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Category Archives: Training

The Anatomy of A Limit Boulder Problem

Limit Bouldering is one of the best ways for rock climbers to train power.  When done properly, Limit Bouldering trains max recruitment, contraction speed, core strength and inter-muscular coordination.  If that weren’t enough, Limit Bouldering is also highly sport-specific, so the skills developed will translate directly to the rock.

The crux of Limit Bouldering is finding suitable training terrain.  If you have the luxury to set your own routes, the best option is to build your own Limit Boulder problems from scratch.  Even if you can’t set your own routes you can “make up” problems at your local gym using a system board, or any other part of the wall that has suitable holds and steepness (be sure to take notes on your made up problem so you can remember the holds each session).

So what makes a good Limit Boulder problem?

  • Dynamic movement, featuring dynos that are technically difficult, to holds that are complicated and difficult to latch (if you want to do simple, straight up dynos to flat edges that is all brawn and no brains, use the campus board!).
  • Representative of actual rock, in particular, your goal route(s).  Obviously that can vary depending on the climber, but in most cases that means:
    • Not particularly steep.  Problems in the range of 10 to 30 degrees over-hanging are sufficiently steep to mimic the vast majority of routes in North America
    • Low-profile hand holds, such as small edges and pockets, that are not overly incut and difficult or impossible to pinch.  Such holds are hard to pull “out” on, requiring good core tension and body position.  (Examples of ideal Limit Bouldering holds are discussed extensively here)
    • Small, but plentiful footholds (just like you find outside!) that are complex and require precise foot placements
  • One or two intense crux moves.  The key is really to focus on a few REALLY difficult moves.  This is in contrast to the typical gym boulder problem which may be as many as 15 moves long, with each move roughly the same difficulty.  That is power endurance, not power.  Limit Bouldering is about power.  Your problem can have as many as 8 or so moves as long as “the business” is 1-3 significantly harder moves (with the others being of relatively moderate difficulty).
  • Crux moves close to the ground, so that you can try them repeatedly, without a pump, without having to climb into position, and so that you can really “go for it” without fear of a long or awkward fall to the ground.

Below are two examples of Limit Boulder problems I’ve used in my training.  Each of these problems literally took me several training cycles, spread over YEARS, to send.  If you can do all the moves of your Limit Boulder problem on the first day, it’s not hard enough.  The hardest moves should require many sessions to do in isolation, and linking the entire problem should take close to an entire Power Phase, if not several.

Problem #1: “Yellow Jacket” (~V11?)

This problem overhangs about 8 degrees and features a big, barn-door dyno to a rugged half-pad edge, just wide-enough for three-fingers. Here is a detailed look at the handholds:

"Yellowjacket" Topo

“Yellowjacket” Topo

Hold #1

Hold #1

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #1 with a hand for scale.

Hold #2

Hold #2

Hold #2 with a hand for scale.

Hold #2 with a hand for scale.

Hold #3

Hold #3

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4

Hold #4

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

…and the problem:

The target hold (#4) has to be hit just right in all three dimensions.  It’s probably a bit rougher than I’d like, and I certainly had to limit the number of attempts per session to spare my skin, but it’s irregular shape really punishes inaccuracy.  That’s the only limit move on the problem, but none of the holds are positive so if your hips sag or swing out from the wall you can come off at any point.  The contorted setup makes the crux move much harder to stick on the send, so you really have to pay attention to your hip movement and flagging foot.

Problem #2: “Iron Cross” (~V12?)

This four-move problem overhangs 35 degrees and consists of  small, sharp crimps that each need to be latched just right in order to have a shot at sticking the subsequent move.  This problem is a bit unusual in that there aren’t any foot-only holds (every foothold is also used as a handhold, and the handholds are well-spaced).  As a result, each foot move is difficult, and every foot needs to be placed just right.  The key holds:

Topo of "Iron Cross"

Topo of “Iron Cross”

Hold #3

Hold #3

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #3 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4

Hold #4

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

Hold #4 with a hand for scale.

Hold #5

Hold #5

…and the problem:

The first move pulling off the ground may be the hardest individual move, a long precise stretch to a rounded crimp.   The second and third moves are not super hard, but they need to be done just right in order to have a chance on the last move–a big, difficult dyno that is certainly the redpoint crux.  Having a really hard move at the end is not ideal for a Limit Boulder problem, so I worked this like two problems (approaching the last move by starting at the third move) until I had mastered the dyno.

Now that you know what it takes to make a good Limit Boulder problem, you can get some holds together and get setting.  Winter is the perfect time to build confidence–and power–on a long-term indoor project.  Set something that will expand your perception of what is feasible and get to work turning your skepticism into belief!

Adjustable Hangboard Mount (3.0) – Easiest yet!

Rock Prodigy Training Center  and Rock Prodigy Forge hangboards are revolutionary tools for developing elite finger strength. The split board design allows you to customize it to fit your body, improving the ergonomics, making it safer to train hard, and really boost your finger strength!

