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Category Archives: Rock Climber’s Training Manual

Review of the Latest Climbing Research

By Mark Anderson

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Mike going through the survey results

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Anderson Brothers Interview at PaleoTreats

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Earlier this week Mike and I were invited on Nik Hawks’ podcast over at PaleoTreats.  PaleoTreats is a web-based mail order company that makes delicious and nutritious desserts for active and health-conscious folks.  In their own words,

“…We’ve been making foodie-approved Paleo desserts since 2009. We are serious about flavor, texture, ingredients and Paleo. Yes, all of them. We’ve shipped around the world, from Australia to Afghanistan, and we’ve ironed out all the kinks of getting a great dessert to your door.”

Nik’s podcast isn’t really about that though.  He’s interviewed an impressively diverse group of folks covering the gamut from elite athletes, to coaches and nutrition experts, focused on a wide variety of sports.  He’s really interested in the pursuit of excellence, and the common factors that make athletes successful, regardless of their athletic vocation.  Our podcast covered a variety of topics, including:

  • Goal-Setting in life and sports
  • How to develop the ability to work hard in yourself and your kids
  • The time and place for skill development in climbing
  • What we’re most proud of (in a training sense), and what we would change about the RCTM
  • How self-esteem (or lack thereof) has impacted our motivation and success
  • The next big innovations in climbing training

(Pretty much the only thing we didn’t talk about is food)

Check out the podcast here!

This photo has nothing to do with the adjacent text. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

This photo has nothing to do with this blog post. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

Guest Article: See the Send — Use Visualization to Up Your Climbing

This is a guest article by long-time Rock Prodigy enthusiast Philip Lutz. Phil has had tremendous success recently at applying the Rock Prodigy Method to his climbing, particularly bouldering.

If you would like to contribute content to the site, please contact us!

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Heather cruising The Bowling Pin, in the Buttermilks.

Over the past six months, I have been obsessively working my projects to death in the least physically demanding way. On rest days, while lounging around in the sun or on nights before a hard redpoint while curled up in my sleeping bag with homemade skin salve slathered all over my hands, I meticulously visualize climbing my goal route.  From the point in which I take one final glance at my knot and give my shoes a quick wipe against my pant leg to when I am relaxing into my final clipping stance and dropping my rope smoothly through the quickdraws at the anchor, I use my mind to live and practice everything I need to perform during the send go.

 

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Looking down the Eastside of the Sierra Nevadas after a tiring day at the Happy Boulders. Photo by Philip Lutz

I don’t know exactly what motivated me to start rehearsing my intended climbing performances over and over in my head. It could be that I spent the last five years of my life preparing for classical guitar performances.  The associated habitual practicing and eventual performance is similar to climbing in that you must memorize a ton of information, execute all the cruxes correctly and consistently, and then bring a whole performance to life at a particular moment in time.  While I could practice guitar at any hour of the day or night in a prominent music conservatory where you are expected and encouraged to practice at least five hours every day of your life, I could not endlessly rehearse the moves of my climbing projects which were six hours away in Kentucky.

Besides the physical distance and limited time that I had in my life, it also wasn’t an efficient use of skin and physical energy to “remember” and reacquaint myself with a project when I only had a day or two to send.  I realized the more information I could keep fresh in my mind while I was away from the project, the easier it would be to recall those moves and then bring that experience into reality.

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Overlooking Bishop from the Druid Stones. The views and bouldering at the Druids are definitely worth the uphill trudge (if you ever get sick of simply jumping out of your car at the Buttermilks and instantly being at amazing boulderfields).  Photo by Philip Lutz

Regularly running through the correct beta through visualization is not only a great way to make sure that you won’t forget a key foothold mid-crux after paddling past 20 meters of power-sapping pockets; it also builds mental confidence. While many people are putting in the hours “working out” and possibly training (if they have the discipline, patience, and organization) in order to build their physical ability, many are not performing a critical step; putting in the work needed to believe the goal is possible.  In my mind, the easy part of getting better at climbing random pieces of rock that were never intended for people to be on is the physical training.

THE Training Manual clearly and specifically describes all the exercises that you need to do to prepare your body to climb the routes of your dreams.  If you get organized, do the exercises (while trying as hard as you can), rest even harder, and repeat following the structured training plan, then you WILL be physically stronger.  This is one of the most valuable features of the RCTM and was what lured me into the program in the first place. However, the real treasure of the RCTM is the full suite of tools presented that work together to assemble the ultimate climbing machine.  Climbing performance is highly dependent on one’s mental ability, and the mental preparation discussed in the RCTM is a great way to navigate the abstract adventure through your own mind.  The confidence built through mental training like visualization, or positive self-talk, is what I seek to gain during my performance phase and is what I need to send.

