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Category Archives: Intensity

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.

Trainer to the JStars: Part 2

This is part 2 in a two-part series about our experience (so far) training Pro Climber Jonathan Siegrist.  You can check out “Trainer to the JStars: Part 1″ here.

We had learned quite a bit the first time around, and by the end of his first cycle, Jonathan was training completely independently, though occasionally asking the odd question about this or that exercise, or schedule tweak. For his second cycle we knew he would need very little hands-on coaching, but we helped design his training schedule to ensure his performance peak would coincide with his spring climbing trip.  That timing can be very tricky to optimize, especially for athletes who are new to periodic training, and don’t have years of detailed training schedules to pull from.  Once we developed a good training schedule, he embraced the program whole-heartedly and required very little direction. That’s one of the reasons Jonathan is such a great athlete to work with. He’s not a robot, he wants to be in charge of his training. He questions everything and wants to know why we do things a certain way. It’s really been a collaboration, and we’ve all learned a tremendous amount as a result.

Quote5By mid-March, Jonathan had begun training for his spring objective: the world’s most legendary 5.15, Realization (aka Biographie), at the mega-crag Ceuse, in France. The route is long, climbing overhanging 2 and 3 finger pockets up a beautiful blue streak of limestone. Recently a hold broke on the opening boulder problem, raising the difficulty of this crimpy section from “V8” to “V11”. [Editor’s note: when Jonathan describes the grade of something, it’s often helpful to add a number or two to get an accurate sense of the difficulty.] This section was really difficult the last time Jonathan tried the route so we wanted to make sure his crimp strength was at its best. To optimize Jonathan’s chances, he would need improved power, excellent pocket strength, and elite fitness.

The Ceuse Massif.  Likely the best chunk of exposed limestone on the planet.

The Ceuse Massif. Likely the best chunk of exposed limestone on the planet. Photo Mark Anderson

Jonathan returned to Boulder at the end of March to focus on his training. He completed several weeks of hangboard training and supplemental exercises, with some indoor bouldering and route climbing mixed in. At the conclusion of his Strength Phase, he did a two-week Power Phase of Limit Bouldering and Campusing.

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

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

Jonathan arrived in France in late April. The initial period was extremely exciting. We received weekly updates on his progress, moments of minor success, and various setbacks related to weather, departing partners, and skin. He made huge progress right off the bat.   He was crushing the initial boulder problem, and by his third day he was climbing into the redpoint crux.   Jonathan described this as a 7-move “V8” (ya right!), requiring accurate movement between intricate 3-finger pockets. This section would prove to be the key to the route.

Quote6By the end of the second week, he was climbing to the last move of this boulder problem, but his skin was seriously suffering. The weather was also extremely uncooperative. One of the cool things about training is that it provides you with a clear record of your improvement. Even if you’re unable to send your goal route (because the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can’t get partners, or some other factor you can’t control conspires against you), your training logs provide quantifiable evidence of your improvement. Still, we’d all prefer to send anyway!

Realization is located on the Sector Biographie, which is the tallest and steepest section of cliff near the center of the photo.

Realization is located on the Sector Biographie, which is the tallest and steepest section of cliff near the center of the photo.

At this point I would wake up anxiously every morning and run to my Gmail hoping to find a “just sent!” message from France. I was on pins and needles, following his Twitter feed, hoping for any update or hint of his progress. I wanted so badly for him to send after watching all the hard work he had put in, but I felt totally helpless. By the end of May you could sense his frustration with the project. He had gotten so close so quickly, and then everything seemed to turn against him. I knew he could do it if he stuck with it, but how long can someone persevere in the face of so much adversity, especially when they’re surrounded by lifetimes of world class routes to distract them from their goal?

Quote7As the calendar flipped to June, I gave up hope. I was actually pretty bummed about it. I felt like I had failed somehow, like I messed up the training plan in some way. Considering his initial success, it seemed in retrospect that he had peaked too early, and that was on me. I didn’t realize how harsh the weather would be when he first arrived, so I wanted him ready to crush from day one.

Then on the morning of June 2nd I opened my inbox and saw this: “Hey guys! I imagine you’ve seen, but I sent Biographie yesterday. It was a long and emotional ride – as I expected. In the end my skin was battered, but I was well rested. I honestly think that despite how terribly frustrating my skin issues were, that it was important to my success because I NEVER would have rested so much if my skin was good to go. Thanks so so much for all of your help over the last few months. I certainly owe a percentage of credit to you guys for the motivation and training advice – so thanks.” [You can get more details and Jonathan’s perspective on his ascent here and here.]

