Week 6 recap – the “Strength” phase is over and it’s on to the “Power” phase. The hang boarding ended on a high note and I was excited to enter the next phase. My climbing partner for Yosemite, Dan, and I had been trying to connect for weeks and were finally able to make it happen. However, Dan didn’t feel like bouldering and certainly wasn’t into campusing. So I guess that meant the garage was out… I really wanted to hang out with one of the nicest guys I know, so I took my harness to the gym and thought I’d just sort of “hang out.” Dan also showed up to the gym feeling flexible and became open to the idea of bouldering. The plan I should have followed for the night was very straightforward – boulder for about an hour (including warming up) and then throw myself at the campus board. That never really ended up happening.
Instead I strayed from the plan and had a fantastic time! Still, I was very conscious of warming up slow – several routes with mega jugs. It was mellow and fun to chat with friends in the gym. We moved over to the slab wall as it best simulates some of the terrain we’ll encounter and we quickly dispatched the two hardest ones. This was fun! They felt tame for the grade and inspired confidence in the fact that we might just pull these objectives off (even though our routes are a lot harder than this, it was still good to feel “casual” on them). We laughed and joked around, and casually moved around the gym. I still had an eye towards bouldering and even maybe the campus board until we ended up under the proudest, steepest part of the lead wall/cave. Jug fests for as far as the eye could see! Of course it was completely opposite of what I was supposed to be doing/training. OK, just one pitch, I thought. It looked like too much fun and I was already off the wagon, so what the heck. As I swung from hero jug to hero jug, and then took a monster victory whip from the top, falling more than half the height of the wall itself, I was having too much fun to stop. We did a few more lines, with my forearms failing long before my grip did (thank you strength phase!).
We took off the harnesses and contemplated doing a few boulder problems before we called it a night. Two hours later, we were still throwing ourselves at the wall. When one grade became too difficult because we were too tired, we simply went down a grade until we could barely get up even the easiest of warm ups. The Andersons would say this was of little benefit and in fact only opened us up for injury, but it was so fun! What was supposed to be a one-hour power session turned into a four-hour party.
Don’t get me wrong – I tried hard and got on problems that I couldn’t do, but I tried them more times than the program recommended and tried more problems in general then the program recommended. We ended the night with what Dan dubbed “Honnold-core” as he heard it’s Alex Honnold’s core training program – plank for two minutes, then 50 crunches and 20 pushups combined in the next two minutes. The goal is three sets of these with no rest between each set. Let’s just say it is advantageous to do the crunches and pushups as fast as you can to try and pretend like you get a few seconds rest before the next round of planking. In 12 straight minutes with no rests to speak of, the goal is to plank for 6 minutes, do 150 crunches, and 60 pushups. It’s tough! But for extra flare, turn the pushups into “Spiderman” pushups to also work the obliques extra hard.
Campusing never happened but hey, what’s the point of all this training if you can’t enjoy yourself once in awhile? I chalked it off as a “free day” on my training calendar and started with the campusing on the next workout. My friend Lukas talked me into another gym (the second one in four days – I felt like I was straying from the Dojo (garage) more than the program J). It’s the start of a new phase so it’s a bit of a learning process in terms of routine. Like the last time I started a new phase, I reread the applicable chapter in the Rock Climbing Training Manual a few times. Do the 20min ARC/warm up, do some boulder laddering (one to three problems of each grade up to flash) and then a few minutes trying some things that are too hard for me. That’s where the power comes from – pushing boundaries. Try something that’s too hard for you until it’s no longer too hard and becomes possible.
Lukas started focusing on “getting better” a few years ago. He had this realization that he thought one day he’d just wake up and be climbing 5.12, but he wasn’t getting on any 5.12s, so how was that going to happen? It seems rather obvious and over simplistic, yet you’d be surprised how many people think this way (whatever the number grade you say to yourself). That has included myself at times. Anyway, he has been training (unstructured) and it’s been paying off. He now climbs 5.13s regularly. It was great to see how strong he has gotten and it was motivating to climb together – another good reason to get out of the garage once in awhile.