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A technical training goal of mine is to use heel-hooks more effectively. I have always avoided them when I could and I never felt totally comfortable on them.  A large part of this is mental, and physically feeling the positions and movements are a way for me to overcome the lack of confidence.  I think I made some progress this season, but there is still a ton of room to improve.  In this photo, I’m about to pull the lip crux on the characteristically crimpy Milk the Milks, V6.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

After weeks spent hanging off a plastic edge and hopping between wooden rungs, visualization is a common homework assignment that gets me ready for the final exam. When I visualize a route, I sit down, close my eyes, and actively climb the route in my mind.  I do not imagine watching myself climb; I go through each move exactly how I perceive it in reality.  Stick the right hand edge, readjust it to a crimp, look down at that ticked pocket to my left, highstep my foot…  Just like repeating a difficult section while learning a route, repeating moves in your mind will make you “stronger” and allow you to do them more consistently.

This is where my approach differs slightly from what is presented in the RCTM. In the RCTM, the Andersons suggest that some may benefit from taking a third-person view during visualization (imagining you are a spectator, watching yourself climb the route), yet I have avoided this as I think it would create a meta-distraction in my climbing performance.  My climbing is purely between me and the rock.  I feel the best when I am completely self-motivated.  If I created a third-person presence that would expect me to send the route, I would simply be annoyed and probably become detached from the present during the performance. On the other hand, you might perform better with an external presence created from visualizing in the third person view, and this is dependent on each climber’s unique personality.  It is important to spend time learning about yourself in order to figure out what will improve your mental game.

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Upon arrival in Bishop and during my hangboarding phase, I managed to do some easy outdoor mileage and enjoyed classics like the Buttermilk Stem, V1. Outdoor mileage specific to your goals is a great opportunity to improve your mental abilities for later in your training cycle.  Photo by Charlie Marks

A little over three months ago, I moved to Bishop, California to gain access to world-class climbing, beautiful weather, and a relatively low cost of living while working a simple job and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Because I want to greatly improve my power while I am somewhat young and because I have an abundance of quality bouldering within 30min of driving, it seemed like an obvious choice to devote at least a few months (maybe seasons) away from ropes and bolts.

Due to the high arousal level needed to complete powerful moves at your limit and a limited amount of quality attempts on seriously abrasive rock, visualization is an incredibly useful tool for bouldering around Biship.  In between redpoint attempts, I can build my mental confidence while ensuring that I take a moment to slow down and adequately rest.  For example, if you don’t trust that you can prevent your feet cutting as you hit that sharp two finger pocket, what is the point of getting all “agro” and grunting your way up a route? You’ll probably just end up with a bad flapper and wasted time spent training.  A fear of success, or rather an inability to believe that a goal is attainable, can be just as crippling as a fear of climbing above the bolt or fear that your spotters won’t protect you.

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Soul Slinger Right, V8. The problem that ended my bouldering season. I missed the pads and sprained my ankle, but before swelling set in, I gave it another burn and sent.  I failed on this problem in January when I first visited Bishop, and this send was more satisfying than my Thanksgiving turkey. Photo by Charlie Marks.

I recently finished my first bouldering-focused training cycle, and I was very impressed with my resulting performance. Due to a variety of factors, my main projects were in the Volcanic Tableland.  I managed to send my first two V10s, and visualization played an important role in the redpoint process of each problem.

The first one I sent was Acid Wash, which begins with a crunchy, tweaky, and powerful drop knee move to a huge slot jug.  Consensus seems to be that, from the jug, the climbing is around V7. From my initial impression of the problem, I knew I could send it.  The first move was very inconsistent, and I only stuck it 10% of the time.  Visualizing the whole problem calmed my nerves and eliminated all the thoughts that separated me from the present moment when I would stick the opening move.  There were three attempts when I stuck the first move and my mind would begin to race as I continued to climb.  Those attempts ended up with me being very distracted and eventually I would fall off at the reachy bump move to a crimp jug.  Moments before my send go, I had one of these attempts, and after a nice yell (letting the whole canyon know my frustration), I stepped away from the tiny cave to relax and collect my thoughts.  On the send, thanks to my visualization routine, I didn’t have any doubts, and the moment I hit the initial jug, I kept climbing, feeling calm and focused.

Video of Phil sending his first V10, Acid Wash, The Happy Boulders, CA:

Deep inside a more secluded section of the Tableland, I found myself getting cozy on cold, windy evenings after work in the Ice Caves. Despite the constricted corridors and an exceptionally high risk of dabbing at any moment, the Ice Caves have many steep and difficult lines including Beefcake, V10, a power-endurance roof problem.  Figuring out and internalizing the sustained 8 hand-move (and at least twice as many foot and hip moves) sequence was steady and physically draining work.

