My Story: When I decided to Get Good at Climbing

In 2017, I graduated from Ohio State University. I left Columbus Ohio with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, many great friends that would soon scatter throughout the U.S., and the mission to never become a boring grown-up.

Most of what I learned in college, I don’t really use anymore. There is one skill that I learned in college that I use just about every other day. I learned this skill outside of the classroom. That skill is rock climbing.

It all started with Skiing

My life as a climber ironically started when I joined the Ohio State Ski and Snowboard Team. Ohio is an abysmal place to be a skier. Many members of the team found another outdoor sport to stave off the blues in the off-season. Between longboarding around campus, partying, and rock climbing, we kept ourselves plenty amused.

Me and my fellow well-decorated officers taking home the hardware at Midwestern Regionals my senior year.
Lauren Abernathy Longboard
My favorite graduation photo, taken as an homage to how much longboarding I did around Ohio State’s campus.

Fortunately for me, I had plenty of senior ski team members who were much better climbers than I was. They were well-equipped to teach me how to climb. They quite literally showed me the ropes.

The First Two Years

My first two years of climbing consisted of me having practically no upper body strength, hurting both of my shoulders, and climbing inconsistently because of the demands of an engineering degree.

About a year into my foray into vertical adventures, my friends started taking me on trips outside to the Red River Gorge and the New River Gorge. Those weekends spent camping and climbing sparked a deep and passionate love of the sport.

Red River Gorge Climbers

At the beginning of my senior year, unencumbered by the rigor of a junior year class scheduled, I was at the gym a lot more often. In the winter I began pondering what I would do with myself in the two months between graduation and starting my job in Cincinnati. The decision was easy: I was going climbing.

Preparing for Spain

By the time graduation came around in the Spring of 2017, my friend Eileen and I had firmly etched the details of our 2 week post-grad climbing trip into a google sheet.

In accordance with our plan, we purchased round trip tickets to Spain. I decided that if I was going all the way to Europe, I had better be in good shape.

This is when I followed my first ever training program. I chose a program that I had heard of from friends and other climbers: The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. It was a rigorous program and the book was as thick as a textbook. It did not intimidate me, however. I was ready to do whatever it took to become a better climber.

Starting in the winter of my senior year, I set to work. I plodded through the training program. I made a crazy hangboard setup in my college apartment—much to the confusion of non-climbing roommates and I would regularly be late to various – ahem – social outings to make sure that I got my scheduled training in.

It took commitment—and it was sometimes hard to balance job interviews, studying, climbing and competing with the ski team, but I did it.

I went through about two cycles of the Rock Prodigy Program between December and my in June. The trip was wildly successful. I accomplished my trip goal by sending not one but two 5.11a, exceeding my expectations. Before that trip I hadn’t even managed to send 5.10c.

Lauren Abernathy Rodellar Climbing
Me working my project on the last day of my trip to Spain. I fell so many times, but I bagged the send before I left. It was my second 11a ever.

While I attribute much of this success to The Rock Prodigy program, I also made great strides in my fear of falling. Climbing regularly and falling regularly for two weeks outside helped my mental game significantly. Much to the credit of our Rockbusters climbing guide, Jan. With the support of Eileen and Jan and the other group members, I went from literally crying on top rope to becoming a confident sport climber. Before the trip I was perilously afraid to lead. When I left it was my favorite way to climb.

Rock Climber’s Training Manual and Beyond

Since then, I have gone on to more successful ascents, climbing further up the grades. In 2018, I changed my training strategy from the Rock Prodigy Program to Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression . (you can find a comparison of these here)

In 2018 I increased my hardest redpoint from 5.11a to 5.11d. I bagged quite a few ascents I was very proud of including Hercules, a 5.11b deep water solo in Mallorca, Banshee 5.11c which I accomplished in just two tries at the Red River Gorge, as well as Rich Bitch 5.11d in Mallorca.

Lauren Abernathy Banshee Red River Gorge
Me on my first attempt on Banshee in the Red River Gorge.
Lauren Abernathy Hercules Mallorca
A shot of me projecting Hercules in Mallorca.
Lauren Abernathy Rich Bitch Mallorca
Me on my send-go of Rich Bitch, my first 5.11d.

The satisfaction of sending when you try hard on a rock face is why I started this blog. When I topped out on Hercules in Mallorca, I was alone at the top of a cliff face looking out a Mediterranean sunset crying tears of joy. It was pure ecstasy. All that time spent in the gym training was all for moments like that. My hope is that with the information I share in this blog, I can help someone else have the same experiences that I have had. Behind the minutiae of hangboard protocols and linked boulder circuits is a bigger goal that has nothing to do with looking cool on Instagram. These training details are important because if you train properly you can climb more and climb harder. I want to help people climb more, climb harder, and climb longer.

Why start a blog?

My hope for this blog is to grow a community of motivated climbers working to support each other in improving their climbing. Additionally, I would eventually like to provide online training programs for those looking for more specific support (and possibly in-person consultations for those in the area).

I plan to continuously provide well-researched information on a variety of topics in climbing to help you and inspire you to become the best climber you can be. I want this blog to help you improve your climbing and enable you to have as much fun on rock as you possible can.

Your Story

I would love to get in touch with you. Feel free to leave a bit of your story in the comments or reach out to me via email at Senderellastory.com. You can also find me one facebook and instagram.

How You Can Listen to Your Body: Climbing Injuries

Let’s face it, climbing is a tough sport. If you are trying to push yourself as a climber, you will very likely hurt yourself in the process. It may be minor tweaks or it may be a big season-ending injury, but even the strongest climbers get hurt. In 2018, Adam Ondra took an 8 meter ground fall and injured his knees. World cup boulderer, Alex Puccio has had a string of ACL injuries, and even Alex Megos had a season-ending finger injury in 2017 that majorly disrupted his competitive climbing season.

The fact is, you are probably going to come across some sort of injury — acute or otherwise in your climbing career. So brace yourself and learn to listen to your body – you will prevent yourself from turning a small tweak into something bigger.

This skill is hard to learn – and even harder to manage when you are close to sending something and you want to give it one last go. But it is critical if you want to have a sustainable climbing career. I am not perfect at this. No one is, but holding back when you need to is a skill we all should learn.

Even though we’ve all lived in our bodies our whole lives, listening to your body can be tough. Here are four questions that I ask myself when I get the feeling that something is amiss.

What are you feeling?

For me, it usually starts with a tingle. Maybe I wake up with an achy shoulder and it feels better by the time I go climbing. Maybe its a weird feeling in an elbow immediately after executing a non-ergonomic move. Perhaps I felt a sharp pain in my finger.

It is important to notice these things and not ignore them. They might feel small now, and perhaps they aren’t super painful, but keep stock of these little signs. Your body is trying to tell you something. What you do with it is up to you, but ignoring it usually doesn’t work out.

What have you been doing leading up to this point?

Usually when you get injured, unless its something catastrophic like a piece of gear popping or a rock falling, you can typically see it coming. Hindsight is 2020, but you know what I mean. What was the last thing that kept you out of climbing for a few days or weeks? What were you doing leading up to it? Did you climb five days on? Did you hit it hard with a new training regime that was maybe too much? Did you change something or increase the intensity of something in your climbing or training?

Cranking down on small holds was just what my painful shoulder needed.

Here’s an example of a pretty stupid way that I hurt myself in the Fall of 2019:
I was in Rumney, NH and my boyfriend and I were rushing to hop on a classic 5.10a before the crowds got there. But as we kept hiking, a big group behind us was fast-approaching. In the rush to hop on this classic, mantle-filled 5.10 on a cold autumn morning, I did nothing to warm up my shoulders.

