Category Archives: Record keeping

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.

Training For 9a – Part I

By Mark Anderson

This is the second installment in a 4-part series.  The first installment can be found here.

The end of Shadowboxing's lower crux section.  Photo Mike Anderson.

The end of Shadowboxing’s lower crux section. Photo Mike Anderson.

By the end of the Fall 2015 climbing season, I was consistently 2-hanging the route, and while my hang points were converging, the rate of improvement was glacial. Clearly I needed to reach another plane of endurance capability. Early in the season I was training Power Endurance (PE) by completing four sets of my standard “Green Traverse” Linked Bouldering Circuit (LBC)—approximately 32 moves, on terrain that varied from 35 to 60-degrees overhanging. It would take about 100 seconds to complete a 32-move set, and then I would rest some pre-determined period before attempting the next set (and so on, until I had completed 4 sets). As my endurance improved, I increased the intensity by (first) reducing the rest time between sets, and then by adding more sets. By the end of the season I was doing 5 or 6 sets with just 60 seconds rest between sets, but my endurance was still nowhere close to sufficient for Shadowboxing.

My standard, 32-move “Green Traverse”.

My standard, 32-move “Green Traverse”.


I knew from reviewing terabytes of video of myself on the route that I would need to be able to endure 150 to 180 seconds Time-Under-Tension (TUT), just to climb between rest stances, where I would need to be able to recover, and then sprint another 100+ seconds of consecutive pumpy moves, and so on. To climb all the difficulties without a hang would take 250+ seconds of just climbing, plus many minutes of taxing shaking at rest stances. Clearly hammering more and more 100-second laps on my trusty Green Traverse wasn’t working, and I think the lack of continuous TUT was the reason.

My PE Log sheet from the three workouts I did using the standard Green Traverse during the Fall 2015 season.

My PE Log sheet from the three workouts I did using the standard Green Traverse during the Fall 2015 season.

By the end of that first season I started tweaking things to increase my TUT and improve the realism and specificity of my PE training. In my first experiment, I varied the rest periods between LBC sets, in the hopes of driving the rest between two sets to zero, which would result in completing two laps back-to-back. In terms of timing, the plan for the first workout looked like this:

Set 1 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 2 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 90 seconds

Set 3 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 4 (TUT ~100 seconds)

My Fall 2015 training Schedule, showing the programming of my PE workouts and my two PE experiments.

My Fall 2015 training Schedule, showing the programming of my PE workouts and my two PE experiments.

If I succeeded with this workout, I planned to further shift the rest from the first and third interval to the middle interval. In practice, I crushed the first two sets, and so decided I only needed 60 seconds rest before the 3rd set. I was wrong! I didn’t feel ready to start the 4th set “on schedule” so the workout ended up like this:

Set 1 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 2 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 3 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 4 (TUT ~83 seconds)

Rest: 90 seconds

Set 5 (TUT ~60 seconds)

Still, I considered the experiment a success. First, it showed the workout timing could be a good stepping stone for a climber who didn’t yet have the endurance to complete a single set of a given circuit. Second, from a personal perspective, it showed I was likely ready for much longer sets.   In preparation for that, I built a down-climb at the end of the existing Green Traverse that rejoined the circuit about 12-moves in, thus allowing for a 52-move set. This new set required around 150 seconds of TUT—just what I needed.

The pink line shows the extension to the Green Traverse, brining the hand-move count to 52.

The pink line shows the extension to the Green Traverse, brining the hand-move count to 52.

I wanted to have a firm endurance-training strategy that I could believe in before I completely wrapped up my Fall season, so after my last Rifle weekend I did one last PE workout to iron out the kinks in my new, longer circuit. I was able to send the first 52-move set, but the next two were pretty rough, and it was clear I was hitting a wall around 105 seconds into each set. Even on the set I sent, I pretty much cruised the first 100 seconds and struggled on the last 50. My goal for the winter season, in addition to sending some outdoor projects near home, would be to hone my power endurance. In total I did 5 PE workouts that winter, consisting of (attempting) 4 sets of the new 52-move circuit, with TUT ~150 seconds per set, and a 4-minute rest interval.

My Winter 2016 training Schedule, showing the programming of my 52-move circuit PE workouts.

My Winter 2016 training Schedule, showing the programming of my 52-move circuit PE workouts.