On one really good evening, despite getting shut down in the Buttermilks earlier that same day, all of the pieces of the problem began to come together as I flowed to the last hard move of the problem, a large cross-over move to a jug pocket.  I fell on the final move from the start three times in a row, and despite the immense progress, I could not have been more pissed off.

Over the course of two rest days (yes, you can be in Bishop and take rest days), I climbed the problem countless times in my mind.  I had it wired, and I was just waiting for the moment when my body was ready to fight again.  On the next evening out at the Ice Caves, I went through my usual warm-up circuit and then very briefly warmed up the moves of Beefcake.  With all the holds brushed and ticked appropriately, I sat at the start and laid down on the crashpads to mentally climb the problem one more time.  I topped it out, opened my eyes, and then pulled up into the sloping undercling.  Sending Beefcake felt like V3, and it was one of those rare moments when climbing was perfect and effortless.

Video of unknown climber sending Beefcake, V10, the Buttermilk Boulders, CA:

Visualization is a very important exercise for my climbing performance. It allows me to keep a large amount of information fresh in my mind; builds confidence in my ability to complete moves and achieve goals; and eliminates doubts and distracting thoughts that cloud my brain while climbing.  When climbing routes, I find it most convenient to visualize on rest days and right before going to sleep on nights before a performance day ( I don’t think my climbing partners would appreciate me as a completely spaced out belayer). When bouldering, I find it helpful to visualize between attempts in addition to my nightly mental rituals.  There seems to be much more inactive time while bouldering, and often, it is beneficial to take a little more rest than you think you need.  Visualization can be a good use of this time, and it will hopefully prevent you from hastily returning to your project.  The “smarter, not harder” mantra/theme throughout the RCTM has become an integral part of my personal improvement, and visualization is one of many ways discussed in the book to train the mind, and thus, train smarter.  Like any training program, attention to detail and commitment to quality are essential to visualization, and the results can be extremely satisfying.

Climbing Gym Workouts for Improving Endurance

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

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

Another day, another auto-belay...

Another day, another auto-belay…

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

ARC TRAINING – Most efficient, and most boring.

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

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

GYM MILEAGE – Moderately efficient, and is always fun.
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Baby Zu doing a bit of her own traversing while watching big brother’s climbing team practice…

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

BOULDER FOR POINTS – Least efficient, but always fun.

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

COMBINING ACTIVITIES – Best balance of efficiency and fun.

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

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

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

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Spain Part 2: Cobblestones & Milestones at Montserrat

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Montserrat climbing

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Barcelona! What an incredible city full of life, people, culture, food, history and so much more. It has to be one of my new favorite cities of all time and we just scratched the surface. We will get into Barcelona highlights in a future post, right now I want to focus on climbing.

First, I want to tell you about a real gem, Montserrat. From a distance, Montserrat looks like a multi-peaked jagged saw tooth mountain, which lends to its intricate rocky maze.  As you approach and drive up the windy road, you can see that hundreds of rounded, cobblestone towers, domes and cliffs create this beauty of a climbing destination. Besides the climbing, Montserrat is also a very popular tourist stop and once you reach the parking lot at the end of the road, you’re ripped from your dream-like state of amazement. The touristy stuff is pretty obnoxious and it seems to go on for a mile full of cars, huge buses, people and souvenir stands. Don’t let this deter you. Press on past the tourist stops, and you will be rewarded just as we were!

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

The reason for the tourists; nestled on the hillside about 1000 feet up from the base but beneath the towers is an old Benedictine Abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Our goal, however, was to sample some of the moderate multi-pitch climbing that it is world-renowned for. We only had a few hours of day light so we had to move quickly, hiking up the narrow valley past the abbey. The hike to the base of the route was literally one stair case after another winding up between these towers. It was absolutely beautiful and provided wonderful views of the surrounding area. We were aiming for one of the more prominent summits, Gorro Frigi, and the Stromberg route seemed like a good choice. At the base of the route, we quickly geared up while admiring the colorful cobbles we were about to climb. The rock was gorgeous, and we were eager to test out these cobbles. Mike took the lead while I took out the camera.

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Stairs…

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lots of stairs!

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The stairs eventually turned to trail as we neared the base

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Pitch one up the sea of cobbles

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Trango was representing in Spain!

 

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Mike starting the second pitch. The Monastery is in view nestled in the rocky canyon below.

Sport climbers remembering their rope management at the belay

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Pretty amazing view of the abbey

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Final pitch

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Janelle taking in the summit views.