I was strangely euphoric for several days after. I feel like there are many pro climbers out there who just lucked into their success, either through amazing genetic gifts, parents who supported their climbing from an early age, or some mystery formula I haven’t figured out. Jonathan is not one of those guys. He works extremely hard. More than that, he searches for solutions. He leaves no stone unturned in his quest to improve. He uses his mind along with his muscles to make himself better. Watching him go through this transformation over the past eight months, watching him make sacrifices and give up things he loved (like running), I feel like he really earned this—he deserved it—and I was so happy to see him get the big payoff. Since his send, Jonathan has been on a rampage, sending a 14c/d, 14c, two 14bs, and two 14a’s (including a 14a flash). I’m sure there is more to come before he returns to the States in July.

As this initial phase of our collaboration comes to an end, Jonathan is poised to re-shape the American climbing scene. He’s still only just now learning how to get the most from his training. I’m certain he will be getting substantially stronger in the coming years, and it’s a tremendous honor to have played a minor part in that.

Note: If you haven’t already heard it, we highly recommend Jonathan’s Podcast interview with Neely Quinn on Trainingbeta.com. Jonathan talks extensively about his collaboration with us and the results of his new training approach. The podcast was the source of many of Jonathan’s quotes in this article.

*All quotes are from Jonathan’s personal correspondence, blog posts, and the interview with Neely Quinn.

 

Lander Days – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out Mike’s new post on “Lander Days” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!  When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris…..”  Continue Reading

Lander Days

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it's always temporary.

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it’s always temporary.

The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!

Lucas's favorite time of the day...heading home!

Lucas’s favorite time of the day…heading home!

When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris. I think there are only a few crags in the US that are suitable for honest-to-goodness training on rock, and Wild Iris is one of them, when it comes to Power (The Red is great for endurance training). Also, early in your season, it’s a great idea to get some easier (for you) routes under your belt to get the rust off, and build confidence going into more difficult projects. To that end, I picked out a couple 13+ routes to try to tick off quickly. The first was Adi-Goddang-Yos, a short, powerful 13c at Rising from the Planes wall, made famous in Eric Perlman’s epic film, Masters of Stone. A hold had broken since the filming, but the route had been re-climbed at least twice since then, at a slightly harder grade. It now requires a pull off a small crimp (my specialty 🙂 ), followed by a very powerful undercling move. I was fortunate to send on my second burn, and was able to play around on some harder routes for the future.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Terifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Tarifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

My next climbing day, I targeted White Buffalo, a short crimping test-piece on a 30 foot boulder in the campground. You probably remember Mark’s account of this route from last fall: Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

I had been intrigued by this line for years (as I’m sure everyone who’s ever camped at the Iris is too), and finally had the opportunity to try it with the right fitness and good weather. We got an 0500 start in Lander to ensure good conditions, and an opportunity to get a couple burns before the sun warmed the face too much (it gets morning sun).

The day before I had just watched BJ Tilden trying his latest sick project at Wolf Point (see below). It was incredibly inspiring. He hasn’t sent yet, but on that attempt you could tell he was really going for it 100% on every move, even though the moves were really risky, low-percentage dynos to small one and two-finger pockets. There were probably five separate occasions when the crowd was sure he was falling, but he hung on and kept moving! It was quite an example.

BJ Tilden on his super-sick Wolf Point project. This think might be 9a+!

I think we all aspire to “climb like Sharma”, really going for it on every move, no matter how desparate.  Sometimes we pull this off in the gym, but for whatever reason many of us seem to hold back when we’re on rock.  Perhaps its the sharpness of the rock, fear of incurring a skin injury (or a real injury), or just fear of falling or failing.  Further complicating this is that certain types of climbing, like long enduro routes or technical on sights, punish over-gripping, and so foster a “don’t try too hard” mentality that can be difficult to overcome when we switch climbing styles.  While the RCTM advocates a “Smarter, not Harder” approach, we all need to remember that often the great climbers are great because they really do try harder than everyone else.  Just trying hard in the moment of the redpoint will not make the difference between climbing 13d and 14d, but all the opportunities along the way, over many, many years, of trying just a little bit harder in the gym, on the campus board, every time you’re on the rock, can eventually add up to that difference.  While Mark and I are not always brawlers on the rock, we are in the gym, and we try extremely hard in training, day-in, day-out, which is one of the reasons we’ve had success with our training.  And though we aren’t at BJ’s level, when the moment is right, we are able to whip out some pretty concerted efforts on a rope every now and then (just yesterday I belayed Mark on the send of his newest Clear Creak 5.14, and it was pretty cool to see him dynoing five times in a row, between insecure holds, eight feet above the last bolt, especially since I was around in the early days when he was much more timid).

