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Category Archives: Skill Development

Podcast: Panel Discussion on Training

By Mark Anderson

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

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

 

Our discussion covered the following topics:

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

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

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.

Deliberate Practice

I’m currently reading The Sports Gene by Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein (Read a brief overview here). It’s a fascinating treatise on what sports science has uncovered so far about the components that contribute to elite athletic performance. The book elaborates on the fundamental “nature vs nurture” question as it applies to athletics; how much of an athlete’s performance is due to his inherited genes and how much to his training and skill development (or practice). It’s a Malcom Gladwell-esque compendium of anecdotes and statistics that explores the topic from numerous angles and a wide variety of sports. [The fact that rock climbing isn’t mentioned is no surprise, and further evidence that climbing, as a subject of sports science, is in its infancy.]

Bighorn at Shelf Road, CO. ©Mike Anderson

Is this guy’s climbing skill a result of nature or nurture? ©Mike Anderson

This question of how expertise is achieved is posed by researchers in the field (as well as Epstein) as one of “hardware vs software,” or the heritable physical traits of an athlete vs their learned perceptual skills. This isn’t the same as physical skills, but they may be related. Examples of perceptual skills include Payton Manning’s ability to read an NFL defense and predict who the open receiver will be after the ball is snapped, or Albert Pujols’ ability to determine if a pitch is going to be a ball or strike before it’s even left the pitcher’s hand, based on the pitcher’s arm and shoulder movement. While you may presume that athletes like Pujols have extraordinary reflexes, the fact is they don’t—they do have much better-than-average eyesight, but their expertise is largely derived from practice at observing pitchers and baseballs in flight and using that experience to predict the location of the ball when it crosses home plate, and thus, where to swing. (This point is foot-stomped in the book with a compelling anecdote about many MLB hitters, including Pujols who were unable to hit a single pitch thrown by USA softball star Jenny Finch—a much larger ball thrown at a relatively anemic 65 mph. The cues these hitters rely on were useless in this case, because a softball pitcher’s arm motion is totally different from that of a baseball pitcher’s).

It should come to no surprise to any veteran of scientific literature that the answer to this question of “hardware vs software” is…both. At the highest levels of professional sports, there are certain traits that are virtual requirements, such as the aforementioned eyesight in MLB hitters, and height in NBA ballers. It’s easy to become demoralized by talk of essential genetic traits, but I would argue we haven’t reached that point in climbing. No, the real point here is that practice is critical to elite expertise. A landmark study of musicians led by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson led to the hypothesis that nearly any skill could be mastered with a substantial amount of practice. However, this is not just turn-off-your-brain-and-be-a-robot practice, it takes deliberate practice—rehearsal that:

• Focuses on specific weaknesses
• Challenges the practitioner
• Provides expert feedback on the quality of the performance

Ericsson’s findings have been twisted into the now-popularized “10,000 hours to expertise rule” that claims that mastery of any skill can be achieved with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. In fact, the quantity of practice required to reach an elite level varies greatly across activities, and across practitioners within a given activity, but the “spirit” of the rule holds—attaining expertise requires significant deliberate practice.

So of course, I can’t help but wonder how these concepts apply to climbing. Clearly climbing performance is heavily dependent on both physical traits, physical skills and perceptual skills. Your physical traits (such as your ability to hang onto a small hold) are a combination of your inherited genetic traits and physical training. Physical skills include the ability to execute climbing specific movements, such as a complex dyno, or effective footwork. Perceptual skills are the cognitive abilities used in climbing such as reading a route and anticipating the best sequences, or the ability to ration effort on a pumpy climb. Our physical and perceptual skills are a result of practice. Different climbers may accumulate skill at different rates, (one climber may need to practice longer to acquire the same level of skill as another as a result of their genetic predisposition for skill acquisition), but the point is, we all require practice.

This may seem obvious, but I wonder how much climbers emphasis deliberate practice in their training? Climbers don’t even use the word practice, we call it “training” or “climbing.” Given this, what’s the chance we’re concentrating on the tenets of deliberate practice while we are in the process of practicing for climbing? It’s certainly possible to spend 10,000 hours or more at climbing and not even approach an elite climbing level (you might know climbers like this). For many folks, (call them “recreational” climbers), maximizing performance isn’t their goal, so their 10,000 hours don’t amount to deliberate practice. The real quandary lies with the others…those of us that want to improve, and have been trying to improve for years, yet don’t seem to make progress with our climbing skill. The disappointing results may be due to the quality of the practice.

Whether it’s a lack of know-how, or lack of desire, most climbers don’t practice well. Simply consider the typical gym or crag setting, and compare it to other sports (with a seasoned coach barking out a scripted series of targeted drills). Climbing is comparatively unfocused, unstructured, and unsupervised. To improve the quality of our practice, each session should:

Shaun gets "expert feedback" from Mike on the Jerry Lewis boulder at Little Rock City, TN. (c) Janelle Anderson

Any climbing session can incorporate deliberate practice, if you make the effort. Shaun gets “expert feedback” from Mike on the Jerry Lewis boulder at Little Rock City, TN. ©Janelle Anderson

• Focus on clear improvement goals
• Utilize challenging exercises
• Incorporate expert coaching or other effective feedback

I’ve seen highly motivated climbers reach very high levels of performance very quickly by earnestly attacking their weaknesses, pushing themselves, and seeking expert feedback. You can do it too!

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

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