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Mike next to the summit cross

The climb was very casual, super fun and the views were tremendous. I loved the Catalonian conglomerate cobbles and definitely want to go back! Doing a mutli-pitch climb as a couple is very rare these days, and not something we do with kids in tow (well, not yet anyways).

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Hazy air on the way down made for a cool photo highlighting the pillar we had climbed

We finished before dark and headed straight into Barcelona during rush hour. This was a completely fun and terrifying experience on it’s own. However, with Mike’s defensive, confident driving and maneuvering, we made it to the hotel in one piece. It was time to  head to the Sports Engineering conference in Barcelona, but I don’t want to waste any time getting to the most exciting climbing day of our entire trip! Therefore, we’ll describe Barcelona and the conference in more detail in our next post.  Instead, here’s the exciting conclusion to our Montserrat climbing….

After our first taste of Montserrat, we knew we would need to go back during this trip. The relatively easy one hour drive was perfect for an early morning out on the rock. We left Barcelona before dawn one morning and were rewarded with an incredible sunrise on tall towers above us. Mike had a spring in his step while I hobbled along on my bum ankle. I could tell he was psyched! Today was going to be a great day!!

 

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Gorgeous view in the first morning light

I want you to hear it straight from Mike…this not only was a great day, it was one for the Anderson history books!! Here’s Mike to tell about his incredible experience, and reaching a goal he has had for years and years!

I came to sector Guilleumes at the recommendation of Jonathan Siegrist aka JStar. It wasn’t covered in our guidebook, so we got some sketchy beta at a local shop in Barcelona and hoped we’d be able to find it. On the way to the crag, I had a wave of psych come over me as I watched alpine glow on the cliffs above and just thought about how awesome it was to be here in Spain.

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More morning light making the cliffs glow. Check out that cool thumb rock too…the Caval Bernat. There’s a long multi-pitch climb on that tower we wanted to do, but the hike was too much for Janelle’s hurt ankle. Next time!

When I reached the cliff, I was instantly impressed because it reminded me of my favorite home crag, Smith Rock, but with slightly steeper walls full of pockets and edges. It was extremely inspiring. I did a warm-up (Catximba – “Bong”, 11c) and got on what I thought was another 12a (Diedru – “pipe”). After a little climbing, it was clearly a little more than I bargained for. I realized I was on an 8a (Bolita Moruna), not a 12a (7a+) so I decided I would save it for an onsight. I kept going until the climb got a little too hard then I climbed down.

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La Catximba (“bong”), 6c+ (11c – though the polish made it feel WAY harder 🙂 ). A nice warmup, covered with cool flowstone.

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Higher on Catximba.

After belaying Janelle, I got on the 8a (Bolita Moruna) again, gunning for the on-sight. I felt very smooth and strong, the climbing came naturally to me as I cruised from pocket to pocket. I had trained for this a long time. I reached the crux section, shook out and thought about the moves. I figured out a sequence and went for it. I had to trust some pretty polished feet but I did it and stuck the moves. From there, it was just  managing the pump through some small but positive pockets. A short tufa took me to the chains and I was very psyched to get another 8a onsight!

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At the chains of Bolita Moruna, 8a (13b) after nabbing my second 8a onsight of the trip!

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Mike celebrating his on-sight of a “Grade 8” route at Montserrat.

Now, I had to decide go for another 8a or push myself and try for an 8a+ (one was located just to the right.) Though I have come close a couple times, I have never on-sighted an 8a+ (13c) before, and it has been a goal of mine for years. It was one of my goals for this trip, but there is always the risk that you blow it and wreck the remainder of your climbing day. I took a moment and decided that “I would only live once” and this was my opportunity, so I went for the 8a+. The route looked really cool, following a solitary gray streak from top to bottom with small pockets reminiscent of France. This was what we came to Europe for!

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Rastafari, 8a+ (13c) follows the prominent gray streak up the center of the photo, then up over the roofs to the left.

The route had no draws, and little chalk, so this would be the real deal…no crutches…I didn’t even have a guidebook description (not that Spanish guidebooks have descriptions anyway 🙂 ). What I would have given for a Smith Rock/Alan Watts-esque  play-by-play run-down with accompanying crux-by-crux topo map? In retrospect, this was the perfect situation. No info, and no preconceptions!

The pocket sequence at the start was much harder than I anticipated, and I had to really go for it on some small but positive pockets, making long reaches . I also thought I would be able to get many rests in the opening sections but I was wrong. I had to manage the pump, stay relaxed and pace myself. At the end of the long grey streak, I reached a roof at about  the 2/3 height and was able to shake. To my horror, this is where the real business began! Over the roof I was instantly slapped in the face with hard moves. Long lockoffs to small pockets with bad feet and over-hanging. I had to do a hard mono move with my right hand to reach a good pocket. I stuck it though (yeah hangboard training!), then I got a horizontal crack that I thought would be a great rest, but it turned out to be very slopey. I milked it as best I could for a long time. This climb was taking forever! (maybe an hour to send it?) I was starting to worry I would flame out, but I tried to remain calm and optimistic.