And to be clear, 99% of the time before I climb or workout, I warm up my shoulders. The theraband is with me at all times when I go climbing outside.

But I didn’t this time. And you know what, I tweaked my shoulder. Proceeded to climb on my project, sent it through the pain, and then I needed a week off of climbing. My shoulder bugged me a little for the rest of my Rumney season.

What could happen if you don’t listen to your body?

So giving yourself a rest, walking away from a project, or avoiding climbing for a week or two might not sound sexy, especially if it doesn’t hurt “that bad”. But there have been a few times over the past year where I had to put myself in time out. So far, I have tweaked my knee twice in 2019 and have had to rest it for a week or so at a time. I have also tweaked a finger, and taken a week off after feeling an acute, popping sensation. I have also taken a week off after the above shoulder incident.

And what motivates me to have the self-control to not waltz over to the climbing gym when I can literally see it from my house (it is an actual 30 second walk away)? Well, I avoid the temptress by getting a little imaginative. I think things like “well if you don’t rest, you might go into the gym and completely tear your ACL and then you’ll be out for way longer than a week.” That thought usually gets me to take a step back and stay off whatever limb I injured.

Anytime you feel that sudden onset of injury… you immediately rest, stop climbing, stop moving, give it a week or two to see how bad it is.

Physical Therapist and Climber, Esther Smith on the
TrainingBeta Podcast Episode 94

So imagine a few horror stories to motivate yourself to have some restraint. If you feel like something is wrong, pay attention to it and don’t pretend that you’re OK if you’re not.

Lauren - powerlinez bouldering
My first V5 outdoors – would have been a great moment, except that I should not have kept climbing after I blew up my knee in a heel hook on a nearby warm-up….

Is there anything else going on that might effect your likelihood of getting injured right now?

Is there something that happens leading up to when you get injured? Are there any patterns that you notice? Were you really stressed by a situation at work or school? Had you not been sleeping well? Is there anything in life that might make you more injury-prone at certain times? I hurt my knee on a bouldering trip in the Fall of 2019. I started the day with a really tight hip left hip, I had gone on a run that week (which I NEVER do which still had me sore), I was exhausted from a bad work week, and unsurprisingly, my knee blew up in a heel hook on a warm-up route. I had to sit myself out of climbing for a week to let it rest.

That Time of the Month

For all the ladies out there (or men that want to learn something about your female climbing counterparts), did you know that a significant portion of ACL ruptures in women occur around the end of the second week of the menstrual cycle? According to the literature, increases in estrogen levels lead to decreased tendon and ligament stiffness. In women, this spike in estrogen leads to increased risk of injury. Practically speaking, I can confirm that all three times I have tweaked my knee, it has been around the middle of my cycle while simultaneously pushing myself, whether it be skiing, a climbing competition or outdoor bouldering. I joke that I “should avoid going hard for 25% of the year”, but perhaps I need to take this into greater consideration. The chart below is taken from the Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk.

Look to the Past to Tell your Future

In any case, it may be interesting to reflect on past injuries and tweaks to see if you notice a pattern. Think about all of the things in your life that might wear you down a little. Perhaps you are blocking out the fact that after you do yard work for a weekend and then you try to hit it hard in the gym, your back starts hurting. Maybe you do electrical work and your injuries happen a few days after you work a double shift. Perhaps sitting at your desk all day with poor posture really hurts your shoulders. Maybe your injuries occur the first day out on a climbing trip when you hardly slept because you were traveling the night before. Who knows? Take stock of what happens leading up to your injuries whether they be major or minor – acute or chronic. You just might learn how to keep it from happening again.

The next time you feel something coming on or you get a feeling in your body that something is not quite right, pay attention to it. It might prevent you from being out of commission for a few weeks – or worse.

What are some patterns you notice before you get hurt? Are you good at taking time off when something does not feel right? What hindsight do you have about your injuries? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com – I would love to discuss!

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Running and Climbing Part 4: Alpine Environments and Long Approaches

This summer I took a trip to Lander, Wyoming to climb in Wild Iris. This locale is approximately 9,000 feet higher my typical existence in which I can literally see the Atlantic Ocean from my office.

For the first few days in Lander I could definitely feel the altitude. The hikes seemed more exhausting than they should have been and I needed tons of water just to avoid getting a headache.

What was the cause? Elevation of course! According to the literature, it takes multiple weeks to adapt to living and performing athletically at elevation. Which sucks if you have a limited amount of vacation time and you are only at altitude for a few days at a time.

Processed with VSCO with l4 preset

How Quickly Do you Adapt to Altitude?

The consensus among experts is that an athlete becomes fully adapted to high altitude (2,000m – 3,000m) within 2-3 weeks of arrival from sea level. Places like Lander, Wyoming, climbing areas in the Front Range of Colorado, Ceuse in France and many more boast altitudes many thousands of feet above sea level.

So if you’re like me and you only get a week or two to climb somewhere up high, expect that you will need to take special care when adapting to the altitude.

Part of me hates bringing this up since we climbers are so talented at creating excuses already, but facts are facts. It takes time to adapt to elevation. Which begs the question, is there a way to prepare for a high altitude trip if you are a flat-lander? And even more than that? Or what if you aren’t at a high elevation but your climbing destination has a famously heinous approach?

Long, Nasty Approaches

Some approaches really suck – high elevation or not. Personally, I am not accustomed to exceptionally brutal approaches. However, I am aware that places like Ceuse and Rocky Mountain National Park, can be physically demanding before you even get on the rock. Based on Steve Bechtel’s What to Train to Send your Project flow chart (pictured below), if you are completely wasted by the approach, you may benefit from adding a touch of cardio endurance training to your routine.

Example: preparing for a long approach in the Alpine

To illustrate the point, here is an extreme example of someone who might benefit from some general endurance training (e.g. running). Let’s say you are a boulderer who lives at sea level. You do not have any experience with general aerobic fitness training – no high school sports, no random 5Ks, no spin classes, nothing. You then choose a boulder project in the alpine that you want to send on a one week trip to Colorado. You must hike for two hours before working on your boulder problem (I’m looking at you, James Lucas).

If this is you – you have two factors working against you. Firstly, the hike is probably going to be very exhausting for you. The second, your aerobic energy system’s rate of recovery in between your attempts on the boulder problem is going to be compromised by the altitude. In this case, if you have the time, you can see how it might be helpful to add some general cardio to your training prior to your trip. It would be a shame to have strong enough fingers for your project with a pair of lungs that aren’t ready for the hike.

Though this example may seem extreme, you see the point. If you are headed into an environment that is going to tax your cardiovascular system in terms of a long approach or high altitude, it might be helpful to add some general cardio to your training in preparation for your trip. Again, maybe it won’t be so helpful if you already feel fit enough for a long hike, but if you don’t, a marginal amount of running may help.

Can running help with faster altitude adaptation?

To my own chagrin (though I am not surprised), there is no specific research covering the effects of running for rock climbers that are training for a high altitude climbing trip. However, when reviewing the running literature on this topic, a bit of insight can be gained.

For runners training at sea level and racing at altitude, the literature advises that it is ideal to show up 2-3 weeks before the race to acclimate to the elevation. However, if this is not possible some runners advise trying to show up just 18-48 hours before the race start time in an effort to race before the effects of the altitude set in. Whether you show up twelve hours before start time or two days seems to be a matter of preference. Unfortunately for climbers, we are planning on trying to perform for presumably many days – not just the few hours of a race.