So, when I got to White Buffalo, which has some painful and powerful crimp moves, I channeled my inner-BJ…I wasn’t going to pace myself, just give 100% effort on every move, ignore the pain, or thoughts of failure and just try like hell! It worked, and I sent on my second go. It’s the first 13d-in-a-day I’ve done, and my first 2nd try. I’ve done a few in 3 tries, so this was a minor break through. More importantly, I had some confidence to head into some harder projects.

I’ll let my photos do most of the rest of the talking….

America's latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point.  This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months.  Finally made it!

America’s latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point. This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months. Finally made it!

I decided to try a beautiful 14a that BJ had put up called King Thing. It’s a commanding line, on a flawless sweep of limestone up the center of the cave. The moves are outstanding, without a stopper crux, but no opportunity to shake in the first 50 feet or so. You can watch BJ climbing it at about the 48 min point of this film, Wind and Rattlesnakes.

 

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

One of the best parts of the trip was making a couple new friends. First was Rob Jensen, shown below. It turns out, I grew up about 45 minutes from him (he’s from Springfield, Oregon), and we lived in Colorado at similar times, yet I’d never met him. He is also another proud owner of an Ascent Rock mechanized climbing wall, so we had much to talk about. He is a pillar of the Las Vegas climbing community, and hosts numerous climbers in his “garage” for epic training sessions.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing "Dominant Species" 5.11d.  That's Red Canyon in the background.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing “Dominant Species” 5.11d. That’s Red Canyon in the background.

I also met and climbed with Kyle Vassilopous. He moved to Lander last year from Bozeman, MT, and he is super-psyched to put up new routes. He was a pleasure to climb with because he is extremely psyched, and didn’t balk at my desire to start early for good temps!

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Dr Tom Rangitsch has been the driving force behind new route development in Lander the last few years. He’s hiked more cliffline than anyone in town and discovered lots of new crags. He put up many of the best routes at Wolf Point, including this new addition, Full Moon, 5.13b, a 40 meter pitch that overhangs about 6 meters over the length. It started as a 30 meter 12c called Bark at the Moon, and this is an extension to that route. The first anchor is at the first draw visible in the photo. In this picture, he’s at the crux of the extension which is a really cool sequence on small crimps. I was lucky to get to belay him on the FA, then he belayed me a couple days later when I tried it. I wanted to go for an on-sight, and Tom did a great job of biting his lip as I flubbed the beta…luckily I was able to recover, and made the first on-sight of the route. It’s a great route Tom, thanks for the hard work!!!

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Thanks everyone for the hospitality, we’ll be back soon to finish off our projects!

Focus – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Focus” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“Focus is all about summoning maximum concentration and attention at the moment it is crucially needed.  Most climbers think of this when its time to send, but the ability to summon and maintain sufficient focus is also vital during daily training.  With training cycles that last for months, often involving several weeks of training on plastic, maintaining this focus can be quite a challenge.  When I have to post-hole through two feet of fresh snow to get to the Lazy H for a workout, the moment of tying in for a difficult send may be the furthest from my mind.  Regardless, the effort & attention given to the ensuing workout, completed two months before booting up below my project, could have as much bearing on the eventual outcome as the effort put into the redpoint attempt….”  Continue Reading

Focus

Focus is all about summoning maximum concentration and attention at the moment it is crucially needed.  Most climbers think of this when its time to send, but the ability to summon and maintain sufficient focus is also vital during daily training.  With training cycles that last for months, often involving several weeks of training on plastic, maintaining this focus can be quite a challenge.  When I have to post-hole through two feet of fresh snow to get to the Lazy H for a workout, the moment of tying in for a difficult send may be the furthest from my mind.  Regardless, the effort & attention given to the ensuing workout, completed two months before booting up below my project, could have as much bearing on the eventual outcome as the effort put into the redpoint attempt.