I climbed above the poor ledge and was instantly in panic mode. The holds were too small and I could not see them because there was no chalk. I climbed into a sequence that I was certain I would not be able to do, and thought I would certainly fall . However, I was able to down climb enough to get a good heel/toe cam in the horizontal crack that allowed me to shake enough to recover. I had been here in Spain long enough that I was FINALLY able to recover at rests.  I shook again for probably ANOTHER 10 minutes. I had enough back and had stared at the wall long enough that I had an idea of what to do.  I pulled up on some good pockets with bad feet.  Above me, but a long way away, was a tufa under cling. I reached far, as far as my tired little toes would let me, and I was able to grab it! I was thrilled! I pulled up my feet and locked into the under cling.  I clipped, and was able to shake a little. I moved on, did a couple slopey crimps and slabby moves with decent feet. I was able to reach a sinker pocket…finally something GOOD to hang on to! The angle was rolling back now, so I knew I had it in the bag at this point, but I kept my wits about me. I climbed deliberately to the next bolt where the angle eased significantly. From there it was cruising to the chains. I let out a whoop, clipped the anchors and was totally stoked! My first 8a+ onsight while hanging the draws and with no chalk to boot!

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Whoot! He did it!!! He really did it!

Two climbers from Spain showed up right after Mike topped out. We needed photos of this climb and luckily, they agreed to belay so I could take a few photos.

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Mike “re-enacting” the final moments of his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c). A new milestone for him.

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Another action shot of Mike “re-enacting” his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c).

This day was one for the record books! After Mike’s onsight of the 8a+, he went on to onsight another 8a, “Xilum” making the grand total 3 – 8a’s in one day!!!!!!! Probably his best sport climbing day yet. There was something in that Spanish air of Montserrat…maybe a little magic? It was very magical it was the years of dedication to training, focusing on his weaknesses and setting goals that sealed this deal!

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A local climber, Guilleme, trying “Xilum” 8a (13b). This is the third 8a Mike did that day. Doesn’t this remind you of Moonshine Dihedral at Smith Rock?

 

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Super psyched…what a day!

Coming soon…details of our travels in Barcelona, and the Sports Engineering Conference, complete with VIDEO of Mike’s presentation on hangboard training with the Rock Prodigy Method and RP Training Center. For now, enjoy these teaser photos….

 

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Scooters and motorcycles dominate downtown and seem to be the preferred mode of transportation. Watch out pedestrians!

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Local school

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Downtown soccer field

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Mediterranean Sea with beautiful toasty brown beaches

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Tight streets

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Incredible buildings like the Cathedral of Barcelona

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Mercat La Boqueria

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So, Spanish eggs don’t need refrigeration 😉

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The not so “secret” secret Iberico jamon was EVERYWHERE!

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Cool exotic fruits

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Seafood and sea-critters I didn’t know one could eat

 

 

Functional Core Training

Last summer I bolted a radically steep roof in Clear Creek Canyon. This climb involves approximately 30 feet of horizontal roof climbing–something I’ve never been very good at. I knew I would need to improve my core strength to have a chance at climbing this monstrous roof, so I put together a set of exercises to achieve that objective.  This article will describe those exercises in detail.

Born on the 4th of July, fully equipped and ready for action.

Born on the 4th of July, the motivation behind these exercises.

Before discussing the exercises, it’s helpful to consider the role of the “core” in climbing. The core generally refers to any and all of the muscles surrounding the torso, including the abdominals, obliques, muscles of the back, and perhaps some of the muscles in that region that activate the extremities, such as the iliopsoas (aka “hip flexors”). Athletes in general use the core for two basic purposes. The most obvious is to generate motion, such as when a decathlete rotates his torso explosively to hurl a javelin. The other more significant function is to stabilize the torso, creating a “rigid body” that resists movement, buckling, or rotation against external forces.

While climbers certainly use their core in both ways, the latter is far more common and critical. The vast majority of climbing movements are performed with a relatively static torso, while a hand or foot moves between holds. The act of moving the body upwards, with fixed points of contact, is often relatively easy on the core by comparison, and once the correct body position is reached for the next hand or foot movement, the climber typically regains a rigid posture to execute that hand/foot movement. Of course there are exceptions, and campus regulars have probably noticed their abs are sore the day after the season’s first campus session. However, most of the time when climbers talk about core strength, they are talking about the ability to create a rigid bridge between their hands and feet.