To really take the most advantage of the split design, you can mount the two halves in a way that allows the spacing and rotation to be adjusted on-the-fly…an “Adjustable Mount”.

The picture below shows one way to utilize the Adjustable Mount to enhance your training. In this pic, I’m training my “Index-Middle” 2-finger pocket. If you’ve tried this, you know that your fingers never fit in the pockets quite right because the middle finger is so much longer than the index. With the adjustable mount, I’ve widened the board spacing, and rotated the boards by placing shims under the outside mounting brackets (Counter-clockwise on the right, and clockwise on the left). This vastly improves the ergonomics, reducing skin wear and flapper potential. This makes a once-awkward grip really fun to train, and my IM 2F strength has improved substantially.

HB Rotation Montage

In two previous articles, we’ve presented methods for creating adjustable mounts: Adjustable Mount for the RPTC and Adjustable Mount 2.0 for the Rock Prodigy Training Center. The first method uses a “French Cleat” system:

5 Finished Backplate

RPTC mounted with French Cleat

The second method uses fence post brackets bolted to a backing board that allows it to slip over a fixed-mounted 2×10:

5 Finished Backplate

Fence brackets mounted to the RPTC. These easily slide over a 2×10 beam.

5 Finished Backplate

The RPTC with Adjustable Mount.

Recently we developed the all-new Rock Prodigy Forge, (see this post to understand how awesome it is: The World’s Most Technologically Advanced Finger Training System – The Forge)  This hangboard is super-kick-ass, but it’s a little shorter than the RPTC, so I wasn’t sure my “Adjustable Mount 2.0” would fit on it. Therefore, I had the motivation to finally try an idea I’d had for an easier Adjustable Mount, that I’ll describe now.

In a nutshell, this system is created by bending sheet metal into a U-shape, then simply epoxy-adhering them directly to the back of the board. With the right equipment, it takes about 30 minutes to create this.

Here’s the final product:

Finished Glued HB brackets

The RPTC (top) and Forge hangboards with adhesive-mounted brackets.

 

Here’s how to make it….

Start with the brackets. I used galvanized steel Simpson Strong Tie framing backets, and used a “bending brake” to bend them into the desired U-shape. If you can find some, try to get brackets that are already shaped to fit over a 2×4. I picked some up at home depot, the HTP37Z. These are about $2 each, and they are a pretty heavy duty gauge (16 Gauge):

2a74803c-8cc7-4a13-b722-3ae4b08908a9_400

This is another option, the A44 but more expensive, at $4.50:

53255b72-a1b3-4807-a092-818f612aa635_400

Here’s another option. It’s pre-formed, but it’s a thinner gauge of steel (18-Gauge), and a little smaller, so it would provide less surface area for adhesion. Most importantly; I haven’t tested it:

3f087ce8-19d0-4cb0-9dd6-ca290bf3a43e_400

OK, so you have your brackets. If you need to bend the brackets, measure them carefully and account for the material that will be used up in the corners for the bend radius. I suggest buying an extra bracket in case you mess up.  A bending brake is the best tool, which I have access to at the Air Force Academy’s Applied Mechanics Lab:

rw-combination-bending-brakes

A simple bench-top vice will work too:

44506_bv2-l

Here’s the desired shape:

20150804_133829

You need two brackets per half of the RPTC or Forge, so four total to mount a hangboard system.

Formed Bracket

THe HTP37Z bent into shape.

This step is critical!  For proper adhesion, you must prepare the surface of the steel brackets. I used a sand-blaster, but sandpaper, or a Dremel tool works too…it just takes longer. Sand the surface of the steel that will adhere to the RPTC or Forge to rough it up and remove any contaminants so that the epoxy forms a good bond. This is critical because the brackets will have a thin film of oil and other debris on them. Once you have treated the surface, don’t touch it or otherwise let it get dirty. The hangboard can be lightly sanded as well, but in my experience, simply wiping it down with a paper towel and solvent is adequate.

I used West System 105 Resin and 205 Fast Hardener, shown below, but any number of commercial adhesives will work, such as Gorilla Glue, Loctite, JB Weld, etc. The surface preparation is far more important than your choice of epoxy.

20150804_140100

If using a 2-part epoxy (which I recommend), make sure it is mixed thoroughly. Here, I’m using a paper cup and a tongue depressor that I’ve trimmed the end off of so that it is flat and can cleanly scrape the bottom of the cup. Follow the instructions for your epoxy carefully.

20150804_141342

Now glue the brackets on…. Take care to get proper alighment. On the Forge, the top edge should be parallel to the ground, so I used a straight edge, as shown below, to line up the brackets with the top edge of the board. This ensures the board will hang parallel to the ground. Don’t fret, if you make a mistake and the brackets are uneven, you can always add shim material afterwards to level it out.