Although the constant need to cultivate & sustain focus can be draining, repeatedly going through your process can help “hone your instrument” so to speak, making it much easier to manifest that vital focus when it comes time to perform on the rock.  Everyone will have a slightly different process for getting into the proper “zone”, and many climbers have different ideas on what that zone should look like.  For example, some folks prefer complete silence while others want their mates shouting encouragement.  When I’m in my “zone” I don’t hear anything at all, so you might as well save your breath 🙂

Below are some strategies you can try, some geared more towards training activities, and others more towards performance:

1. Eliminate any external distractions.  This may take some foresight, a bit of planning, and perhaps a significant amount of negotiation.  If you expect to get good results out of a training session, you can’t be answering phone calls between sets.  The rest period between sets is meant for resting.  There is no extra time built in for doing chores.  Spend your rest time analyzing the previous set, making notes in your training log, shaking, chalking and otherwise preparing for the next set–physically AND mentally.  Here are some things I do to facilitate this:

– Set up a block of time when family, etc will leave you alone.  Discuss this with significant others ahead of time and provide a weekly or monthly schedule if necessary so they can plan around your obsessive/compulsive behavior 🙂

– Isolate yourself from others (if needed).  Some training partners can be a great aid, others just want to gossip.  My wife understands that it’s best for everyone if I’m left alone during timed workouts, but I enjoy company for less rigid workouts like Limit Bouldering

– Turn off/unplug phones, laptops, etc.

– Select appropriate music.  Music can be a powerful aid for cultivating the right mood, which is key to achieving the proper state of arousal.  I prefer Heavy Metal for hangboarding, and Hip-Hop (we used to call it “Rap” when I was a boy) for bouldering/campusing.  Avoid radio, or other sources of noise that you can’t control.  Especially avoid things that will make you laugh, as this can completely ruin a workout.  A few years back I was listening to sports radio while hangboarding when Dan Patrick told a story about his child’s field trip to a local zoo.  This was just after “March of the Penguins” came out.  At one point one of the children disappeared, only to re-appear a while later drenched from head-to-toe.  It turned out this child had jumped into the penguin tank, kidnapped a penguin, and stashed it in his backpack.  The image of this soaking wet child with a stowaway penguin strapped to his back kept popping into my head during hangboard sets.  You can’t squeeze hard while laughing, and so several sets were essentially wasted.  As John Cusack said in Hi Fidelity “I just want something I can ignore” (at 1:21 in the clip below).

2. Keep mental reminders at hand.  During training, it can be extremely helpful to keep the ultimate goal in mind, to remind yourself why you are enduring this discomfort.  In addition, more specific mental cues can be equally helpful while progressing through the individual steps of your routine.  Here are some examples:

– Make permanent notes in your training plan log sheet.   These can be anything from “tape Middle finger base here” to “Remember to squeeze on this set” to “Breathe!”

– Place photos, posters, inspirational messages, etc near your training apparatus.  You may find your eyes wander during monotonous activities like hangboarding, so give them something to look at that will help direct your attention back to the task at hand. For example, friend of the show Jonathan Siegrist used a sharpie to write “Try Hard!” in the center of his hangboard.  I like to post photos of the routes I’m training for.  I have some behind my hangboard and some in the Lazy H.

– Post a list of personal bests near the apparatus.  Although the ultimate goal may be weeks, months, or even years away, give yourself something to strive for in the here and now.

– Make notes on keys to your project.  This can be anything from one or two key points, to several pages of blow-by-blow beta for an entire route.  Keep in mind that endless detailed descriptions can be overwhelming at the moment of truth, so try to come up with no more than a handful of the most critical reminders, such as where and when to shift your hips when executing the crux dyno, details on how to grasp an irregular hold in the crux, or reminders to relax in certain sections or get “aggro” for others.

– Remind yourself of good habits.  Concepts like remaining calm, breathing deeply & continuously, and trusting your beta are universal to all routes.  Keep this in your mind and repeat them to yourself like a mantra while you climb.

– Utilize verbal cues.  If you find your mind drifting, be ready with verbal cues, which can help jar your attention back to your current activity.  These can be as ridiculous as “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na- CLIMBING!” (sung to the tune of the Batman theme), or something more specific such as repeating the name of your upcoming project or long-term goal.

 

3. Control your breathing.  As The Rock Warrior’s Way points out, breathing is the key to the mind-body connection, in that it is a subconscious activity that can be controlled consciously.  Utilize this link to keep your mind calm and attentive and your body relaxed and supple:

– Start your huffing and puffing before you start the training activity or performance.  Its much easier to maintain a good breathing routine once you’ve  already started, not to mention that it can help to start a strenuous activity with fully oxygenated blood.  I also find that starting this rhythmic breathing while I’m booting up helps to calm my nerves and send a signal to my belayer that I’m getting into my zone.

Rest points provide a good opportunity to re-enforce mental cues.  Think about your planned performance through the ensuing section, in terms of movement beta (“shift hips left before reaching for right-hand gaston”) as well as your mentality (“trust the beta and breathe!”).