So how do we create this rigid body? By preventing bending and rotation along the spine. A person standing straight up can move about the spine in six “degrees of freedom”:

  1. Bending at the waist so the shoulders lean forward
  2. Bending at the waist so the shoulders lean backward
  3. Bending at the waist so the shoulders lean to the right
  4. Bending at the waist so the shoulders lean to the left
  5. Rotating at the waist so the shoulders turn clockwise with respect to the hips
  6. Rotating at the waist so the shoulders turn counter-clockwise with respect to the hips

Any other spinal movement is essentially a combination of these six basic movements. As climbers, in order to create a rigid body on the rock, we need to develop the strength to resist movement in these six degrees of freedom when sport-specific forces are applied to our hands and feet. Some of these degrees of freedom are more relevant to a given climber than others, based on route selection and the way climbers typically orient their bodies with respect to gravity (i.e., facing into the rock), but in the interest of maintaining good muscular balance about the spine, I recommend training for all six, at least to some extent, even if some are rarely encountered on the rock.

The exercises I selected to improve my core strength are relatively complex movements (involving many muscle groups in a single exercise), which is a departure from my typical strength training philosophy. The first reason for this is practical. I have only so much time and energy, and it’s sometimes more efficient to hit a few birds with one stone. The other reason is that the core is never isolated in practice in the way that the fingers often are (where for a given move, finger strength is everything and any associated arm/shoulder movement is trivial by comparison). Creating a rigid body, or even torsional explosiveness, will always be a “team effort” incorporating the arms, shoulders, and legs. Primarily for this latter reason I think it makes sense to train the core in conjunction with the rest of the “bridge segments”.

Since these are all body-weight exercises, I will present a series of variations that will allow you to progress and document your improvement from easier to more difficult versions of the exercise. The only special equipment required for these exercises is a set of free-hanging rings with adjustable tethers. I use wood gymnastic rings, but TRX Grip Trainers, Rock Rings, or a few lengths of old climbing rope and two scraps of PVC pipe would also work.

The number of repetitions and sets performed should be based on the training phase in which the exercises are performed, as described in Chapter 6 of the RCTM (page 123). I perform these exercises in conjunction with the rest of my Supplemental Exercises (at the end of each workout), and the number of sets varies from one to three based on my goal-driven priorities.

WARNING: Some of these exercises can be quite hard on the lumbar region of the lower spine, so use caution when attempting them.  Focus on engaging the supporting muscles of the lower back prior to and throughout each movement, and immediately cease the exercise if the lumbar begins to hyper-extend.

The Exercises:

Advanced 1-Arm Inverted Row:

The 1-Arm Inverted Row is an old stand-by of the Rock Prodigy Training Program, used to improve pull-strength in a more sport-specific direction than that achieved by the standard pull-up. The standard version involves the core to some degree, but not much. The Advanced version engages the core much more deliberately. This is done by wearing climbing shoes and performing the exercise on the underside of a roof with the opposite foot placed on a foothold (and the other foot flagging). To avoid falling, the climber must maintain consistent pressure on the foothold as the row reps are completed, and this requires maintaining a rigid core that resists motion in the first degree of freedom.  In other words, you must keep the muscles of the lower back flexed to prevent your hips from sagging, or else your foot will pop off.  To a lesser extent, the muscles that control motion in the 5th and 6th degrees of freedom are also trained isometrically* (while flagging) and isotonically** (while rotating to reach with the inactive hand).

[*muscle length remains constant during isometric contractions; **muscles shorten and/or lengthen during isotonic contractions.]

Progression: Increase the difficulty of this exercise first by performing the rows on increasingly steeper terrain (an adjustable-angle systems wall is ideal for this). Focus on maintaining a rigid plank position and moving smoothly, with control, minimizing movement of your foot on the foothold. Once you can perform the appropriate number of reps, with good form and in control on a horizontal roof, select increasingly less-positive footholds to up the ante.  You can further increase the difficulty by selecting ever-more-distant footholds.

Ab Roll From Rings:

Ab Roller

The Ab Roller

TV-watching night owls have likely seen an info-mercial or two for the infamous “Ab Roller”. This device is essentially a wheel with two handles that is used for training abdominal strength in the second degree of freedom. The exercise begins from the knees or toes, with hands grasping the Ab Roller, which is placed adjacent to the knees/toes. You push the Ab Roller forward until your legs, torso and arms are nearly horizontal, pause for a moment, and then strenuously pull back into the starting position. This exercise is nice because it incorporates both isotonic and isometric contractions of the frontal core.