Lukas had started campusing last season, in my garage actually. We both tried to learn how to use it at the same time and we both struggled with it. The difference was he stayed with it while I wrote off the campus board as awkward and medieval. Now it’s come back and I must face my weaknesses head on.
We were at a new climbing gym in Denver, one that should have had shiny new workout machines and brand new, overly-textured holds. While the gym did indeed have all those things, the holds and machines already looked well loved due to the huge volume of patrons that had passed through there in only the last few months. That is, all but the campus board, which barely had any chalk on it. It’s an intimidating apparatus, simple in design, but complex in execution. It seems like the exercise is easy and straightforward but anyone that has tried to use it will recall that the first few times are more awkward and cumbersome than you’d think. In fact, I remember a photo shoot I had set up with Tommy Caldwell for the Rock Climber’s Training Manual book. Here’s arguably one of the strongest climbers in the world and yet, he struggled with using the campus board. It wasn’t because of a lack of finger strength or muscles, but because of familiarity with the board itself, which requires a great deal of hand-eye-coordination that is unique in many ways. Tommy picked it up quickly, faster than most of us would, but it was also relieving to see he too was human and that campusing can be hard.
I told myself I was going to master the board and I was very grateful to be doing it with Lukas, who had become quite good at it. The first few attempts were what you’d expect (and what you should expect for yourself if you haven’t used a campus board before). I pulled up, stabbed at the next rung, missed, and stubbed my fingers. My body had to learn the distance between rungs and how to hit each one. I tried again as Lukas critiqued my technique – I was too straight-armed and I paused too long between rungs. Instead, I needed to stay locked off, biceps engaged, and needed to “pop” between each rung much more quickly rather than sort of lingering on each rung. Each “set”, which was more of a pathetic attempt at the prescribed set, had a steep learning curve. I’d watch Lukas, listen to his observations of my own technique, followed his advice, and could see myself getting better with each attempt. While that sounds great, in reality I felt like an idiot. It was embarrassing stubbing my fingers and getting spit off the board. Lukas meanwhile went up and down the board like a seasoned pro. This I think is where most of us give up, especially when you feel frustrated you can’t do something while someone else does it effortlessly. Instead I laughed at myself and felt inspired by Lukas – he was like me a year ago and now look at him! Lukas had great insight – it wasn’t that I was lacking the strength. The rungs were big and I had shown more power on the boulder problems just a half hour earlier. It was technique, familiarity, and practice that I needed more of. By the fifth attempt/set, things were starting to click. I was understanding and feeling what Lukas was talking about, I started to feel the rhythm of popping between rungs, and I wasn’t getting ejected off the board. Unfortunately by that time I was getting pretty sapped. I did another five sets with lower output than I was hoping for, but on the other hand I really started to feel more comfortable with the board itself.
I’m far from “mastering” the campus board, or even actually completing the exercises I’m supposed to, but I am past the biggest obstacle of all (in my eyes) – fearing the actual campus board. When I was at the gym with Dan, I ran into another friend who was about as far along in the program as I was and he said he was probably going to avoid the campus board and just boulder more. While we didn’t talk about why, I figured it was because he didn’t feel like he was strong enough for it. But after a dedicated session on the board, I think it’s the intimidating nature of the board itself. You have to learn it just like you learn anything else. So here’s my advice to you – if you’re thinking about skipping the campus board, don’t. Get a friend to help you. Have them just watch you and critique your technique, or even help take some weight off you with a power spot if you need. It will be an awkward, difficult first session or two. But things will get easier. At least that’s my experience with it, and Lukas’ experience, and even Tommy Caldwell’s experience.
Stray from the program when your spirit tells you to and follow it when your mind is intimidated by it. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s the only way to improve. So dust off your gym’s campus board and don’t worry what you look like on it. Even if you can’t stick the first rung, I’m sure most people looking at you are impressed you’re even trying it because they ‘re too intimidated to. And if they laugh, who cares. Laugh too. After all, don’t you climb because you have fun doing it?