– Re-establish a good rhythm.  Whenever you get to a rest point, a clipping stance, or while chalking up, note your breathing pattern, take a few full deep breaths, and try to maintain it.  You can practice this using the “Finding Calm” drill described on page 63 of the RCTM.

– Focus on breathing during your training.  Often while climbing difficult sequences good breathing habits are the first thing to go.  This is understandable since the mind is pre-occupied with route-finding and other critical activities.  This is often not the case while training, where movements are simple/non-existant or well-rehearsed, so use these opportunities to force yourself to breath properly under severe strain.  Hangboarding is perfect for this, but so are Supplemental Exercises, Linked Bouldering Circuits, and Route Interval where you are climbing relatively simplistic terrain that you have dialed.

4. Establish a routine.  Hopefully by now you have a reliable process that you can count on to get yourself into your “zone” when needed.  If not, observe some of your local heroes and adopt some of their behaviours.  Once you’ve figured out what works, practice it in your daily training and out on the rocks.  Most things improve with practice.  Here are some things that help me get into my zone:

– Do things in a consistent order.  The order is somewhat arbitrary, but try to keep it consistent, and try to get deeper and deeper into your zone with each step.  For example, when I show up at the crag, I usually like to drop my pack, then run over to my project to re-assure myself that it’s still there.  Half joking, but seriously I want to know that my draws are still on it, figure out if there are other suitors I will have to coordinate with, make sure no key holds are wet, etc.  Although I can’t control any of these things, having the information as soon as possible allows me to plan around any inconveniences.  If I know the draws aren’t fixed, I can incorporate a dogging burn to hang the draws into my warmup.  If the route is wet, maybe I can delay the start of my warmup to coincide with a likely time when the route will be dry.  This simple ritual helps me relax once I arrive at the crag, and allows me to focus completely on my warmup, rather than worrying about some catastrophe I can’t control.  Once I’m warmed up, I like to migrate to my project well in advance, providing plenty of time to get ready to go.  The first thing I do is verify the draws are in place, then I stick clip the first bolt if “necessary”, then I tape up if necessary, tie in, sip some water, discuss my strategy with my belayer, and then I start putting my shoes on.  I’m chalking up throughout these steps, but one finally dip and wipe is always the last step.

– While performing on rock, identify a point during your preparation where you stop the chit-chat with your belayer or other bystanders.  For me, once I start to put my climbing shoes on I’m in game-face mode.  If I have pointers on where I want the belayer to stand, direct the rope, etc, I discuss those before my hiking shoes come off.

The process of booting up provides a good opportunity to transition from recreation mode to performance mode.

–For timed training sets, get a feel for how soon before the start of the next set you need to arrive at the apparatus, chalking up, etc.  For hangboarding and LBC’s or other timed intervals, I prefer to never leave my zone once the workout starts, but if I get pulled out, I want to be back to focusing on the ensuing effort at least 60 seconds before the set starts.

5. Keep your eyes “caged”.  Vision can dictate where your mind is at, so try to keep your eyes focused on things that will re-enforce your mental focus.

– While training, stare at your fingers, the timer, the next hold, or a motivational photo; whatever you find most effective at keeping your train of thought on the current set (i.e. not at the cute blonde in the sports bra).  Same goes for rest intervals–don’t go gazing out a nearby window or flipping through your iPhone.  Focus on your training log, your apparatus, and any mental cues you have available.

–Limit your depth perception.  This trick may take some practice, but it can be very helpful.  Particularly while performing on rock, try to see no more than 5 or 10′ ahead, unless at a rest, but even then keep your eyes on the route and only on the route.  Often during a redpoint or onsight ascent, we are anxious about a looming roof or other distinct crux.  Obsessing over that point won’t help you fire the slab 30′ below it.  Keep your eyes focused on the climbing immediately in front of you.  Obviously on an onsight you need to plan ahead somewhat, but generally long-range planning should be done from the ground or from a good rest stance.

– Don’t look down!  A bit facetious, but seriously, the only thing you need to see when looking down is your last piece of solid pro and an attentive belayer.  Everything else is a distraction waiting to happen.  Granted, it may be prudent to down-climb during a challenging onsight, but at that point the way up is down.  Focus on the task at hand: the series of moves immediately in front of you.  I attribute this tactic to my earlier success as Big-Wall Free Climber.  To this day I have few recollections of the view down El Cap, but many memories of the view up.  Teach yourself to ignore things that aren’t relevant.  5.12 is 5.12, whether you are 80′ off the deck or 800′.  And the ground is just as deadly either way, so there is no need to waste attention on the added exposure.  There will be plenty of time to admire the view from the summit.

