How to Make Up Your Own Routes at the Climbing Gym

Juniper commented on my post the other day that she doesn’t think there are enough routes in her small gym to try out the training wheels for training workout I stole from Kris at Power Company Climbing. So for Juniper and everyone else, here’s a whole post about how I got into ‘setting’ my own routes at the gym.

Inventing or setting routes is a learned skill that gets better with practice!

Basic Method

  1. Look – Find hold(s) on the wall that you want to use! This is the fun part! Pick anything that appeals to you.
  2. Sequence – Make up a sequence that will take you from the ground to the top, using the hold you picked
  3. See  – Visualize the movement of the sequence. Decide which hands will go on which holds, think about the feet. What will your body look like at various points on the route?
  4. Climb – Climb your new route and see how it feels.
  5. Revise & Repeat – Think about what you’ve just climbed. Was something to hard or too easy, too close or to far?

When you first start, it can be hard to visualize movement accurately, or to remember all the holds you’ll need (without the visual cue of tape). This is ok! Do as much as you can. Here are some ideas that will let you practice routesetting skills and movement visualization which aren’t as memory-intensive as making up a new route from scratch.

First Steps: Modifications to Existing Routes

These are the easiest ways to make up your own routes (in order of increasing difficulty). Routesetting for yourself can be a great tool to prevent warmups and other climbs you repeat regularly from becoming stale.

  1. Track Feet – on easier routes (think warm-ups) can you use tracking feet only? Why or why not? What foot (feet) are absolutely essential?
  2. Links – take two different routes and find a way to link them together, using holds on the routes themselves or by adding extra holds.
  3. Delete – can you climb a route without using all the holds? Which ones can be removed?
  4. Replace – take a hold on an existing route, declare it off bounds, and replace it with another hold. Does it make the route easier or harder? This can help get you familiar with hold types you avoid–replace a jug with a sloper or a pinch on a warm-up, for example.

Making Up New Routes Using the Holds that are Already on the Wall 

The easiest way to start making up whole new routes is to pick a sequence of hand-holds, leaving the feet open. This way, you have fewer things to remember. To get the most out of it, it’s best to plan, visualize, and then climb, instead of adding holds one by one to the route.

Walls with high hold density tend to work best for making up problems. This is the 45deg wall at the gym where I train--it was crazy empty the day I took this picture!

Walls with high hold density tend to work best for making up problems. This is the 45deg wall at the gym where I train–it was crazy empty the day I took this picture!

Sometimes I pick a start hold and ‘build’ the sequence in my head from the ground up. Sometimes I pick a hold (often part of a route that’s too hard for me, or one that addresses a weakness (bad crimps, pinches, slopers)) and make up a way to get to it instead. Sometimes I just decide the general path I want to take, for example, all the way across the base of the 45 and then up. Or sometimes I want to find holds that put my body into a cool position. It’s up to you!

How to Make Your Routes Better

If you’ve made up routes before, but didn’t like them, keep trying! For some ideas, check out posts over at Power Company Climbing, one consisting of tips from Kris, and another which is a truly awesome interview with Chris Danielson, including his thoughts on Kris’s tips! Here are some things I do to make my own routes better…

  1. Find a friend: It’s much more fun to work on making a route with another person than by yourself. It’s more fun to discuss how a route climbs or how movement feels out loud than in your own head. 
  2. Practice: Then practice some more. This makes a huge difference in the quality of the routes you invent. If you keep at it, you will see improvement, and feel it in the way your routes climb.
  3. Break the ladder: Routes that climb like ladders–left, right, left, right, hand, foot, hand foot, all the way up are boring! Try setting routes that traverse, or set a bump move. Find ways to break the pattern, and your routes will become more interesting.
  4. Specify Feet: Take off the good ones, or allow feet only of a certain color. This requires you to keep more information about the route in your head, but will add another complex and interesting dimension to your routesetting.

 

Finally, remember that the folks that set routes work from a place of powerful passion for climbing and love of movement–which, as a climber you already have. You already have what it takes to ‘set’ your own routes.

But, I climb 3 – 4 nights a week, and EVERY time I climb I am routesetting.  No matter where I am climbing or what gym I go to, I am always creating boulders based on existing holds on the wall.  For me, this is, without question, the best way to better understand how to create movement, and also understand the movement itself better.  On your gym’s wall, or a home woodie, with enough density of holds, you can make up a dozen or more new climbs every night. — Chris Danielson, interviewed by Power Company Climbing, in a post you should go read right now

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Track It!