What this means for Sea-Level Climbers

What I deduce from this is that runners have not figured out a way to completely train at sea level for maximal running performance at high altitudes. According to research on running, the best way to be prepared is to give yourself plenty of time to acclimate. Again, not super helpful for those with limited time in the Alpine. So what does this mean for climbers headed on a high altitude trip? If you are a climber at sea level trying to perform at altitude, are you screwed? Of course not!

Although we can learn a lot from the running community, climbing and running are not created equal. While a distance runner will depend almost entirely on their aerobic energy system, climbers are more diverse in the energy systems used doing a route or boulder problem. A climber typically is not climbing continuously for the same amount of time that a runner is running (unless you are on some insanely long multi-pitch routes). So while you might be huffing and puffing on the hike, your finger strength didn’t decrease by 50% because you went up a few thousand meters. You didn’t forget how to heel hook just because you’re in an alpine environment. The change in altitude matters, but it isn’t everything.

My Own Experience

When I went to Wild Iris this summer, I was able to do my second ever 5.12, Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump. I did it in a couple of sessions and I never felt that being out of breath was the reason I was falling. I didn’t feel that I was any more pumped than I would have been if the route were at sea level. My training for my trip to Wild Iris did not incorporate any running or generalized cardiovascular training and I managed to accomplish my goals for the trip.

butch pocket and the sundance pump
Me on the send go of Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump.

However, I will say that I may add a bit of running to my training for climbing at altitude in the future. If only because I f*ing hate hiking and it would be nice for the hikes to suck a bit less.

To Run or Not to Run

There are many lenses to view the debate on running and climbing. Make sure to read the entire series on this subject. There will be one more installment after this where I will gather expert opinions on the most optimal way to add running to your training if you choose to do so.

Here are links to the entire series:

Part 1: Can running help your climbing?

Part 2: Sport Specific vs. General Endurance

Part 3: Running and Weight Loss

Resources

Preparation for Endurance Competitions at Altitude: Physiological, Psychological, Dietary and Coaching Aspects. A Narrative Review

What to Train to Send your Project

A Flatlander’s Training Tips for Altitude

James Lucas: 50 Days of Bouldering Outside

What do you think? Do you adapt well to altitude or do you have a hard time? Has running prior to a high-altitude trip helped you adapt? Leave a comment or send me an email to share your experience!

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The Mental Side of Climbing: Brain Beta

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris Climbing

Sometimes you hear people’s dogs barking at the crags. Other times you hear a nervous boyfriend asking if his girlfriend knows where the next clip is. On rare occasion you hear words of wisdom:

“I bet all of our bodies could climb 5.14, but our minds just won’t let us.”

Though 5.14 may be an exaggeration, the fact is that on top of being a skill sport, climbing is dependent on your mindset. There are many ways that our minds can hold us back from climbing our best. Whether it be a fear of falling, a fear of failure, or panic-forgetting well-rehearsed beta on a redpoint go, peak performance is only achievable if your mind allows it.

My Mind Holds Me Back

I know that my mind holds me back when I am trying to climb my hardest. This manifests itself during the redpoint process, making it take longer than it needs to. I notice that I one-hang routes many times before actually sending. I one-hanged Butch Pocket in Wild Iris 6 times before finally sending it. It took five one-hangs before sending Beattyville Pipeline in the Red River Gorge. Then, in Fall of 2019, I one hanged Flesh for Lulu three times before the final redpoint go. Physically I can do these routes, but something in my mind is holding me back.

Lauren abernathy Beattyville pipeline red river gorge
Me on one of my many attempts on Beattyville Pipeline. Photo by Sam Laslie.

My baubles, misplaced feet, lapses in muscle memory, etc. are typically not a result of “pumping” out. Usually, it is some silly misplacement of a hand, or out-of-sequence move that sends me flying down the wall in the midst of a good redpoint attempt.

I made some progress in decoding my brain while working Flesh for Lulu, a technical, beta-heavy, and crimpy route in Rumney NH.

A couple months before my crusade on Flesh, I began reading about flow states. Essentially, your mind goes blank and you black out and your just execute. And you execute perfectly. I’ve been in flow states before. Like when I did my first back flip in powder.

Photo by Tim Spanagel

But back flips are fast. A one hundred foot route with 2 distinct cruxes and a major rest in the middle not. Up until my campaign on Flesh for Lulu, I had only really done routes with a single crux, not two.

I worked on Flesh for two weekends in a row. The first weekend was extremely warm and involved me spending a lot of skin on crux #1. In two days of working on it, I was able to do crux #1 only once.

In the second weekend, temps were down about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I executed crux #1 flawlessly on my first attempt. And the rest of the burn went really well. I felt like I could send that day – next go even.

4 attempts later and I had been playing the “almost there, but…”, getting higher and better each time. It was getting really frustrating.

On day two, I gave it a redpoint go, fell misplacing a foot in somewhere I had never fallen before. However, I proceeded in successfully redpointing on the subsequent attempt.

Throughout the process, spectators were commented that “my beta was dialed”. Frustratingly, the micro-errors were rampant past crux #1 and I was not sending. It was clearly not a physical limitation, it was all in my head.

With that, let’s breakdown how I changed my mindset between Day 1 and Day 2 on my second weekend on the route.

Day 1

  • Lots of visualization of the crux on route, before and during the rest.
  • Rehearsing the route visually in my head at the rests.
  • Focused breathing (square breathing at the rests)
  • Noticing my heart rate at the rests

To clarify, crux #1 Is physically more difficult than crux #2, for me anyways. Both of these cruxes are certainly more difficult than the transition moves I was inexplicably messing up. I felt my focus melting and that’s when I forgot my beta.

Thanks to Michael Cheng for the video!

On Day 2 I resolved to let my mind go blank and executed. Flow state was the goal. I speculated that perhaps my brain can only handle being focused for so much time. So I decided to tell my brain it could do whatever for the first half of the route (which is about 5.10) as long as it could keep its shit together for the second half.

Day 2

Here’s what I was doing on Day 2. Similar to day 1, but a few changes.

  • Feeling my chalk.
  • Letting my mind wander and do whatever it wanted for the first half of the route.
  • Noticing my heart rate.
  • Focusing on pushing down on my feet during rests
  • Square breathing at rests

The results: I sent the route. Additionally, my decision to let my brain go slack for the first half of the route had noticeable implications. My belayer (and boyfriend) told my that I “looked like I had no idea what I was doing” for the first half of the route. Which is obviously not ideal, but I knew that I could climb 5.10 a little poorly and resolve any inefficiencies with the no hands rest before crux #1. Overall, it worked! My brain had the energy and focus to keep me from messing up and I sent the thing!

Training your Mind to Climb

Now, am I telling you to climb like shit except for the crux on your project? No. However, I am telling you that it is important to get in touch with what your mind is doing when you are trying to perform. And I am telling you that being able to self-coach your brain, or even control it at all, can be impactful to your climbing performance.

Lauren Abernathy Flesh for lulu
Me getting ready for the first crux on Flesh for Lulu with some deep breathing.

Figuring out what your brain is doing is objectively difficult. You can take videos of yourself climbing, but you can’t record your train of thought the last time you fell on a route.

Getting in Touch with Your Thoughts

Training your mind for climbing is a lot like training your body, you have to take stock of strengths and weaknesses, try different techniques to make adaptations, and you have to do these things consistently.

Maybe you are really in touch with your thought patterns. Personally, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and my thoughts get absolutely out of hand sometimes. I practice meditation regularly (5-10 mins per day a few times a week) which helps me objectively observe what my mind is doing. This may sounds really esoteric and weird, but I recommend Headspace if you are interested in getting help with this.