20150804_134437

Once the brackets are in place with epoxy, they may drift a little before the epoxy sets, so tape them down with some masking tape. If your brackets have fastener holes, like mine, cover the holes with tape so epoxy doesn’t bleed through the holes. If it does, it can impede the brackets from sliding over your 2×10 (you can sand any excess epoxy off, but it’s a pain). You want to place the brackets as close to the outside edges of the board as possible to prevent unintended rotation when using the outer holds, such as the pinches.

Blank 2x10

A “blank” 2×10 mounted in my basement, ready to accept my bracket-equipped hangboards.

 

The back view.
The forge hanging on the 2x10.

Finally, let the glue dry and mount your 2×10, if not done already. Here’s an earlier article describing how to do that: How’s Your Hang? Now enjoy your adjustable mount!

If you’re skeptical and discerning like me; you may be wondering…how strong is this adhesive mount anyway? Well, since I have access to the best undergraduate mechanics laboratory in the world, and the best undergraduate students, I decided to find out. I assigned a group of cadets to investigate (Cadet Mike Hyde, Cadet Nate Dickman, and Cadet Tim Welkener). They are Mechanical Engineering students at the Air Force Academy, and this testing served as their final project for their Experimental Mechanics course (lest you think I’m abusing my powers :) ). Trango donated some hangboards, and the cadets replicated the mounting system, then tested them to failure. Here are a couple pics of the testing:

Mounted Boards

Mounted boards – Note they only are using one bracket per board. This setup is not for “operational use”, only for testing. The bolted-on brackets at the bottom are used to ensure a solid connection for testing the epoxy-mounted brackets at the top of the boards.

 

MTS Test Setup

An MTS Tensile Test machine. This was used for static strength testing and fatigue testing (repeated loading and unloading). Here they are testing an un-formed bracket (the bracket is flat) to isolate the epoxy-polyurethane bond. This is the “pure shear” test.

Testing of 2x4 mount

The RPTC with bracket mounted over a 2×4 for testing.

2x4 loading condition

Close up of 2×4 mount.

The cadets did a few tests:

  1. Pure Shear Test – here, the brackets were flat and held in the hydraulic grips of the MTS machine. This test isolates the epoxy bond. They ran a couple variations to test different surface preparations and epoxy combinations, but found little difference that would matter to us. In these tests, a single bracket held over 3,000 lbs!  Consider that you will be hanging from four brackets (two per RPTC/Forge half), and the epoxy is plenty strong!
  2. Cyclic Fatigue Test – In this test, the goal is to determine if repeated loading and unloading weakens the bond over time. With our MTS machine, we can apply repeated loads very quickly. They performed two variations on this test: Cycle load of 0-200 lbs for 650,000 cycles and 0-400 lbs for 75,000 cycles. The bond didn’t fail in either of these tests. I perform 24 sets of hangs on 8 grips per workout, which is 144 hangs per workout, so 75,000 cycles is the equivalent of 520 hangboard workouts, or about 52 seasons of hangboarding. I think we’re good!
  3. Formed Bracket Test – This test is probably the most relevant to us because it test the entire system, not just the epoxy bond. Here, the bracket is bent into the proper shape and placed over a 2×4. This was another static strength test, meaning the load was not repeated, just gradually applied until failure. The system failed when the steel brackets deformed (un-curled from their U-shape) at a load of 624 lbs. Again, this is for only one bracket — you will be hanging from four brackets.

Here’s a picture of the epoxy bond after the shear test:

After Test failure

…And the deformed brackets:

Deformed bracket post testing

Here’s a of quick video one of the pure shear tests.

 

In conclusion, I think you can hang with confidence off your new adjustable mount!

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.
IMG_4860

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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Bridge Cycle for Summer Training

by Mark Anderson

Performance-oriented climbers often ask me what to do with their time when facing a month or more of unsuitable outdoor climbing conditions. A good example is the climber who lives in the northeastern US and can’t climb through the dead of winter due to snowpack or extreme cold. On the other end of the spectrum, the summer heat stymies many in the southern part of the continent.

My standard disclaimer is that it’s personal: it really depends on your near-term and long-term goals, and your current level of motivation. If you’re psyched to train, you really want to eke every last bit of performance out of your body, and you’re willing to sacrifice other aspects of your life to do so, then the best bet is to complete a Bridge Cycle. This is a truncated version of a typical Rock Prodigy training cycle, tailored to span the gap between full-blown training cycles.

A Bridge Cycle could be as short as a month, or as long as several months. The distinctive element is that it essentially skips the Performance Phase, or at least minimizes its importance to the extent that any outdoor climbing is an afterthought, rather than the primary focus of the cycle. For example, let’s say it’s June and you have a big project looming for the fall. You’ve determined that in order to peak during optimal sending conditions in early November, you should begin your full fall cycle in mid-August. But what to do in the mean time?

Over the summer of 2011 I trained as usual and focused on working Grand Ol’ Opry, located in a relatively cool, shady alcove at nearly 8000-feet.

Over the summer of 2011 I trained as usual and focused on working Grand Ol’ Opry, located in a relatively cool, shady alcove at nearly 8000-feet.