I struggled with these workouts. I never once completed every set, or even the first three sets. I was close at times, often failing very near the end of each lap. During the fourth workout I crushed the first set, and so (somewhat foolishly) decided on-the-fly to drop the rest interval to 3 minutes. That resulted in sending the 2nd lap, failing near the end of the 3rd lap, and mid-way through the 4th lap. Still, it was pretty comparable to my first two workouts in terms of performance, which provided good data points on my improvement, and the qualitative difference between the 3 and 4-minute rest intervals. Even though I never sent the workout, I could tell my endurance had improved considerably from the end of the Fall 2015 season. More importantly, I felt like I had solved the problem of how to improve my endurance—I now had an effective training circuit that I could use to prepare for my next bout with Rifle.

My PE Log sheet from the winter 2016 season.

My PE Log sheet from the winter 2016 season.

My hangboarding that April was outstanding, I set Personal Records (PRs) on three grips, and tied PRs on two others. As May arrived, my Power Phase went just as well, quickly matching my hardest Max Ladders on the campus board. What surprised me most was that I seemed to carry-over much of the endurance I had gained over the winter. During my first PE workout of the season I sent the first three laps of the 52-move circuit for the first time (with 4:00 rest between sets). It seemed like everything was coming together perfectly. I was brimming with confidence and buzzing with anticipation. Surely I could send the route if everything went as planned.

The Beta

by Mark Anderson

Fred Gomez cool and collected on his send of Smooth Boy, 13b, Smith Rock, OR.

Fred Gomez cool and collected on his send of Smooth Boy, 13b, Smith Rock, OR.

Last week I had to upgrade to a new binder for my training records.  The old one was full.  This is actually my fourth or fifth binder.  My first binder was just an old manila folder.  The oldest sheet in my binder is a hangboard log for a workout I did in June 2003.  I was training before that time, but either I did not write down what I did, or (more likely) I misplaced those records.  Since that first workout I’ve added 347 more hangboard sheets–one for each workout, plus an inch or so worth of campus, ARC, Linked Bouldering Circuit and Supplemental Exercise sheets.

The oldest hard-copy sheet I have, for a hangboard workout in June 2003.

The oldest hard-copy sheet I have, for a hangboard workout in June 2003.

After a few seasons of training, I upgraded to my first three-ring binder: red, 1”-thick with D-rings (super plush!).  This most recent binder is 3” thick and lasted me almost a decade, but now it’s bursting.  My new binder is 4” thick, but I think I’m going to split my records into two binders—one for hangboard logs, one for everything else—so I don’t have to keep moving it between the barn and my hangboard room, and to increase capacity in each binder.  Hopefully this approach will last me through the next decade.

This is what perseverance looks like. Each blue tab represents a season of training, although I’m slacking on adding tabs—the most recent one is from Fall 2012.

This is what stubbornness looks like. Each blue tab represents a season of training, although I’m slacking on adding tabs—the most recent one is from Fall 2012.

One of the most common questions heard at the crag is “what’s the beta…?” or “how did you do that one move?”  Well, if you ask me, here is my answer—in the many chalk-dust-covered pages of those creaking binders.  In other words, the beta is: do lots of thinking and lots of hard work.  Do a little bit of each of those things every week.  Then continue that month after month, season after season, year after year.  Keep doing it.  Do it  even when you don’t really feel like doing it.  Every page in that binder represents a decision point:  whether to do what is presently the most satisfying, or to invest temporary discomfort in the hope of future returns. Training is a ‘long con’–you will not see results in one week, or one month. There is no quick pay-off or silver bullet.  You have to keep at it for years.  It may be monotonous, it certainly isn’t glamorous and it often isn’t fun.  But if you do stick with it, if you follow through, you will be rewarded.

And that—with all sincerity—is how I did ‘that one move’.