However, my ability to objectively observe my mind was really helpful on Flesh for Lulu. That is why I was able to observe that my brain was getting fatigued when I needed to stay in the zone and remember my beta through the crux.

Additionally, I really liked using square breathing to get my heartrate down on route. It also helped me get mentally focused before executing the crux sequence.

Strengthening my mind for climbing is an ongoing process. From being afraid of heights on a top rope to taking lead falls to optimizing my mental patterns to send my hardest, my brain and I have been on interesting journey.

What is something interesting that you’ve noticed about your mind when you climb? Is there anything you do to help get “in the zone”? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com – I would love to hear from you!

You can follow me on this wild ride by checking me out on on Instagram, or Facebook.

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Further Reading and Listening

Power Company Climbing – Flow State and Mental Mastery with Hazel Findlay

How I Trained for Fat Camp by Dan Mirsky

The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links to products I have used and enjoyed. These links help keep senderellastory.com in existence and free to access.

Nine Tips for Weekend Warriors: How to Climb Outside More

Mondays after a weekend of climbing are uniquely exhausting and blissful. Because when you go back to your job on Monday, you carry the residual joy of spending two full days outside doing what you love the most. But you are also exhausted and your job requirements are probably indifferent to how badly you need a nap.

Since moving to New Jersey in 2018, my boyfriend, Mike, and I have adjusted to many things: living together, East coast traffic, and the haul of a drive to get to the nearest sport climbing crag: Rumney, New Hampshire. Despite the long commute for a short weekend, we make it work. In both 2018 and 2019 we have gotten to Rumney many weekends in a row. It’s tiring, but it’s totally worth it.

Lauren and Mike Rumney, NH
Michael and I in New Hampshire on a chilly weekend in Fall of 2019.

It might be that you don’t have any aspirations of climbing harder or better, but perhaps you might set the goal of climbing outside more and doing a better job of getting more pitches in when you do.

With that here are some tips I have for you to help you with your own weekend warrior adventures. I hope these help you get more days of climbing outside this season and many to come.

Tip 1: Have Your Gear Ready to Go All the Time

This seems simple, but packing all your shit up on Thursday or Friday night when you are tired from work sucks even more if your gear, camping supplies, etc. are all over the place. A strategy that has worked well for Mike and I is to keep a camp box in our car during climbing season. Anything we need for outdoor climbing weekends lives in a box in my car in the Fall. When we need to get ready to head out for the weekend, we pack a cooler, some clothes, shoes, harnesses, chalk bags. Packing is quick, painless, and our stuff is where it needs to be when we are ready to hit the road.

Streamline the process of climbing outdoors. Eliminate hurdles and excuses. Spend one weekend organizing your camp box and be done with it forever.

This is the camp box that Mike and I use: It fits everything pretty well.

Tip 2: Set Expectations on Your Schedule with Family and Friends Ahead of Time

I love my family. I love my friends. I also love rock climbing. So I make sure to find ways to spend time loving and enjoying all three. My recommendation is to communicate to your loved ones way ahead of time that you are “booked” to go climbing for certain weekends. Mike and I have a google calendar that we share with our family/friends and we have reserved the weekends that we will be climbing on the calendar. If you don’t make the time for it, you’ll never get to do it.

Tip 3: Meet New People and Make Outdoor Climbing Opportunities

I know I am fortunate to have a car, a live-in climbing partner, and a job with guaranteed weekends off. With that, when Mike and I decide it’s a climbing weekend, we are set to go. However, if you are car-less or partner-less, or you still don’t really feel confident in climbing outdoors without friends to “show you the ropes”, the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” comes to mind.

If you are new to climbing and someone offers to show you around, take the opportunity. Meet new people. Introduce yourself at the gym. Someone is going climbing outside at your gym. Network your way into an outdoor climbing opportunity if you have to. In college, I had all fall break off from school and none of my friends were going climbing outside. I chatted around the gym until I found some people who were willing to let me tag along. Which was awesome because me and my friend Becca have been buddies ever since!

Me and my pal Becca enjoying a brewery on a climbing/drinking road trip in college.

Tip 4: Good Weather is Hard to Come By

Maybe you live somewhere that has awesome weather all the time. But even if you do, when you are limited to Saturday and Sunday as your days to climb and the weather is good, you had better get your ass outside. And if the weather is just OK, but still manageable, you should go anyway. If you don’t, it will probably snow next weekend.

New River Gorge Hiking
A sunny weekend at the New River Gorge where the forecast said it would rain the whole time. In actuality, it rained for 20 minutes over the course of 4 days. I’m glad I went climbing.

Tip 5: Pay for Convenience Where you Can

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you make some money because you work during the week which is why you are a weekend warrior in the first place. Now let’s talk about paying for convenience.

I love camping. I love cooking while camping. I love both of those things even more when I have plenty of time for them. However, when you have 48 hours to climb and drive, time is of the essence. Here are some of my favorite ways I like to spend an extra buck for significantly increase convenience in my short, outdoor climbing trips:

  • Paying $25 for a night in a hostel instead of setting up camp when I got to Rumney very late one Friday Night. I slept in a bed instead of setting up camp at midnight in the dark. Additional cost of convenience: $13
  • Not packing dinner to make at camp and grabbing dinner it at local restaurant: $25. Again, I love the outdoors, but cooking camp meals when it’s 30 degrees outside sucks. Not to mention that grocery shopping and prepping a decent camp meal can be a bit of a pain if you are pressed for time when packing.
Hop Fork Tacos
Some delicious and affordable fish tacos I had the pleaseure of consuming on a trip to the Red River Gorge.

I am not promoting that anyone waste money on convenience if they don’t want to. However, if dropping an extra $20 or $30 in a weekend can help make the whole trip a little less exhausting, then why not? What is important is that you’re going climbing outside, the rest is details.

Tip 6: Lower Your Climbing Area Standards

I used to live a two hours from the Red River Gorge, a world-renowned climbing area. People travel from Europe to climb there. Currently I do not live so close. However, there are a few scrappy places within 2-3 hours. When I can make a day trip and it makes sense, I go climbing there. If you want to get better at outdoor climbing, you need to climb outside. And if your best opportunity for outdoor climbing in a reasonable distance is a bit of a choss pile, it might behoove you to go enjoy it anyway.

Lauren Birdsboro, PA climbing
Me climbing in the manufactured, but still enjoyable Birdsboro, PA.

Tip 7: Do a Little Planning

Have you ever had a day of climbing where you get out too late, you go to a crag, the thing you want to get on is taken, then you go to another crag and the same thing happens? Then all of a sudden it’s 2:00 and you’ve climbed one route? Yeah. That sucks. It is possible that a little planning would help you avoid that situation.

Though the logistics are a bit different in every place you go, it’s important to have some kind of a plan and some idea of what you want to get on. Even more important is to communicate with your group mates about this. I’ve spent mornings hemming and hawing over where to go in a parking lot, watching other people hiking in. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Make a game plan in the car, have a back-up plan if you think you need it, then execute. No discussion needed once you’re in the lot ready to hike.

rumney NH hiking
This is group of climbers ranging in skill level from 5.8 to 5.12! We planned well and had a good weekend climbing together even with the variety of skill levels.

Tip 8: Find a Food Routine

Deciding what to eat and make on a camping trip is nearly as exhausting as the prepping of food itself. If you are trying to get outside a lot (and you are going on back to back weekends), having a simple grocery list/food routine can really help. When you don’t have to google 6 recipes and make a grocery list, the process of packing food for weekend camping becomes much easier.

