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Category Archives: Training

The Rock Climber’s Training Manual is NOW AVAILABLE!!!

The long winter is over—The Rock Climber’s Training Manual is finally available! If you’ve been waiting for this moment to order your copy, you can do so here. If you’re still on the fence, read some of the feedback the book has received here. It will probably be a while before distribution is set up and the book arrives in retail stores, so ordering online now is likely the quickest way to get your copy.

Seven towering pallets of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual arrived in Colorado on Thursday. After work I went up to Fixed Pin Publishing’s storage facility in Denver to see the goods and pick up a few crates of books. The books look great! It’s tempting to just sit and flip through it, but we still have a lot of work to do to get the books out to you!

One of seven pallets of The Rock Climber's Training Manual.  Your copy is in there somewhere!

One of seven pallets of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. Your copy is in there somewhere!

Kate has graciously allowed me to convert our living room into a mini-shipping hub so we can get all the books signed, packaged, and shipped. We’re currently in the process of rapidly filling all the existing pre-orders (in the order they were received). I’ve learned more about the US Postal Service in the last week than I ever wanted to know. We expect to have all the pre-orders in the mail this weekend, and then we will continue processing new orders as we receive them.

Learning how to use a Pallet Jack--nothing could possibly go wrong with this.

Learning how to use a Pallet Jack–nothing could possibly go wrong with this :)

The first batch of books went in the mail yesterday, so some of you should start receiving books any day now. We’re striving to get books out as quickly as we can; it’s a lot of work but it’s really rewarding. We’ve been working on this project for so long, and we can’t wait to get it out to the people we wrote it for. It’s pretty cool to see some of the addresses we’re shipping to; all over the US, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Ireland, Switzerland… Word is getting out and it’s very exciting.

Loading just shy of 1,000 pounds of books into my creaking Honda Civic.

Loading just shy of 1,000 pounds of books into my creaking Honda Civic.

To me this feels like the start of a big project—the project of sorting and filling hundreds of orders—but when I step back from what is right in front of me, I realize this event is also the end of a project that’s spanned 18 months. During this time period we’ve spent countless hours researching, brainstorming, writing, reviewing, and editing copy; scheduling photo-shoots, taking, selecting and editing photos; arranging, reviewing and revising layout; arranging for book reviews and marketing our concepts to climbers and media outlets. It’s been a lot of work, and we had a ton of help along the way.

Signing books and stuffing envelopes.

Signing books and stuffing envelopes.

Many people contributed time and resources to help us (see below), but first and foremost, this book never would have happened without all of the folks out there reading this blog. This project was originally conceived by the users of the Mountain Project Training Forum. They gave us the inspiration—and ultimately the motivation—to put our ideas on paper. They, along with my loyal ‘Lazy H Climbing Club’ followers, challenged us daily with questions and discussions that broadened our knowledge and motivated us to keep learning and exploring. We hope you feel like this project belongs to you as well as to us, and hopefully you can join in the modest sense of celebration (and relief) that we are experiencing today. Sometime in the future, when the dust in our shipping hub has settled, perhaps we can get together in person and share a toast to the end of this adventure.

RCTM_Acknowledgements

Designing A Transition Phase

In this post I introduced the concept of the Transition Phase.  This is the several-week period during each training cycle in which you shift your focus from primarily indoor training to primarily outdoor climbing (and sending!).  Chapter 10: Building a Seasonal Training Plan from the forthcoming  “The Rock Climber’s Training Manual” thoroughly describes how to build a training plan, and it provides numerous sample plans to get you started.  These plans include these transitions, but we’ll talk about some of the “how and why” in more detail here, to help you build your own plan. 

For most climbers, the Power Phase is typically the Transition Phase, but it could be the Power Endurance Phase for some, or a period of weeks in between that overlaps these two phases.  As discussed, it is vitally important that this transition from indoor training to outdoor climbing goes smoothly, with momentum and focus building like a crescendo towards your initial opportunities to attempt the season’s primary goal route(s).   However, its much easier said than done.  Often, by the time we begin the Power Phase, weeks of ARCing and Hangboard training have likely sapped our appetite for training on plastic, and yet outdoor climbing is still too far away to provide immediate motivation.  The lack of structure during Limit Bouldering workouts can further compound this problem, making it easy to lose focus during training sessions.  This is the time to re-double your focus and attention on the task at hand.  Keep your eyes on the prize, both figuratively and literally. Do the little things on rest days (like eating right, getting sufficient sleep, and minding your skin) to ensure you are prepared to train effectively. 

The transition phase will usually be a 2-4 week period.  At the start of this period, climbers strictly following the Rock Prodigy method will be climbing indoors exclusively.  By the end of this period you should be climbing outside as frequently as your lifestyle allows (note: that doesn’t mean climbing every day; rather, it means whatever days you would normally climb or train, in accordance with your pre-planned Seasonal Training Plan, should be spent outside, on your project(s), to the extent possible).   The middle of this period will ideally include a gradual transition between the two extremes.

Notional Transition Phase training schedule.

Notional Transition Phase training schedule.

Let’s consider the example above.  The last week of the Strength Phase is Week 0, and a relatively short Power Phase begins with week 1 (for the sake of this example, we are assuming the climber’s goal routes are relatively more pumpy than bouldery, where the climber’s maximum power is not essential).  Initially all workouts are in the gym, either Limit Bouldering or Limit Bouldering and Campusing.  This early period is the mental crux – this is when you really need to stay psyched to get the most out of your brief Power Phase, and to begin preparing for the upcoming outdoor season.  If you’ve not done so already, select your near-term goal routes (considering factors like fitness, weather, accessibility), lay out a detailed schedule for attempting these routes, ask for time off work and arrange for partners.  Begin scouring the cloud for beta, take a hike to the cliff if possible to determine sun/shade exposure, protection quirks, or any other info you can scope from the ground.  Prepare your finger skin for the upcoming campaign and focus on your diet if weight loss is a part of your plan.

"Roped bouldering" on a potential project is  great way to begin the transition to outdoor climbing.  If possible, use this time to attempt your goal route's most difficult moves and perhaps "send" the individual crux boulder problems.  BJ Tilden rehearsing moves prior to his 2009 redpoint of Genetic Drifter, 5.14c.

“Roped bouldering” on a potential project is great way to begin the transition to outdoor climbing. If possible, use this time to attempt your goal route’s most difficult moves and perhaps “send” the individual crux boulder problems. BJ Tilden rehearsing moves prior to his 2009 redpoint of Genetic Drifter, 5.14c.

Beginning with Week 2, outdoor days are introduced gradually.  It’s important to note that these are not just any outdoor days—they are power-focused days, spent bouldering, or “roped bouldering” on your prospective goal route(s).  If your season has been planned around one or two important goal routes, roped bouldering on one or both of these routes is ideal.  This will allow you to 1) train power somewhat (though roped bouldering is not as effective for power training as indoor Limit Bouldering/campusing), while you 2) scope out your project, and hopefully suss-out the cruxes, while your power is still building (Chapter 10 of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual goes into detail on how to effectively incorporate outdoor climbing days into your schedule to maximize training benefit).  The second outdoor day in Week 3 is discretionary – depending on how things are going in your training and climbing.  If you feel you are “close” on your goal route and you have the time, climb outside.  If you feel you need more work/training, climb inside. 