If you’re like me, you might benefit the most from a break from climbing. I like to climb in cold weather, and it’s generally “too hot” for my taste in the summer. My strategy for bridging between the spring and fall seasons varies from year to year. Some years I select a relatively cool goal route, go all out as usual to train for it, and then “suffer” through the sub-optimal redpoint conditions. Some years I stop climbing completely, ride my bike instead, and focus on family and house projects. I find a long layoff helps stoke the flames of motivation for my next training cycle. Of course, I have a lot of miles under my belt, and even after an extended break I seem to be able to pick up right where I left off—physically, technically and mentally (after completing a full training cycle). Other climbers find an extended layoff makes them “rusty”, and the sabbatical negatively impacts their next full season.

A low key summer season also allows me to catch up on house work and spend more time with my kids. These two goals converged in early June, when I built this climbing wall for my kids. [more details on that project to come]

A low key summer season allows me to catch up on house work and spend more time with my kids. These two goals converged in early June, when I built this climbing wall for my kids. [more details on that project to come]

This year I’m using a combination of several approaches. I began with a full bore spring season, which included working and sending several hard projects. Rather than ending the season when my peak ended (around the end of May), I’m continuing to climb easier and easier objectives as my fitness fades. I also started riding my bike and began some serious house projects around the 1st of June. I will stop climbing in the middle of July, for a full two weeks of straight rest, and then resume training around August 1st for my fall season.

Recently I’ve found summer is a great time for developing new routes like The Smear Hunter, 5.13c, at the Bunker. During prime seasons I’m very focused on my projects and refrain from anything that interferes, like the often strenuous work of cleaning and bolting new routes. During summers like this one, my goals are modest enough that I can afford to divert some energy towards route development.

For me, summer is a great time for developing new routes like The Smear Hunter, 5.13c, at The Bunker. During prime seasons I’m very focused on my projects and refrain from anything that interferes, like the often strenuous work of searching for, cleaning and bolting new routes. During summers like this one, my goals are modest enough that I can afford to divert more energy towards route development.

There are many situations where an extended break doesn’t make sense and you would be better off with some form of training.   Perhaps you are new to climbing and should keep your nose to the grindstone. Perhaps experience shows you’re best off maintaining momentum from one season to the next. Perhaps you are just plain psyched on training, there’s nothing you would rather do, and you can’t stand the thought of wasting an opportunity to get better.

How you spend the training phases will depend on your goals, strengths, and weaknesses. If you have any glaring weaknesses, they should be your first priority. A bridge cycle provides a fantastic opportunity to focus completely on addressing weaknesses because you have no specific near-term goal that demands attention. For example, if you find you struggle with a particular type of move—say, pulling the lip of a roof—you can spend this time training the physical, technical and mental aspects of these moves, including seeking out sub-limit routes to practice on.

Chill summer seasons like this also allow me to explore new areas like Mill Creek Crag (which is about an hour west of Denver). When I’m super-fit I’m reluctant to go places I haven’t thoroughly scoped, for fear of “wasting” a precious day of peak fitness. Completing the First Free Ascent of Lou Reed, 5.13b.

When I’m super fit I’m reluctant to visit unknown crags for fear of “wasting” a precious day of peak fitness. On the other hand, laid-back summer seasons allow me to explore new areas like Dumont, CO’s “Mill Creek Crag” where I made the First Free Ascent of the scenic Lou Reed, 5.13b.

Next consider the relative importance of any short and long term goals. Going back to the original example, let’s say your fall goal route is long and pumpy, but the individual moves are well within your ability. You may want to design your bridge cycle to improve your redpoint endurance, and so emphasize Base Fitness and Power Endurance training. Perhaps your fall goal route is short and bouldery, in which case emphasizing Strength and Power is the way to go.

For many, the near-term goal route is less significant than the desire for long term improvement. This could be because you haven’t identified a fall goal route yet, you have many goals for the fall that span the gamut of climbing styles (so focusing on one climbing style takes a backseat to general improvement), or maybe you’re “all-in” on the Time Value of Climbing Ability. If any of these apply to you, and you have no glaring weaknesses (dare to dream), I recommend focusing on Strength and Power, since these are the most difficult to attain and will benefit every aspect of your climbing.

An example of a Bridge Cycle emphasizing Strength and Power is shown below. It includes a few Base Fitness workouts to get you ready for hangboard training, a relatively full Strength Phase, and a brief Power Phase so you can realize a short payoff from your training (in the form of a few sessions of Limit Bouldering–these can be done indoors or out). It clearly favors strength over power for a number of reasons (it’s more basic, more universal, more cumulative and easier to train, to name a few).  If you have more time to work with, expand the Strength Phase, then Power Phase, then Base Fitness Phase accordingly.  For most the PE Phase would be the last priority since there is no Performance Phase planned.