Today’s post is all about training logs! Many people think that training logs are only for people with training plans, or only for people who are ‘serious’ about their climbing and never play in the gym. Nothing could be further from the truth! Tracking what you’re doing with your time in the gym is valuable for climbers of all skill levels and ages, even raw beginners.

Some examples of what your training log can do:

  • Allow you to see progression and improvement 
  • Document and prevent over training, keep track of ‘tweaks’ and injuries
  • Prevent you from rewriting history with overly-rosy or overly-critical lenses
  • Help you set goals and hold yourself accountable to them
  • See how your motivation and interests change over time
  • Inspire confidence, as a record of commitment and effort
  • Allow you to reflect on past training and plan for the future

In the gallery below, I pulled a couple examples from my winter training log, to illustrate how I’ve been tracking my 1+1 training wheels workouts. In a more commercial gym (1st picture) everything is graded, and I’ll sometimes keep track of grades/colors in detail. In the bouldering gym where I normally train, I just keep track of the angle. For the second hour, when I’m working on harder climbs, I sometimes take more detailed notes, but usually not.

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What should you write? I think there are three things that every training log should capture in some way–status of injuries, difficulty, and training volume.

The first two items are fairly straightforward. All climbers are prone to injury, but you’re at extra risk if you’ve recently increased the difficulty or volume of your training, or both at the same time. If you do get injured, your training log can be an invaluable tool to help you figure out why.

In my logs, I always keep careful track of training volume–how many routes I’ve done or attempted in a particular session in the gym. The original inspiration for this post was my realization that when the gym is crowded, I don’t get much done and I’m overly negative about my own climbing. Your training log can help you see what affects your training volume, and adjust it according to your own goals.

For some, the climbing gym is a place to see and be seen, and a great place to socialize. If you don’t have a training plan, it can be easy to get distracted and climb a very small number of routes or problems during your time at the gym. For new and intermediate climbers the most important thing to do is get lots of volume to develop and refine your technique. You don’t have to stop being social–but be aware of how it affects what you’re able to get done in the gym!

If you do have a training plan, it can be difficult to stick to among all the opportunities and distractions in the gym. Instead of finishing your planned warm-up sequence, you get sucked into trying the new sloper problem with a crowd of your friends. I use my training log to see how well I’m sticking to my training goals and plans. I try to find a dynamic equilibrium between doing planned and structured training and seeking variety and inspiration.

Below the cut, check out some thoughts from climbers @Senderhq and @drglasner on tracking training, as well as a couple do’s and dont’s for your training log.

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Training Wheels for Training: A Review

Climbers are endless consumers of information about climbing. There’s always one more blog to discover, one more video to watch, and one more slideshow to click through. We’re also inundated with information about how to train. As our sport matures, we’re discovering more and more about how to achieve peak performance.

When it comes to training advice, it’s important to find the voices you trust among the growing cacophony. For me, one of those voices is Kris Hampton, who writes the blog Power Company Climbing. His training content is consistently high-quality and relevant.  After a 3 week break from climbing in mid-December, I re-discovered this post by Kris: How to Climb Harder than Other Newbs. The guidelines Kris lays out have been the foundation of my training for the last two months. They’re simple, and they work.

My sessions are almost all structured the same way–in two hour-long blocks.

I spend the first hour warming up by climbing new (to me) easy problems, or repeating moderate problems perfectly. No flailing feet, no muscling up the wall. Focus on feeling and improving the quality of your movement, not whether or not you get to the top.

The next hour I spend working problems that are hard, but achievable. Kris recommends something you think you can send in 5-6 goes. I try to carry the smoothness and precision of movement from the easy problems through to the second half of my session. If I’m too tired to climb well on the harder stuff, I either end the session or climb a bit more on easier problems.

That’s it. Simple.

Even better, it works. I am having tons of fun during the first hour, and feeling more solid on problems closer to my limit. Some suggestions and tweaks for tailoring the ‘newbie’ workout are below. Remember–it’s never to early or too late to be beginner again!

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Antagonist Muscle Training for (Intermediate) Climbers

Confession time: I can’t do a real push-up. Not even one! I’m a perfect example of the imbalance that many climbers have in their upper bodies–our pulling muscles are way stronger than our pushing muscles. Correcting or avoiding this imbalance is an important part of injury prevention.