In this example, Power Endurance (PE) training is also introduced in Week 3.  During the first PE workout (on Day 17), the climber begins with a slightly abbreviated Limit Bouldering workout, and then performs a short PE session with a 10-15 minute break in between.  Chapter 8 of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual describes how to blend these two types of training into a single effective workout.  By Week 4, the climber is more focused on attempting his or her goal route and less on training, but some amount of Limit Bouldering training is still important to maintain your power throughout the rest of the season.   By the end of Week 5 the climber will clearly notice improvement in Power Endurance on the rock.  Once again, by Week 6 the climber has the option to pursue more training or more attempts on the project, depending on how things are going. 

Late in the Transition Phase,  climbing outside on a pumpy goal route can provide an ideal training platform, but this only works if the route is pumpy-enough to stimulate improvement AND the climber is hanging on long enough between rests to get properly pumped.  A route like Kaleidescope is ideal because it lacks a stopper crux and seems to get gradually more difficult as you ascend, making it easy to progress gradually up the route as your PE improves.

Late in the Transition Phase, climbing outside on a pumpy goal route can provide an ideal training platform, but this only works if the route is pumpy-enough to stimulate improvement AND the climber is hanging on long enough between rests on the rope to get properly pumped. A route like Kaleidescope is ideal because it lacks a stopper crux and seems to get gradually more difficult as you ascend, making it easy to progress gradually up the route as your PE improves.

Week 7 is essentially the start of the Performance Phase.  At this point, the climber should trade in whatever favors she can to secure the maximum opportunity to send her projects.  If her lifestyle doesn’t permit climbing outside at every opportunity, these days can be substituted with short, intense indoor workouts combining bouldering and PE intervals, as explained above.

In Case You Needed More Reasons to Train

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It’s February 26, about 73.33% through winter. Not that I’m counting. It’s partly the snow, the cold, the hurricane-force winds that blow out of every gap in the ridges of Colorado’s Front Range that have limited my days climbing out of doors to 4 since early January. It’s also my ever decreasing tolerance for adverse conditions while climbing. I rationalize that I’m saving up my suffer tickets for when it really counts, like coming down a mountain at 3am, but the reality is more that I’m just getting old and suffering doesn’t thrill me like it used to.

Like many climbers, I wile away the “dark age” (i.e. winter) by training. My goal in the last few weeks has been strength training, so actual climbing has taken a back seat to hangboarding and lifting weights. Recently, I did a hangboard workout when my parents were visiting. They are already hyper-aware of my obsessive behaviors about climbing, and their reaction to seeing me strap 25 lbs. around my waist and repeatedly hang from half-pad edges fixed to the main brace of my house revealed the depth of the absurdity that training for climbing really is. Climbing, to the vast majority of the human population, is already ridiculous. Training, especially on hangboards, is everything hard and stupid about climbing without any of the thrill or fun.

So why do we do it? Why do we punish ourselves, endure hours of mundane repetition, and risk injury just to make our fingers just a bit stronger? The short answer is that it’s just that: a really effective way of making our fingers – and the rest of our bodies – stronger. And, while strength isn’t the only factor in climbing well, it certainly is a big part of becoming a better climber. But the drive to be a better climber is broadly even more questionable.

In the last few weeks, a thread emerged on Mountain Project entitled “Why climb harder?” Punctuating the typical profane witticism that only Internet forums can conjure were a variety of responses and reflections about the value of climbing harder. Several zeroed in on why one would endure discomfort (i.e. training, suffering, risk to life and limb) for the sake of performing at a higher level an activity that under the most gratuitous constructions only provides a highly subjective satisfaction. In other words, if I’m the only one who gets anything out of my climbing better, why should I bother doing anything other than maximize my fun?

So then, on a philosophical level, why hangboard (or, simply substitute any other activity that aims to improve climbing – or any other performance for that matter – that is likewise not fun and/or comfortable, which, for lack of a better term, I’ll refer to as “training” from here on out)?

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My friend Steve, climbing harder than most folks.

An easy answer is to say that if I hangboard and you don’t (or if I just hangboard more than you) I am more likely to climb better than you. Performing at a higher level leads me to believe I am in some way better than you, thus stimulating an anachronistic conclusion that I’m more likely to survive an attack/get laid and pass on my genes to future generations. I think we can all agree that in civil society climbing supports neither and probably works in the other direction. Thus, in our more rationale moments, we can (hopefully) see that climbing cannot be strictly ego driven.

There are a lot of other reasons to train, to be uncomfortable, to get better. Most of these are mentioned in the thread. Just go read it, if you’re, say, stuck in an airport terminal as I currently am. To summarize, folks argue for gymnastic growth, surpassing of limits, developing a warrior mentality, greater access to more classics, and the safety of climbing on steeper routes.

I think there’s more to it, and I’d rather explicate my obtuse philosophy on “training” here, lest my wisdom be trumped by the next poster, probably along the lines of someone named BetterThan YoMama writing “^^^^^^ -10×4.058 Your just climing harder cuz youve got to make up for not being able to satisfy woman..”

Which at some point may have been true.

My lady loves tips playbacks!

My lady loves tips laybacks!

Trump avoided, the first reason I think we ought to be willing to be uncomfortable to climb more difficult routes is for the sake of novelty. Let’s say you start running three miles, three times a week. At first, if you’re never run before, you’ll be tired and bit sore and probably lose some weight. After a few weeks, those runs will start feeling easy. Your legs will be a bit stronger, and you’ll compensate for the added activity by eating a hair more. Eventually, your body will stabilize and return right back where you started. Our psyches work the same way. What we perceive as difficult at first will at some point become normal. Invariably, without new stimulus, we find routine and comfort. We stagnate, gain weight, become complacent. Novelty is, by definition, the only way to short circuit the homeostatic matrix of the mundane. By actively seeking novelty in our climbing, our bodies and minds learn to adapt, to continually grow. We force our muscle fibers, neurons, and paradigms to be as dynamic as the universe is in which we exist.

The pursuit of an aesthetic is another reason to be uncomfortable. I think if each of us ponders it enough, we all have some kind of ideal rock climb, an imaginary line that embodies the qualities we love about climbing. Mine is a long route, requiring a full day at least, in the mountains, that is mostly steep, clean, and hard crack climbing but with a few face sections (and, since we’re working in ideals, has comfortable ledges, bomber anchors – bolts are welcome – and a casual walk off). Part of my aesthetic is a route that is challenging enough that I might fall off it, which is clearly a bias toward difficulty. Nevertheless, to climb another route that more closely resembles an ideal, any climber will have to be open to a novel experience, one that has a higher likelihood of discomfort and challenge. Therefore, at some point, we’ll all have to do something that isn’t fun, whether it’s for strength for smaller holds or endurance for greater fatigue or risk, to be able to climb a route that’s closer to perfection.

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The East Face of Snowpatch Spire, holding several lines that approach my ideal.

There is one last reason to train to climb better. I’ve been writing this piece over a few days, and in that time I’ve done the last hangboard workout in this phase of my training. Not only am I obsessive enough to do these silly things, but I’m also obsessive enough to record each workout. As I look back through my record, it’s clear that my fingers have in fact gotten stronger. I’ve been focused on working toward this goal – finger strength, and now my mind wanders to the next step, which will be a road trip around the desert of Utah and Nevada in March, and I can’t help but feel excited at the possibilities. Working on specific things to improve our performance promises new opportunity. Climbing, regardless of how difficult, will feel different now. This is the last and best reason to “train”: the promise. Whether we actually send isn’t the point, but just feeling the excitement of the opportunity, the newest in our once familiar minds and bodies, is worth effort and discomfort.

