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!

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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Training Dreams

Today is the day before work starts for me in earnest. Some things are kicking in already, but tomorrow the deluge will begin. I wanted to take a moment to think about my health and my goals for the semester, so I sat down and planned out a training schedule and some training goals.

Those of you that have been around for a while might notice that some of my goals are reprises from last spring–whups.  I am dreaming big and hoping that I’ll have the dedication and determination to stick with this schedule through what I anticipate to be a very busy fall.

Goals: 

  1. Redpoint 111 5.11s and 12 5.12s — I set this goal over the summer, and then realized that it was way too ambitious for the time I had left. It’s probably too ambitious for this season too. I’m keeping it around because I want to be committed to building a base and pushing my limits. I’m hoping to make progress on the totals this fall, but I’m not sure accomplishing this goal is realistic. Current count: 20/111 5.11s, 3/12 5.12s
  2. 20 Days Outside in the Fall — This one is pretty self explanatory. Getting outdoors time is really important for improving, especially for me, as I am still working to address my mental weaknesses. Current progress: 2/20!
  3. 5 Pull-ups in a Set — I set this goal because doing pull-ups makes me feel confident and bad-ass, not because I’m hoping it will improve my climbing. Currently at a 3 rep max.
  4. 10 Push-ups — I still can’t do a real push-up. I got pretty close to doing one normal push-up last spring, then went on the road and promptly stopped training push-ups. This a smaller part of a broader effort to do more opposition muscle work this fall.
  5. Lift Two Days a Week
  6. Redpoint 5.12b — I have about 5 days around Thanksgiving, which is the longest block of outdoor time I’ll be able to get all fall. I’m hoping to have a project in mind by then, and cap off the outdoor season with a win.

In recognition that I’m not going to have as much time as I want, I’m backing off on performance oriented goals, and trying to set goals that will motivate me to get make time for lifting and climbing, and help me stay consistent. What are your big goals this fall? What steps are you going to take to accomplish them?

After the break, I included my training schedule for those of you that are interested. :)

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Pull-ups Aren’t Intimidating (Anymore)

Since I started climbing, my yearly new year’s resolution has been to do an unassisted pull-up. Sadly, it took me 3 years to make my resolution a reality. Here are 3 mistakes I made in my training which, when corrected, allowed me to complete my goal of doing a for-real unassisted pull-up!

Mistake #1: Non-Specific Training

For the first two years, I was using climbing as my main source of upper-body training. I reasoned that since I was making progress in my climbing by climbing harder, I was getting stronger. In fact, most of my gains during this time were probably coming from learning technique.

Moral #1: Climbing is only good training for climbing. If you have a specific fitness goal, add some training specific to that goal.

The Goal!

Mistake #2: All or Nothing

When I set the goal of doing a pull-up, I didn’t know about the fitness concept of progressions. It didn’t occur to me to research easier exercises which worked the same muscles I would need to be able to do a pull-up. I would try pull-ups sometimes, always with the same embarrassing failure to pull my body up even a little bit. This was disheartening, and it didn’t get me any closer to my goal.

My (successful) progression of intermediate exercises went like this:

Eccentric Only Lowering -> Flexed Arm Hangs -> Band-Assisted Pull-Ups -> Awesome!

Okay, maybe not that last one. For a really great description of technique and options for intermediate exercises and for a thorough debunking of all your excuses for not being able to do a pull-up, check out Tony Gentilcore’s 3 part opus on the subject of pull-up progressions.

Moral #2: Don’t expect to magically wake up and do a pull-up. Find a progression you like and start following it. 

Mistake #3: Once-a-day Workouts

When I started eccentric only pull-ups, my max was about 3 in a set, and I could usually only do 2-3 sets. You can get in a lot more training volume if you train multiple times a day, while still allowing your body to recover. A friend of mine had an over-the-door frame pull-up bar, so I borrowed his for a while and started doing my intermediate exercises in the morning and at night. Tony explains this better than I can in his post, but I’ll give it a shot. Basically–since a pull-up is max effort when you can almost or barely do one, sometimes you can’t do enough in one training session to get better as fast as you want. Doubling up lets you recover to do more volume.

Moral #3: Train more than once a day for faster results .

And that’s it! Before you know it, you’ll be banging out more reps than I can. It won’t be too hard–I’ve been on the road all summer and haven’t been training, so my max is still stuck right at 1 rep.

Climber ladies–can you do a pull-up? How many? Spray about your buff biceps in the comments!