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.

Climbing Technique: Gain More from Your Sessions

I think one of the reasons climbing is becoming so popular is because of how much sitting and resting we do. Spin class? Hell no. Running? Opposite of sitting. Surfing? Sitting waiting for a shark to eat you while you get sun burnt, maybe. In contrast, we climbers do an awful lot of sitting around. Watch this Nina Williams video of her working the Automator Boulder (V13) in Colorado. She takes 20-30 minute rests between attempts. When working on routes outdoors, most people take substantial rests between burns on their project. I bring an REI camp chair to the crag for God’s sake. Sitting around is an integral part of the sport.

So what if I told you, that whether you were on the wall or sitting on your ass, you could get better at climbing? Ever heard the phrase “watch and learn”? Its time to start doing it.

All that time we spend hanging around between burns, we could be watching and learning. But how does this work? And why?

Observational Learning

Studies on motor learning have shown that motor skill acquisition can be aided and improved by observation of the skill.

From demonstrations, individuals have learned explicit strategies that they can employ when physical performance is required. It has also been suggested that observational practice techniques might also work to aid motor skill acquisition through a more motor-based matching process.

Watch and Learn: Seeing Is Better than Doing when Acquiring Consecutive Motor Tasks

In one study aimed to analyze the effects of viewing demonstrations before or during practice of a new motor skill. There were three groups. The first group, termed “pre-practice” viewed 10 demonstrational videos before engaging in practice. The second group was halted in their practice every three attempts to ingest the ten demonstrational videos throughout the session. The third group, a combination of the two schedules, received five videos pre-practice, and the other five were dispersed throughout the session.

The groups were tested on form and accuracy while practicing, immediately after practice was completed and 48 hours later. The combination group had the highest retention, followed by the all pre-practice group, and finally the interspersed group.

These findings suggest that several modeling exposures before practice and several more exposures in the early stages of practice were optimal for acquisition and retention of form.

The interaction of observational learning with overt practice: effects on motor skill learning

All of this to say that there is proof that observation can aid in the learning process. We might as well use all that sitting time to our advantage.

Time is Money

Honing the skill of learning while off the wall is an amazing tool for weekend warriors. We only have so much time to train and climb, so we should squeeze ever ounce of improvement we can out of it.

Here is an excerpt from 9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes – read carefully. It’s important.

Those who spend that resting time with the mind wandering elsewhere…. learn to climb slowly and stop learning altogether

Those who replay the movements of the climb just done, recording which moves felt good or bad and looking back at the holds trying to understand why, and then plan their next attempt to try the movement a subtly different way, progress fast… These climbers are storing up move processing time at a much higher rate than the ‘passive’ climbers.

9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes by Dave Macleod

Be the climber who pays attention. Let’s examine how this would look in a few settings.

In the Gym

You hop down off a boulder problem, take a seat and look up at the wall. A stronger climber is working something hard. You pay attention to what they are doing, you try to work out where their hand will go next, you notice when they have tension and when they release it. You have no intentions of trying that boulder today, but instead of looking at your phone, you watched something good and you learned instead.

After they are done climbing, you still have a minute or so before you will be fresh to try your boulder again. You look at the holds on your boulder, remembering why you fell the last time. You envision yourself doing the whole thing, trying to imagine new beta, or a slight adjustment to your body position that might make that move possible. You think about how you can do it better next time – did you have to readjust a hand during the sequence? Can you try to hit it right the first time, instead? Would twisting your hip in more help you reach the next hold? You take mental notes of what you can do better and implement these in your next attempt.

See? Wasn’t that a better use of your time than looking at memes? Instead of zoning out, you continued to engage in activities to improve your technique. You might even do your boulder faster than you would have if you spent your rest scrolling on Instagram.

We can apply this mindfulness to outdoor sport climbing as well.

While Sport Climbing

You show up to the crag and unfortunately, someone is roping up below the route you wanted. They are going to climb it and clean the route so you decide to wait around for it since you are next in line.

Instead of diving head first into getting your rope out and gearing up, you take the time to watch the climber. You have heard that the crux is near the middle so you start to watch. You take stock of the climber’s pace. It looks like it gets pretty pumpy at the top, but the beginning looks vertical with good holds. You see that the climber is moving quickly through the bottom and all of the holds are good options. The climber plunks through the moderate beginning up until the crux. You see the gears shift and you notice that the climber has found a comfortable rest position before moving into the crux. You mentally tic the holds and feet she uses moving through it. You note the body positions she hits as she makes her way through the hard moves. Now, you have a vision of one way to do the crux. She then moves to the pumpy section, continuing to move quickly again. She is well on her way to the anchors and you begin getting out your gear.

Good thing you watched instead of going straight to racking up your draws. It might take you less time to send this now, since you absorbed some knowledge ahead of time. Shit, you might even flash it.

Thoughts on Onsighting

Obviously, if your aim is to practice onsighting, you cannot spend your entire life as a beta pirate as described in the scenarios above. However, seeing beta and replicating it is a useful skill, so it is worth practicing. Additionally, you can learn by watching people climb, even if you do not intend to climb what they are climbing.

Bringing it Together

There are many situations in which taking a step back and keenly observing the climbers around you can help you to learn. Even if the climber is less skilled  – sometimes I watch people and ask myself what I think they could do better to improve upon what they just did. I keep this to myself, of course, but it is an exercise I like to do from time to time.

Most of us have a limited amount of time to climb. Between the volume that our bodies can handle and the constraints of everyday life, the time we get on the wall is finite.

So I urge you to start paying attention. The time spent sitting on your ass is more useful than you think.

How do you spend your time between burns at the gym? Do you have plans to change your behavior in the future? Drop a comment and let me know what you think!

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Resources

The interaction of observational learning with overt practice: effects on motor skill learning

9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes

Watch and Learn: Seeing Is Better than Doing when Acquiring Consecutive Motor Tasks

The Post-Quarantine Pump

The COVID pump hits different.

Dru Mack, June 13th 2020, Miller Fork Recreational Preserve

When the lockdowns were enforced, I often day dreamed about what the first day back outside would be like. I thought about the Red River Gorge – pining to be there instead of cooped up in my apartment fake climbing on my flash board.

On June 13th, 2020 I finally got to return to my favorite place in the world. With Kentucky humidity in full force, my other half and I headed down to the Red River Gorge.

Famous the for its pumpy style, I cannot think of anywhere more hilarious to return to after being unable to climb for three months.

I remember hanging around one of the crags at the Red a few years back, overhearing some crusty Yosemite guy complaining. “You don’t need to have any technique here, you just need fitness.” He spat this out after getting bucked off a 5.10a. Though I generally disagree with his statement, there is a kernel of truth in here. It helps to have some fit forearms down in Kentucky.

So where could be better to your ass handed to you after a forced hiatus from rock climbing than the Red River Gorge?

Enjoying the pump at the Infirmary. Photo by Sam Laslie.

Expectations vs. Reality

Though I had no delusions that my first venture back to the Red would be a wild success, I did think I might be able to perform reasonably well. This assumption was based on another recent excursion. In May I took a sneaky trip to New Hampshire. I onsighted up to the final bolt of an 11c, then ended up doing it in three tries. Going into this weekend in the Red, I thought I might be able to try something like that again. For reference, my hardest onsight to date is 5.11b.

new hampshire sport climbing
My first climb outside post-COVID. May 2020. My one day of climbing between March 15 and June 1.