That’s my pitch for training. It offers novelty and the pursuit of some kind of ideal, but really, working to get better promises a new opportunity. So figure out what you want to work on: finger strength, fear of falling, all-day endurance, footwork on slabs, whatever, just work on it. Get better at it, then dream about what’s next. The dark age will end; the snow will melt, and the wind will cease (at least for a few minutes, hopefully). When it does, we’ll all be just a bit more motivated, which is pretty fun.

The Most Important Phase

Throughout my first several years of systematic training, I believed the Strength Phase (in which hangboard training is the primary activity) was the most “important” phase. That is, I thought the quality of the Strength Phase was the key predictor of whether the upcoming season would be successful or not. If the phase was flat, I improved very little, or failed to surpass my personal bests on most grips, the season was doomed. If I maintained laser focus during each hangboard workout, saw steady progress, and ended on a high note, I could expect to crush my projects a few weeks later.

That theory wreaked havoc on my psyche for years, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that further reinforced it. If my Strength Phase was good, I would enter the Power Phase with enough momentum to carry me through my Power Phase and eventually onto the rock. If the Strength Phase was poor, I would mail it in for the rest of the season, resigned to muddle through on easier projects. A quirk of fate finally provided the test-case that disproved my theory, though it took me many years to comprehend what transpired.

Working my way back into shape in the spring of 2004 on Spank The Monkey, 5.12a, Smith Rock.

Working my way back into shape in the spring of 2004 on Spank The Monkey, 5.12a, Smith Rock.

In the spring of 2004, I trained like a maniac in anticipation of quitting my job and embarking on a year of dirtbag climbing. I had only been training for a few years, and I was still seeing a letter grade or more of improvement each season. I expected to make huge gains, and I did on the hangboard. I entered my Power Phase with new bests on each grip. And then I got the flu. I was useless for a solid week (though I still hauled my infected carcass to the gym a few times in hopes of maintaining my fitness–sorry Albuquerque!). Here was the first example in my career of a stellar Strength Phase followed by a piss-poor Power Phase, and the results were telling.

Once I recovered from the illness I resumed my training schedule, but I could tell I wasn’t at my best. Not only had I not improved, it seemed I had regressed. The previous season I sent my first 5.13b, and was close to sending Smith Rock’s Aggro Monkey (5.13b) during a one-week road trip. Now I was completely shut down on .13b, and struggling to climb .13a. For the next month I climbed outside every other day, struggling to regain the previous season’s fitness. I managed to redpoint a pair of 13a’s during this time, and early in the second month I finally sent Aggro Monkey. I was stoked, but I should have managed all of these ascents in the first couple of weeks, if not more difficult climbs.

Attempting Aggro Monkey, 5.13b, Smith Rock.

Attempting Aggro Monkey, 5.13b, Smith Rock.

Essentially it took me an entire month of climbing outside daily to overcome the lack of an effective Power Phase (had I been working, I would not have had the opportunity to climb so much, and I likely would not have recovered my fitness at all, resulting in another season down the drain). Furthermore, I never demonstrated any quantifiable improvement that season; I trained like a fiend, climbed outside much more than I ever had in my life, and only managed to return to my previous level of fitness. For many years I attributed this disappointment to the flu. But then I had kids. Now I get the flu every year and it rarely affects my climbing like it did in 2004 (despite being older and generally weaker/whiny-er).

Over the past several years my goals and circumstances have forced me to push through at full speed to the Power Phase regardless of how the Strength Phase goes (at my age, I can’t afford any more bad seasons!). Since then I’ve had several successful seasons that followed relatively poor Strength phases, and vice versa. Nearly every fall season is preceded by a mediocre Strength Phase during the month of August, in which I’m overweight from riding my bike all summer, and the temps are too warm for optimal hangboard training. And each September, as better conditions return and my weight drops, I’ve managed to get my season back on track. As result, I now believe that the quality of the Power Phase is usually the best predictor of my season’s success (although I don’t believe it’s a hard and fast rule). That spring 2004 season wasn’t derailed because the flu sabotaged my fitness, it was derailed because the flu killed my momentum, distracting me from persevering through the Power Phase.

Based on this data, it would be reasonable to predict that my Winter 2011-12 Season would be far superior to my Fall 2011 Season. The reality? In the Fall of 2011 I sent my hardest route to date; in the Winter of 2011-12 I sent one 5.12a, one 13a, injured an A2 pulley, and then spent literally the next 6 months rehab’ing my injury.

Based on this data, it would be reasonable to predict that my Winter 2011-12 Season would be far superior to my Fall 2011 Season. The reality? In the Fall of 2011 I sent my hardest route to date; in the Winter of 2011-12 I sent one 5.12a, one 13a, injured an A2 pulley, and then spent literally the next 6 months rehab’ing my injury.

First, the Power Phase is important because, if you’ve done well, the Strength Phase has created a bunch of big dumb muscles. You should be stronger, but not necessarily capable of efficiently applying that strength to the rock. The Power Phase will hone those big dumb muscles into a well-coordinated machine that can perform with speed and precision on the rock. But foremost, the Power Phase is critical because it is often the ‘transition phase’. This is the period during your training cycle when you shift your emphasis from training on plastic to climbing on actual rock. The beginning of a Transition Phase provides the final opportunity to pour every ounce of will into your training, ensuring you are in tip-top condition before deteriorating skin, weather, and other facts of outdoor climbing interfere. The latter portion of the phase is often the time when you will select, or confirm the season’s primary performance goals. During this time, you need your head ‘in the game’ as much as possible, to focus on training, but also to get your skin in shape, manage body weight, mentally prepare for your goals, obsess over the 10-day forecast, line up partners, and organize other logistics to facilitate effective outdoor climbing from day one.

If you’re unable to attend to these matters, it’s easy to find yourself at the wrong crag, at the wrong time of year, with no clear goals, or on a project that is too hard or out of condition. I’ve found that a few bad days early on can sink an entire season, causing me to question my fitness and doubt all the hard work I’ve done, thus undermining my motivation to continue. For that reason, this phase of my cycle is hands down the most important in determining the success of my season.

If you're training for a (relatively) crux-less pumpfest, like some routes found at the Red, the Power Endurance Phase might make more sense as a Transition Phase.  Sean Corpron rises again to crush Resurection, 5.12c.

If you’re training for a (relatively) crux-less pumpfest, like some routes found at the Red, the Power Endurance Phase might make more sense as a Transition Phase. Sean Corpron rises again to crush Resurrection, 5.12c.

For some climbers, other phases are more critical. For example, if you climb at a crag like the Red, where virtually all of your projects are long enduro pump-fests with cruxes few and far between, the Base Fitness and Power Endurance Phases will likely be the most important for you, because (from a purely physiological standpoint) you will almost always be limited by your body’s ability to supply energy to tiring muscles. Your Power Phase will probably be minimized, and so the Power Endurance Phase may serve as your transition phase (in my case, by the time I begin my PE Phase I’m almost always neck-deep in my season’s project. During such times motivation and focus are plentiful and it’s easy to summon maximal attention and effort for training, recovery, and climbing).

Finger strength will eventually become limiting for the vast majority of performance-oriented climbers.

Finger strength will eventually become limiting for the vast majority of performance-oriented climbers.