Maggie is wondering why I can't do a real push up, and what on earth I was doing hovering a few inches off the ground with my arms shaking.

Maggie says: You really can’t do a push-up!? What are you doing in the dirt? Can I play too?

One of my training ‘projects’ is improving my the strength of my antagonist muscles to correct my own imbalance. You don’t need a fancy training program: you can fit pushing muscle exercises into whatever workout/climbing schedule you already have. Here are three suggestions…

#1 Stick, Meet Carrot

During your next bouldering or routes session, work in a light number of push-ups in between routes or problems. Decide on a specific ratio–for example–do 5 (or 10) push-ups for every two boulder problems. If your gym has free weights easily accessible, you can mix it up and do other antagonist exercises.

When I do this type of workout, what I’m usually doing is ‘rewarding’ myself for doing exercises I’m not good at by doing things I like to do. For example, I do push-up progression exercises in all of  my workouts: lifting or climbing. Sometimes, when I’ve done good work in a session, I’ll ‘reward’ myself by hopping up on the bar and doing a few pull-ups for fun.

You can work push-ups in between routes into your warm-up or cool down, or do them throughout a session. Don’t give yourself a break when you get outdoors–you may feel silly doing push-ups at the crag, but injuries are far worse than feeling silly. Ask yourself–if not now, when?

#2 Self-Assigned Homework

As Tony would say, I stole this idea from Tony Gentilcore, specifically from his pull-up progression series. Tony gives his clients ‘homework’ to do a certain number of reps per day, 25 or 50, for example.

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Climbing-Related Things I Have Bookmarked In The Last Year [An Exhaustive List]

In case you’ve already read all the books you got for the holidays….

Climbing Community/Culture/Meta

  1. Women, First Ascents, and Competition, Article by Thomasina Pidgeon [Gripped] 
  2. LT11’s Jordan Shipman on Vision and the Lack Therof in the Climbing Industry [LT11]
  3. Ten Top Tips for Staying Alive [UKClimbing]
  4. Collette McInerney on Women Sending Hard [Five Ten]
  5. Sonnie Trotter on Dave Graham’s Secret and Hard Climbing [Sonnie Trotter]
  6. NYT Profile of Ashima Shiraishi [New York Times]
  7. It’s Not Cool to Care [The Stone Mind]
  8. Spiral of Death [Rock and Ice]
  9. Women and Development [B3 Bouldering]
  10. Climbing is (Not) the Best [The Stone Mind]
  11. Exorcising Dirtbags: Let the Right One In [Climbing Magazine]
  12. Return To Sender: Writeup of Sender Films [NatGeo]

Long Term Road Trips

  1. Getting Out of the Midwest, Trip Budgeting [MP]
  2. Western U.S. Road Trip, Planning Details and Destination Recommendations [MP]
  3. How To Budget for a Climbing Road Trip [Roll Global]
  4. Guide to Safely Sleeping In Your Vehicle for Free [Roll Global]
  5. 9 Traits of the Ideal Road Trip Companion [semi-rad]
  6. Hobobo Guide to Free Wifi [Roll Global]
  7. Steph Davis on Living in Your Car, Safety Issues [High Infatuation]
  8. Steph Davis on Food on the Road [High Infatuation]
  9. Steph Davis on Where to Sleep While Dirtbagging [High Infatuation]
  10. Steph Davis on How to Set Up Your Truck i.e. the Shelf! [High Infatuation]
  11. Simple Living Manifesto [72 Days Project]
  12. Making Your Road Trip 40% Better [semi-rad]
  13. The Ultimate Road Trip [semi-rad]
  14. Interactive Map: Breweries of the United States [Pop Chart Lab]
  15. Active Fire Mapping Program [US Forest Service]

Lifestyle/Road Trip Blogs 

  1. Mike D’s Climbing Roadtrip Blog
  2. Furgonetten
  3. Peder and Jess
  4. Dirtbag Life

Interviews 

  1. Really Great Interview with Alex Johnson [DPM]
  2. Interview with Collette McInerney on Bolting and Climbing Hard [Climb Find]
  3. Zen Quotes from Chris Sharma [Climb and More]
  4. Interview with Chris Sharma in Ceuse [Petzl]
  5. Chris Sharma Interview [UKClimbing]