Bridge Cycle ChartFor some great discussions and first-hand experience with planning Bridge Cycles, check out these threads on the RCTM Forum (more or less in order of relevance):

Finally, if you do find yourself training in the mid-summer heat, you might benefit from some of these tips.  Good luck and happy training–fall is just around the corner!

 

 

The Lazy H Climbing Barn

by Mark Anderson

Piggybacking on last week’s post about designing a home wall, here is a quick virtual tour of the Lazy H Climbing Barn. Note that I didn’t go through any logical process when designing it, I just eye-balled everything, and I paid for my impatience with a wall that was too steep. Six months in I was compelled to tear it down and re-build it.  Other than that, I’m pretty much happy with it (see more below).

The Lazy H. Note how the barn is built to match the sloping hillside.

The floor dimensions of the Lazy H are roughly 12-feet by 24-feet, (with the 24-foot-long walls running roughly east-west). The south exterior wall is 12-feet high, and the north exterior wall is 8-feet high, with a slanted roof spanning those walls (with no interior bracing aside from the joists that support the climbing surfaces). The barn was built decades ago to match the contour of the sloping hillside. There isn’t a square angle in the place, and if I were doing it again I would tear the entire rat trap down and start over!  It was used as an actual barn until I moved in.  At that point the roof was full of holes and there was literally a mountain of horse manure on the floorless ground.  Every flat surface was covered in rodent feces.  I spent the first several days just shoveling shit and wheeling it outside. So many memories :)

The climbing surfaces are as follows:

  • Both the east and west walls are a single vertical plane. I estimate I have about 280 square feet of vertical terrain total, but about 100 sq ft of that is basically useless.
The vertical East Wall of the Lazy H.  Good for my kids, but otherwise designed to not interfere with the South and North Walls.

The vertical East Wall of the Lazy H. It was designed so as to not interfere with the South and North Walls.  It’s great for my kids who love to climb up to and stick their heads out of the window, but I don’t use it except to connect the North and South Walls when warming up or ARCing.

The vertical West Wall of the Lazy H.  This wall is great for warming up and ARCing on small, insecure hand and footholds.  It has a few boulder problems that I climbed regularly when training for To Bolt Or Not To Be.  They haven’t been touched in the six-plus years since :)

The vertical West Wall of the Lazy H. This wall is great for warming up and ARCing on small, insecure hand and footholds. I credit it with keeping my footwork honed.  It has a few boulder problems that I climbed regularly when training for To Bolt Or Not To Be. Those problems haven’t been touched in the six-plus years since :)

  • The eastern-most two-thirds of the south wall is composed of a single plane, 16-feet wide, running floor to ceiling, overhanging 8 degrees.

The 16-feet wide, 8-degree overhanging panel on the east end of the South Wall. This is prime ARC and warmup terrain. It also has a few Limit Boulder problems that are generally thin and hard on my skin.

  • West of this panel is the door, which is 4-feet wide, about 6-feet tall, with a campus board above it (at a 15-degree angle).
  • West of the door is a vertical panel, 4-feet wide and 11-feet, 10-inches tall.

The west end of the South Wall hosts a Campus Board, overhanging 15 degrees, and a vertical panel, 4-feet wide by almost 12-feet tall. The vertical panel is useless except as a buffer between the Campus Board and the East Wall.  Note the ceiling cutout to make room for an extra rung on the Campus Board.

  • The North wall has a 4-feet-by-8-feet vertical panel at it’s west end. This is to allow access to storage space behind the rest of the north wall, but basically serves no other purpose (although it does allow the vertical West Wall to be a bit wider). If I were doing it over I would extend the central, overhanging section of the North Wall to cover this space.
The west end of the north wall. Pretty much useless, although it allows for a novel arête feature.  I’d much rather have 40 square feet more of 35-degree overhang…

The west end of the north wall. Pretty much useless, although it allows for a novel arête feature. I’d much rather have 40 square feet more of 35-degree overhang…

  • Next to that is the money wall, a 12-feet wide by 10.5-feet tall plane overhanging 35-degrees. I use this wall far more than any other surface. This wall has a 12-inch vertical kick plate at its base, then runs for 10.5-feet in the 35-degree overhang direction. From the floor to the top of the 35-degree overhang is 10-feet in the vertical direction. Some of the problems on this wall continue onto the ceiling section for up to four more feet of travel, but these moves are usually fairly trivial relative to the rest of the problem.
The Money Wall, my happy place for Limit Bouldering.

The Money Wall, my happy place for Limit Bouldering. If only it had some more holds!

  • The eastern-most section of the north wall is an 8-foot wide roof system. It begins with a two-feet tall vertical kick plate, then the “roof” (overhanging 65-degrees) runs out for a distance of 64 inches. Finally a headwall panel runs up from the lip of the roof for 72 inches at a 17.5-degree angle.

The roof system on the east end of the North Wall. This got very little use until the last year or so, when I accumulated several outdoor roof projects. Since then I’ve made a point to do several Limit Boulder Problems on this section, along with a couple problems in my Warmup Boulder Ladder. Still, for the amount of space it consumes, its a terrible waste.