Fast forward to the first route of the day, a 5.10b at the Infirmary in Miller Fork. I found myself pumped stupid hanging on the third draw. Three months off climbing seemed like a long time, but I had not conceived that I might suck this bad. Onsighting 5.10 at the Red was a given – or it used to be anyway.

I even knew going into this weekend that if I got really pumped that I might start thinking crazy things – like that I had somehow trained hard and regressed. Or that the whole year was a wash because of Coronavirus. I was so aware of these mental pitfalls that I wrote a blog post about it last month.

But there I was, hanging around the third bolt of a 5.10 with bricks for forearms, in my feelings more than a Drake song. But I had still had some mental tricks up my sleeve.

Label It and Move On

There is a meditation technique called “noting”. While meditating, if a thought or a feeling comes up, you are advised to label it like “thinking” or “feeling”, acknowledge it, then move on. You then resume trying to think about nothing until another train of thought arrives at the station.

Despite the strong emotions about my weary forearms, part of my mind recognized that these were simply feelings and did not need to become my whole reality.

Understanding that I was having a predictable emotional reaction allowed me to push through and keep climbing. My goal was to get on as many routes as I could stand that day. I wanted to fight, commit, and re-learn how to do what I had done before.

This was uncomfortable, but it helped me keep going even though I was disappointed in how hard everything seemed to be. “My endurance is gone,” was the crag anthem. The crew at the crag gave each other a hall pass for bitching, unified in how flamed out we were.

We’re Learning

As the weekend passed, I insisted to myself that everything was great because we were learning. Every fall was a victory – a badge of commitment for pressing on while pumped as shit. Every route was a chance to get used to the sandstone, to read a crux, to power through something that seemed “a little run out”.

Back when I was sitting in my apartment, all I wanted was to be stupid pumped on sandstone again. It was a blessing to even be there.

Not as Bad as I thought

Day one turned out to be pretty rough. I did not send a single thing. I accidentally skipped a clip while placing draws, resulting in a rather gigantic fall. It was Weekend Whipper worthy. Then, I proceeded to give up on a 5.10d. I didn’t pack enough water. A textbook junk show.

Then after a campfire, some sleep, and some time to let the emotions simmer, I was ready take on day two. I scrubbed away the expectations and told myself the goal was simply to fight my hardest and really commit. I also told myself that I was certainly capable of sending something.

Guess Who’s Back

By the end of day two, I finally got some points on the board, flashing an 70 foot 5.11a. I committed when I was pumped, remembered how to let the friction do the work, I read sequences better, and did more doing than fearing.

“Shady’s back, tell a friend!” I yawped on the repel down from the anchors.

That first day out as I sat at the third bolt of a 10b, I despaired. “Yeah, there’s no way I’ll surpass where I was last year. I need to bring down my expectations.” But a day later, I can quickly see how silly that was.

It’s going to take time to get back into the swing of things. I will be present, accepting, and prepared to relearn. Do not let yourself give up, 2020 is not over yet.

How was your first day back post COVID? Drop a comment below, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Kicking Butt and Changing Names: An Announcement

This post is going to be a little different as it is more of an announcement than an informational piece. With that, let’s get into some, big, audacious, exciting stuff that will be happening around here.

First of all, thanks to everyone who has followed along on this blogging journey. I started this thing two years ago assuming no one would ever read it, but you have read it and so much more. You have engaged with my writing, learned from it, shared it with your friends, and sent me some really kind messages along the way. For that, I am forever grateful. It has been a pleasure informing and entertaining you.

This makes me all the more thrilled to tell you all that I am following my dreams of taking a more active role in helping you crushers get better at climbing. With my personal trainer cert in hand and years of writing, research, and self-experimentation in my back pocket, I am ready to step into the role of climbing coach. It’s a big change, and I am so excited to get started.

But what’s going to happen with the blog, Lauren!?

Don’t worry everyone, the blog will go on. I will forever have too many thoughts and explorations of climbing training to not share them via the written word. However, as I work on getting myself “open for business”, the frequency of posts will decrease for a little bit – so instead of four, expect two posts per month until further notice.

Alright, so you’re you changing the name then?

Certainly. A new goal calls for a new name. My new instagram handle is @goodspraycoaching – and the domain name of the site will become goodsprayclimbing.com. I have enlisted the help of a dear friend (who is a badass Lady of Tech and Snowboarding) to help me get the new site looking spiffy.

On a different note, I’ll be transparent with you all. Though, I’m not a marketer, I can’t help but think that most men do not want to go around saying they have a “Senderella Training Plan”… Maybe you yourself are super woke dude and would be thrilled to discuss you climbing training as it relates to Disney princesses. However, I know a lot of you probably are not – even if you won’t admit it.

So there, a new name it is. This one is easier to spell, anyway.

Why Good Spray?

If you’ve never heard the term “spray”, The Climbing Zine has a really funny post to explain it. However, the simple definition of spray in the scope of climber slang is “climbing talk”. The discussion of climbing and training is the basis of this blog. Climber talk is the name of the game around here.

In conjunction with spray, I wanted the name to ooze optimism. Something that people usually notice about me as a climber, a coach, and a human is that I am exceptionally positive. My brand needs to reflect that.

Hence, the name Good Spray. Because overall, if I am your coach you’re going to get positive, useful and quality spray about how to improve your climbing. Guaranteed.

So when can I enlist you as my coach and confidante?

You all have probably noticed that making concrete plans in 2020 is proving to be more difficult than in recent years. While I do not yet have an official date for being open for business, I am definitely going to be taking you guys along the journey as I set up shop.

To stay up to date, make sure to follow me on IG and Facebook, and definitely subscribe to my email list so you can be the first to know when Good Spray is ready to go!

I am absolutely thrilled for what is to come. Buckle up and get ready to crush.

new domain: goodsprayclimbing.com
new social handles: @goodspraycoaching

Discipline not Motivation: An Actionable Tip

lauren gravity vault climbing

Last week, I polled you all on instagram asking what you needed help with. Of all the options, the majority (36% of you) said that you were having trouble staying psyched.

I can honestly say you are not alone. As I write this, I am on day 67 of quarantine training in my apartment. Finding excitement in the nuances of hangboarding and kettlebell training is getting to be difficult, especially when I really want to climb. Motivation is running low, but I am still training.

Honestly, I don’t know if psyche is the answer to our problems, but discpline might be.

If you are having trouble staying motivated, but you know in your heart you want to train and progress, here’s a tip for you: use implementation intentions.

What the F* is an implementation intention?

Glad you asked. I learned about this in Jame’s Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. It is really simple, almost preposterously so.

You write down this sentence, “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]”.
(a great way to leverage a training notebook).

Too easy not to do.

Does this really work?

Yes. In a review of implementation intentions and action planning, researchers found literature pointing to improved behaviors ranging from physical activity to smoking to sun safety. Clear echos this in his book.

Hundreds of studies have shown that implementation intentions… increase the odds that people will stick with habits like recycling, studying, going to sleep early, and stopping smoking.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Related: Systems over Goals

Ok, how do I do this?

Great question. Here is my system for leveraging implementation intentions myself.

At the beginning of each week, I write down what my training plan is based on what my work schedule, etc. It looks like this:

Then, the night before I train, I make the tables that I’m going to record my session in and I put the date and the time of day ahead of time (AM or PM). I make sure there are enough details that I don’t have to think – I can just do.

I love graph paper notebooks because they make the tables easier to build.