Here’s a summary of my own food routine. Mike and I make overnight steel cut oats ahead of time. We have protein Clif bars, apples, and PB&J while we climb, and for dinner we either go out or rotate through a couple of standard camp meals that we’re good at making and that we enjoy.

camp stir fry
Camp stir fry! We made sure to chop up everything ahead of time.

Tip 9: Put your stuff away right when you get home.

Going back to tip #1, it really helps to have a place for everything and usually after a weekend trip, clothes need washed, tents need dried, food needs to be put away. My advice is to make sure you are back home with enough time to do these things, then just get it done. Monday is going to be exhausting enough without having to drag your smelly tent out of the car. So when you get back on Sunday, do future you a solid and start getting your stuff ready for next time. I’m not perfect at this and never will be. But even when I do an 80% clean-up job when I get home, it sure is better than procrastinating about it.

What are your biggest weekend climbing hacks? What motivates you to get outside and climb even when life is crazy? Leave a comment or shoot me an email – I’d love to hear your tips and tricks to getting outside more and making the most of it!

You can follow me on this wild ride by checking me out on on Instagram, or Facebook.

Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to receive cool training tips, tricks and tidbits delivered straight to your inbox once a month to help you become a better climber.

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Running and Climbing Part 3: Running for Weight Loss

climber tying in

There are myriad angles from which to examine the debate on running and whether or not it benefits your climbing. One of the arguments for supplementing your climbing with running is the argument that it helps with weight loss. Before we get into it, let’s recall what was covered in parts 1 and 2 of this series on running and climbing.

Recap of Parts 1 and 2:

  • Based on the research, sport-specific endurance training is more effective for climbers than general endurance training
  • Climbers do require aerobic endurance in order to perform in both sport climbing and bouldering
  • If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, make sure you do before reading on.

Now, let’s address the topic at hand: weight loss.

Weight Management for Climbers

As you are aware, climbing is a sport that is impacted by your power to weight ratio (see Weight and Climbing). So it would make sense that climbers would be interested in ways to manage body composition. Let’s quickly review how weight loss happens, keeping in mind that your weight is perhaps a less important metric than your overall body composition. For example, I have gained 5 lbs of muscle over the past 3 years. Though my overall body weight is higher, my percent body fat is lower and I am climbing harder than I ever have. Click here if you want to read more about optimizing body composition as a climber.

What about resistance training?

If reducing body fat, becoming stronger, and increasing your aerobic endurance is the goal, I would encourage you to consider resistance training. Here is an interesting excerpt written by Doug McGuff M.D, expert in fitness medicine, taken from The Four Hour Body.

“If you are intent on improving your aerobic capacity, it’s important to understand that your aerobic system performs at its highest when recovering from lactic acidosis. After your high-intensity [resistance-based] workout, when your metabolism is attempting to reduce the level of pyruvate in the system, it does so through the aerobic subjugation of metabolism… since muscles is the basic mechanical system being served by the aerobic energy system, as muscle strength improves the necessary support systems (which includes the aerobic system) must follow suit.”

Doug McGuff M.D. pg. 218, The Four Hour Body

Translation:
Intense workouts like heavy weight lifting cause your body to utilize the aerobic energy system during recovery periods. Therefore heavy resistance training improves your aerobic energy system. This means that cardio is not the only way to improve your aerobic energy system.

Lauren Abernathy overhead press
Me taking part in some heavy-load antagonist training.

If you don’t already, you might consider adding some strength training to your climbing training program to both aid in body re-composition, also to help improve your aerobic capacity, and make you a stronger, more resilient athlete.

With that, let’s talk about a relative downside of all exercise.

Exercise Doesn’t Burn Many Calories

Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t out-train a bad diet.” Well it’s true. You can’t. A pound of fat contains roughly 4,000 calories. Running a marathon burns around 2,600 calories (probably less if you’re a small female) – and that’s before we subtract out your basal metabolic rate. Running yourself lean would be an extremely time-consuming feat. A friend of mine was telling me about an old teammate on his collegiate rowing team. They were at a two week training camp, performing brutal two-a-day workouts, but his friend ate so much Dairy Queen that he gained weight over this two week period, despite the exceptional amount of physical activity. You cannot out-train a poor diet. If you want to lose weight, you need to change how you eat. Let’s look at another example.

Fred Eats Girl Scout Cookies

Fred is 30 years old, 5’10” and weighs about 170lbs. Fred treats himself to three thin mints after work since it is girl scout cookie season and girl scout cookies are objectively delicious. He cannot go climbing on Tuesdays, but he has time to run on the treadmill in his apartment after work. Fred runs four miles in about 35 minutes. Here’s the question – did Fred burn off the Girl Scout Cookies? Let’s take a look.

Three Thin Mints: 160 calories
4 Miles of Running: 400 calories
Fred’s Basal Metabolic Rate: 50 calories (AKA what Fred would have burned in the 40 minutes anyway if he were in a coma instead of running)
Caloric Deficit Achieved by Running: 190 calories

Yes. In 35 minutes Fred burned off just over three thin mints. I love cookies, but that’s a lot of work for three thin mints. Don’t forget that after running for 35 minutes, Fred is really hungry and overeats at dinner, which likely negates the meager caloric deficit he earned from his 35 minute run anyway.

Save Time, Skip the Peanut Butter

Can running help you achieve a caloric deficit? Sure. Can it help you lose weight? Certainly. But for the amount of time it takes to run, you might as well just skip out on a spoonful of peanut butter and get a half an hour of your life back.

If your objective is to lose weight, just adding a run or two to your weekly routine is not going to completely do the trick. You likely need to make some dietary changes as well. Now let’s look at another angle of the running for weight loss equation.

Excessive Exercise Prevents Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight and your inclination is to add a run on your rest days to help do that, you might want to think again. Neely Quinn lays this out in her article on weight loss for climbers:

Part of it is that when you’re running or cycling a ton, your body wants to eat, eat, eat. So you end up eating all your calorie deficit away anyway, and then you’re exhausted on top of it. …If you want to climb well, then climb. There’s no need for all that running if you’re trying to be a good climber. If you want to grow muscles, maintain your lean body mass, and improve as a climber, you need adequate rest.

Neely Quinn, Nutrition Therapist and founder of TrainingBeta.com

In Tim Ferriss’s Book, The Four-Hour Body he lists excessive exercise as a top reason that people cannot lose weight.

“Doing too much will not only not help, it will reverse your progress and it also leads to overeating, sports drinks, and other assorted self-sabotage… Less is more.”

Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Body

I know as climbers we love to do more, but for the sake of improving as climbers, don’t just add more to your training to get better – especially if you’re adding it to lose weight. If you are climbing with 3-4 quality sessions per week, this is likely plenty of exercise.

Running and Weight Loss: What Works

Although running may not be the most optimal way to lose weight, it does work. I cannot argue that. Even esteemed climbing trainer, Eric Hörst, recommends it in his podcast episode on climbing and running. There is science to prove that running can help you lose weight. However, there are multiple different ways to run for weight loss, so if you’re going to do it, do it as well as you can.

Research on Running and Weight Loss: Sustained vs. Interval Training

In an analysis combining 41 studies and 1115 participants, the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed the effects of three different modalities of running for weight loss: Moderate intensity (MOD), High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and Sprint Interval Training (SIT). MOD is defined as exercising at 55%-70% of your maximal heart rate. HIIT is performed by doing intervals greater than 80% of max heart rate. Sprint Interval training takes this one step further, prescribing intervals of “all out effort” or 100% of maximum heart rate. The table below summarizes heart rate and average duration for these protocols as examined in the meta-analysis.