6. Be your own CheerLEADER.  You know your belayer is just dying to shout at you while you climb, so give them something to shout–something specific that YOU will find helpful.  When you’re outside, get your belayer involved, or call upon the peanut gallery to re-enforce key points during the effort.  Same goes for a training partner or partners during training activities.  Some recommend cheers include:

– Any specific, subtle crux beta that you are inclined to forget (i.e. “One – Two – Three – Four, flag that leg or you’ll barndoor”, but less lame)

– Reminders to breath at points where you are inclined to stop breathing (cruxes, dynos, awkward sections, or core-intensive sequences)

– Re-assurances like “You can do this!” or “You got this!”  Avoid diminishing the objective with comments like “This rig is easy”/”you should be able to hike this thing”.  Presumably its a challenge for you, and that’s why you chose it.  It will be hard, and you should be prepared to try hard during your ascent.

– Encouragement to try hard during stopper sequences: “Allez” if you’ve been to Europe and you want everyone else at the crag to know it (otherwise “Go for it”, or “come on” works almost as well) 🙂

– Finally, if you find such things distracting, ask the gallery for silence before your start, or ask your belayer to ask them once you’re in the zone.

If you have any tips or tricks of your own for cultivating focus, please share them in a comment below!

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?

Hangboard Resistance Data Analysis

As promised, here is some hangboard resistance data from my recently concluded Strength Phase.  This was my first full phase using the Rock Prodigy Training Center.  I thought it would take a while to get the loads dialed in correctly but I was able to get pretty close to the right resistance during the first workout.

RPTC Grip Identification

I trained the following grips, in the order listed below, performing 3 sets of reps (7 reps for the first set of each grip, then 6 reps, then 5), except where noted.

Grip Order Table

The below chart shows the resistance added to body weight during the final set of each grip (the Large VDER is omitted since this is a warmup grip and the resistance rarely changes). 

This chart shows the resistance added (to body weight) for the third set of each grip, for each workout.

This chart shows the resistance added (to body weight) for the third set of each grip, for each workout.

If I complete every rep of all 3 sets for a given grip, I add 5 lbs (to each set) during the next workout.  For example, during the first workout, MR 2-finger resistance was:

 -10 lb. for the 1st set,
    0 for the 2nd set and
+10 for the 3rd set.

During the first workout, I completed all reps of each set of that grip, so for the next workout the goal resistance was:

   -5 lb for the 1st set,
  +5 lb for the 2nd set and
+15 for the 3rd set. 

So you can infer from the above chart that if the 3rd-set-resistance increased between workouts n and n+1, then I succeeded in completing the prescribed sets (at the prescribed resistance) during workout n.  If the 3rd-set-resistance did not increase, you can infer that I failed to complete all reps during workout n.  I almost always complete the first two sets of each grip, so one can further infer that if I failed to progress, I failed on the third set.

Some interesting “conclusions” can be drawn from this data. 

  • You can see where I started to plateau, between the 6th and 7th workout.  After the 7th workout I struggled to make progress between workouts on most grips.  I’ve experimented with trying to burst through this plateau by performing more and more workouts, but it never seems to work.  Usually by the 10th workout or so I won’t see any more improvement (I’ve done as many as 12 workouts in a phase)                          
  • The earlier grips in the workout progressed much more than the later grips.  The most improvement over the course of the phase was seen in the Mono, Thin Crimp, and MR 2 Finger (the first 3 grips completed).  The least improvement was seen in the Pinch, IM 2 Finger and Small VDER (the last 3 grips).  This is typical in my experience, and this is why I suggest working the most “important” grips early in your hangboard workouts.  Here is another way to look at this phenomenon:
This chart shows the total improvement in Third-Set-Resistance over the course of my Strength Phase.  The grips are shown in the order performed.  As you can see, for the most part the grips performed early in the workout improved the most, and the grips performed at the end improved the least.

This chart shows the total improvement in Third-Set-Resistance over the course of my Strength Phase. The grips are shown in the order performed. As you can see, for the most part the grips performed early in the workout improved the most, and the grips performed at the end improved the least.