Is this a 100% guarantee to get me to train every time?

Obviously this is not a magic pill for discipline. I will say; however, that I have been doing this since the start of quarantine. To date I have “missed” only two sessions that I planned to do – and I made them up the next day.

If your psyche is low and you can’t seem to stick to anything, I highly recommend trying this out and seeing if it helps.

Found this useful? Did you try it out? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com, I would be thrilled to hear from you.

Resources

Implementation Intention and Action Planning Interventions in Health Care

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

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Outdoor climbing: 5 Mistakes to Avoid at the Start of the Season

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris

The first time I completed an indoor training cycle, my first day back outside was magic. Routes that I could not finish the spring before became routes I did in one try that Fall. I could hardly believe my forearms. You might remember this mystical time yourself.

Unfortunately, as the years go on, making massive leaps becomes less and less common, if it happens at all. It is critical to have the right attitude when transitioning from indoor training to outdoor climbing. Here are a few mistakes to avoid at the start of your outdoor climbing season.

Mistake #1: Forgetting the unique demands of outdoor climbing

No matter how specific your gym or home wall, the likelihood is that your indoor practice does not perfectly replicate what you will be doing outdoors. The bolts are farther apart, the topouts are higher consequence, the feet are probably worse, and the route is not spelled out by big, bright holds.

This does not mean make a bunch of excuses. Give yourself the space to fail and don’t expect that you will be right back in the saddle on day one. He’s a tangible example from coach Nate Drolet about a smart way that one of his clients transitions into the start of a climbing season.

He doesn’t have a ton of time to climb outside. He recognized a pattern recently…. it takes him roughly twenty pitches to really start feeling in the groove… His goal now is, his first weekend, he’s going to knock out twenty pitches. He is fully committed to biting the bullet and going through that learning curve.

Nate Drolet, Power Company Podcast: Why Bouldering May not Help Your Sport Climbing

It takes time to get back in the groove, so plan for it. Be aware that as you get re-acquainted with outdoor climbing, you might have some rough days.

Mistake #2: Letting one bad day derail your confidence

The first day ever climbing in Rumney New Hampshire, I literally could not get past a move on a 5.10b. That same day, I fell off of a 5.10a. My confidence was crushed. I felt really stupid. “All that training and I can’t even climb 5.10.” But later that season I sent my first 5.11c and 5.11d. The training worked, but I had a bad day.

Perhaps on the first day out, you climb like shit. The narrative begins “I trained so hard and I still suck. I made it nowhere.” Stop it. Yes you did. If your training metrics improved throughout the cycle, you got better. Do not psyche yourself out – there are a million reasons why your first few days back outside do not feel like you hoped they would.**

Did you eat enough? Did you sleep poorly because you drove six hours and did not get to the crag until 2 a.m? Are you climbing in a new area? Did you intentionally dehydrate yourself because your other half won’t stop for bathroom breaks on the drive to the crag? Ok, maybe that one’s just me. Either way, between the fundamentals of getting outside again and a thousand other factors might cause you to have an off day. Don’t read into it too much.

**if you have not been training and you just got off a six month couch break, do not be surprised if you performance is lacking.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to communicate with your partners

Fortunately, I live with my climbing partner, but I know this is not the case for many. Practical things like not planning where you want to go, or not asserting yourself when you want to go work on something can really blow up your trip or a whole season.

Have a conversation with your partners or group about what you want to do in advance. Prioritize objectives so that if all else fails, at least you got to do “insert whatever route” here. Make plans. If you don’t, you may not even get to the route you have trained so hard for.

climber girls
Me and my buddy Sam. We live in different states but we’re always texting about routes and goals and plans for our next trips. It keeps me really psyched.

Mistake #4: Not planning a transition tick list

Something I have failed to do in the past is start the season with lower-tier projects. Usually, I feel that I have so little time to get outside, that I too quickly into the season objectives. I am better about this, however when I go on trips to new areas. I typically give myself some time to adjust to the style. This tactic is fun because it involves climbing a bunch of new routes before digging into anything major. For example in during my week in Wild Iris last year, on day one I did a bunch of 5.10 and 5.11 routes to adjust to the area. By day three, I was digging into my project for the week.

How long your tick list is depends on how quickly adjust to the outdoors as well as how much time you have for adjusting. If your trip is two weeks long, maybe more time to adjust is warranted. If your season is five or six weekends long, then maybe one or two weekends of busting out climbs is all you have. This is something you should figure out for yourself.

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris
Working through some fun 5.11s in Wild iris on my first day there.
Photo by Tyler Palmer.

Mistake #5: Too Much Training

When it is time to perform, you have to turn down the training so you can prioritize your time outside. Your training priority will have to shift from making gains to maintaining and performing. You cannot expect to do your best outdoors if you are still thrashing yourself at the gym. When I anticipate a day outside I give myself two rest days before heading out. During the season, my training volume gets cut way down because I know that the outdoor climbing is what’s important.

Wrapping Up

Overall, thinking you are going to hit the ground sprinting is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. Though you might be ready to crush on day one, odds are, you won’t be.  Make sure you put your energy towards good planning, not towards beating yourself up if you fall climbing something “easy” on the first day out.

How do you like to start the season? Does anything work really well for you? Leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you!

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

How Data can Inform your Hangboard Training

hangboarding

In 2020 I embarked on a five week training plan with the overall goal of becoming a better climber. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, that training plan did not involve doing any climbing.

It did involve some productive sessions on the hangboard. From March 19 to April 25, I completed a 7:3 repeater-style hangboard protocol inspired by the intermediate program in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual. Unexpectedly, I gained a significant amount of finger strength in a short amount of time – and I have been training on the hangboard for years.

This is a long one, but there’s a lot of good stuff here. So go grab a cup of coffee and let’s dive into finger strength and effectively leveraging data.

Related: 4 Hangboard Protocols to Increase Finger Strength

hangboarding
Photo by Teagan Maddux

Some History on my Finger Training

Before we get started here is some background on my finger training history. It has been about a year since I trained with a 7:3 repeater protocol on any grip type and it has been about four months since I participated in any formal finger training program. The last protocol I trained with was a max hang protocol. I chose 7:3 repeaters to prevent staleness in my finger training since I have not done them in a while.

The Session

Here is what a session looked like, after warming up of course.
I used the 7s on 3s off protocol for all of these holds. A 3-4 minute rest was taken between sets. In the scientific literature, six reps of a 7:3 repeater is notated at 6×7″:3″, so I have adopted this notation below.

  • 3 Finger Open Hand on a 20mm
    Set 1 6×7″:3″
    Rest 3-4 minutes
    Set 2 6×7″:3″
    Rest 3-4 minutes before starting next hold.
  • 2 Finger pocket on a 20mm edge
    Set 1 3×7″:3″
    Rest 3-4 minutes
    Set 2 3×7″:3″
    Rest 3-4 minutes before starting next hold.
  • Half Crimp on a 15mm edge
    Set 1 6×7″:3″
    Rest 3-4 minutes
    Set 2 6×7″:3″

As time went on, I was eventually able to add weight to the three finger and the half crimp as I did the repeaters. Additionally, I was able to increase the volume of the two finger pocket from three sets to four sets on occasion. Please note that as I was settling into the protocol, there were a couple of sessions where I played around with the edge sizes. However, the majority of the sessions used the edge sizes as described above.