This is not to say the Strength Phase is unimportant. It too is the ‘most important’ season, but for different reasons. While I no longer believe it is an accurate predictor of the ensuing season’s quality, I do believe that for many climbers it is the most critical factor in determining long-term improvement. Unlike some other aspects of fitness, strength is “cumulative”. That is, you can build on your strength from one season to the next. Once a climber has learned and refined the fundamental climbing skills, finger strength will likely determine his or her long-term progress in the sport. Finger strength takes a long time to improve, so it’s important to start early, and stick with it, season after season, year after year. One season of poor strength training every other year will not have an enormous impact in the long run, but if a climber routinely sleepwalks through hangboard sessions, year-in, year-out, their progress over half a decade will be severely hampered.

In the end, it may be appropriate to take the Zen approach, that the most important phase is the phase you’re in right now. Each phase is important in its own way, and included in the program for specific reasons. If a phase is worth doing at all, then it is worth doing well, with maximum focus, optimal intensity during training, and proper attention to preparation and recovery.

While I’m probably closer to the end of my climbing career than I am to the beginning, I’m still counting on achieving significant improvement in finger strength over the coming years to help me achieve my long-term goals. But I also realize that I’m likely near my career fitness peak, and the time I have near this peak is limited. I still have a lot of routes on my ‘to do list’, so I need to make the most of every individual season (alternatively, a younger climber who takes the long view might decide that near term success is unimportant and solely emphasis long-term improvement through finger strength training). I will continue to strive to get the most out of each Strength Phase in order to realize as much long-term improvement as possible. As the Strength Phase ends, I will stoke my motivation so that I can optimize my Power Phase in order to get the most out of the climbing opportunities that are immediately in front of me.

Learn about Designing a Transition Phase here..

Pregnancy Workouts for Rock Climbers

Although many women are capable of climbing all the way through their pregnancy, I’ll give a million dollars to the one who didn’t have to change her routine in at least some way (that was an exaggeration by the way…there’s not a giveaway widget at the end of this post ).   Climbing while pregnant takes on a totally different mindset and end goal than pre-preggo crushing.  The following is a list of workout ideas geared toward climbers that will hopefully keep not just a mama-to-be strong, happy, and healthy, but also increase the likelihood that the bun in her…Read the rest of this entry →

Introducing RockClimbersTrainingManual.com!

I’m very excited to announce the launch of RockClimbersTrainingManual.comRCTM.com will improve on this humble blog in just about every imagineable way.  First and foremost, my brother Mike will be an equal partner, providing his encyclopedic training wisdom.  Although Mike & I appear fairly similar on the outside, we have somewhat different approaches to training, and we emphasize different activities.  I know this community will benefit greatly from his perspective.  Mike has been completely off the grid since we started writing the book over a year ago, so this will give everyone a chance to engage with Mike again, and get his thoughts on various training and climbing matters.

Next, users will quickly notice that RCTM.com is more visually appealing, with many new, spectacular photos and a much cleaner look.  You will also notice RCTM.com is far better organized than this pathetic cluster of a website :)  There are categories for different aspects of training and performance, with an easy to follow menu in the website header that will make it easy for you to navigate between topics. 

Home ScreenshotThere is certainly an advertising aspect to the new site–we want people to to find us when they google “Rock Climber’s Training Manual”, we want to encourage climbers to consider trying the Rock Prodigy method, and we want the site to explain what readers can expect to get from our book.  Furthermore, once the book is available we will be selling autographed copies through RCTM.com (if you’d like to be notified once we’ve begun accepting pre-orders, go here to sign up). 

However, RCTM.com will be much more than a static marketing tool.  It will be a live blog, just like this one, with weekly posts, and other new content added regularly (for those who check in periodically to look for new blog posts, you’ll want to click on the Articles Page to see a chronological history of latest posts).   Posts will also be organized by training phases and/or performance styles, so if you just want to know about Power Training for example, it will be easy to find all the posts related to that topic on the Power page.  We’ll also use the site to solicit feedback about both the book and the program, so that we can make the second edition that much better.  If you would like to share a testimonial about your experience with the Rock Prodigy method, please do so here.

While the framework for the site is based on our upcoming book, we want the site to be interactive and constantly evolving.  Our dream is to build a community of climbing training enthusiasts who can collaborate to further the community’s training knowledge.  We really want to encourage questions, comments, and other perspectives.  Users will have opportunities to contribute content, in an effort to achieve more than a one-way flow of information.  If you have questions, please ask!  If you have an idea for an article you’d like to contribute, please let us know!  Also, if you notice any bugs with the new site, tell us.

All of the content on this blog has been migrated to RCTM.com, including all of the great comments and questions that folks have submitted over the years.  The Lazy H Climbing Club will likely be riding off into the sunset soon, so please take the time to Bookmark RCTM.com and join me on the migration to greener pastures.  In the mean time, I will post links on Lazy H for any new posts that are added to RCTM.com.  For the many folks out there who are ‘Following’ this blog, please take the time to follow RCTM.com (go to RCTM.com, and click the gray “Follow” box in the lower right corner of your browser.  If your browser doesn’t display this box, click here, scroll down, and then click the button labeled “Follow The Rock Climber’s Training Manual” on the right sidebar). 

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The experience of running The Lazy H Climbing Club has been transformative.  It’s not a stretch to say that without this vehicle, The Rock Climber’s Training Manual never would have been written.  Thank you so much for your interest, your questions, your comments, and your likes.  They kept me going and motivated me to push further into the unknown.  I’ll see you all over at RCTM.com!

Mark Anderson

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 2: Going Big!

As implied here, I’m inspired by the climbing career of the legendary Jerry Moffatt.  During his prime, Moffatt was the best climber in the world, and he dominated on redpoints, onsights, boulders and competitions.  What inspires me most though, was his commitment to hard work and his dedication to training.  He was a phenom in his early years, but that didn’t stop him from putting in long hours in training rooms, on the Bachar Ladder, and the campus board.  He was near the top when 5.12+ was the world standard, and he managed to stay on the crest of the wave as the grades exploded all the way to 5.14c over the course of two decades.

Moffatt notes in Revelations that his best effort on the Campus board was 1-5-8.  Since I first read that, 1-5-8 has been in the back of my mind.  That is something I might be able to do someday. Furthermore, although I haven’t been able to find anything definitive, I’m pretty sure Moffatt is at least a few inches taller than me.  He looks to be within an inch or so of Ben Moon who is 5’11″ (I’m 5’7″). Considering the obvious height dependence (or perhaps more precisely, arm-length dependence) of Max Ladders, I feel like it would be quite an accomplishment for me, to match Moffatt’s best.

[Historical aside: Moffatt also says in Revelations he did 1-5-8 statically, which begs the question, if he could 1-5-8 statically, why didn't he do anything harder than 1-5-8?  Surely he could have.  Examining pictures of the original Campus Board and the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield, it looks like they didn't have half-steps, so 1-5-8.5 was off the table.  Still, if Moffatt could do 1-5 statically, surely he could do 5-9 as well.  Perhaps the original Campus Board didn't reach that high. The below pics shows at least 9 rungs, and this video appears to show Gullich campusing up at least 9 rungs on the original board (watch from 0:40 to the end). 

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

However, it’s quite possible that either or both of these boards evolved over time. Just because they have 9 rungs in these pics, doesn’t mean they had 9 rungs when Moffatt was using them in his prime.  The 9th rung of the Schoolroom board clearly looks “tacked on”; it’s not evenly spaced, and the material doesn’t match the other rungs.  The classic film The Real Thing shows footage of Moffatt and Ben Moon campusing together (beginning at about 5:00 in this clip ).  Moon does 1-5-”9″ (the 9th rung is not at the proper height for a true 1-5-9; it looks to be at about 8.5).  Moffatt does many sick campus moves in this footage, but he doesn’t match Moon’s 1-5-”9″.]