Mental Aspects of Climbing

  1. Fear of Falling – Article Explaining Clip Drop Training Technique [UKClimbing]
  2. Attitude and Climbing [MP]
  3. The Rotpunkt Method [The Stone Mind]
  4. Escaping Climbing Grades [Alli Rainey]
  5. Escaping Grade Imprisonment [Alli Rainey]
  6. Mental States, Peak Performance, and Big Dreams [Alli Rainey]

Training for Climbing

  1. Climbing and Training for a Half-Marathon [MP]
  2. Exhaustive Collection of Mostly Horst-Authored Training Articles [Nicros]
  3. Upper Body Strength+Power in Climbing & Training [Alli Rainey]
  4. Hangboard Training with Ryan Palo [Metolius]
  5. Sport Climbing Training Plan, Discussion [MP]
  6. How Do I Get Better Faster? [Power Company Climbing]
  7. How to Climb Harder than Other Newbs [Power Company Climbing]
  8. Relationship Between Lock-Off Ability and Performance [Eva Lopez]
  9. Training Tuesdays: Training Program [Climb On, Sister!]
  10. Training for the Red River Gorge [MP]
  11. Pushing Through Plateaus [Alli Rainey]
  12. How I Broke Through My Biggest Climbing Plateau [The Morning Fresh]
  13. One Workout Every Climber Should Do [DPM]
  14. Training Wonks Discuss Training [MP]
  15. Spice Up Your ARC Training [Lazy H Climbing Club]
  16. Training Obsession [Will Gadd]
  17. H.I.T. Training [Cragmama]
  18. Article about Professional Climbing Coaching for Adults [Climber Magazine]

Climbing Videos 

  1. Tomorrow I Will Be Gone, Bouldering in Rocklands [Outcrop Films]   
  2. Zombie Roof Solo [Will Stanhope, filmed by Dave Pearson]
  3. Red River Gorge: Gray’s Branch [Colin Delhanty]
  4. Cell Block Six [Sean Stewart]
  5. Protips 3 Jason Kehl [Climb X Media]
  6. Protips 6 Lauren Lee [Climb X Media] 
  7. Protips Slopers [Climb X Media]
  8. Climb Like Sharma [Rock and Ice]
  9. Demon Seed [Sean Stewart]

Destination Specific Links 

  1. Ten Sleep, Wyoming [Roll Global]
  2. Ten Sleep Canyon Camping Options [MP]
  3. Climbing on Cayman Brac [JB]
  4. Fired For Sandbagging route page [MP]

Gear

  1. Blank Slate Page Where You Can Buy the Ten  Sleep Guidebook [Blank Slate]
  2. What to Put in the Ultimate Back Country First Aid Kit [Roll Global]
  3. 12 Reasons the iPhone is an Awesome Piece of Climbing Gear [Adventure Journal]
  4. 10 Cheap Substitutes for Expensive Camping Gear [Adventure Journal]
  5. Bliss Wrap [Icebreaker]
  6. Foam Mattress Topper [Walmart]

Miscellaneous

  1. Pretty Nice Climbing Photo Which I Bookmarked For Unknown Reasons [tumblr]
  2. Elvis Leg of The Climbing Soul [Tara Reynvaan]
  3. A Zen Story [Stone Mind]
  4. Making a Crimp Mug [?]
  5. Excellent RouteSetting Blog [RouteCrafting] 
  6. Dream World [The Ascent Blog]
  7. Finding the Power of the Unplugged Mind [Proactive Outside]
  8. Physiological Responses to Rock Climbing in Young Climbers [British Journal of Sports Medicine]

Have more links or better links? Did I forget to bookmark something good? Post up in the comments and let us know!

Rest to Send

It’s almost Thanksgiving! As the race to finish up projects before the season ends begins, check out these tips for resting on routes and then go out and crush!

Rest When You Don’t Feel Tired

Some routes have a relatively easy section of climbing, followed by a bomber rest, followed by the ‘real’ business. These routes can be hard to rest on–you’re not tired yet, you’re anxious about the rest of the route, and it feels silly to be sitting around. I have two strategies for these sort of rests. Sometimes I’ll visualize climbing the rest of the route, reviewing beta, creating a positive vision for how the rest of the climb is going to go. Sometimes this will just make me nervous and shaky, so I’ll just focus on breathing and slowing my heart down. Do what works for you, but always take full advantage of any rest you get.

Shake the Kneebar!