Progress over Time

Here is a graph of the load score of each session over time. The load score is a calculated value that takes into account the edge size, total weight, and total time under tension in the session. In terms of weight added, it was nothing crazy. Weight added ranged from 5-15lbs. I was doing repeaters at about 65-75% intensity in terms of my max weight.

Figure 1. Session intensity score over time.
  • I had to cut the session volume in half on April 8 and was not able to do two finger pockets that day.
  • You can see somewhat of an upward trend in the half crimp and two finger pocket, seeing an increase in my personal best between March 28 and April 25.
  • I obviously had a very good day at the beginning of the cycle after having a week off from any training whatsoever. Evidently, this burst of energy did not last.

I also graphed my sessions from a volume-only perspective.

Figure 2. Total Session Volume (time under tension) over time
  • I was generally able to increase the volume of my sessions over time. Remember though, that this figure does not take into account whether or not weight was added.
  • Again we see the gap in the 2 finger pocket data on April 8

Why I am not Going Crazy with the Analytics

Perhaps some of you want to see a big, fancy statistical analysis on this. But as much as I would love to flex my engineer skills for you all, there is no point. I am using this data to figure out if I need to keep on with this protocol for a few more sessions or if I am plateauing and it is time to call it quits. I do not need an R-squared value for that.

The Results

After taking a week off of hangboarding between April 26 and May 1, I stepped up to test my max weighted hang again. Here is a table comparing my March 19 results to my May 2 results.

Figure 3. Comparison of March 19 results vs. May 2 results.

In five weeks, I added 12lbs to my max weighted hang on a 20mm edge by doing 7:3 repeaters.

Assessment Results March vs. May

During my assessment on March 19, after I did my final set (bodyweight + 54lbs), I knew I had nothing left. However, when I assessed myself on 5/2, I still had gas in the tank for one more round.

I was also able to hang bodyweight + 70lbs for eight seconds. It was not the full ten seconds, so I did not include in the chart above, but I can say that there was substantial improvement from this cycle of the repeater protocol.

Hanging bodyweight + 70lbs for 8 seconds during my 5/2 finger strength assessment.
I have a Tension Flashboard, but this similar hangboard is readily available since I knowTension has unfortunately been shut down due to the crisis.

Discussion: Applying the Research

Going into my assessment on May 2, I genuinely did not think that my max hang would change by much, if at all. Based on the research of Dr. Eva Lopez, repeater-type protocols are theorized to produce structural adaptation in the muscles in the forearms and fingers, but not necessarily provide significant increase to max strength, not as well as a max hang protocol anyway. Here’s an analogy if you need a more thorough explanation of this concept.

Hypertrophy and Strength: The Office Analogy

I like to think about strength and hypertrophy in terms of an office building. A business can perhaps generate more money if they add more workers to their staff. So the company builds a new floor in the office. But, the business will not simply start making more income by adding another floor to the building, they have to hire people to do utilize the new work space in order to generate additional income.

Hypertrophy is the office building and neural recruitment is the staff. Make sense?

So based on the general theory, I assumed that after this cycle of repeaters, I would need to do some maximal hanging to teach my brain to recruit any newly developed muscle; however, this was not the case. It was a fun lesson to learn.

“There’s no hard line between strength and endurance training. You can get strong from a more endurance based protocol even though it’s probably not the most ideal or efficient way.”

Natasha Barnes, elite climber, power lifter, and physiotherapist

In search for the reasons behind my successful training cycle, I again turned to the experiment from Dr. Eva Lopez for answers.

Comparing myself to the Eva Lopez Intermittent Hangs Experiment

There are a few key differences between what I did and what Eva recommends for her intermittent hangs protocol, so this comparison should be taken with a grain of salt. Here is a description of the protocol used in Eva’s experiment for the intermittent hangs group.

Eva’s Training Protocol

“The Intermittent method in the first 4 weeks consisted of 3-5 sets of 4 repetitions, each repetition being a 10-second dead-hang; the pause was 5 seconds between repetitions and 1 minute between sets. No added weight was used, the load was managed by choosing the smallest edge (MED) that would allow to complete all the prescribed volume and reach failure or close to failure in the last repetition of the last set.”

Maximal hangs, Intermittent Hangs (Repeaters) or a Combination. Which 8-week program is more effective for developing grip strength in rock climbers?

Obviously the work to rest ratio, total volume and edge sizes are differ between my training sessions and those done by Eva’s group. In any case, here is a comparison of my results after ten sessions to the 4 week results of the participants in Eva’s Intermittent Hangs experiment.

Comparing Testing Protocols

Though my training was completed on a 15mm edge and Eva’s trainees trained on the minimum edge depth they could handle, this is not how the standardized testing was carried out. I performed my testing on a 20mm edge recording my max hang for 10s. Eva’s cohort performed testing on a 15mm edge looing for max weight for a 5s hang. Though the comparison is not perfect, here is how my results look relative to Eva’s group.

Figure 4. Comparison of my results to Eva’s cohort.

My results exceeded the average results of those in Eva’s study. There could be a lot of reasons for this. The average number of years of climbing for those in the study was 11.7 – more than double the number of years that I have been climbing. I suppose I have more room to grow than those in Eva’s cohort. Overall, this protocol was really effective for me at this time.

tension board lauren abernathy
Awkward two finger pockets.

Using this Data to make Decisions

In hindsight, I wish I had done some assessment on the three finger and half crimp grips, but I did not. No experiment is perfect, I suppose. However I learned what I need to from my assessments.

Overall, I can see that my half crimp strength is plenty strong for my climbing goals this year (see Self-Coaching for more details on this). Additionally, I know that with my trip to Wild Iris coming up, a focus on pocket training is critical.

When I look at the graphs, I can see that my two finger and three finger grip progress has not leveled off as much as the half crimp. To me, this indicates that there are still improvements to be made.I plan to continue training these two grips as I have been doing for at least another four weeks, twice a week.

Conversely I am going to reduce the half crimp training. I plan to train it once every couple of weeks to maintain the strength, but this will not be my focus. There is no point in adding the additional stress of the half crimp grip to my training when I know I need the most adaptation in other grip positions.

With that, here are a few less tangible lessons to be learned from my self-analysis.

Don’t Get Obsessed with Numbers

Though it is fun to play around with hangboard data and look at our numbers, finger strength is just one factor in the picture of our climbing. I do not expect that just because I have stronger fingers that I will not face challenges when I get back to climbing.

The numbers give me confidence that I am strong, but climbing is so much more than finger strength.

Progress is Not Linear

Something else that is interesting to note in the tracking of these sessions is that my performance went up and down. I had some shit days during this training cycle, but I still showed up and got it done, even if it meant I cut the session volume in half. Consistency is the key to results. There are going to be bad days in your training, but it does not mean that your overall trajectory is downward. Progress is not linear.

Details Matter but Consistency Matters More

They are many ways to utilize a hangboard effectively. But you will not reap the benefits of a good hangboard program if you do not choose one and complete it with focus and consistency.

Key Points
A strength-endurance protocol can yield maximal strength benefits.
– Changing up your protocols is important to prevent staleness.
– Progress is not linear.
Using data and assessment to track progress can be meaningful when planning your training.
– Showing up consistently is required for lasting results.