Last year I did 1-8-15 on my Metolius-spaced board, which is pretty close to 1-4.25-7.5 in Moon Spacing.  So I was somewhat close, but as soon as I switched to Moon Spacing I discovered that 1-5 is extremely difficult for me.  I could do the move, but as soon as I latched rung 5, I felt a deep ache in my low shoulder.  The pain didn’t feel threatening, just quite unpleasant, like the burn you feel in your muscles when you have a deep pump.  It was impossible to sustain this position for more than an instant, let alone try to explode upwards from this position. This is where height dependence comes in to play on big campus moves.  The distance between rung 1 and rung five is about 34.6 inches.  The distance from my finger pads (when placed on an edge in a “half crimp” position) and the middle of my armpit is 27″. So even when locking my low hand all the way down to my armpit, I still have to eek another 7.5 inches of reach out of my body to span between 1 and 5, and I’ve discovered that to do so requires significant shoulder strength.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off :)  Here's me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5.  Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I've found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off :) Here’s me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5. Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I’ve found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

I’ve tackled this weakness in two ways, and I would say each has contributed equally to my improvement.  First, several years ago I added some shoulder strength exercises to my Strength Phase.  For the 4-5 weeks preceding my Power Phase I will perform 3 sets of “Lateral-to-Front Raise” and “Shoulder Press” exercises after each hangboard workout (in addition to other exercises).  This has helped prepare my shoulders for campus exercises, and for doing big/reachy moves in general.  Furthermore, Explosive Pull-ups, Biceps Curls, and Hanging Leg Raises all strengthen muscle groups that are essential to limiting campus moves.  The pull and upper arm muscles are obviously pivotal to generating upward movement, but are also key for slowing decent, making it easier to deadpoint each move.  Not surprisingly, your abdominal muscles play a significant role, and you may notice your abs feel sore for a day or two following the first campus session of each season.  It’s tremendously helpful to prepare these muscle groups prior to beginning your Power Phase, so you have good strength to build off of when you hit the campus board. 

Second, I started trying 1-5 regularly.  About a year ago I started to introduce this move (or 1-10 on my old Metolius-spaced board) in my campus sessions (aka, “Max 1st Move”).  At first I just tried to stick the move, then drop off.  Eventually I start trying to match the high rung as my strength improved, or go to rung 5.5 or 6. 

As I was improving with 1-5, it became apparent that 1-5 is very hard to move out of, because you’re so extended the low hand can’t contribute much to the second move.   Improving your shoulder strength as described above will help a lot, but there are several other complimentary ways to improve at the second move:

1) Get ridiculously strong, such that you can do a 1-arm pull-up from a small campus rung :)  However, as discussed last week that kinda defeats the purpose, and there are much easier ways to do it.

2) Use momentum.  On the biggest moves, momentum becomes critical.  It’s much easier to pull up if you keep your hips moving and never stop pulling upwards.  Follow the methods described in Basic Tips, realizing their importance becomes magnified on bigger moves. 

Additionally, in the Basic Tips post I discussed aim and accuracy.  I find it’s much more difficult to accurately place my fingers at the correct depth than it is to deadpoint to the proper vertical height.  Failing to place your finger pads deep-enough on the rung can (and often does) ruin a set.  If you don’t get deep enough, you will either fail to latch the rung, or need to bounce your hand into position before proceeding, thus killing any momentum.  For this reason, I find it helps on difficult moves to aim “through the board”.  Assume you are trying to latch a rung that is a quarter-pad deeper than your rung really is.  This will often result in smacking your tips into the plywood, so don’t over-do it–try to aim for a 1/4″ or so deeper than you need.  Your tips may get slightly bruised and sensitive, so go easy at first.  With practice, you should be able to hit the correct depth on most moves without this technique, but on the most challenging sets, this can really help ensure you can keep your momentum flowing upward to the top.

3) Push with your low hand.  This is critical, and probably the biggest difference between medium and large moves.  For shorter folks in particular, once you are in the 1-5 position, your low hand will not be able to maintain a normal position for pulling for long (with your palm facing the board).  Once you’ve pulled up off Rung 5 a few inches, your low forearm will be more horizontal than vertical, and your palm will be more or less facing the ground.  Get in the habit of pushing down from this position (another reason I like the Shoulder Press is that it trains the Triceps for this motion).  Push for as long as you can maintain contact with Rung 1, before stabbing upward for the high rung (Ben Moon exemplifies this at 6:55 here.  His low hand pushes until his low elbow is nearly locked and his low arm is pointing straight down).  

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing).  The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5.  The center frame is a point midway through the second move.  The right frame shows the right hand's last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing). The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5. The center frame is a point midway through the second move. The right frame shows the right hand’s last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This will help with smaller moves as well, not just 1-5-9, but it takes practice.  Dedicate a few sets each session to practicing this movement.  Do the first move of your Max Ladder, but rather than focusing on latching the second move, focus on pushing with your low hand.  Don’t even try to latch the high rung, just try to improve your ability to generate upward movement by pushing with your low hand.  Once you start to get the hang of it, then try to focus on latching the high rung.  Note that this will be easier to do on steeper boards and vice versa.  If your campus board is less than 10-degrees overhanging or so it will be difficult to push properly.

This is another aspect of campusing that translates directly to rock climbing (and something that even beginners can benefit from improving immediately).  If you watch me climb, you will notice that I’m almost always pushing down with my low hand until the last possible moment, particularly on big moves.  Many climbers ignore their low hand once the shoulder passes it.  This is a mistake, and it puts unnecessary strain on the opposing arm’s fingers and pull muscles.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

There are other factors that can affect your campus training besides strength and movement:

Body Weight – As in all aspects of climbing, body weight is a significant factor.  If you’re strictly training, and not trying to perform on the campus board, there is no need to be at your fighting weight.  However, in the interest of minimizing injury risk, it’s a good idea to be within 10 lbs or so of your fighting weight.  As discussed, campusing with added weight can increase the risk of injury, and it doesn’t really matter that much to your elbows if the added weight is iron or fat :)

If you are trying to perform on the campus board (for whatever reason, such as to set a personal best), dropping to at, or near, your fighting weight will definitely help.  As with any weight loss, don’t overdo it, lose weight intelligently, and incorporate it into your Seasonal Training Plan to ensure you can sustain it through your performance phase.  For me, I struggle to stay at my fighting weight for more than about 4 weeks, so if I get to that weight in time for my Power Phase, I’m likely to struggle mid-way through my Performance Phase.  Most climbers are concerned with their performance on the campus board, and so would be better off timing their diet to peak later in the season.

Arousal - As with any power-oriented exercise, your mental state of arousal can play a big part.  In other types of climbing, excessive arousal can be a hindrance (like a technical route where precise footwork is required).  There is certainly a technical aspect to campusing, as discussed at length.  It’s important to work on the technique, but it’s also important to just go for it at times and see what you can do.  If you are stilling learning the technique, spend the first half of the workout going slow, working on individual aspects of your Max Ladder, and using your conscious mind to control your actions.  Then get aggro for the rest of the workout.  This is the time to get fired up and go for it.  Don’t worry about doing the movements perfectly; focus on giving each attempt your most intense effort.