  • The ceiling varies in depth based on where the walls join (from 3-feet at the east end, to 4-feet in the center, to ~13.5’ on the west), but it runs at a consistent 72.5-degree-overhanging angle. I don’t use it for anything except to support a few finishing jugs (all used by problems on the 35-degree wall) and to link between the North and South Walls while ARCing or warming up.

Things I like about the Lazy H:

  • Tons of terrain. Really, more than I need. I could get by just fine with only the 35-degree wall and the 8-degree wall.
  • I love the 35-degree wall. The only thing I would do different is make it bigger :)
  • There is enough variety that I can train for pretty much any angle, within a few degrees. Still, I rarely stray from the 35-degree wall, and I find that for my goals, training on that wall seems to carry over fairly well to other angles.
  • The 8-degree wall is great for ARCing.  That said, I don’t ARC much anymore, and if space were limited I would build much less ARC terrain and trek to a gym when I wanted to ARC.
  • It’s small enough that I can control the temperature pretty well between the windows/door, a box fan, and one space heater. Note all the walls and ceiling are insulated with ~R-13 fiberglass.
  • I built the floor to be “soft”. The floor joists are 12-feet long 2x4s with no other bracing, which is way under-designed. You can bounce up and down on it, and I think this will spare me some degree of arthritis later in life.
The Lazy H is essential a long corridor, and occasional I will smack into the South Wall when stick big dynos to the top of the North Wall.  Also, it gets crowded in here really quick.

The Lazy H is essentially a long corridor, and occasionally I will smack into the South Wall when sticking big dynos to the top of the North Wall. Also, it gets crowded in here really quick.

Things I dislike:

  • I wish the floor plan were “deeper” than 12-feet (so there was more space between the north and south walls). I will occasionally swing into south wall when sticking big finishing moves on the north wall. And it’s pretty tough for more than one person to climb in there at a time.
  • I wish it were closer to the house (it’s about 120’ from the house, add another 30’ to get to the nearest door). Getting out there once is no problem, but I often need to run back to the house for various reasons, and that is a pain when the weather is bad.
  • Heat can be a problem, especially in the summer. My ideal training temperature (inside the barn) is 45 degrees F. I wish I had a wall of deciduous trees to the south, so the barn would be shaded in the summer.
  • I wish it were square!

All told, I feel extremely fortunate to have such a fantastic training area.  When I began building it, I had doubts that I would enjoy it enough to continue using it.  Seven years later, I couldn’t imagine training anywhere else.  It has easily paid for itself (in terms of money saved on gym memberships and gas) and its a huge hit with my kids and their friends.  I seriously doubt I would be the climber I am today without the companionship of the trusty Lazy H.

For some brief footage of the Lazy H in action, check out this video.

Designing a Home Training Wall

by Mark Anderson

A home climbing wall offers many advantages to the performance-oriented climber. Chief among them are:

  • Convenience – with a wall literally in your backyard, commuting time and cost is eliminated along with most other excuses for skipping workouts. Those with families or pets can train with their loved ones without disturbing others, and the gym is open 24-7!
  • Control – you are the supreme dictator of your home wall. You call all the shots, including everything from the type of terrain, to grip shapes, to temperature and music selection. You can even decide whether or not shirts are required :)
  • Solitude – this is also a drawback of a home wall, but solitude can be a huge plus for training enthusiasts. Certain activities, like ARCing and Linked Bouldering Circuits, can be very difficult to do in a crowded public gym.
  • Route-setting privileges – For performance oriented climbers, this is the primary advantage of a home wall. First and foremost, if you can set your own routes, you can tailor them to your goals and weaknesses, allowing you to get the most from your training. Furthermore you can decide when to add new routes and when to take them down. You can afford to spend a few months or even years working a problem without worrying about the gym staff stripping it at any random moment….
  • “Benchmarking” – Piggy-backing off the last point, home wall users can leave “benchmark” problems or circuits up for many seasons or years, allowing them to gauge their fitness and progress over time. This can be extremely motivating as problems that were initially mega-projects gradually evolve into warmups.
Limit Bouldering on my home wall -- "The Lazy H Barn"

Limit Bouldering on my home wall — “The Lazy H Barn”

This is not a detailed step-by-step guide to home wall construction, but rather, this post will discuss some top-level design philosophies for home climbing walls. Even if you are a member of a good gym, adding a small, supplemental “woody” can help you get the most out of your training.

The first step in building your home wall is selecting a good space. Generally the taller the wall the better (up to at least 12-feet or so). Most home interiors top out at 8 feet, so a garage, basement, attic, shed, barn or other out-building may be the best option. You want your wall to be protected from the elements, so if you select an exterior building, ensure it is at least somewhat protected from moisture. The ability to control the environmental conditions to some extent is a big plus too. Most walls will be too hot more often than too cold, and it’s usually easier to add heat to a space than it is to remove it, so favor a location that is generally relatively cold (such as a basement or shaded room) as opposed to one that is generally warm (like an upstairs room or building with lots of southern exposure).