Have questions for me? Want to know more about how I analyzed my own numbers. Shoot me a note at lauren@senderellastory.com or leave a comment below. I would be thrilled to hear from you.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

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Resources

https://strengthclimbing.com/eva-lopez-inthangs/#Disc

https://www.powercompanyclimbing.com/blog/self-climbing-assessment

https://en-eva-lopez.blogspot.com/2018/03/maximal-hangs-intermittent-hangs.html

https://natashabarnesrehab.com/aboutme

How to Unsend Your Project

deep water solo mike

I turned my back to the yachts and headed downward. The limestone slab was easy enough to navigate. I worked my way left just as I had a year prior, down to the base of the routes. I came around the corner to see a few other tourists hanging about the cave: a boy and a girl who looked to be in their twenties, whose climbing shoes looked a little too large – if I was asked to give an opinion on it.

From this little hole in the rock, you can see the whole cove. There were a few bright boats and celebrity-like houses across the water. Looking around it seemed absurd that you’d waste your time flailing on this cliff face. Why not sip a margarita and lay by the water instead?

deep water solo mike
A beautiful place to climb.

Back again

But there I was, in Mallorca again, ready to hopefully re-do a route that had gone down in three tries the year prior. Last year I hadn’t even redpointed a 5.12 yet. This year, I’d done five. I was surely much stronger this year than I was the previous. The numbers didn’t lie.

I began the traverse to start the route, crossing hands over feet until I was where I needed to be. Then, I heard a thick German accent shouting the boat across the way.

“It’s 7a if you keep going further, but this is the 6b! Yes, yes. Stop there!”

deep water solo mallorca

The man seemed to assume that I would be happy to know where to stop since I probably only wanted to get on the 6b (around 5.10d in the yosemite system). I couldn’t possibly be headed for the 7a, because scrawny American girls can’t climb that hard, of course.

Despite this, I continued on until I reached the base of Rich Bitch, the 7a I had done the year prior.

The First Splash

Ready to prove myself to the Peanut Gallery, I lunged for the first move, a rather large throw that demands your feet cutting loose (unless you are about 6’3″).

A few seconds later my nice, dry shoes were soaking wet. I had not quite reached the best part of the slot. With few quick expletives, I swam back over to the start of the route and heaved myself out of the water.

The tourist boy who had made no headway on the route tried to comfort me. “Good try, it’s a really big move.” My frustration brewed.

No matter, I would surely do it next go. My ego throbbed and I evaluated the man on the yacht. Was I really getting sprayed down by a fat, German tour guide while he lounged on a boat?

senderella story deep water solo
a photo of me on the send go in 2018.

A Play by Play

Fast forward about twenty minutes, I tried again. This time, I stuck the move and kept moving. My other half, Michael, was also working the route, so we had reviewed some beta together. I was ready to execute, but my focus again dissolved in the shouting.

“OK. Now you’ll want to put your foot up in that hold and move your hand right!”

The German guy was seriously giving me a play by play. I froze onto a crap hold. Half irritated that I couldn’t hear myself think and half trying to maybe take his advice, I made a couple more moves, then slipped off again after messing up the sequence.

My climbing was hideous. I was pissed.

Fortunately the swim through cold water would at least take some heat off me by the time I got back on shore. Though I gave no visible signs of anger to everyone else at the crag, on the inside I was fuming.

The next go was better. Before beginning the traverse I turned and looked the guy in the boat square in the face.

“Can you please not yell at me?”

“What!?”

“Can you please not yell at me? I want to figure it out myself.”

Though he seemed agitated at my request, he did not respond. Which is fine because he did exactly what I asked. Though it didn’t go this time, I made progress. I was able to figure out the next section and the attempt felt much better. I was calm again.

About an hour later, the tourist group and the pesky boat were sailing into the sunset. The crowd at the cliff was dissipating and on the sixth go, I finally repeated the thing. I was not proud, but I was relieved. It was a fine day to unsend something.

Mike and I after a good day of trying hard, despite my temporary adversary.

The Lessons

I have learned many lessons from reflecting on this day. Here are a few.

Great Expectations

For whatever reason, I assumed that because I had done it in three tries a year ago, that the route wasn’t hard and it would go just as easily. I had expectations that this 5.11d would be a piece of cake since I had finally cracked 5.12. I sauntered in ready for a cake walk instead of marching in for battle.

Bad with Crowds

I have always had a hunch that I have some crown-related performance anxiety, but this really illustrates it. The day I sent Rich Bitch the first time, there were about four people from our group at the crag. I was comfortable and I felt supported. On the return trip, however, the crag was flooded with new faces, including my yacht-lounging antagonist. The environment cracked my focus.

You Have to Advocate for Yourself

Though my fear of crowds needs work, we can all agree that having unwanted beta sprayed at you while you are working something is irritating. It was critical that I advocated for myself in this situation.

If you do not like something in your environment that is controllable, then change it. You only get so much time to climb, so make it the best you can be to ensure your success. If you would like for your friends to be silent while you are trying to redpoint, just ask nicely. I am sure they will oblige. If you want your belayer to yell a certain beta cue when you reach a particular hold, then tell them. Own your sends and create an environment that helps you do your best. Conversely, being a good climbing partner is all about helping to give your climber what they need when they’re on the send go as well.

The Pursuit of Mastery

Though I did think that redoing this route would be much easier than it was, I still took the time to redo it and I learned a lot from going through the process again. Here’s some advice from Kris Hampton from his book, The Hard Truth.

“Don’t be satisfied with sending the boulder. Send it better….Revisit old mini projects now and then. Unsend them and then resend them.”

Bad Days Happen

This was the first day of my trip to Mallorca. I was a little frustrated that it took me all day to repeat this route, but I didn’t let one off day spoil the pysche for the whole trip. Bad days happen and I knew the vibe at the cliff had messed with me a litte.

However, I did not let this hiccup cause me to spiral into destructive thoughts like “I don’t have enough power to climb here” or that “I’m not in shape anymore” or “my training didn’t work”. By the end of the trip, I went on to send both of my goal routes, Bisexual (7a) and Metrosexual (7a+). I did not let one bad day spoil my attitude for the week.

The Obvious Lesson

Spraying random strangers with beta by yelling at them mid-route isn’t cool. If you do this, you are an irrefutable ass hat. Just don’t do it. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Have you ever un-sent something? What did you learn? Drop a comment or shoot me an email, I would love to hear from you!

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A Climber’s 21 Day Meditation Experiment

girl climbing gym senderella story

I always liked the part of yoga class where you laid down on the floor and did nothing for ten minutes. It was my motivation for showing up actually. I suffered through the vinyasas, holding planks for too long, and eating shit while trying to do crow pose, just to dissolve myself in the last ten minutes of nothing.

For some, the ability to find ease in the present moment is commonplace. For many, it is not.

Whether I’m at work or training or trying to enjoy dinner with my other half, parts of my mind are nibbling away joys of the present. It is sometimes difficult to avoid mulling over the worst parts of my day or skip to planning out the next. You might feel this way to.

These thought patterns are a detriment to our progress and well-being – in climbing or otherwise. The ability to focus is critical to enjoying our lives and our performance as climbers.

Focusing on technique and the execution of moving is always priority number one when training. If you are not there and conscious, no learning is happening.

Marius Morstad

Which is why in 2020, I set the goal of “developing a regular meditation practice”. Frankly, this is a crap goal because it lacks specificity and timeliness. However, I am writing this from month four of this project and I see that the end goal is to have meditation become a part of my day everyday – just like brushing my teeth.