The Original Campus Board

As soon as Kate and I committed to a trip to Germany, I started looking for information on “The Campus Center”, the birthplace (and namesake) of the Campus Board. Legend has it that Wolfgang Gullich was looking for a new way to train explosive power for a new cutting-edge route he was trying in the Frankenjura. He developed a ground-breaking new training tool that would allow him to apply the concepts of plyometric training to climbing. The “Campus training” worked, Wallstreet was born (the first 5.14b or 8c in the world) and the rest is history. [read more on this here]

My obsession with campus training, and in particular, campus board specifications, is well-documented. I absolutely had to get a look at the original campus board, if it was still in existence. At the very least, I wanted to take a few measurements, especially rung-spacing, rung depth, and the angle of the board (steepness). It was a long shot, but it was worth looking into.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

The Campus Center was an upscale fitness center for regular people (not a climbing gym), located in Nuremberg, Germany. We just so happened to be flying in and out of Nuremberg, so if it was still standing, I was going to find it. One of my early climbing partners Bobby Gomez once called me a “climbing detective” for my persistence in uncovering all manner of random historical trivia and beta about various climbing objectives. I put all my powers to the test and (after a few missteps) entered “The Campus Center Nuremberg Germany Wolfgang Gullich” into my Google Machine. This is what I found.

Not only did the Campus Center still exist, they have a website, including a page dedicated to the Campus Board, with pics of Wolfgang Gullich and Action Directe! This was going to be easy. They had a picture of the board in 2010, still intact, so there was a great chance the board would still be there when I arrived. Still, I was nervous. How long could a regular fitness studio possibly keep an old relic like this hanging around before someone decided to remodel?

Nuremberg is a town of roughly 500,000, located in the heart of Bavaria and roughly an hour from the heart of the Frankenjura. The Campus Center is located on the east side of town, in a commercial district with a variety of storefronts. After our flight landed on the morning of September 18th, we picked up our rental car and headed straight there. My quite-rusty German was going to get tested almost immediately.

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

While I was still in Denver I scripted a few lines using my phrasebook in the hope that I could explain my intentions to the Campus Center personnel. Things like “I would like to see the Campus Board” (“Ich mochte das Campusboard gesehen”) and whatnot. I walked bravely through the automatic door, looked the gentleman at the desk square in the eyes, chickened out and mumbled “Sprechen sie English?” Yes, a little. I explained why I was there. He was not surprised. I was lead upstairs and introduced to another gentleman who spoke fluent English. Clearly I was not the first foreigner to make this pilgrimage. Still, it was also not an everyday event, and he was quite curious to know where I was from and why I was so interested. He led me down the hall and into a large room filled with modern-day Nautilus workout equipment. There, at the far end of the room, suspended from the ceiling, was the original Campus Board. I asked if it was still original, if it had been moved or altered in any way. He confirmed that it was all original. It certainly looked original, and comparing the video of Gullich using the board (above) to my photos further confirms that it hasn’t been moved.

The Campus Board

The Campus Board

The wood was glassy and polished. It had clearly been here for quite a long time. On the front side were rungs of three different depths running from bottom to top, and the four lowest of the largest rungs had pairs of two-finger pockets roughly carved into them. All three sets of rungs were spaced at the same interval. The medium-depth rungs had a big, slopey radius on them, and the shallowest rungs were slightly incut with a moderate radius. They looked very similar in shape to the Metolius small campus rungs. The rungs were much wider than Metolius rungs, and vertical lines had been drawn on the rungs in black marker, presumably to measure horizontal or diagonal (typewriter-style) moves.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

On the back side was an old hangboard, and an even older set of hand-made wood holds cobbled together in the shape of a pseudo-hangboard. Was this the world’s first hangboard? It wouldn’t surprise me. There were also some sloping, quarter-cylinder rungs on both the front and back of the board that looked like they’d been added more recently.

The back of the Campus Board.

The back of the Campus Board.

Once we got talking my escort shared all kinds of interesting details. The board was still used by climbers in the area. He showed me a sequence between a set of pockets and said that was the first move of Action Directe, and so on.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

I took a bunch of pictures, posed for a pic in front of the board, and then I think I set myself apart from the other pilgrims when I pulled out my tape measure and inclinometer 🙂  I explained how much things like steepness and rung-spacing make a difference, and the value of comparing the configurations of different campus boards with the original. He understood but I suspect he thought I was taking things a bit too far 🙂