Different people have their own triggers, so experiment with different methods and see what works best for you.  I like to listen to  upbeat music, usually Hip Hop or something with a strong beat.  Occasionally I’ll grit my teeth and make a “GRRR!” sound just before I start a set.  I’m not much of a screamer, but I will occasionally let out a brief ‘yelp’ as I begin the second move of a Max Ladder.  Some folks have tried external stimulants like caffeine (and who knows what else in the ’80s), but I generally avoid that kind of thing.
 
Record Keeping - One could argue you aren’t training if you aren’t keeping track.  I went many years without documenting my campus work, and it was a huge mistake.  I had no idea what my plan was, or any way of telling if I was getting better.  As soon as I started documenting my workouts I started making significant progress.   Use a log sheet like the one shown here to document each set of your workouts.  Make not of your personal bests, and strive to match, and then surpass them, each season.  Also, use the log to desribe your campus board’s specifications in case you ever change venues.

At my ever-advancing age, I’m constantly tempted to think I’ve peaked as an athlete, and my best years are behind me.  Three years ago, at the spry age of 33, my personal best was 1-7-13 (in Metolius Spacing,  which equates to roughly 1-3.75-6.5 in Moon Spacing).  I couldn’t do 1-5 at all, let alone pull off of it.  Three weeks ago, I put all these tips into action, and sent 1-5-8, Moon spacing (admittedly, with some slight dabs against the wall):

Perhaps 1-5-9 isn’t out of the question for me after all?

Pregnancy Update from the Third Trimester (Weeks 27-32)

If you’ve been following this blog for the past few months. you’ve probably read my exercising and pregnancy updates every 6-8 weeks or so.  (Past updates can be found here, here, and here.)  The purpose of these updates is not to brag about what I CAN do or complain about what I CAN’T do, but rather share my experiences, in the hopes that another mama-to-be out there might find them useful, helpful, or inspiring.  That being said, here’s how things have been going in the third trimester so far… Week 27:  Weather has been cold and rainy, so it’s been…Read the rest of this entry →

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 1: The Basics

Campusing is one of the best training activities for climbers who are looking to improve explosive power and contact strength (detailed rundown on these terms here).  However, campusing is one of the most difficult training activities to perform well. Many would-be campusers struggle during the initial stages of learning to use this tool, they become frustrated, and so they move onto to other tools never realizing any of the benefits of this type of training.  This post will provide a few tips on how to campus well, which will make sessions more enjoyable, reduce the risk of injury, and ensure that you maximize transference of this training to the rock.  …And it will help you ‘burn off your mates’ on the campus board ;-)  While I’m at it, I hope to explain to any remaining skeptics some of the reasons campusing will help you improve your rock climbing.

Campusing well is composed of at least the following three elements.  As such, all of these elements can be improved through dedicated campus training, and once honed, will improve your outdoor climbing. 

Contact Strength - As discussed here, this is the ability to quickly latch small, distant holds.  This is essential for grabbing and securing a distant campus rung, but more so it is critical to executing any dynamic move on the rock.  Contact strength requires both strong fingers, and the ability to contract them quickly.  The first trait is best achieved through dedicated hangboard training, the latter is best developed on the campus board.  By attempting to execute increasingly more difficult moves (usually, latching more distant rungs) your fingers will be required to generate larger force, and to generate it more quickly (so the rung can be latched before you fall away). 

To improve your contact strength, you need to dyno.  These can be done on the rock, on a plastic bouldering wall, or on the campus board.  The campus board is ideal because the rungs are not sharp or abrasive, so you can attempt dynamic moves many times in a single session without thrashing your skin.  I prefer a campus board to plastic bouldering because the movement is much more simplified, allowing you to focus completely on producing power during the latch.  Establish a baseline of campus moves you can perform, and then incrementally increase the difficulty from your baseline as you progress.  If you can’t perform basic or matching ladders, ask a partner for a power spot until you get the hang of it.  Another option if matching ladders are too difficult, is to try a simple match: start with one hand on Rung 1 and the other on Rung 2, lift your feet off the ground, then match the low hand from Rung 1 to Rung 2. 

Putting my contact strength to the test on Breakin the Law, 5.14b, St George, Utah.  Dan Brayack Photo.

Putting my contact strength to the test in St. George, UT. Dan Brayack Photo.

Moving with Momentum - For the wickedly strong, campusing can be done statically.  However, that misses the point  (or at least, it’s beside the point).  Momentum is a critical element of difficult climbing, and if you are striving to climb near your limit, you must learn how to utilize momentum. Many of the best climbers in the world utilize momentum constantly.  That is, they use momentum even when they don’t “need” to, because when used well, it makes climbing easier, saving lock-off power for where it is truly needed. (Furthermore, campusing slowly or statically eliminates the need for good contact strength to latch rungs, drastically reducing any potential for improvement to your contact strength.)

The campus board is the best tool we have for developing and practicing the use of momentum in climbing, because momentum is almost always required on the campus board, and the holds are smooth to the touch, so they don’t punish dynamic movement like abrasive rock does.  If a campus move can be done statically, then the climber could certainly do a more difficult move.  A well-performed campus move at your limit will DEMAND the flawless use of momentum. 

The “Max Ladder” is the best campus exercise, consisting of three moves.  The first move is an explosive pull-up from the first rung, with one hand reaching high to latch a distant rung.  During the second move the low hand reaches through, without matching, to latch an even higher rung.  The third move is a match to the rung reached during the second move. During this exercise, many climbers explode off the first rung, latch the center rung, and then pause, adjust the high hand, etc, before launching into the second move.  This is a mistake. Try to make your max ladder a continuous, flowing movement.  Try to keep your hips in constant motion.  Theoretically, it would be nice if you could keep your hips moving continuously upward. In reality, there will probably be a very brief pause in upward motion once you latch the first move, however, your hips should keep moving, swaying noticeably to the side (the side that latched the center rung) to build momentum for the next move.  Think of your hips as tracing an upside-down “J” on each move, with the two moves flowing seamlessly into each other.

Your hips should trace an upside-down "J" pattern on each campus move.

Your hips should trace an upside-down “J” pattern on each campus move.

Of course, achieving momentum in campusing (and climbing) is easier said than done.  Often the first move is latched poorly, making it impossible to proceed without adjusting or bouncing on the rung.  That is why it is essential to campus accurately.

Accuracy - Of the three elements of campusing well, accuracy holds the most promise for beginners.  It may take years of training and climbing before the need for substantial contact strength becomes apparent in a novice’s outdoor climbing.  But climbers at every level can benefit from teaching their body to precisely locate holds in space.  Campusing will train you to aim precisely for every rung.  Usually in only a few sessions you can learn to deadpoint most moves, making rungs much easier to latch.  Furthermore, by deadpointing, the strain on your shoulders, elbows, and fingers is minimized, vastly reducing the risk of injury.  This is true while campusing and while climbing in general.

During a perfect deadpoint, your arm will be at its furthest (safe) extension, and you will just barely be able to reach the hold when your hips are at their apex.  This is an ideal worth striving for.  Practically, this will be difficult to perform initially, so as you are improving your deadpoint skills, focus on preventing your hips from falling away as you latch each rung.  Attempt to latch the hold when your hips are at their apex, and then bend your arm as necessary to take up any “slack” before your hips begin to fall.  This too will take practice and focus, so break up your efforts into individual moves that you can learn to perform well before moving onto more complex sets.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of heigt to latch the high rung.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of height to latch the high rung.  Focus on the trajectory of your hips, not your hand.  Ideally your hips will rise, then pause, but never descend.