Getting Some Help

To help with this, I received some help from Jenifer who runs Oasis Climbing Club, a guide service providing yoga, meditation and climbing retreats in locations throughout Spain. We connected on social media and I mentioned my goals to her. A certified yoga teacher with a specialization in meditation and visualization, she graciously offered to help. She is certainly the expert I needed. Since Jen is in Spain, we communicated via WhatsApp. Each day she uploaded a ten minute recording, allowing me to sample different types of meditation. For those who have not meditated before, this may seem absurd. “How could sitting on your ass with your eyes closed be categorized into different ‘types’?”

This confused me at first too, but after twenty one days with Jen – I began to understand the nuances.

My Favorite Meditations

In the 21 days with Jen, a few of the meditations really stood out. My absolute favorite was a visualization of a day at the crag. From getting out of the car to the crux of the project, Jen’s voice guided me through a visualization. The purpose of this is to breed familiarity, control and confidence when I face these situations in real life.

If you think visualization is too “woo woo” for you, then perhaps some research may be of interest.

Research: Physical Strength Gained by the Mind

In a 2004 study, researchers took to finding out what happens if individuals used only their minds to improve their strength in comparison with physical training. There were four groups. One group trained their pinky flexion performing only mental contractions. There was a group that trained physically, and another that did no training, but was measured as a control. After twelve weeks, the results were in. The group that trained physically saw an increase in pinky abduction strength of 53%; the mental-only group saw strength improvements as well: 35%. Not bad for not even lifting a finger.

We conclude that the mental training employed by this study enhances the cortical output signal, which drives the muscles to a higher activation level and increases strength.

From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind

Visualizing is not just for strength, however. The best of the best climbers have used this technique for some of their greatest ascents.

Then I visualized a lot. In my head, I cut it down into different sections. Here climb fast, here slow down. In the end, I figured there would be two moves where I could fall.

Adam Ondra on his Flash of Super Crackinette, the world’s first 5.15a flash

So if you think that increasing your mental sharpness and visualizing your sport will not help you, you might want to think again.

Lauren Abernathy Flesh for lulu
Me getting ready for the first crux on Flesh for Lulu, 5.12a/b with some deep breathing and visualization of the crux moves.

Jen’s calming voice did not only help me with a day at the crag, I also learned techniques for eating – mindfully, that is.

Eating Meditation

Another one I really enjoyed was a meditation on mindful eating. I “mindfully consumed” a sunflower buttercup. It made me realize how much I rush through eating my food. Though I don’t always remember to, I do recall these ideas when I am eating on occasion. It helps to slow me down and squeeze a bit of extra joy out of my life.

What I Learned

Though there were certainly days where I didn’t feel like I had even ten minutes to myself, I was always glad when I did take the time. Showing up to meditate is a lot like showing up to train for climbing. Some days you are going to suck at it — not that you can really suck at meditation, but some days definitely feel harder than others. However, you build the practice and reap the benefits by being consistent, not by giving up when it seems difficult.

Why this is important to me and my climbing

Practicing the mental aspect of climbing is difficult, especially since it lacks the tangibility of physical practice. Meditation is a common practice for many elite athletes, especially in the climbing space. Though I can’t keep up with Adam Ondra’s campus session, keeping myself mentally sharp by meditating like Hazel Findlay seems like a good option.

The mind is a muscle just as much as the body. We should train it as such.

You would never train your fingers and then expect your fingers to be strong for years without continuing up your finger-boarding. Equally, you can train your mind, but if you don’t continue that practice it will get weak again.

Hazel Findlay – Power Company Climbing Episode 57

In addition to benefits in sports performance, the body of research relating meditation with improved health and wellness, is absolutely booming. There is an entire sector of Harvard research dedicated to mindfulness. This practice that has been around for thousands of years, seems to have significant positive effects on our wellbeing. I have found that taking this time for myself feels really good and the scientific community seems to resoundingly agree.

Several studies have shown that the constant practice of meditation induces neuroplasticity phenomena, including the reduction of age-related brain degeneration and the improvement of cognitive functions… The effects of meditation are correlated to improvements in attention, working memory, spatial abilities, and long-term memory.

Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study

Where to Next

After the completion of my 21 day experiment, I had the kick start I needed. To keep the journey going I use a combination of my white board as well as the HeadSpace app.

I am far from perfection, but I am showing progress in being consistent. I had a fifteen day streak of meditating in March – a personal record. Though I missed a couple of days throughout April, I am still keeping up with the practice.

The HeadSpace app has meditations as short at 3 minutes. It’s hard to say you don’t have the time to be consistent when you can invest just three minutes a day into improving your wellbeing.

Have you meditated before? Has it helped your focus while climbing? Have questions about how I made it a consistent practice? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com.

More about Oasis

I would like to point out here that this is not a sponsored post for Oasis Climbing, Jen is simply very kind and offered to help with me with my self-experiment. It would be a total disservice to the climbing community to not share that this sort of kindness exists. So if you are in the market for a guided climbing trip, check out Oasis. A week of Jen teaching you yoga and meditation after a day at the crag sounds like paradise to me. Learn more here.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Resources

From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind

Power Company Climbing – Flow and Mental Mastery with Hazel Findlay

When Science meets Mindfulness

Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study

Interview: Adam Ondra Completes World’s First 5.15a/9a+ Flash

Why I’m Not Training Endurance in Quarantine

My local government doesn’t want me to go running and the climbing gym is closed. My hard-earned power endurance is bleeding from my forearms and into the couch as I watch Parks & Rec. COVID-19 is robbing humanity of a lot right now, but endurance is something I am not concerned about losing. (and I’m a sport climber with Red River Gorge projects). If losing your endurance is concerning you, whether climbing or in general, try saying this three times out loud to see if it makes you feel better.

I am going to lose localized endurance in my forearms.
I am going to lose aerobic fitness.
I am not worried about it.

If that didn’t work, here are some facts to back up your new favorite mantra. Now, let’s get into exactly why I am not worrying about endurance right now and why you might not need to either.

Do you need endurance right now?

When asked about endurance training in the Training Beta podcast on best practices for training at home, coach Kris Hampton replied to the question with another question.

“When is the next time you are going to need to access it? Endurance is a quality that is really easy to get back… If you’re not going to be able to get back to a route that you’re excited about until the fall, then maybe you don’t need to be concerned about endurance right now. “
Kris Hampton of Power Company Climbing

As for my next shot at climbing, I am hoping I’ll in Wyoming in the summer. Therefore, I am at least eight weeks out from getting on real rock. Most of my Wild Iris projects are under 60 feet anyway. All of this to say, I really do not see any reason, personally, to be training endurance right now.

In addition to my climbing timeline, there are some physiological reasons for waiting on training endurance: namely that endurance is not a persistent adaptation. Simply put, you can train up your endurance relatively quickly when the time comes.

butch pocket and the sundance pump
Me on the send go of Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump in Wild Iris last summer.

“All you have to do is get pumped for a few weeks and your endurance will come back.” –
PT and Trainer, Natasha Barnes

As Natasha says, you can increase your endurance very quickly compared to other physical adaptations like maximal strength.

Strength is a Number One Dad Mug

I have heard a certain analogy from a couple of climbing performance experts (I’m looking at you Natasha Barnes and Charlie Manganiello) on various podcasts and presentations. To avoid being completely unoriginal, here is my adaptation.

Strength is a Number One Dad mug. The bigger the mug, the more coffee you can fit into it. (If it’s big enough, perhaps you can even fit some Baileys as well). So if strength is the mug, then endurance, work capacity, strength endurance, etc. are the coffee and Baileys.