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

My first measurement was puzzling: 63.5 centimeters from the top of the first rung to the top of the fourth. I also measured the distance from the top of the second rung to the top of the first: 23.5 cm. That doesn’t make sense. I stood back and noticed the spacing between the first and second rungs was larger than the rest of the spacing. This is partially because the first row of rungs was aligned (“justified”, if you will) along the bottom edge of the rung, and the rest were aligned along the top edge. Upon further inspection I realized the spacing between rungs 2 thru 10 was 20cm per rung (on center, or from top edge to top edge), with the spacing between the first two 23.5cm.  According to Jerry Moffatt’s book, Wolfgang Gullich was able to do 1-5-8 using only his two middle fingers.  Presumably that was done on this board, so his 1-5 was 84cm and his 5-8 was 60cm (and his 1-8 has 144cm).  That is insane!  I can’t even deadhang a small Metolius rung with my two middle fingers.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

I measured the rung depth: 2cm, which confirms Jerry Moffat’s recollection from his autobiography Revelations. That’s within a millimeter of .75 inches (the depth of a Metolius small rung). The depth of the carved pockets was also 2cm. The angle of steepness appeared to be about 12 degrees. It was hard to be certain since I didn’t have a level with me, but I think it’s in the ballpark. I had previously guessed the angle was 11 degrees from analyzing old photos of the board, so I think that’s pretty close.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

In its current state, the Campus Board is really slick and polished. I’ve heard people say that wood becomes more textured over time, as the soft pulp wood wears away and the tougher grain becomes exposed. That may be true to a point, but there’s also a point where it just gets so polished it’s almost like glass. I’m really glad this board hasn’t been altered for the purpose of preserving its historical value, but I wouldn’t want to train on it!

The Campus Board in profile.

The Campus Board in profile.

In conclusion, the key specs of the Original Campus Board are 20-cm rung spacing, and 12-degrees overhanging. If you use small Metolius rungs you’ll be close-enough in terms of rung size and shape (the Metolius small rungs are slightly shallower). I’m really glad to have this data point, however, I would still recommend using “Moon-spacing” (22cm on center). I think at this point Moon Spacing is much more established and universal, at least in the English-speaking world, even if it’s not original. Using Moon Spacing doesn’t change the fact the Wolfgang Gullich was insanely strong, which I was able to confirm every time I tried one of his routes! I’m really happy I took the time to track down the Campus Center. Seeing the original Campus Board in all its glory was well worth the effort and one of the highlights of my trip.

Thank you Campus Center!

Thank you Campus Center!

Holiday Gift Guide for the Performance-Oriented Climber

The holidays are upon us, and you don’t want to end up with a pile of socks and ties again. Chances are somebody is nagging you for a wish list, but you’re too focused on training to put one together. Fear not Rock Prodigies, we have assembled the perfect list of stocking stuffers to help take your climbing to the next level. Just forward this URL to Santa and let the elves in his extensive IT department do the rest.

In other news, I’ve uploaded the highly anticipated 2015 Training Calendar to the tools page.  This is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that you can edit to plan and track your training in 2015.  Download it for free here.

$5 or less:

    • Protein Bar(s) – For post-workout consumption. We all have our favorite brands and flavors, but it never hurts to try something new from time to time. Some of my favorites are the Chocolate Mint flavored Clif Builder’s Bar, any of the chocolate-based Pure Protein Bars (available at Costco and Walmart), and the Caramel Nut Blast flavored Balance Bars.
    • Mechanical Pencil(s) or Pen(s) – You’re not really training unless you’re writing down what you’re doing. For that you need a writing implement. I like the ability to erase what I’ve written, YMMV.
    • Sanding block, cuticle cutters, athletic tape and nail clippers are all must have items.  Photo Frederik Marmsater.

      Sanding block, cuticle cutters, athletic tape and nail clippers are all must have items. Photo Frederik Marmsater.

      Sanding Block – Keeping your skin tough and smooth will help prevent skin issues that can derail your training AND sending. Daily use of a sanding block is the best way to do that. Get something in the Medium to Fine grit range (100-200 grit).