The conclusion? Interval training is likely the best bang for your buck. You can scroll to the bottom of this study, if you want to read it word for word.

Here’s the bulleted version if you don’t:

  • MOD vs. HIIT vs. SIT had comparable results for reduction of overall body fat percentage.
  • HIIT and SIT were better protocols for fat mass reduction than MOD.
  • You can get similar results from all of these modalities.
  • With interval training, you can get the same results as MOD and spend less time doing it.

Running and Your Legs

For some running does almost nothing to their legs, for others running causes hypertrophy of the leg muscles. In any case, if you are running significant amounts, especially if you are running hills, etc. you may be putting on unnecessary weight in your legs. This is another variable to consider when examining the effect of running on your progress as a climber.

The Verdict on Running and Weight Loss

  • Maintaining your weight and optimizing your body composition are important to climbing your best.
  • Strength training is a good way to increase aerobic capacity while increasing one’s overall strength.
  • Excessive exercise can hinder weight loss and even cause you to overeat.
  • You cannot out-train a poor diet.
  • The caloric deficit from moderate running is smaller than you think.
  • Interval-based running workouts are a more time-efficient way to run for weight loss than running at a moderate pace for 40+ minutes.
  • Running may cause your legs to hypertrophy, which is not ideal for climbers; however this phenomenon varies from person to person and may not impact you at all.

I know that people love to run and that for certain people, it has proven to be an effective way to lose weight. However, I challenge you to think critically and strategically about the time you have to train and how you are going about losing weight, if that is something you have decided you need to do.

There may be a better way than what you have been doing, so I urge you to open your mind, experiment, and figure out how to become a better climber.

What do you think? Have you had great success with running for weight loss? How did you do it? Have you lost weight without running at all? Tell me about it! Leave a comment or shoot me an email at senderellastory@gmail.com, I would love to hear from you.

With that, make sure to follow me on Instagram, or Facebook, or even subscribe to my monthly newsletter and stay up to date when the next installment of the Running and Climbing series comes out.

Next up on the docket for this series on running and climbing is a discussion on alpine environments and recommendations from the experts on how to implement running into your climbing training!

Resources

The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

How to Lose Weight for Climbing by Neely Quinn

Is Interval Training the Magic Bullet for Fat Loss? from the British Journal of Sports Medicine

Training for Climbing Podcast Episode #20: An Inside Look at Hörst Family Winter Training, Autoregulation, Running, and More

Please note that this blog post contains amazon affiliate links to products that I have used and enjoy. Amazon affiliate links help keep this website free and accessible for all.

The Journey to Twelve 5.12s in a Year: An Update

butch pocket and the sundance pump

In the year of 2019, I set out to climb my first 5.12. And I made it a goal to send twelve of them by the end of the year. I wanted them to be in at least four different places to ensure that I wasn’t over-specialized in one rock type or style.

As I write this, it is September of 2019. Over the next few weekends I’ll be spending time in Rumney, NH. After that, I head to Mallorca, Spain for a week long Deep Water Solo Trip, and I’ll be rounding out the fall climbing season with a week in the Red River Gorge for Thanksgiving.

A New Route Pyramid

I am pleased that since fall of 2018, the training I have done over the course of the past year has worked. I am pleased to say that I have not sustained any injuries or really even any significant tweaks. This is something to celebrate in and of itself. As far as the progress to the New Year’s Goal, here are the stats.

Number of 5.12s Redpoints: 4 (all 5.12a)
Locations: New River Gorge, WV; Wild Iris, WY; Rumney, NH; Red River Gorge, KY
Rock Types: Sandstone, schist, and limestone

So I’m 75% through the year and 25% through my goal. Not exactly on-track, but then again I have a majority of my outdoor climbing for the year ahead of me. At minimum I’ve at least tackled four different locations and three types of rock. Here are pictures of the routes, in chronological order.

Starrry New River Gorge 12a
A shot from the bottom of Starry, a 4-star 12a in the New River Gorge.
Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris Climbing
Me getting through the crux on Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump, 5.12a in Wild Iris, WY.
Photo by Alex McIntyre
lauren abernathy orangahang rumney nh
Me in front of my nemesis route, Orangahang in Rumney, NH. Read more about the epic failure here.
Lauren Abernathy Beattyville Pipeline Red River Gorge
Me in front of Beattyville Pipeline at the Red River Gorge post-send.

What I think Has Helped the Most

If I had to distill my progress into three factors, it would be as follows.

  1. Consistency. If I make a plan for my training, I stick to it for 8-9 weeks at minimum. I don’t get 4 weeks in, decide I hate whatever hangboard protocol I’ve chosen and then switch it out for something else. I stick to what I committed to do and I don’t change it up prematurely.
  2. Practicing Movement. Until I read Movement Drills for Climbers, I really did not know how to practice the skill of climbing. I knew it was important to do, but I didn’t really know how to do it. If you don’t have specific skill practice built into your climbing (especially when you are warming up), you would likely benefit a lot from specific skill practice.
  3. Getting Better at Redpointing. This season I didn’t go full bore into trying to send 5.12 as soon as spring rolled around. I went to Birdsboro, PA and worked on a couple of 5.11cs and 5.11ds. My goal was to build a good base at the beginning of the season. Working on these routes helped me hone my redpointing skills. These were good, manageable projects that didn’t leave me bummed and frustrated. It was a great set-up for my trip to the New River Gorge in May and it set the tone of me improving my ability to learn/rehearse/execute a route for the rest of the year.

A bonus thought: My last two 5.12 ascents occurred when I was wearing a new pair of spearmint-colored leggings. Perhaps colorful, performance spandex is a key component in sending hard routes. It seems to work for that MattClimber guy in South Africa, so perhaps there is something to this.

My Autumn Mantra: “Maintain, Maintain, Maintain”

Going into fall and trying to perform on the weekends means that my focus is shifting. The focus of training is no longer “get better”, it is now “don’t lose what you have”.

My “weekend warrior” training schedule is going to look like this through these next few weeks.

Monday – Rest
Tuesday – Limit Bouldering
Wednesday – Light Hangboard/Strength Session
Thursday – Rest
Friday – Rest
Saturday & Sunday – Outdoor Sport Climbing

This method is inspired by Episode 13 of Eric Horst’s Training for Climbing Podcast on in-season and out of season training.

The idea behind this is that you use your mid-week training sessions to maintain strength and power since, presumably you are working the energy systems associated with endurance and power endurance on the weekends.

For those who are shocked or confused, that is not a typo on the number of rest days before going outdoors: two full rest days. Some of you might think I’m a maniac, but if you’ve never tried resting for a couple of days before going outdoors, it can be very beneficial.

On Shooting for the Moon

I’m about to hit you with a cheesy quote, but it sums up this personal progress report really well.

Image result for shoot for the moon picture

So is it looking good for me to hit my goal of twelve 12s right now? Maybe. Maybe not.

Right now I’m not really afraid of failure, I’m actually more afraid of my sometimes tyrannical desire for success. This desire to succeed could manifest itself as follows: by taking the easy way out. This “easy way out” could look like this:

  1. I never try anything harder than 5.12a
  2. I prioritize routes that are “my style” and don’t work on anything that is out of my comfort zone.
  3. I don’t leave myself any time for “lower tier” routes (5.11c/d) because I’m too focused on racking up more 5.12. (for more on Route Pyramids, see here)

With that, my goal still stands. I have just over 3 months to crank out eight more 5.12s. To combat the aforementioned potential pitfalls, I have a tick list ranging from 5.11c to 5.12c with a variety of styles represented. It is designed to push my limits and my comfort zone. And if it works out and I crank out eight more 5.12s, great! And if I don’t, I will have climbed a lot, tried really hard, and I will “land among the stars”. Or whatever. You get the picture.