By increasing your strength, you increase your capacity for endurance.

Still don’t believe me? Let’s think about this another way. How easy is it for you to do one pull-up? Think about it. What if you were so strong that doing one pull up was just as easy as taking a single step on a treadmill? You could do pull-ups for hours if that were the case. Imagine what that would do for your climbing? Your endurance would be insane.

This is the point. If you make yourself stronger, you will be able to endure more. This is good news for us, because many of us only have resources that lend themselves to strength training right now anyway.

Using a Hammer as a Wrench

There is nothing I hate more than trying to do a job without the right tools. When I think about trying to increase my localized forearm endurance with a cylindrical piece of wood dangling above my bathroom tiles, I feel deflated. Training endurance is much easier and more fun with an actual wall to train on. I do not want to use a hammer as a wrench so I’m not trying to use my flash board to train localized forearm endurance.

The rest of the implements in my apartment (a couple of kettlebells and some dumbells) also lend themselves to strength training. Even if you do not have any weights, body weight exercises have thousands of variants that can stimulate maximal strength gains without added resistance. You likely have excellent tools for gaining strength right now. For endurance, this is probably not the case.

“The tools you have are going to be sufficient. You don’t have to sit around going ‘Well I would workout if I had a campus board in my living room.’ It’s more important to say ‘Oh yeah, I have this thing. Here I go.” – Steve Bechtel Training Beta Episode 147

I know that some feel that maintaining fitness is very difficult and genetically some are certainly more advantaged than others when it comes to endurance. However, there is a substantial body of evidence showing that endurance can be trained up fairly quickly in comparison to strength.

Endurance is Fleeting

There is a reason that power endurance comes last in most popular climbing training plans. You do not need your endurance and power endurance to be maximized forever, you need it when you get on your route or long boulder problem.

“Anaerobic-endurance [training] places high levels of stress on the nervous system and muscles… About two weeks of this type of training seems to be the limit if you climb regularly.” – Eric Horst in How to Climb 5.12

Once the gym reopens you can certainly find two weeks to train up your power endurance before starting on your route-climbing season.

If you are satisfied with advice from seasoned coaches and you don’t care about the nerdy details, feel free to the section below the green.
If you have some time to geek out a little, read on.

NERD ALERT: Endurance Adaptation Science

I looked at a few research papers to distill the idea that endurance can be increased relatively quickly, here is what I found. In one study, a group of moderately trained young men performed sprint interval workouts (~30s bouts of all out effort) over the course of four weeks.

It was found that their mitochondria content and function increased by 25% over the course of this four week period.

But what the f* are mitochondria?

I will keep it simple with the adage that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. It is a critical organelle in the production of energy. Your redpoints are not powered by Pabst Blue Ribbon — not directly anyway. They are powered by mitochondria. (here’s a quick video).

But does increased mitochondrial function and volume actually increase endurance performance? In short, yes.

Mitochondria and Aerobic Endurance

In another study, the relationship between mitochondria and endurance ability was tested. Researchers gave individuals a fitness test on a stationary bike and did a biopsy on their thigh muscles. Yes, a small chunk was taken our of their legs, for science! They then examined properties like mitochondrial content and function. The results demonstrated that the individuals who showed greater athleticism on the stationary bike test had greater mitochondrial function than their less fit counterparts.

Putting it Together

Now I will put the argument together. By doing certain types of training we can increase mitochondria significantly over a four week period – as much as 25%. We also have evidence showing that mitochondria function is a key indicator of aerobic performance.

Comparing the endurance adaptation to finger strength

Now, I invite you to contrast these gains with four weeks of training maximal finger strength. The most dramatic result in Eva Lopez’s study of max hangs yielded a 28% increase in half crimp position over two months. It is hard to compare these two adaptations, but I think it is an interesting frame of reference.

The moral here is that endurance is quickly won and lost. Strength however, is much harder to gain, but it will stick around once you have earned it.

My Own Training: A Few Caveats

I am in the middle of a repeater hangboard protocol right now. Before hangboarding, I warm up with some “climbing” for about two minutes. This probably stimulates some maintenance of local forearm endurance. My main drive for doing this; however, is finger strength. I am not trying to replicate the climbing volume that I would get training endurance in the gym. My rationale for training repeaters is driven by needing to switch up my hangboard routine to prevent a plateau.
(See Four Hangboard Protocols for more details on hangboarding )

Additionally, I admit that endurance is one of my strengths (see previous post). If you are unsure if endurance is a weakness, take the Power Company home assessment. It will help determine where your endurance stands versus your climbing goals.

As far as general stamina, I am doing kettlebell workouts with efforts lasting 3-4 minutes without rest. This is my own substitute for running Here are some resources for general fitness.

If you’re going to train endurance anyway

If you still are not sold and you know from past experience that gaining endurance and keeping it is challenging for you, then get creative. Coach Tom Randall advises in the episode 147 of Training Beta that you can train endurance without a climbing wall.

“We do a fair amount of finger board work down the lower end of the spectrum – stuff that is more akin to ARC and aero-cap work, 30 – 45% type of work.”
Tom Randall of Lattice Training

Tom goes on to describe using a pulley set up to remove a considerable amount of weight and doing a repeater-type exercises. This seems to be more of a protocol simulate climbing for low-end forearm endurance as opposed to building finger strength, hence the low intensity.

Kris echos this sentiment.

You can do really small amounts of [endurance training] with this lower intensity arc-style hangboarding, taking a lot of weight off… You can do a session of that a week .. or every other week and have plenty of base for your endurance when you need to pick it back up.

So if you are hell bent on training endurance, doing something like the below could work as well. At the moment I am only doing this type to warm-up for hangboarding.

A Note on Running

Though I am not comfortable running right now, you likely can. Incorporating some general cardio into your training can be a beautiful thing. Separate your cardio from your strength sessions, if possible. Although I hate running, I would probably go for the occasional jog if I felt it was socially responsible. Please note that local government refers to my location specifically and you should refer to your local guidelines. Your activity based on government recommendations is at your discretion.

If you are concerned maintaining endurance in isolation, perhaps there are other areas you can focus on. Have questions? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com.
I would be thrilled to hear from you.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Please note that the post above contains affiliate links. If you happen to purchase anything from the links above, at no cost to you, senderellastory.com gets a small kickback which helps keep this site free for all to access and supports further content creation. Thank you for your support.

Resources

TrainingBeta Episode 147: Best Practices for Training at Home

Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training

Effects of Exercise on Mitochondrial Content and Function in Aging Human Skeletal Muscle

Physical activity changes the regulation of mitochondrial respiration in human skeletal muscle

Dr. Eva Lopez – Max Hangs vs. Intermittent Hangs

Quick Mitochondria Video

How to Climb 5.12 by Eric Horst

The Essentials of Increasing Your Pinch Strength

lauren abernathy triangle rock club

“Sticking with what’s comfortable isn’t a slow steady way to improve. It’s a slippery slope that starts off too shallow to notice, but steepens alarmingly down the line.”
Dave MacLeod

You know the boulders at your climbing gym that you actively avoid? I do. I am consciously aware that if a route looks especially pinch-intensive, I am turned off. I would rather climb something else. In 2020, I decided to finally address this gap in skill.

One could try to avoid certain types of holds for the entirety of their climbing career, but that seems almost as difficult as attacking the weakness itself.

If improving your pinching abilities is on the to-do list, here is a guide to help you do that.