    • Climbing Salve – If you’re one of those lucky honemasters with leather-like hands that are constantly cracking, ask Santa for some Joshua Tree Climbing Salve.
    • Athletic Tape – Let’s face it, it’s just a matter of time before you need this. Ideally you’ll only need it to protect your skin from flappers, but it’s always good to have on hand during training in case you feel a connective tissue tweak.
    • Nail Clippers – If not for you, do it for the rest of your crew. Nobody wants to hear that fingers-on-a-chalkboard sound every time you slap for a hold in the gym. These things wear out over time, so even if you have a few it might be time to upgrade.
    • Music Download Credit(s) – You can never have too many sic beats to get you psyched up to train. Make sure Santa knows what type of device you’re using.
    • Duck Tape – Those with a home climbing wall are always in need of fresh patterns to mark their web of boulder problems. Duck Tape brand duct tape is constantly coming out with new patterns to keep your lines distinct. These are available in the paint section of most hardware stores (often in the same aisle as the sanding blocks), or in the party section of Target, etc.
    • Wrench – Along the same lines, if you have a home wall, you can never have too many 7/32” and 5/16” Allen Wrenches. Get the clever Multi-Wrench from Metolius and you’ll never have to worry about grabbing the wrong size.
    • RCTM Logbook – You can never have too many of these!

$5- 10:

    • Stopwatch – Whether timing dead hangs or rest periods between redpoint burns, we all need some kind of stopwatch. There are a lot of options here that come down to personal prefernce, but for indoor training, a timer with a big display like this one can be really useful.
    • Brush – Essential for cleaning the playing surface—be it your precious hangboard grips, or the crux crimper on your long term goal route. But don’t rely on whatever manky, plaque-coated, blown out scrubber you find lying in the back of your bathroom drawer, ask Santa for the Lapis Boar’s Hair Brush, the Holy Grail of brushes, coveted by pebble-wrestlers around the world. Shipping is a killer on these guys so it’s best to buy a few at a time, or see if your local climbing gym carries them.
    • Chalk – This is another consumable that always seems to run out at the worst time. With a seemingly infinite shelf-life, you can never have too much. If you’ve never experienced the pure joy of chalk in a bottle, now is the time!
    • Placebos – Getting sick can completely derail your training cycle. Fortunately placebos are proven to work (as long as you believe in them). So keep the faith and ask Santa for some Airborne or Emergen-C. My PhD friend Chris prefers the Airborne tablets because they pop and fizz like crazy, providing a more convincing placebo effect.  I’ve consumed literally hundreds of these and I can attest that Tropical Emergenc-C is the best-tasting flavor.


    • Cuticle Cutters – These are a must have for the Very Serious Climber. Use these to carefully trim away budding flappers (as described on pages 171-2 of the RCTM). Like nail clippers, its critical to have a sharp pair, so if yours are more than a few years old, it’s probably time to re-load.  The Revlon 1/4 Jaw Nippers are wicked sharp, but there are other good options too.  Usually you can find these in the beauty section of your drug or grocery store if you don’t want to pay for shipping.
    • Thermometer – OCD training fiends will want to document and track the environmental conditions of training sessions, and perhaps even the ideal sending conditions of your outdoor proj. You can keep it simple (and cheap) with something like this, or for only a few bucks more take it completely over the top with AcuRite’s Digital Humidity and Temperature Monitor.
    • Thera-Band – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and so these stretchy rubber bands provide a lot of value for not a lot of money. These can be used for warming up, rehabbing ailing joints, or training antagonists.
    • Mini-Tripod“Hey, you guys wanna see my video?” – Uncle Rico  A collapsible mini-tripod will allow you to film your project sessions and break down your sequence and effort like the pros do.  Smaller/lighter tripods are more likely to actually make it to the crag, so no need to mortgage the house on a super elaborate rig.
    • Trango Trucker Hat – Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Even more important is looking dope as hell while doing it! Channel your inner Teenage Mutant Ninja Gym Boulderer with this fly lid from our stylin friendz at Trango.
    • Holds – It’s nice to have options, and climbers with a home wall know you can never have too many holds. Most hold sets are too big (and costly) to qualify as stocking stuffers, but discerning shoppers can find small sets of screw on foot jibs for right around $20.

If you’ve got any other great stocking stuffer ideas, please share in a comment below.  Happy Holidays!

It’s All Semantics

How often have you visited a climbing forum and stumbled upon an endless debate over some trivial matter like the definition of “is”?  It seems that many of us would rather argue about training terminology than actually train.  This pre-occupation with semantics can be a real distraction from the truly important matters (like the phone number for Rock and Resole), and yet, some questions come up again and again:

  • What is the real definition of “power”?  The physics definition doesn’t seem to fit the physiology definition–which is correct?
  • Are isometric contractions really isometric?
  • Is campus training “truly plyometric”?  