The same basic exercise can easily be done from rings, and doing so provides some advantages over using an Ab Roller. First, it eliminates the need for yet another specialized piece of equipment, but moreover it makes it much easier to incrementally adjust the difficulty of the exercise.   When performing this exercise, it’s important to keep a noticeable arch in the small of your back. The objective is not to form a perfect plank when fully extended (this places tremendous strain on the lumbar). Begin the exercise with the small of your back bowed backward, and maintain that bow as you extend forward and retract to the starting position.

Progression: The best reason to do this from rings is that they make it really easy to adjust the difficulty of the exercise without limiting the range of motion. The higher the rings, the easier the exercise. The further forward your feet or knees are located (relative to the plumb line of the rings), the easier the exercise. All of these can be done from the feet or knees (from the knees is substantially easier). For example, here are several variations from easiest to hardest (note that you could create infinitely more increments of difficulty):

Base Ring Height Base Starting Position Order of Difficulty
Knees 2’ above ground Knees plumb to rings 1 (easiest)
Knees 6” above ground* Knees plumb to rings 2
Knees 6” above ground Knees body-length behind rings 3
Feet 2’ above ground Feet plumb to rings 4
Feet 6” above ground Feet plumb to rings 5
Feet 6” above ground Feet body-length behind rings 6 (hardest)

(*the changing parameter is shown in blue text)

Both height and base starting position can be gradually adjusted as you progress. My recommendation is to begin from the knees, with knees plumb to the rings (i.e., knees directly below the point where the rings are mounted), and gradually lower the ring height until they are just above the ground, then gradually move the base starting position backwards until you can start from body-length behind the rings. Then progress to performing the exercise from your feet and repeat the same order of progression.

Front Lever:

A front lever is performed by hanging straight from a set of rings, and then pulling your planked body up into a perfectly straight, horizontal position* (rotating at the hands/wrists and shoulders). This exercise was introduced to climbers by the legendary John Gill. It’s now quite popular, however, its applicability to climbing is worth questioning. Most climbers will rarely do any movement even slightly resembling a front lever on actual rock. The exception is roof climbing, where the closer a climber gets to horizontal, the more relevant the exercise becomes. In this scenario, the ability to perform a front lever or something like it can come in handy. When you are hanging in a pike position and you need to pull your feet up onto a foothold in the roof, it is often helpful if you can execute such a move as statically as possible, thus allowing you to carefully place your foot on the foothold, as opposed to wildly swinging and stabbing your feet in hopes of hitting the target before you swing back down (and likely off).   Likewise, front lever strength can help when you are stretched out in the roof and you need to remove your feet without causing your body to swing wildly (which will often result in your hands coming off the rock too).

[*some sources suggest performing the lever by first pulling into an inverted plank—with legs pointed straight up and head down—and then lowering into the front lever. I do not recommend this method because it further reduces specificity with respect to actual rock climbing.]

Front Lever strength can help when moving into, or out of, horizontal positions like this, where your feet are extended far from your hands.

Front Lever strength can help when moving into, or out of, horizontal positions like this, where your feet are extended far from your hands.

Specificity aside, another argument in favor of front levers is that they train the strength needed to resist movement in the second degree of freedom, which is helpful when flagging on less steep terrain. I would argue the Ab Roll From Rings trains those muscles more specifically, since the front lever focuses torque more towards the shoulders, while the ab roll spreads it evenly across the body bridge. However, I felt they were specific enough to my goals to be worth my time…and I’ve always wanted to do a Front Lever like my hero Gill 🙂  If you feel like Front Levers will benefit your climbing, here’s how to build the strength to do them….

Progression: The difficulty can be easily modulated, even within a single set,  by varying leg extension. To make the exercise much easier, tuck your thighs into your torso, and bend your knees so your heels are touching your butt. Maintain this posture from the shoulders down as you rotate up into the lever, hold, and return to the starting position. You can progressively straighten your legs as your strength improves. A good milestone is to do the exercise with thighs straight (no bend at the hips), and knees bent. Another milestone is one leg straight and the other tucked.  I find it really helps to flex the gluteus maximus prior to beginning each lever, and maintaining that tension through each rep.

It’s worth considering the advantages of performing sets of a single lever consisting of a relatively long isometric hold in the horizontal position, versus sets of multiple repetitions of mostly isotonic levers. From a specificity perspective, I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which I would need to hold any front lever-like position on the rock for more than a few seconds at a time. Likewise, it’s easy to imagine the need to pull my feet up into a roof, and/or release them with control, multiple times within a sequence. Furthermore, I tend to favor sets of multiple reps over “max hangs” for strength training. For these reasons I prefer to perform sets of multiple reps with up to a 2-3-second static hold in the horizontal position.