On Becoming a Better Climber

The purpose of setting this goal was to become a better climber. The reason I want to be a better climber is so that there are more routes in the world that I am able to climb. If there are more routes in the world that I can climb, then I can climb more rocks! Which is the whole point, because climbing is fun.

How is your year going? Are you on track to complete the goals you set out for? Did you set any goals for this season? Do you like setting goals? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

You can follow me on this wild ride by checking me out on on Instagram, or Facebook.

Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to receive cool training tips, tricks and tidbits delivered straight to your inbox once a month to help you become a better climber.

Please note that this post contains an affiliate link to the Movement Drills ebook by the Power Company Climbing. I use the techniques in this book to this day and I would highly recommend it! If you purchase the book through my link it helps keep the information and articles on senderellastory.com in existence and free to access.

Running and Climbing Part 2: Sport Specific vs. General Endurance Training

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris

In Part 1 of this series of we determined that aerobic endurance is important to our climbing ability – especially for route climbers. Make sure to go back and read part 1 before moving on to this discussion on sport specific vs. general endurance training.

Comparing Sport – Specific and General Endurance Training

When you ask “can running help my climbing?” you are drawing on the broader question of which is more beneficial: sport specific or general endurance training? Should your endurance training be completely sport specific? Or can general endurance training help your climbing as well? Let’s draw on research to answer this question.

A Study on Cross Training: Running and Swimming

In a study on the effects of cross training for runners, 30 highly trained individuals (20 men, 10 women) were randomly selected to add 10% volume to their training regimen for endurance running for 8 weeks . Half the group added swimming workouts to their training, the other half, additional running.

This led to an interesting result. “The data suggest that muscularly non-similar [cross training] may contribute to improved running performance but not to the same degree as increased specific training. “ (Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance)

Summarily, those that ran more to get better at running, got better at running. Whereas those that swam and ran to get better at running, did not improve as much.

Let’s look at another similar study on running and cycling.

Cross Training for Running with Cycling

In another interesting study, eleven female distrance runners in a 5 week off-season period were given low-intensity training protocols. One group participated in a running-only training plan while the other group performed 50% of their training volume on a bike and the other 50% running. The objective was to determine the effects of the differing protocols on maintaining 3,000 meter run times as well as VO2 max.

The result? Upon returning to in-season practice, the running-only group was 14s faster in the 3,000M run than the running and cycling group. Though changes in cardiovascular indicators (VO2 max) were not significantly different between the two groups. However, the cycling group was substantially slower than the running group when returning to in-season training.

Now let’s examine a case study on the one and only, cardio God, Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong is pretty OK at Running
(for being Lance Armstrong)

World class cyclist, Lance Armstrong, is not above going places on foot. Though frankly, he had better not quit his day job. Despite having a VO2 Max that most long-distance runners only dream of, Lance in his prime would not have been able to hop off the bike and onto a marathon circuit without some sport-specific training. Lance’s cycling was clearly world-class, but his marathon times put him only at the cusp of being a professional athlete in the distance running world.

Lance’s New York City Marathon Time was 2:46:43 in 2006. By comparison, the fastest time in the 2018 New York City Marathon was much faster at 2:05:59. Lance is a world class cyclist, certainly. But Lance’s cardiovascular system wasn’t sufficient for him to be a celebrated international phenomena in the running circuit as well.

Perhaps if Lance had trained specifically for running he would have been out there winning long distance running events in the Olympics. However, this example is given to show that just because Lance had impeccable general endurance, it was not enough to propel him into the highest echelons of long-distance cycling and running. General endurance is not the only factor contributing to success in endurance sports.

Thanks to the Kris Hampton at the Power Company and Steve Bechtel for pointing out Lance’s running career that I was wholly unaware until listening to their podcast episode.

Conclusions from the Research

The moral of the story is that sport specificity is very important. From these studies and our discussion of Mr. Armstrong, we can conclude that having exceptional general cardiovascular capability is not sufficient to excel at specific sports. General endurance training does not translate extremely well between running and cycling (and these sports are somewhat mechanically similar – more so than running and climbing). The idea that running endurance translates well to climbing doesn’t hold much weight when you look at the research. But don’t just take it from me, the authors of the Rock Climber’s Training Manual agree as well.

“The training must be climbing specific in order to develop muscular endurance that is relevant to climbing.”

The Anderson Brothers in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual

It’s All in The Forearms

Think about the last time you climbed something hard enough where your forearms were so pumped that you fell off the wall? Were you panting like you would be in an all out sprint? My guess is no. But your forearms gave out, did they not?

Although general endurance is important to climbing, certainly, the weakest link in you climbing endurance is going to be found in your forearms.

“All climbing activites will benefit from improved capacity for aerobic respiration within the muscle fibers. However, this characteristic must be specific to the muscles used (mostly the forearms) for it to be relevant to cllimbing. The whole body’s systematic capacity for aerobic respiration is largely irrelevant in rock climbing, while the aerobic capacity of the muscle cells within the forearm is of utmost importance.”

The Anderson Brothers in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual
lauren gravity vault climbing
Me participating in some endurance training – ARC style.

You Can Run if You Want To

But this is not to say that running can’t help, right? If you have a little bit of time to run, you enjoy it, and you simply can’t tax your fingers any more, then perhaps a little running can’t hurt.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series where I go into detail on how to effectively implement running in your training routine. I’ll also address some miscellaneous topics such as running for weight loss and cardio adaptations to Alpine environments.

Make sure to subscribe to my email list so you don’t miss out on Part 3 of this series on running. And give me a follow on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date on when new posts are out!

Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com to let me know your thoughts on running and climbing. I would love to hear from you!

Resources

Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance

Effectiveness of Cycle Cross Training Between Competitive Seasons for Female Distance Runners

Training for Climbing Episode 20: An Inside Look at Hörst Family Winter Training, Autoregulation, Running, and More

Power Company Climbing Podcast Episode 6: Should you run with Steve Bechtel

Rock Climber’s Training Manual

Please note that this post contains affiliate links to the Rock Climber’s Training Manual – which I refer back to regularly. Commissions earned from purchases through my links keep this website in existence and keep it ad-free!

Running and Climbing Part 1: Can Running Help your Climbing?

girl running

My friend Shannon stumbled into the apartment dripping in sweat and red in the face. She had just finished watching Brave Heart. But unlike most people who sweat while watching television, Shannon was perspiring from running her way through a three hour Mel Gibson classic. You see, Shannon likes to run. This emotion is a complete mystery to me, though I understand that many would find my enjoyment of hanging by my fingertips on small bits of plastic equally as mystifying.

Despite my displeasure with running, I know there are many of you who find it very enjoyable. So the question I want to dig into here is how running and climbing do or do not cooperate in the pursuit of making you a better climber. I have gathered a variety of research, opinions, and angles to answer the big question: can running really help your climbing?

There is a lot to cover, so this post will be broken up into at least two parts.
With that, let’s start with our first conundrum: the limitations of time.