Many of us (myself included) have fallen victim to this mentality in the past.  Maybe the problem is that proper climbing training requires so much recovery and down-time that all us training fiends have nothing better to do than argue about this nonsense 🙂

Castle Valley, Utah

This photo won’t make you a better climber, but it sure is nice to look at.  Castle Valley, Utah, Photo Mike Anderson.

Regardless, the answer to all these questions and many others is a resounding: WHO CARES!?  None of these things have any bearing on the practical matter of how you should train!  When consider such questions, only one thing matters:  will doing [suggested training activity] make me a better climber?  No amount of arguing grammar, spelling, syntax or word use will make you one bit better as a climber.  To improve, you need to do some work.  And no, I don’t mean the Physics definition of work (= Force x Distance).  I mean the good ol’ fashioned kind that predates even Sir Isaac Newton.

We all know what we mean when we talk about climbing power.  We all know that relative to a bicep curl, a dead hang is isometric, and it’s pretty darn close–definitely close enough–to what we do over and over again on the rock.  It doesn’t matter if campusing is “plyometric” or “gullichometric”.  “Plyometric” is a made up word used to describe an arbitrary category of exercise.  All that matters is that it works for climbers, and so you should do it! 

I like to say that sports physiology is a lot like religion.  We all agree on 98% of the dogma, but we fight endless crusades over the 2% we disagree on.  That is silly.  If you’re following any kind of training program, documenting your results, and making adjustments, you’re head and shoulders above the vast majority.  Don’t waste so much energy obsessing over which program is the best.  There is no single approach that is optimal for everybody.  Find something that works for you and tweak it as you learn more about how your body responds to training.  If you sit around waiting for armies of scientists to definitively prove which training method is ideal, you will never get anything done.  Your great-great-grandkids will be long dead before that happens.

The work being done by Sports Physiologists is certainly important, and it is certainly worth some attention.  New theories need to be tested, but there are just too many variables in climbing to expect exact transference of studies being done on athletes in the big money sports.  Anyway, it’s highly doubtful some Silver Bullet set/rep/rest protocol is going to turn you into Adam Ondra overnight.  Even if a study “proves” this or that (which never happens anyway), the “proven” method may still not work for you.  You will still need to try it out for yourself to see if it works for your body.  The vast majority of the time, things that really work have been used for decades by athletes in many sports.  These methods were discovered and refined by athletes themselves, through trial and error, not by a scientist toiling away in a lab.  If you want to find the secret to optimizing your training, get out to your gym and try something new!  Document your results and let us know how it goes.  That is the best way to discover new information, not reading Physiology Journals or arguing on internet forums.

Three cheers for Eva Lopez, Dave Mcleod, Doug Hunter, Eric Horst, Udo Neumann, Wolfgang Gullich, and Tony Yaniro!  Hooray for anybody who is out there trying new things and sharing their findings.  I like the Rock Prodigy program because it works for me.  I know that it works for many other people too, and it might work for you.  But there are other programs out there that work too.  That’s great!  Shop around if you like, try a few different things, and find something that works for you.  If you’re satisfied with the results, then stick with it, that’s awesome!  As long as you’re doing something pre-meditated and you’re tracking your efforts, you’re way ahead of the curve.

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 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.


Focus – New Post on!

Check out my new post on “Focus” over at

“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

Adjustable Mount for the RPTC

Ever since I first conceived of the Rock Prodigy Training Center, I’ve been pondering a cheap and simple mounting system that would allow for instantaneous spacing adjustments. Once the RPTC was unveiled I got a number of great ideas from other climbers. Julian Marks suggested a “French Cleat” system in this Mountain Project thread, which uses two pieces of angled lumber to create an integrated hook on the mounting structure that slides along a fixed receptacle.

The French Cleat concept: The upper incut board (fastened to a piece of plywood and one half of the RPTC) hooks onto the lower, fixed incut board. This allows the upper unit to “float” freely from side to side along the fixed cleat.

The French Cleat concept: The upper incut board (fastened to a piece of plywood and one half of the RPTC) hooks onto the lower, fixed incut board. This allows the upper unit to “float” freely from side to side along the fixed cleat.

