest for three or four minutes occasionally.  Usually these longer rests are taken later in the workout as the sets get more difficult.

Finally, a few tips on injury prevention.  First, keep your shoulders “tight” (slightly flexed) and elbows slightly bent when latching distant rungs.  It can be very tempting to lock your elbows or relax your shoulders to get an extra bit of reach, or to over shoot a rung, and strain to latch it on the way down, forcing your elbows and shoulders to suddenly snap eccentrically into a locked position.  This is really dangerous!  The bottom line is, DON’T BE A HERO!!!  If you fail to hit a rung well, just let go, rest up, and try to do better on the next set.  Any campus move can be done with good form.  There is no need to lose control and risk catastrophic injury.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

This goes for the fingers too.  Most campusing injuries result from folks hitting a rung poorly, then attempting to desperately latch the rung with only a few fingers in play.  If you do not land well on the rung LET GO!!!  This includes having all four finger pads (or three if using an open grip with the pinky dangling) in contact with the rung, and all aligned ergonomically (with respect to  the grip position you are trying to use).  If your fingers get tangled or contorted in some manner, just let go and live to fight another day. 

Many folks have asked about campusing with weight added.  I would not recommend it.  The forces on your shoulders, elbows and fingers are high-enough without adding weight to the equation, not to mention the risk of falling to the ground with extra weight added.  If you don’t take my word for it, listen to the words of Sonnie Trotter:

“the aches in my elbows started the morning after I strapped on the weight vest.  I campused up the wall and back down again, 5 times, on top of some other stuff.  Super bad idea, I know, but I couldn’t help it, I felt invincible.  I wasn’t.  I never will be.  Stop fooling yourself fool.  But I did it anyway and I paid the price.  The shock load one puts on their elbows coming down (without footholds and an extra 20 pounds on your body) is extremely severe.  It’s never, ever a good idea to do this…” 

It is also possible to suffer skin injuries on the campus board.  In my experience, these are usually chronic skin injuries caused by trying to perform too many sets in a single session (or too-frequent sessions).  Use smooth, large-radius rungs, and limit your sessions to a reasonable number of sets.  For me that means no more than about 15 total sets per leading hand (including warmup sets).  If you choose to campus on pockets, I strongly suggest taping your fingers to protect your skin.

Lastly, campusing demands repeated falls to the ground.  Use a good crash pad (or several), ensure the fall zone is safe, and use a spotter if possible.  Occasionally you may fall in weird positions, so clear the area in all directions around the board.  Get in the practice of landing safely, with knees bent, and practice absorbing the fall force slowly as you hit the ground.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

My hope was to fit everything I had to say on this topic into one post, but as usually I’ve failed 🙂  Check back in a week or two for Part II, advanced tips for going BIG.

Recommended Reading – Revelations by Jerry Moffatt

The holidays are upon us, which means friends and relatives will soon be pestering you for your wish list.  If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend asking Santa for a copy of Jerry Moffatt’s outstanding autobiography Revelations.

RevelationsJerry Moffatt was probably the best climber in the world for most of the 1980s, and he continued to push standards throughout the 90′s.  He was integral to the explosion in free climbing standards that occurred during the 1980s.  He was also a highly accomplished trad, headpoint, and solo climber and perhaps the best on sight climber of his generation.

While Moffatt’s story is a fascinating and entertaining read in itself, I mention it here because the book also offers countless insights for the performance-oriented climber.  Moffatt was among the first climbers to really embrace training, and he goes into considerable detail explaining how he trained for different objectives.  He also recounts the legendary characters (like Bachar and Gullich) that influenced his ideas on training, while discussing his thought process when developing training plans for different goals.

Moffatt possessed legendary focus and determination.  He dreamt big, but he backed up his dreams with hard work and tremendous effort in the moment of each ascent.  His book describes in detail how he approached stressful performance situations (like the first On Sight ascent of the Gunks’ Supercrack and World Championship competitions).  Any climber, of any ability, can benefit from these lessons.