Wings:

I learned of this exercise from the book Gimme Kraft! Wings are performed from a standing plank position, with a ring located at the height of your free-hanging arm. Grasp the ring with one hand and slowly lean to the side of the active hand, bending only at the shoulder (and ankles). Continue to lean until you can go no farther without losing control, pause for 1 or 2 counts, then reel yourself back into a vertical position. This exercise primarily targets the shoulder, upper back, pectoral, and latissimus dorsi muscles, but also trains the core in the 3rd and 4th degrees of freedom. It is the least core-specific of the exercises presented here, and so warrants a lower priority, but I find it’s a useful motion to train the strength needed for certain strenuous gaston moves (especially those where the palm is facing “out” from the opposite shoulder). This exercise can be quite hard on the shoulders, so use caution.

I find the Wings exercise is quite helpful for shoulder gaston moves like this.

I find the Wings exercise quite helpful in preparing for shouldery gaston moves like this. Photo Mike Anderson.

 

Progression: The difficulty of this exercise can be adjusted in two ways. First, by adjusting the position of your feet relative to the plumb line of the rings. For example, if you are performing the exercise with the right arm, the further right your feet are relative to the plumb line, the easier the exercise will be. Second, by adjusting the depth of the lean. The lower you lean, the more difficult the exercise. In the interest of maximizing the range of motion, I recommend starting with a relatively easy foot position and progressing to deeper leans before progressing to more difficult foot positions. I’ve never leaned much beyond a horizontal arm position, so if you want to go deeper, you’re on your own!

A comment on the Windshield Wiper (aka “Metronome”): This is a popular core exercise among boulderers (I hear it’s one of Daniel Woods’ favorites). Windshield Wipers are done by hanging from rings or a pull-up bar, pulling into a pike position with the back parallel to the floor and the legs pointed straight up, and then rotating the legs from side to side. This could be a good way for climbers to train the strength needed to resist motion in the 5th and 6th degree of freedom.   I’ve tried doing these a few times, and I always find they are hell on my back (which has a sordid history of tweaks and strains). I’ve never felt they were specific enough to my climbing objectives to be worth the injury risk, so they are not a part of my program. However, if you are interested in specifically targeting the 5th and 6th degrees of freedom, and your back is flexible enough to handle them, this could be a useful exercise for you. Modulate difficulty by bending at the knees and hips and/or limiting the range of motion.

There are countless more exercises targeting core strength.  If you have a favorite that has produced results for you, we’d love to hear about it.  Please share it in a comment, or on the RCTM Forum.

Many thanks to Phil DeNigris for providing the physiology concepts in this article.

Rock Climber’s Training Manual: Performance Phase (aka RESULTS!)

I’m writing this climbing-related post from just about as far away from the mountains as I can possibly get.  Hubby’s out of town on business, so me and the kiddos are taking the opportunity to hang out at my in-laws beach house in Sunset Beach, NC.  It’s the perfect way to enjoy my week of rest after wrapping up my very first Rock Prodigy training cycle. To catch up any new readers, since January I’ve been using the program outlined in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual, written by my fellow Trango athletes Mark and Mike Anderson.  This periodized program took me through 4…Read the rest of this entry →

4 Days of Pump at the Red River Gorge

Spring.  One the two times per year that our family heads to the Red River Gorge with the sole intention of obliterating our forearms.  For those of you not familiar with the Red River Gorge, the climbing style is the polar opposite of the climbing we typically engage in at our favorite weekend crag, the New River Gorge.  “The New” is all about technical face climbing – long, intricate, well-defined crux sequences involving tiny crimps and great footwork.  In contrast, most routes at “the Red” lack a distinct crux – the difficulty comes not in the individual moves, but in linking them all…Read the rest of this entry →

New River Gorge, Round 2!

Another beautiful spring weekend means another trip to the New River Gorge.  And another trip to the New means another great weekend of family, friends, laughs…and of course climbing!  This was the second week of my Rock Climber’s Training Manual “perfomance phase,” and after the inconsistencies from the first week, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  Here’s how it went… Michelin Man Original Finish (5.12b) – After one-hanging this one last weekend, sending this was my primary goal for this trip.  I was hoping that hopping on it fresh as a daisy on Day 1 would feel a lot…Read the rest of this entry →

Performance Week 1: New River Gorge

This past weekend marked the first trip of my “Performance Phase” in my first training cycle using the Rock Climber’s Training Manual.  There were a few ups and downs, but overall I am very pleased with how I climbed, and am optimistic about how the next few weeks will go.  I’ll start with the downs, so I can end on a good note! DOWNS On the routes I’d previously been on (and thus already worked out the moves for), I got shutdown.  I failed miserably on Techman (5.12c), which had been my primary goal for the weekend.  The crux went…Read the rest of this entry →

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