This was exactly the sort of simplicity I was hoping for. Despite the assurances of several folks, I doubted that this method would provide reliable, rigid, and stable support for the RPTC. The mounting structure must be solid to ensure repeatable training loads. A board that wobbles or flexes undermines our ability to track progress and predict the proper increment of increased load between workouts. I decided to build a prototype and was impressed by the results. The finished mount was rock solid, and much easier to adjust than I had ever dreamed. Here’s a short video of the finished product in action:

Below are step-by-step instructions for building the mount shown. If you have any suggestions for streamlining the fabrication process, please share them in a comment!

Required Tools:

  • Drill
  • Circular Saw with a rigid blade
  • Level
  • Several Clamps
  • Tape Measure
  • Gloves, safety glasses

Optional Tools:

  • Electric Sander
  • Table Saw


  • 2×6, 2×8, or 2×10 lumber, 5-feet long or more
  • 2×4, same length as 2×6/8/10
  • 1×4, same length as 2×6/8/10
  • A few short pieces of scrap 2×4
  • ~Two square feet of ¾” Plywood
  • 8 – 3” Wood Screws (#8 or larger)
  • 6 – 2.5” Wood Screws (#8 or larger)
  • 2 – 1.25” Wood Screws

I started with an 8-foot long 2×8, because I wasn’t sure how “tall’ the cleats would need to be. I went with 5.5” for the long fixed cleat and 5” for the two floating cleats (so a 2×6 would have worked for either cleat, though in retrospect, 5” for both cleats would have worked too). The first step, and by far the crux of the project, is to make an angled rip cut in the 2x piece of lumber. The cut needs to be as precise as possible, since the surface created by the cut will be the mounting surface between the two cleats. Irregularities in this surface will cause the cleats to “wobble”. For the fixed cleat you need to make a rip cut ~3.5-feet long, and for the two floating cleats you need to make a rip cut ~2.5-feet long. If you are using the same cleat height for the fixed and floating cleats, you can make one 6’-long rip cut (or if you’re using a 2×10, one 3.5′ rip cut would probably do it). Make the cut at least 6” longer than you need because you will want to trim the a few inches off each end of the finished board.

Dimensions of the piece parts.

Dimensions of the piece parts.

I found making the rip cut to be quite difficult, and I failed on my first attempt. A table saw or better would be really nice to have for this cut, but I was able to do it (eventually) with my circular saw. My initial error was using a “speed blade” on my circular saw, which is designed to be thin so that less material is removed while cutting, thus allowing for speedy cuts. Each time the thin blade crossed the wood grain it would flex slightly, causing the cut to veer off course. Once I switched to a thicker blade I was able to make the cut, though it was still difficult.

My circular saw, setup to cut at a 45-degree angle. The blade in this picture is the Diablo speed blade.

My circular saw, setup to cut at a 45-degree angle. The blade in this picture is the Diablo speed blade.

In preparation for the cut, I built a jig to guide the saw and make the cut as straight as possible. I fastened the 2×4 to the narrow edge of the 2×8, and then fastened the 1×4 to the inside wide edge of the 2×4 (based on the dimensions of my circular saw’s guide plate, this made the cut 5.5” from the 2x edge of the board; without the 1×4, the cut would be 5” from the 2x edge—so don’t use the 1×4 if you want your cleats to be 5” tall). I also placed some scrap 2x pieces under the entire assembly to protect my precious deck 🙂

Building a guide (aka “fence”) out of a 2x4 and 1x4 to keep the circular saw aligned correctly during the rip cut. The 2x4 is fastened into the 2x8, and the 1x4 is fastened to the 2x4. Once the cut is complete, the 2x4 and 1x4 are removed.

Building a guide (aka “fence”) out of a 2×4 and 1×4 to keep the circular saw aligned correctly during the rip cut. The 2×4 is fastened into the 2×8, and the 1×4 is fastened to the 2×4. Once the cut is complete, the 2×4 and 1×4 are removed.

A few tips on the rip cut: 1) when starting, cut about 2” into the board, then back out the saw and go back in again. Repeat as necessary to ensure the saw’s guide plate is lying flat against the board and flush against the 1×4 (or 2×4) guide rail. 2) The entire time you are cutting, apply firm pressure down, and into the guide rail to prevent the saw from lifting up or veering off course. 3) Take your time! This is not an easy cut to make.