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt's considerable wisdom!  Photo: Nick Clement

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt’s considerable wisdom! Photo: Nick Clement

While Moffatt was often head and shoulders above his peers, he was not superman.  He provides a glimpse into an elite world that most of us will never experience, yet his story is very relatable.  He frankly describes his various injuries and accidents, humanizing himself while tackling the frustration and despair that comes with any setback.  He confronts many of the same challenges we all face on our own paths to continuous improvement, giving us real hope that we can overcome them too.

I’ve read the book cover-to-cover three times now, and I will surely read it again.  Its hands-down my favorite climbing book.  His trials and eventual triumphs never fail to motivate me, and should give you the extra boost you need to fire up your winter training sessions.

For those who’ve already enjoyed Revelations, here are some other recommendations.  None of these are technical manuals; they are entertaining reads that also impart random snippets of climbing wisdom:

Wolfgang Gullich: Life in the Vertical by Tillmann Hepp.  This biography of the world’s most beloved climber is now out of english print and therefore correspondingly rare and expensive.  However, if you can get your hands on a copy you won’t be disappointed (check your library or ask around–the AAC Library in Golden has a copy).  In addition to recounting Gullich’s countless ground-breaking ascents, the book also discusses his training methods, tactics, and attitudes, including several interviews and short pieces penned by Gullich himself.

Beyond the Summit by Todd Skinner.  This book describes Todd’s quest to free Trango Tower, but also details his development as a climber and other groundbreaking ascents like the Free Salathe Wall.  As a training tool, this book will help you with goal-setting and motivation.

Full of Myself by Johnny Dawes.  To put it simply, Dawes was a rock genius, in the sense that he was an artist of completely unique ability and vision.  He was never the strongest climber, but his talent for movement was incomparable.  His book goes neck-deep into what it takes to become a technical climbing master.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, consider viewing his legendary film Stone Monkey to get an idea of his abilities (in fact, if you can find the DVD, you might just ask for that instead of the book!):

A History of Freeclimbing in North America: Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament.  This tome is an encyclopedic catalogue of noteworthy ascents from 1869 to 2001.  It’s not the kind of book you would normally read cover-to-cover, but many of the entries include long, first-person accounts from the players themselves.  It’s absolutely essential for any lover of climbing history, but it also has some good insights for the performance-oriented climber, such as interesting training and tactical tidbits from legends like John Bachar, Tony Yaniro, and Alan Watts.  Ament’s occassionally editorializing on style comes off as petty at times, but it’s generally easy to ignore.

If you have any other recommendations for books that offer a bit more than an entertaining read to get us through the long winter, please post them in a comment below.

Pooping in the Woods, Broken Bones…oh, and a little bit of climbing too.

Despite how crazy it sounds, that title pretty much sums up our Father’s Day weekend trip to the New River Gorge.   Here’s the specifics: POOPING IN THE WOODS:  (Ok, so non-parents you might want to just tune out for this first paragraph…)  For the past two weeks we’ve been kickin’ it local style while we went cold turkey with big boy underwear with C, and this was our first weekend trip sans diapers (maybe “sans” isn’t entirely accurate…I did have a large stash of pull-ups in my bag “just in case”).  But I am so proud to say that…Read the rest of this entry →

Keeping Elbow Tendonitis at Bay with Armaid (plus a GIVEAWAY!)

While there are any number of items you might expect to see passed around a campfire on a chilly spring evening in the middle of the Red River Gorge, a wacky-looking contraption designed to massage one’s forearms is probably not first on the list.  But that’s just what happened at our campsite on our most recent trip to the Red.  Why?  If you assumed it was due to overindulging in one of the many other items that are more commonly passed around a campfire, you’d be wrong again.   Let me back up.  Steve and I first discovered the Armaid…Read the rest of this entry →

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