Another factor to consider is the wall’s proximity to your living spaces. Some folks are more social and will use the wall more if it’s centrally located. I like to have no distractions and complete control over my man-cave, so my detached barn works well for me. That said, I regularly have to post hole through knee-deep snow to get there in the winter, which can be a deterrent to training. If nature calls mid-session, it can be a major pain to get back to a bathroom. I think the ideal option for me would be a detached building that is adjacent (within 10-feet or so) to my house, so I could be isolated, but with easy access to/from the house.

The Lazy H Climbing Barn.  Not a bad venue—isolated, with ceilings up to 12-feet high, and located at a nice cool altitude of 7400-feet.

The Lazy H Climbing Barn. Not a bad venue—isolated, with ceilings up to 12-feet high, and located at a nice cool altitude of 7400-feet.

Once you’ve identified the perfect venue, you’re ready to start designing your wall. Three major factors will drive your design:

  1. The size and shape of your available space
  2. Intended uses of the wall
  3. Long term climbing goals

Space will be a limiting factor for virtually everyone, so it’s important to consider how you plan to use the wall, and prioritize those activities to ensure you create the best terrain for the most important activities. Rock Prodigies might perform any of the following training activities on a home wall:

Determining which activities are most deserving of limited real estate is personal, but here are some things to consider.

  • Your ability and experience level will likely influence your training priorities (and therefore your terrain priorities). Those relatively new to climbing tend to benefit more from ARCing and other skill-development activities, while advanced climbers will often spend more time on Limit Bouldering, Campusing and PE training.
  • Every activity will require some type of warm up, so warmup terrain should be a high priority. Fortunately Warm Up Terrain and ARC Terrain can be very similar.
  • ARCing requires the most terrain, so those with limited space will have a hard time building a suitable area for ARC training. However, ARCing can be one of the most difficult things to do in a public gym. If you’ve had trouble ARCing at your gym (due to crowds, unsuitable layout, poor hold selection, infrequent hold spacing, etc), AND ARCing is a priority in your training, consider ARC terrain a high priority. One way to overcome a small space is to build a wall with very high hold density. This allows for long, circuitous routes in a small area while minimizing the need to retrace your steps.
  • Hangboarding can be done just about anywhere and does not require high ceilings. If you have the option to set up a hangboard in another space (like a closet or the corner of a rarely used room), then do that, and save your precious home wall space for climbing terrain. If that’s NOT an option, consider building a removable hangboard mount that allows you to remove the board whenever you aren’t in a Strength Phase.
  • Limit Bouldering is arguably the best use of a home wall for several reasons. First, it demands the least space, so even those with a small area can usually build something that works for Limit Bouldering. Next, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find goal-route-specific Limit Bouldering terrain in public gyms. I’ve ranted about this on many occasions, but in a nutshell, public gyms are looking more and more like American Ninja Warrior obstacle courses than representations of actual rock. To get the most from Limit Bouldering, it must be done on realistic terrain and holds. The best bet may be to create such terrain yourself.  Another advantage of LB terrain is that it is relatively steep, allowing more climbing distance within a given vertical height.
Steeper walls provide more travel (but don't let that be the driving factor in your wall design).

Steeper walls provide more travel.  That said, maximizing travel should NOT be the driving factor in your wall design.  The driving factor should be maximizing utility, and an overly steep wall will be useless for some activities (like ARCing).

  • Campusing is important for advanced climbers, but it is trained relatively infrequently (maybe 4-6 times per season). I love having my own campus board, but if space were limited it would be the first thing to go. Campusing at a public gym is a piece of cake, since no one ever uses the campus board, instead opting for whatever flavor-of-the-month Crossfit exercise is trendy at the time :) That said, your local gym’s board may well be a disaster. If that is the case, consider setting up a removable campus board, or building it in a separate space so you can maximize the climbing terrain on your home wall.
  • There’s nothing worse than trying to get through a Linked Bouldering Circuit at a crowded gym, constantly dreading some unsuspecting climber will interfere with your workout. Fortunately, LBCs can be done on the same terrain (sometimes even the same problems) as Limit Bouldering, so if you have LB terrain, you have LBC terrain. Only a very lucky few will have suitable terrain for Route Intervals, so those are best done at a public gym. Usually this is fairly easy to do since you only need to monopolize a single route (as opposed to say, ARCing, where you are constantly traveling against the grain, or LBCs that require the use of 6 or more boulder problems).

In summary, I think the highest priorities are Warmup terrain, which can double as ARC terrain in a pinch, and Limit Bouldering terrain, which can also be used for LBCs. That said, it is possible to warm up on a hangboard. It’s not fun, but plenty of Rock Prodigies do it. It is NOT possible to Limit Boulder on a hangboard, so LB terrain will be the top priority for all but complete beginners (who would benefit more from ARCing). If you have extra space, throw in a Campus Board if power is a priority in your training, or add more ARC terrain if Skill-Development is a higher priority. If you have an embarrassment of riches like me, add both!