  • The Pinch grip was a disaster!  After the second workout I flatlined, then after the 6th workout I actually got worse! This is somewhat exaggerated because after the 6th workout (and several straight workouts of failing on the third set), I purposely reduced the resistance in the hopes of jump starting this grip.  That worked once (workout 7), but then I plateaued at a lower level.  Part of this is because this is the last grip of the workout.  However, you might expect that I would at least get better at managing fatigue, and thus would show some improvement.  You certainly would not expect that I would regress.  So what is going on here?  Each workout is a little bit harder (overall) than the preceding workout.  This is because initially the loads applied are conservative, so early in the Strength Phase many sets are completed with relative ease, leaving more energy for the later grips in the workout.  Later in the Phase, the loads applied are much closer to my limit, and I really have to scratch and claw to complete each set of every grip.  Thus I’m much more tired when I arrive at the last few grips of a given workout.  The amplitude of this effect increases each workout within a phase.  So while the loads applied in this example are more or less constant, the apparent difficulty of completing three sets at those loads is increasing each workout.  A question worth asking is, does training this grip improve my pinch strength, or would I be better off ending my workout after 5 grips?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think it does make me stronger (or at least better at managing fatigue), even though the accumulating fatigue prevents me from capturing that improvement “on paper”.

Moving on, the first chart I posted illustrates only the load applied during the third set of each grip.  There are many other ways to slice the data.  During each set, I strive to perform a certain number of 7-second dead hang repetitions (7 for the first set, 6 for the second set, 5 for the third set).  Often I reach the end of the third set, having completed each rep without failing.  In these situations I usually try to perform a 6th rep at the end of the third set (in rare instances I will add extra reps to the second set, but only if it feels really easy).  On the other hand, often I fail to complete all of the prescribed reps.  For example, I might complete the first 4 reps of the third set of a given grip, but my fingers fail 5 seconds in to the 5th rep.  Capturing these variations and plotting them provides slightly more fidelity into apparent plateaus:

This chart shows the total "Time Under Tension" (TUT) for the 2nd and 3rd sets of the Pinch grip for workouts 2-6 (I omitted the 1st set TUT because it was a constant 49 seconds for each workout).  The load applied (-5 lbs for the 2nd set, +5 lbs for the 3rd set) was constant for these five workouts.

This chart shows the total “Time Under Tension” (TUT) for the 2nd and 3rd sets of the Pinch grip for workouts 2-6 (I omitted the 1st set TUT because it was a constant 49 seconds for each workout). The load applied (-5 lbs for the 2nd set, +5 lbs for the 3rd set) was constant for these five workouts.

The TUT for each workout in the above chart “should be” 42 seconds for the 2nd set (6 reps times 7 seconds per rep) and 35 seconds for the third set.  As you can see, there was a good deal of variation between workouts despite a constant applied load.  The problem with looking at the data in this manner is that it only works when the load applied is constant.  Another option is to look at the “Volume” of a given set.  Qualitatively, Volume = Intensity x Duration.  However, coming up with a practical quantitative Volume formula can be challenging. 

The most simplistic method is to simply multiple the hang duration (TUT) for a given set by the load applied.  However, the load applied is only a fraction of the load on your fingers.  It makes sense to add body weight into the formula (so Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration.  The below chart shows this data for the 3rd sets of the IM 2 Finger grip.

This chart shows Volume, defined as Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration, for the 3rd set of the IM 2 Finger grip for the entire Strength Phase.

This chart shows Volume, defined as Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration, for the 3rd set of the IM 2 Finger grip for the entire Strength Phase.

The problem with the above metric is that it “values” duration much more than load.  It’s easy to achieve a high Volume figure by using lower loads and performing extra reps.  For example, during the first 5 workouts of this phase, I managed to complete all 5 reps of each 3rd set, and then at least attempted a 6th rep.  During the last five workouts I only completed the 5th rep once and never attempted a 6th rep.  As a result, the “Volume” on the left side of the chart (the first five workouts) is greater than the Volume on the right half.  This is not what we want to strive for as athletes.  We want to strive for higher loads, more so than extra reps, so it would be nice to use a Volume formula that “rewards” higher loads.  Another option is to consider the Volume of the entire grip, not just the Volume of the 3rd set.  This method gives you “credit” for the extra load used later in the phase in the first two sets of each grip.

This chart shows the sum of the Volume for each set of the IM 2 Finger grip.  The formula for this chart is Total Grip Volume = [(Body Weight + Set 1 Load Applied) x Set 1 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration].

This chart shows the sum of the Volume for each set of the IM 2 Finger grip. The formula for this chart is Total Grip Volume = [(Body Weight + Set 1 Load Applied) x Set 1 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration].