Making the angled Rip Cut.

Making the angled Rip Cut.

Once the rip cut was made I used an electric sander to smooth down all the new edges and the angled surface. This surface will be the mating interface between the cleats so you want it to be as smooth and uniform as possible.

Next I cut the fixed cleat down to size. This cleat is 5.5” tall, and I decided to make it 34.5” long. It could be longer, but this is all I had space for, and much longer than I need. This allows me to vary the spacing of my RPTC halves from 0” to 9.5”.

The cut fixed cleat (before sanding).

The cut fixed cleat (before sanding).

To make the two floating cleats I flipped the 2×8 around, and installed the 2×4 guide fence on the opposite edge of the 2×8, but left the 1×4 off, to create a 5” tall cleat. [Note: This isn’t ideal; I had to do this because I messed up the first rip cut and so half of my 2×8 was essentially ruined.   By shortening the height of the cleat by 0.5” I was able to salvage this half of the 2×8. If I were doing it again I would make one rip cut, ~6-feet long, resulting in a cut 5.5” from the edge of the 2×6/8, and I would use that piece to make the fixed cleat and the two floating cleats.] I cut this piece into two 12.5” long pieces (about ¼” longer than one half of the RPTC). Making these longer would probably increase the stability of the finished assembly, but it would require more mounting space as well.  The 12.5″ length has worked fine for me, but I notice a bit of flex when I’m using the pinch grips.

A finished floating cleat perched above the fixed cleat.

A finished floating cleat perched above the fixed cleat.

Next I cut out two 12.5” by 10” rectangles of ¾” plywood. These pieces will be attached to the floating cleats, and then the RPTC halves will be mounted to the plywood. With all the pieces cut to size, it was time to assemble the contraption.

Make two rectangles of ¾” plywood, measuring 12.5” wide by 10” tall.

Make two rectangles of ¾” plywood, measuring 12.5” wide by 10” tall.

The first step of assembly is to mount the fixed cleat to your mounting structure. Use a level to get this cleat lined up properly. In my case, I was mounting to a long 2×8, so I used a handful of 3” long wood screws to fasten the fixed cleat. If you are mounting to a wall with hidden studs, or some other structure, longer wood screws, lag screws, or bolts may be required. If using wood screws, use at least six, but make sure the fixed cleat is firmly attached to the mounting structure.

Next I placed the floating cleats onto the fixed cleats, and lined them up in the locations I expected to use them the most. I then attached the first plywood rectangle to the first cleat using two 2” wood screws (longer screws will penetrate the mounting surface and defeat the purpose of this entire enterprise). I lined up the rectangle so the lower horizontal edge was flush with the lower horizontal edge of the fixed cleat (this meant the top of the rectangle protrudes about 3/4” from the top of the floating cleat). Once I had the first screw in place, I used a level to get the lower edge of the rectangle level. Install the second rectangle in the same way. It helps to have a clamp for this step.

The two plywood rectangles attached to the floating cleats. Use two 2” screws for each plywood piece. More screws will be added later.

The two plywood rectangles attached to the floating cleats. Use two 2” screws for each plywood piece. More screws will be added later.

Next install each half of the RPTC onto the plywood rectangle. I installed mine flush with the lower edge of the plywood rectangle, and I used a level, placed under the edge that runs between the Thin Edge and the beveled three-finger pocket on each RPTC half, to ensure each side was installed at the correct angle (horizontal for me), and to ensure the two halves are installed at the same height. It helps to have a clamp to fine tune the alignment before installing any screws. Once aligned, use the screw lengths specified in the below pic to ensure you don’t penetrate the mounting structure or fixed cleat:

Use the screw lengths specified here when attaching the RPTC halves to the floating mounts.

Use the screw lengths specified here when attaching the RPTC halves to the floating mounts.

Once all the screws are installed, test your installation. You should be ready to rock! I suggest attaching or scribing a ruler onto your fixed cleat to allow for quick and repeatable adjustment of your RPTC spacing. Note the spacing used for each grip position in your Hangboard Log Sheet for future reference.  I’ve been training on this mount for the past two weeks now, and I’m really happy with it.  I’m looking into ways to streamline the construction of this type of mount, so if you have ny ideas, please let me know!

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?

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