Who should be doing this?

Similar to hangboarding, everyone has an opinion on who and when you can start training pinches. Personally, I was about five years into my climbing career before even thinking about needing to train this grip specifically.

“If we’re going to set a basic rule that applies to most people, for the first year, they should just climb a few days a week… Then in year two, they can start to ease into training.” – Eric Horst, world class climbing coach

I acknowledge that as I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and most of us do not have access to climbing walls in which we can practice pinching. Therefore, the general advice changes a bit in this scenario.

In a recent workshop I took from Natasha Barnes, she advised that her position is that if you have been climbing 2-3 times per week, hangboarding is a perfectly safe activity if you load and dose the activity correctly. She did not mention pinch training specifically; however, I am assuming that the same logic applies.

Whether or not you engage in pinch training based on your time as a climber is completely up to you. However, if you have climbing 2-3 times per week for 6-12 months and your perform the protocols and rest properly, this is likely a safe and productive activity for you. As always, I advise you to use the information available and decide for yourself.

With that out of the way, let’s get into the details of pinch training.

What is a pinch?

This may seem obvious, but the pinch position has quite a bit more variety than one might consider. To you, a climber, pinching is the big blobby hold in the gym that you keep slipping off of. However, from a scientific perspective there are many classifications of the pinch movement. These range from what it looks like when you turn your car key, to your hand position when holding a chopstick.

I will spare you the details. The biggest take away here is that the climbing researchers classify and discuss pinches using these four variables.

  1. Depth of the hold: number of pads
  2. Orientation: vertical, diagonal, etc.
  3. Shape/positivity: shallow, rounded, sloping, incut
  4. Width/span: distance from thumb to other fingers

    source: Eva Lopez Training Pinch Strength for Climbing
lauren abernathy triangle rock club

With the wide variability of this position in mind, let’s discuss its ergonomics.

Pinch Ergonomics

Overuse and sub-optimal form while training your pinch strength can lead to injury.

One injury in particular related to the pinch position as discussed by Eva Lopez, is De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. This type of injury is generally related to overuse; in particular, uncomfortable wrist positions like the one seen below.

Obvously, there are times in our climbing where we will be in these tweaky wrist positions. However we should avoid training in these positions since we can achieve gains in our pinch strength without excessively engaging in these sub-optimal postures.

“By observing a correct position we can avoid injuries like De Quervain syndrome, caused by overuse of thumb muscles under excessive ulnar flexion, exactly the posture that we get when we grab a high, front-facing pinch.” – Dr. Eva Lopez

So what is a good pinch position?

An optimal position for grabbing a pinch is to do so with your wrist flat. There should be a generally straight line from your elbow to your fingers like we see below. If you’re a total hard ass, then you can train pinches in a front lever position like Kris Hampton. This leads to optimized ergonomics and minimization of injury risk. However I understand the most of us cannot do that.

Photo credit powercompanyclimbing.com

Here is what optimal wrist position looks like when using a pinch block, which is what most of us mortals will need to use.

If you want a video explanation of this positioning, check this out. At around three minutes and 30s, of the youtube video below, Eric Horst advises GeekClimber. More on this later.

So how can I improve my pinch strength?

Now that we have a grasp on what pinch strength is, let’s get into how we can train it and improve it.

Pinch Strength Improvement by Climbing

Though it may sound too simple, a good way to attack this weakness is to program it into your climbing sessions. It might be a good time to pick a specific pinch project on your gym’s Moondboard, Tension Board, or create one on a spray wall.

Additionally, you could make it a goal that every time you boulder, you put in at least five quality attempts on difficult pinch problems. By consciously setting these measurable goals, you will stop actively avoiding the weakness.

However, if you have been training for a long time, your fingers are prepared, and you want an even more focused approach, then there are some supplemental training protocols that may benefit you more directly.

Pinches on a Hangboard

While some hangboard models do have pinches on them, it takes significant strength of the supporting musculoskeletal system to train on a hangboard without excessive wrist flexion (remember, we want our wrist flat while we train pinches, not flexed back).

The Rock Prodigy Force with narrow and wide pinches on the side of the board.

If you are strong enough to train them with your hangboard, more power to you. However, if you are not, there are certainly other training solutions.

Pinch Blocks

My personal favorite way to train pinch strength is using pinch blocks. These are blocks of wood or plastic from which you can hang a load to increase your pinch strength. As with hangboard protocols, there are many ways in which to utilize this implements.

Pinch Training: Max Hangs

When I first started training with a pinch block, I extrapolated Eva Lopez’s max hang protocol to pinch training.

In each pinch training sessions, I did 3-6 hangs at 80% of my max weight. Max weight being the total weight I could pinch for 12-13s. I rested for 3-5 minutes in between sets.

This gave me pretty good results and I felt noticeable improvement in my pinch strength doing this about once per week. Here’s a comparison of the same moonboard problem taken four weeks apart. I had done seven sessions of the max hang protocol described above between when these videos were taken.

In the first session, that pinch was really difficult for me to hold. A month later, I felt like I owned that hold. Night and day, really.

Please note that the pinch training was done in conjunction with working on this boulder and other helpful training activities. I cannot say that training pinch max hangs directly resulted in improved climbing, but I would not be surprised if it contributed at least partially.

Pinch Training: Repeaters

Another protocol you can do is the Repeater Protocol described by Eric Horst.

For this protocol, you do seven seconds on in each hand, alternating until you have done six hangs on each side. This is one round. Rest for 3-5 minutes and repeat. Eric recommends keeping it to 2-3 rounds. As a reference, I was using 18lbs when I did the max hang protocol. For repeaters, I am using 10-12lbs. Here’s an example video of what this looks like.

Which protocol should I choose?

Extrapolating from general hangboard advice that you want to maximize neurological gains before attempting hypertrophy, it might be best to start with the max hang protocol as I did (if that sounded like gibberish, more on this here). However, depending on your situation, you may not have enough weights on hand to do this. Additionally, Eric recommends his repeater protocol to pinch neophytes, so I think whichever you choose, it is certainly better than none at all.

Either protocol will help your pinch strength if you put in the work.
Pick a protocol and stick to it for at least eight to ten sessions. After these sessions, re-test your max hang to see if you have improved. If you stop seeing gains after a while, consider switching up the protocol.

Wide or Narrow?

As discussed above, pinches come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. If you had a project that you knew had certain pinch sizes, perhaps it would be advantageous to train those specifically.

For simplicity, I have only been training the wide pinch. Eric mentions in his discussion with Geek Climber that a wide pinch will also benefit your narrow pinch strength, so it seems like a wide pinch kills two birds with one stone. Since my pinch strength is so bad, I think anything is better than nothing. I am keeping it simple and sticking with training the wide pinch only. Perhaps down the road, I will change it up. For now, one size is enough for me.

Have questions? Want to learn more about pinch strength? You can read the resources below. As always, I encourage you to leave a comment if you have any questions and please feel free to shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com if you have any other questions.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Please note that the post above contains affiliate links. If you happen to purchase anything from the links above, at no cost to you, senderellastory.com gets a small kickback which helps keep this site free for all to access and supports further content creation. Thank you for your support.

Resources

Eva Lopez: Training Pinch Strength for Climbers

Mayo Clinic: De Quervain’s Syndrome

Geek Climber Pinch Block Training ft. Eric Horst

Natasha Barnes – Hangboard workshop

Eva Lopez: Max Hangs vs. Intermittent Hangs