From a purely mechanical perspective, there are three linear dimensions or axes to consider when aiming for a distant hold (there is also rotation about each of the three axes, but that usually isn’t a huge factor in climbing).  In simple terms, you need to aim for and hit the correct vertical position, horizontal position, and depth.  The campus rung simplifies matters by vastly reducing the need for horizontal accuracy (for advanced climbers, campusing to pockets can provide an all-encompassing challenge).

The first step in achieving accurate hand placement is to keep your eyes on the prize.  Many climbers unwittingly blink or close their eyes during dynos.  Don’t do that!  Notice how good free-throw shooters (or golfers attempting a putt) pause and stare at the basket for a moment before shooting.  During this period the subconscious is making numerous calculations in preparation for the ensuing movement.  When you step up to the board, grasp the first rung with both hands, then pause and stare up at the target hold for a moment before lifting your feet off the ground.  Keep your eyes open and fixed on the target throughout the movement. Have a partner verify that you are keeping your eyes open and locked on target (or film yourself). 

When performing two back-to-back moves, as for a Max Ladder, moving with momentum will prevent you from staring down the target rung before the second move, so take a moment to locate both rungs before your feet leave the ground.  With practice, you will keep both rungs in view as you complete the set.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

For improving vertical and depth accuracy, practice the following exercise (which we will call “Touch and Release” to distinguish it from “Touches”, which are used to improve lock-off strength).  From a matched position on Rung 1, lunge upward, release one hand and attempt to touch a pre-determined distant rung.  Do not attempt to latch the rung. After you touch it (or try to touch it), release your low hand and drop to the ground. Repeat this exercise, attempting to improve your hand placement on the distant rung, ultimately striving to place it perfectly on the rung at the deadpoint, with no wasted movement and all four finger pads engaged on the top surface of the rung.  Once you can routinely touch the rung well, put pressure on the rung for an instant before dropping off the board.  Repeat as necessary until you are confident you could latch the rung.  Then try to latch the rung.  Consider using a power spot when first attempting this exercise, but eventually strive to do it solo.

The below video shows the whole process of a well-executed Max Ladder:

    • Staring down the rung before starting,
    • Latching each rung with speed
    • Moving with momentum,
    • Striving to deadpoint (I overshot the first move slightly, but the second move is a pretty good deadpoint).

Another important consideration for campus training is rest between sets.  This is a power exercise, meaning the Time Under Tension should be short and the rest should be(relatively) long.  I’ve experimented with rest periods of 45, 60, 90 and 120 seconds between sets.  In my experience, longer is better.  Bring a stopwatch, and rest as long as you feel you need, but at least 90 seconds.  Currently I rest for 60 seconds between warmup sets, and 120 seconds between every other set (that is, I start my stopwatch, and begin a set every even minute).  Two minutes feels like a long time, but it definitely makes a difference (compared to 90 seconds rest).  If I feel it will help, I will rest for three or four minutes occasionally.  Usually these longer rests are taken later in the workout as the sets get more difficult.

Finally, a few tips on injury prevention.  First, keep your shoulders “tight” (slightly flexed) and elbows slightly bent when latching distant rungs.  It can be very tempting to lock your elbows or relax your shoulders to get an extra bit of reach, or to over shoot a rung, and strain to latch it on the way down, forcing your elbows and shoulders to suddenly snap eccentrically into a locked position.  This is really dangerous!  The bottom line is, DON’T BE A HERO!!!  If you fail to hit a rung well, just let go, rest up, and try to do better on the next set.  Any campus move can be done with good form.  There is no need to lose control and risk catastrophic injury.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

This goes for the fingers too.  Most campusing injuries result from folks hitting a rung poorly, then attempting to desperately latch the rung with only a few fingers in play.  If you do not land well on the rung LET GO!!!  This includes having all four finger pads (or three if using an open grip with the pinky dangling) in contact with the rung, and all aligned ergonomically (with respect to  the grip position you are trying to use).  If your fingers get tangled or contorted in some manner, just let go and live to fight another day. 

Many folks have asked about campusing with weight added.  I would not recommend it.  The forces on your shoulders, elbows and fingers are high-enough without adding weight to the equation, not to mention the risk of falling to the ground with extra weight added.  If you don’t take my word for it, listen to the words of Sonnie Trotter:

“the aches in my elbows started the morning after I strapped on the weight vest.  I campused up the wall and back down again, 5 times, on top of some other stuff.  Super bad idea, I know, but I couldn’t help it, I felt invincible.  I wasn’t.  I never will be.  Stop fooling yourself fool.  But I did it anyway and I paid the price.  The shock load one puts on their elbows coming down (without footholds and an extra 20 pounds on your body) is extremely severe.  It’s never, ever a good idea to do this…” 

It is also possible to suffer skin injuries on the campus board.  In my experience, these are usually chronic skin injuries caused by trying to perform too many sets in a single session (or too-frequent sessions).  Use smooth, large-radius rungs, and limit your sessions to a reasonable number of sets.  For me that means no more than about 15 total sets per leading hand (including warmup sets).  If you choose to campus on pockets, I strongly suggest taping your fingers to protect your skin.

Lastly, campusing demands repeated falls to the ground.  Use a good crash pad (or several), ensure the fall zone is safe, and use a spotter if possible.  Occasionally you may fall in weird positions, so clear the area in all directions around the board.  Get in the practice of landing safely, with knees bent, and practice absorbing the fall force slowly as you hit the ground.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

My hope was to fit everything I had to say on this topic into one post, but as usually I’ve failed :-)  Check back in a week or two for Part II, advanced tips for going BIG.

Comparing Campus Board Configurations

Last year I discussed at length the benefits of Campus Training, how to perform a Campus workout, and how to fit such workouts into your training schedule.  Next week I plan to describe how to get the most out of your campus sessions.  Campusing “well”, will reduce the risk of injury, improve your performance on the campus board so you can show up your friends :), and most importantly, ensure that your workouts translate effectively to actual rock climbing.  As a prologue to next week’s discussion, I’d like to describe some of the modifications I’ve made to the Lazy H Campus Board over the last year, and the reasons for making those changes.

First off, you may recall that last January I “topped out” on Version 3.0 of my board, so the most pressing task was to make my board taller.  The Lazy H was originally built along the contour of the sloping hillside, so it’s not “square”; the west, uphill side of the ceiling is a couple feet higher in elevation than the east, downhill side.  So this means the west edge of my campus board (right edge when facing the board) is about 4.5″ taller than the east edge (since the bottom edge of the board is horizontal).  So the easiest way to gain more height was to move my smallest rungs from the center of the board to the far right side.  This earned me an extra 1″ of height.  Next, I decided I would lower the bottom edge (and therefore the first row of rungs) approximately 2.75″ to eek out a bit more height.  The tradeoff here is a lower clearance height when walking under the board, and I have to start campus moves from a slightly lower position, which can be annoying.

These two changes only got me about one extra rung (with 4″ ‘Metolius’ spacing), which I’m hoping will not be enough.  So I decided to cut out a hole in my ceiling between two roof joists to accomodate another rung.  The distance between joists was only about 15″, so I had to trim the top rung to fit. Not the prettiest solution, but better than nothing.

My ghetto ceiling cutout and slightly shortened rung.  I haven't actually tried campusing to this rung yet.  I suspect it will punish poor accuracy.

My ghetto ceiling cutout and slightly shortened rung. I haven’t actually tried campusing to this rung yet. I suspect it will punish poor accuracy.