The Total Grip Volume method of calculation is an improvement.  The Volume for workouts 7-10 is greater than that of workouts 1-3, but it still implies that my workout 5 performance of 5 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 6 seconds at +30 lbs. is “superior” to my workout 10 performance of 4 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 4 seconds at +40 lbs.  Maybe it is, but I can tell you the latter seems much more difficult to do, and it would be nice if the “Volume” calculation captured that.  So there is room for an improved Volume formula.

Finally, for the “fun” of it, below is the Total Workout Volume (the sum of the above volume calculation for each grip):

This chart shows Total Workout Volume = [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 1 + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 2 + ... + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip n.

This chart shows Total Workout Volume = [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 1 + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 2 + … + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip n.

At least it seems the Volume is more or less increasing each workout, and this shows some indication of a plateau appearing around the 9th workout.

I know I’m not the only spreadsheet nerd out there, so if you have a novel way of analyzing your training data, please share in a comment below!

Training Efficiently

Forunately there's no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me :)

Forunately there’s no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me 🙂

I think if people realized how little I train (and climb) they would be shocked.  I often joke with my wife that I should be quarranteened in a plastic bubble and studied by teams of cruel government scientists (ala E.T.). There is certainly a trend among top climbers to perform massive quantities of training (like, 6+ hours per day, 5 or 6 days per week).  That’s not me.  First of all, I don’t have that much time, between work and my family. Second (and foremost), I truly believe “less is more” when it comes to climbing training. Even if I had more time to train, I would probably spend much of that time resting anyway.

Considering those factors, my overarching strategy is to train as efficiently as possible.  That is, I strive to maximize my improvement relative to the training time (and energy) invested.  Doesn’t everybody do that you ask?  No, frankly.  Many people figure ‘the way to improve is to pile on more and more training.  Anyway, it couldn’t hurt, could it?’ This philosophy is popular among runners, cyclists, swimmers and other ultra-endura athletes.

The problem is, it actually can, and does hurt.  Low efficiency activities sap energy, thus undermining high efficiency activities.  In the best case scenario, the added volume forces longer recovery periods between workouts, but far more often, the needed additional rest is omitted, and the athlete simply goes into the next workout under-recovered, thus further limiting the intensity of the next workout.  As a result, every workout starts to become an endurance workout, and pretty soon the athlete is no longer progressing, but rather struggling to maintain the fitness he had when he started.

My strategy for maximizing training efficiency dovetails nicely wtih a complimentary training objective – favoring strength and power training over endurance.  This allows me to emphasize high intensity training, which is short in duration, almost by definition (there are brief periods during each season that I focus on endurance training, but even then I favor higher intensity endurance training followed by plenty of rest).  Furthermore, I only perform activities that I strongly believe provide a direct benifit to my performance; I don’t do any filler or “crosstraining”. [More on Training Intensity here]

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season.  The Strength & Power Training Phases  are very typical of a normal season.  However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is atypical; I'm rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of actual climbing.  I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate's Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season. The Strength & Power Training Phases are very typical of a normal season. However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is rather unusual; I’m rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of outdoor climbing in a season. I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate’s Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

This is perhaps easier to visualize on a macro-scale, but it also applies on a micro-scale.  For example, Strength Training revolves around my fingers, because they are the single most important factor in climbing performance.  I work my fingers first, but not for long.  When the intensity is right (really high), my fingers can only handle about an hour of work (or, about 18 ~60 second sets of deadhang repetitions, with 3 minutes rest between sets).  Once my fingers are worked, I perform a modest amount of pull muscle, upper arm, and shoulder exercises. 

During my Limit Bouldering routine, I don’t do “fun” boulder problems.  I only do boulder problems that will make me a better rock climber (as opposed to a better plastic climber).  In other words, the Lazy H has very few pinches or slopers, and the walls aren’t super steep.  It has a lot of sharp crimps, tweaky pockets, and small, greasy footholds.  Very few of these holds are oriented horizontally–my problems require core tension and attention to footwork.  It’s often hard to breath while climbing these problems, and my skin takes a fair bit of abuse, but the skill and strength developed translates directly to the rock.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn't "fun", but its good for my footwork.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn’t “fun”, but its good for my footwork.

That said, it’s only fair to note that I have pretty good technique, and that took many years to cultivate.  Now that I have it, it doesn’t take much to maintain.  However, my training terrain is deliberately designed to maintain my technique (in other words, it isn’t “fun” terrain).  My warmup time is split between a dead vertical wall, and one that overhangs a modest 8 degrees.  The holds on these walls are tiny, and precise movement is required to stay on the wall. Those with performance-limiting technique can apply these same concepts to skill develipment by training on realistic terrain, and emphasizing focused, quality skill practice over zombie-like monotonous quantity.

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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