24 Hours in a Day

The first consideration to make is that there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, and weeks in a year. So if you are going to spend time running, but you only have a few hours per week to train, think carefully about how you spend your time. It is likely that spending more time climbing is going to make you better at climbing. (See the rule of 75/25). As Steve Bechtel so famously said:

“Running for climbing is as important as climbing is for running. You can see how ludicrous that sounds. If you want to get better at the Boston Marathon you should hit the rock gym? No.”

Steve Bechtel – Training Beta Episode 7

We’ll get into that a bit more later, but this is certainly a point of view worth considering.

You can’t be good at everything all the time

Do you ever notice that in your life, when you try to be good at your job, be a good friend, train really hard for climbing, eat healthy, manage your money responsibly, raise your kids, make regular dentist appointments, take showers – you end up with a mediocre performance in one of these areas? ( For reference, I’m super shitty at the dentist appointments and the showers – oh well). Apply the same concept to climbing. If you are trying to send your absolute hardest and do your first marathon in the same couple of months, both pursuits will end in sub-maximal performance.

We have a limited amount of adaptation potential and how hard you push in all of these different directions limits how much you can push in other directions.

Steve Bechtel – Power Company Climbing Podcast Episode 6

Bottom Line
If you want to be the best climber you can be, you can’t be the best runner you can be at the same time.

running and climbing meme
An actual quote from my buddy Shannon, turned into a meme, of course!

The Deal with Endurance

If you are an avid runner and you have not left this blog post yet, I have good news. There is a perspective among trainers that supports the claim that running can help improve your climbing. But before we get into that, let’s define a few terms:
aerobic energy system, Adenosine triphosphate, and VO2 Max.

Aerobic Energy System

Here’s a quick and dirty definition of the aerobic energy system if you are not familiar. Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”. The aerobic energy system is the body’s energy production pathway that uses oxygen. This system is characterized by long-term energy output at relatively low intensities e.g. efforts lasting longer than 5 minutes like rowing, cycling, running over long distances. (see TeachPE.Com)

Check out the video below if you want a 2 minute explanation of the aerobic energy system.

Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP)

For the purposes of this article, all you need to know is that Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the fuel your muscles need to contract in order to produce movement.
ATP is to our muscles as diesel is to a semi truck. If you want to read more about this complex organic molecule, see here.

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max, or Maximal Volume of oxygen is a measure of the amount of oxygen and individual can use during intense exercise. It is measured in volume of oxygen that can be consumed per mass of body weight over time. It is a general measurement used to determine aerobic fitness – or the capacity of your aerobic energy system.

Average Range of VO2 Max: 30-40 mL of oxygen per kg per minute
Lance Armstrong’s VO2 Max: 85mL of oxygen per kg per minute
Advanced Climbers (5.12 and Beyond): 45-50mL of oxygen per kg per minute

The Research

Phil Watts, an original gangster of climbing research, did a study to investigate the oxygen consumption of climbers.

The method: Subjects were set to climb moderate terrain (80 degree slab and 102 degree slightly overhanging). A critique of the study, as pointed out by Eric Horst in his podcast, was that the climbers were not very experienced and the routes were not very challenging.

The result: Climbers showed a VO2 max consumption of 30 mL/kg per minute – the average VO2 Max for the American Couch Potato. Form this, Watts determined that climbing is not an exceptional cardiovascular challenge.
(See Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 20 )

But no so fast, Phil. We can’t toss out our running shoes yet. In a later 2003 paper, Watts provided an update. In his 2003 paper, the maximal oxygen consumption of climbers was studied again. This time, VO2 Max during difficult efforts was reported to be much higher, with climbers demonstrating maximal oxygen consumption at upwards of 43-50 ml/kg-min during efforts on difficult and steep terrain. This is a far cry from the results of the original study.

From this we can determine that during our hardest ascents, our aerobic energy system is certainly put to the test. In Eric Horst’s review of the subject, he posits that upwards of 50% of our energy production (ATP production) comes from the aerobic energy pathway. Heretofore, a well-trained aerobic energy system is critical to climbing hard. (See Phil’s 2003 research paper)

The Verdict
A well-trained aerobic energy system is critical to climbing hard.

Where Everyone Agrees on Aerobic Fitness

Although the methods of how best to train the aerobic energy system as a climber are somewhat controversial, most trainers generally agree on the benefits of being an aerobically fit athlete.

“More aerobically fit climbers via generalized aerobic training recovered faster at rests on routes and between boulder problems.”

Eric Horst Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 20

There is an accord that aerobic fitness is important to climbing and the research agrees too. Practically speaking, if the thirty minute hike to the crag with the rope on your back saps your energy for the day, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than the sub-optimal rest hold on your project. The controversy comes in when we discuss how to obtain aerobic fitness: in a specific or generalized way.

Click here for Part 2 of the Running and Climbing Series:
General vs. Sport Specific Endurance

Do you enjoy running? Do you hate it? Are you thinking about incorporating it into your training? Leave a note or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com, I would love to hear from you and discuss.

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Resources

Teach PE: Aerobic Energy System

Study of VO2 Max in Various Populations

Performance Analysis of Adam Ondra on Silence (5.15d/8c)

Top End Sports: VO2 Max Norms

Sports Med: The Physiology of Sport Rock Climbing

Super, Sure, but not More than Human: NY Times on Lance Armstrong

VO2 Max Measurements from Virginia.edu

Physiology of Difficult Rock Climbing by Phil Watts

Never Quitting Climbing: People Might be Lame but You Don’t Have to Be

“You’ll quit climbing. You won’t have time with this job.” These words were spoken to me in the first week of my first job coming out of college.

After about a month there, chances were good that I might become depressed and that being an adult was going to be terrible. I was perplexed that I had worked so hard for the past four years earning my engineering degree to end up having no time to do any of the things I actually gave a shit about.

Fortunately, the original prophecy did not come true. I climbed all over the country in my first year out adulthood. I drove an hour to the climbing gym from work twice a week to train. I got up at 4:30 during the week to get on my hangboard before work.

Maybe the baseline for most adults and their hobbies is that they let them slip away as they get older and fatter and they decide that trying to keep pursuing what they love is too much work. But I can’t see myself doing that.

About a year after that, the company moved me to New York. The job had better hours and I picked the closest apartment to the climbing gym. These were well-designed life improvements.

But even after moving from the Midwest to the East Coast, the same sour attitude prevailed. One of my colleague said to me “Well you can’t just go climbing and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every weekend forever. You’ll have to grow up sometime.”

But why? Why is it childish to do what you love? Why is it childish to eat PB&J? Why is it immature to pursue what makes you happy? And why is it your business anyway?

The truth is that I don’t really know. Sometimes the way people let their lives go by without doing anything that makes them happy is really depressing. When I ask people on Monday what they did over the weekend, half the time they don’t even remember.

Climbing is a way to make sure that I’m stoked about something. That I’m going on adventures. That I’m outside laughing my ass off with my friends. That I’m lying in a tent terrified that I’m going to get eaten by a grizzly bear. That I’m hanging 60 feet up on a wall relying on my fingertips. That I don’t become boring, unhealthy, and submissive to a life that I don’t really like that much.

And yeah – life is never going to be perfect. I know that I am privileged to have my limbs intact and to have a job that pays me well and to have great friends and family who support me skipping holidays to screw around on exotic cliff faces. No matter what, I’m never going to squelch my sense of adventure because of the stupid things people say to me. If you’re out there doing something you think is awesome, then keep on doing it. Sometimes it seems like 98% of people don’t even know what they think is awesome anyway – and they certainly aren’t pursuing it.

If you find something that makes you so psyched you can’t stop thinking about it, then latch on to that and never let go. You don’t ever have to quit climbing if you don’t want to.