Additionally, over the past year or so I’ve been contemplating the two competing standards for rung spacing.  These are ‘Metolius spacing’, with small rungs placed every 4″ from top edge to top edge, and ‘Moon Spacing’, with rungs spaced every 22-cm (approximately 8.66 inches).  In my estimation, Moon spacing is far more prolific.  Metolius spacing is only used in America as far as I can tell, and even here it’s much less popular than Moon spacing.  For the last few seasons I found myself constantly “translating” my Metolius-spaced board into Moon units for the sake of comparison.  I got tired of my head hurting during all these workouts, so I decided to make the switch since I was re-building my board anyway.

Comparison of Metolius and Moon Spacing

Comparison of Metolius and Moon Spacing

The expression “1-5-9″ is based on Moon spacing.  I’m highly motivated to strive for these feats and compare my campus performance to other people’s around the globe.  I think 1-5-9 may be beyond my reach, but I would be very psyched to match Jerry Moffatt’s best of 1-5-8, which I think is within the realm of possibility for me.  In many other sports (such as running, swimming, cycling, and weightlifting), training activities and performances are easily quantified and compared.  Making comparisons in climbing is very difficult, except when two climbers have climbed the same exact route (which is not very common, compared to the likelihood of two runners sprinting around two separate tracks built to the same specifications).  Just about any runner in the world can find a 400m track to train on, allowing easy comparison with any other runner in the world.  

Campus training is just about the only more-or-less-standardized activity that climbers perform*, so it provides a significant opportunity for quantification and comparison, assuming common standards are used.  It’s amazing to me that I can build a campus board to the same dimensions as Jerry Moffatt’s or Wolfgang Gullich’s** and try to match feats they performed nearly 30 years ago.  Even on the rock–which seems to be relatively unchanging–holds break, footholds become polished, and the proliferation of chalk, rubber marks and video reduce the challenge over time, making comparisons in-exact.  If you can ignore these variations, you still may have to travel accross oceans for the chance to try your hero’s test-piece, and then you will have a brief moment in time to give it your best shot.  Anyone can build a standardized campus board in their own house, and train on it year after year.

[*The Moon Board is a brilliant concept that provides the possibility for worldwide comparison, but the idea hasn't really caught on, and so Moon Boards are few and far between.

**If you know the exact specifications of the original Campus Board in Nurnberg, please post up in a comment!]

The Moon spacing standard is probably the best choice since its the most prolific, however, as discussed here, 22-cm is way too far between rungs to facilitate steady progression.  The solution is to add half-steps, such that rungs are spaced evenly at 11-cm intervals.  This equates to about 4.33″, which is just a smidgen further than the 4″ Metolius gap.  Close enough to facilitate progression while still allowing quick worldwide comparison.  The final result was a board that goes from 1 to 8.5, with half-steps between each rung.  If I ever send 1-5-8.5, I’ll add a “rung 0.5″ to the bottom of my board to work 1-5-9. 

Lazy H Campus Board Version 4.0.  Small rungs, incut side up, on the right, spaced at 11 cm.  Medium rungs, flat-side-up on the left, spaced at 22-cm.  Three small rungs, flat side up, laid over the medium rungs (at positions 1.5, 4.5 and 7.5).

Lazy H Campus Board Version 4.0. Small rungs, incut side up, on the right, spaced at 11 cm. Medium rungs, flat-side-up on the left, spaced at 22-cm. Three small rungs, flat side up, laid over the medium rungs (at positions 1.5, 4.5 and 7.5).

[Side note: Those who live in the Denver area are well-aware that a new, world-class Earth Treks climbing gym opened in nearby Golden.  For those keeping track, the Earth Treks board is 16.7 degrees overhanging with rungs spaced approximately (though somewhat inconsistently) 10.5-cm apart, according to my independent measurements.  This may not seem like a big difference (from 11-cm spacing) but it means rung #9 is 8cm lower than on a Moon-spaced board.  That's almost a half-rung.]

Finally, Ben asked here if there was a reason I had oriented my small rungs with the “incut” side up.  Ever since then I’ve been wondering what the difference in apparent difficulty is between the two orientations.  On the surface, it would seem obvious that incut rungs would be easier to use.  However, the incut edge (of a small Metolius rung) includes a relatively massive 5/16″ edge radius, while the flat edge has a relatively small 3/16″ radius.  The effect is that while the flat side is less positive, it provides a deeper surface for pulling (9/16″ depth of flat surface compared to 1/16″ depth of essentially flat surface plus 3/8″ depth of positive surface on the incut side).  

Approximate dimensions of a small Metolius campus rung, based on my measurements.  The 'flat' side is on the left, the 'incut' side is on the right.  Of note, these rungs are supposedly 3/4" deep, but I found them to be a bit less than that.

Approximate dimensions of a small Metolius campus rung, based on my measurements. The ‘flat’ side is on the left, the ‘incut’ side is on the right. Of note, these rungs are supposedly 3/4″ deep, but I found them to be a bit less than that.

Deeper holds are easier to use because the point at which force is applied to your finger pad is nearer to your DIP/PIP joints, reducing the leverage (or “moment”) on those joints.  Theoretically one could measure the coefficient of friction of these rungs and attempt to calcuate the torque required to hang on them (statically) in each orientation , but such calculations would almost certainly need to neglect all the critical dynamic aspects of a campus move.  The most practical way I could think of to determine the apparent difference between these orientations was to mount a set of each side-by-side and try them out. 

Comparing the flat & incut edges side-by-side, you can hardly notice the "incut".  Just from appearances, the Flat-Side-Up edge looks easier to grab to me.

Comparing the flat & incut edges side-by-side, you can hardly notice the “incut”. Just from appearances, the Flat-Side-Up edge looks easier to grab to me.

Qualitatively, here is what I found:

  • Flat-Side-Up feels noticeably “sharper” (un-skin-friendly).  I could easily see getting a flapper using the relatively small-radius flat side.
  • Long moves to distant rungs are easier to latch on Flat-Side-Up rungs.  I think this is because when latching a distant rung, the arm is oriented near-vertical, so the ‘slopey’ nature of the gripping surface is not much of a factor, while the extra depth, and sharper lip make the rung easier to latch.
  • When attempting long moves, its more difficult to keep the low hand in-play on Flat-Side-Up rungs.  I think this is because with larger moves you really need to push down with your lagging hand (more on this next week), while that forearm is nearly horizontal to the ground.  An incut edge allows you to pull out slightly, which really helps keep that hand in contact with the rung until you’re ready to remove it.  I think with practice I would get better at pushing the low hand in the “right” direction (parallel to the angle of the board) and this would be less problematic.
  • Overall, for smaller moves, the flat-side-up configuration was noticeably easier for me.  This held true up to a 1-4-7 Max Ladder. 
  • Overall, for moves at my limit, the two orientations seemed equal in difficulty.  When I tried 1-4.5-7.5 or 1-4.5-8 on Flat-Side-Up rungs, I noticed my lagging hand occasionally slipped off Rung 1 (and even Rung 4.5) when I tried to push off (to go from 1 to 7.5 or 8), which made up for the relative ease of latching distant rungs.

In conclusion, I plan to stick with Incut-Side-Up rungs (pun intended).  The difficulty seems about the same, but the smooth radius on the incut side of the rung makes them much less threatening to my skin.  The last thing I need is a skin injury from campusing.

Next week, I will get into the details of how to campus effectively.  Campusing is perhaps the most difficult training activity to do well.  If not done properly, campusing is a waste of time, but even worse, it can cause serious injury. Proper form will help you minimize the risk of injury while ensuring you get the most value out of this training.

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