A slightly overhanging wall like this one can be used for both ARCing and Limit Bouldering.  Include an assortment of large holds for ARCing, and small, realistic holds for Limit Bouldering.  However, the disadvantage of less steep walls is that they will provide less climbing travel (in the direction of the wall) for a given ceiling height.

A slightly overhanging wall like this one can be used for both ARCing and Limit Bouldering. Include an assortment of large holds for ARCing, and small, realistic holds for Limit Bouldering. However, the disadvantage of less steep walls is that they will provide less climbing travel (in the direction of the wall) for a given ceiling height.

Now that you’ve figured out your training priorities, what does that terrain look like for you? Ideally we could have a wide variety of wall angles, but most of us will have to make some tough choices. The final consideration is your goals, relative to your ability. Since this is your terrain, it should be specific to your goals. If you live in Bend, Oregon, climb exclusively at Smith Rock (where routes are rarely steeper than 10 degrees overhanging), and your ultimate, lifetime climbing goal is a redpoint of the dead vertical To Bolt Or Not To Be, it will be easy to determine what your goal terrain looks like.

The author climbing Smith Rock’s To Bolt Or Not To Be

The author climbing Smith Rock’s To Bolt Or Not To Be.  Photo Mike Anderson

The rest of us will need to do an informal survey of our favorite climbing areas.  Fortunately most of us have a relatively narrow range of angles that we really like. Furthermore, if you live in North America, terrain steeper than 20 degrees overhanging is quite scarce. Look through some photos of your favorite crags or goal routes and estimate the cliff angles to come up with a range of steepnesses that are representative of your performance preferences. Also, you’re not building the wall solely for the ensuring training cycle—it should be something you grow into, so dream big when considering potential goal routes.

PNG 150dpi

The approximate steepness of a few of my recent goal routes.  Photos (L) Ken Klein and (C) Adam Sanders.

Once you have a sample of goal-route angles, add a few degrees of steepness and then use those augmented angles to inform your wall design. The reason for this is that artificial holds, especially footholds, will always be bigger than the outdoor holds they emulate. Furthermore, small holds are hell on your skin, to the point that they can create skin injuries that will limit the duration of your training sessions, and may even impact your outdoor climbing. It’s better to go with slightly larger, more comfy holds, and compensate by kicking the angle back a bit further. Plus you can downsize holds much more easily than you can change the wall angle. Erring on the side of “too steep” will give you the potential to grow into your wall as you improve.

You now have a range of angles to train for. It’s tempting to build a wide assortment of angles with tiny increments between them to perfectly match every goal route on your list. However, the best artificial walls have only a few large planes (or even one) of a consistent angle. For some reason, this just feels better. The Lazy H has a variety of angles, but I spend 95% of my Limit Bouldering on one uniform wall, approximately 12-feet wide by 11-feet high. All the aretes, roofs, dihedrals and other features were fun for the first week or two, but the single consistent plane sees all the action. If you have a lot of space, go with two angles—one optimized for warming up/ARCing at your ability level, and one optimized for Limit Bouldering at your ability level. If you have more than a lot of space, like a huge barn, only then consider including some other angles, but mark my words, much of that extra terrain will be neglected.

xxxx

When bouldering (including Warmup Boulder Ladder problems and Limit Bouldering), I spend the vast majority of my time on this wall.  It’s wide, uniform surface allows for a high concentration of smooth-yet-challenging problems.

One final note: invest in quality hand holds! The smaller your wall, the more essential this is, because each hold on your wall represents an opportunity cost. If your holds suck, the wall won’t be fun to use, and that will certainly impact your training. When I’m having fun in the Lazy H, my sessions are longer, more intense, and more productive. You can read some of my hold recommendations here and here.

Later this month I’ll provide a brief virtual tour of the Lazy H, detailing the dimensions and angles of each wall, what I like about it, and what I would do differently.

How to Make Reachy Moves

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been shut down by a crux sequence because of a hold that is juuuuust out of reach.  Unless you are 7 feet tall, most of us should have our hands up at this point.  While it’s probably safe to say that a climber who is 5 feet tall probably deals with this more than one who is 6 feet tall, learning how to make long reaches is a skill that can benefit all climbers. Standing at 5’5″ tall, I’m certainly not short by female standards (average height for adult American female is 5’4″), although…Read the rest of this entry →

How to Make Reachy Moves

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been shut down by a crux sequence because of a hold that is juuuuust out of reach.  Unless you are 7 feet tall, most of us should have our hands up at this point.  While it’s probably safe to say that a climber who is 5 feet tall probably deals with this more than one who is 6 feet tall, learning how to make long reaches is a skill that can benefit all climbers. Standing at 5’5″ tall, I’m certainly not short by female standards (average height for adult American female is 5’4″), although…Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

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