Often when you’re resting, you’re recovering in your forearms at the expense of pumping out some random part of your body, like your calves. While I was working 49 in Maple, a friend of mine sent the route. When he got to the kneebar rest before the tough (for me) clip, he set the kneebar, rested, came back onto his arms, shook his calf, and stuck the kneebar right back in to rest some more. It had never occurred to me to shake anything but my arms at a rest until that day! With the shake-the-kneebar beta, I was able to get something back before the tough clip.

I met Wendy in Maple Canyon, land of the kneebars. I learned a lot about resting from this quiet crusher. Here she is cruising 49.

Be Patient

I habitually wear a watch, and I’ve started using it to time my rests. Sometimes it will feel like I’ve rested forever and I’ll look down to see that only 15 seconds have passed. At a no-hands rest, I will hang out as long as 2 or 3 minutes to make sure that I’ve completely recovered. At less-awesome rests, I still try to stay at least a minute. Note: this tip probably won’t work for crack climbers, unless you can find somewhere else to put the watch! ;)

Communicate

Let your belayer know you’ll be resting. Also make sure to communicate clearly and confidently that you are climbing when you exit the rest. You won’t take your belayer by surprise, and you can climb on with confidence, knowing that your belayer is with you.

Listen to Your Heart

Sometimes, a rest is not as good as you want it to be. It feels like you’re not getting anything back, you’re stressing out about the moves above you, and all of the sudden it feels like it would be better to just GO already. Don’t give into temptation! If a rest is only slightly decreasing or even just maintaining your pump, it’s still worth it to rest, because you can drop your heart rate back down and establish a good breathing rhythm. This will help you move better after the rest, even if it doesn’t feel like it while you’re resting.

Practice It!

Incorporate resting into your practice or training in the gym. If you do endurance training like ARCing, you are probably taking a few seconds to shake on jugs every once in a while. Challenge yourself to make good use of less-good rests. If you’re on a good jug, try smearing one or both feet. Use a higher foot than is really comfortable, or use a sideways facing jug instead of an upwards facing one. Teach yourself to relax and get something back even in slightly uncomfortable positions.
What are you trying to send this fall? Let us know in the comments and tell us how it goes!!

3 Playful Training Ideas

Can you train and have fun at the same time? One of the big tensions in my climbing experience this spring was between having fun while climbing, and training so that I could climb harder. A spontaneous game of add-on in the bouldering gym reminded me that I know tons of ways to have fun and get stronger at the same time. Here are 3 activities you can do in the gym to have fun with your climbing partners, which will also help you become a better, stronger, climber.

1. Enduro-Fest

How it works: The basic idea is to run laps on the wall until failure, competing with the other climbers for the most number of laps. Belayers make up new ‘rules’ every time you start up the wall, to keep you guessing and keep things interesting.

What you need: A top rope wall with a rope which has a couple routes of a grade you can climb confidently, all climbable from the same rope. Vertical or overhanging terrain works well, depending on your level of fitness. You also need at least one friend and a heaping does of creativity.

The rules we’ve used: climb with your eyes closed, mantle everything, sidepulls only, left foot only, left foot red right foot yellow, etc. Get creative!

A matter of timing: Climbers get 10 seconds of rest between each lap. They may chalk while climbing, but must not remain stopped for more than ten seconds. Belayers count down while climbers are resting, on the ground or on-route, to remind them to stay moving.

Why it makes you stronger: Directly competing with other people is always more motivating than training by yourself! Doing this at the end of your workout also teaches you to keep it together when you’re tired and pumped.

Why it’s fun: Friendly competition, need I say more?

A photo from flickr user surnam, from the SCS PNW 2010 comp. Click through for more climbing photos!

2. Pick My Climbs

What to do: Climb as usual, but let your climbing partners pick all your routes for you for the entirety of the training session. Pick routes that you think will challenge your partner, or a route that you think they can do but that they would never otherwise get on. If they hate slopers, give them a route within their skill level that has slopers. If they hate overhanging routes, make them do 3 moderate overhanging routes in a row.

Why it’s fun: You get to help your climbing partners get better! For me and my climbing partners, this game can tend towards a pain-fest of one-upmanship, but always in a rewarding way. I never go home with spare energy, which is the way I like it!

Why it makes you stronger: This game gets you in the habit of analyzing movement and identifying weaknesses in your climbing partners, so that you can find routes that challenge their weaknesses. It also gives your climbing partners a bombproof excuse to give you feedback on your climbing–be ready!

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