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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 email@example.com to let me know your thoughts on running and climbing. I would love to hear from you!
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to hear from you and discuss.
“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
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.
The massage therapist clapped her hands together and smiled wide. Her client had just handed her a lovely bit of information: that she warms up her shoulders with theraband exercises before she begins any strenuous physical activity.
Well, that client is me. I have a religious pre-climbing ritual and I follow it wherever I plan to climb. In the interest of continuing to climb injury-free for an extensive career, you may want to do the same.
With that, here are three mistakes you are probably making in your pre-climbing warmup.
Mistake #1: You do not warm up before you get on the wall
This is one that I see all the time. Someone walks into the gym, climbs three V0s and decides that this is sufficient to start working on their V5 project. Then they wonder why they aren’t very flexible and why their shoulders and elbows and fingers are tweaked. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture.
A warm-up and stretching protocol should be implemented prior to physical activity. The routine should allow the stretching protocol to occur within the 15 minutes immediately prior to the activity in order to receive the most benefit.
But you knew this already. You know you should warm up before you get on the wall. So don’t wait until you have your first real injury or first bad tweak.
You might think you don’t have time to warm-up. The truth is you don’t have time NOT to.
Mistake #2: You’re not Stretching Dynamically
Does it feel great to lean down, touch your toes, and hang out there for a while? For some, maybe. But for all, this modality of static stretching is not ideal for warming up to climb. Static stretching is defined as holding a challenging position for 30 seconds or more.
Similarly, ballistic stretching (“bouncing” in and out of a stretching position beyond normal range of motion) is not ideal either.
Here’s is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. Jared Vagy (the climbing doctor) on the subject.
“Static stretching is a poor choice: The research shows that statically stretching a muscle before activity impairs muscle strength and leads to decreased performance. There is also evidence that shows that it can actually increase injury rate.
Ballistic stretching is a poor choice: It has been shown in numerous research studies that ballistic stretching is hazardous when used as a warm-up. The rapid nature of the movement activates a reflex in the muscle causing it to contract to protect itself from harm. This can cause micro-tearing of the muscle.”
According to research, the stretching you want to be doing prior to physical activity is dynamic stretching. Vagy goes on to recommend the following:
Dynamic stretching is the best choice: Research supports that a sport specific dynamic warm-up is the best way to increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons in the body.
Dynamic stretching is defined as movements that take you “gently to the ends of your range of motion” in a controlled manor. They are usually performed in sets of 8-12 reps. ( source: mit.edu).
Summarily, dynamic stretching before you climb is the way to go.
Mistake #3: You do not take your warm-up outside
So you’ve figured out how to warm-up. You do it every time you hit the gym. Your sessions feel better and you have your routine down. Then the first time the weather breaks and you head outside, you throw the whole thing out the window. You pull onto one easy route then immediately start projecting.
Warming up is not only for your indoor training days, you need to take your off-the-wall warm-up outside as well (especially as a matter of fact). Here’s a word from Eric Horst in a section ofHow to Climb 5.12 regarding preparing for an onsight outdoors.
What’s the best way to warm up for a serious on-sight attempt? Some mild full-body stretching and sports massage of the fingers and forearms is a good start.
This is a simple concept but it’s very easy to mess up. Personally, my off-the-wall warm-up involves resistance bands (and some stuff with my hands on the ground). I bring my theraband to the crag with me every time I go outside to climb and I use it to get warm before hopping on the wall.
Resources and Further Reading
If you’re looking to get yourself a pre-climbing warm-up here are a few resources I would highly recommend.
So what about you? Do you warm-up before you get on the wall? What do you like to do to warm-up? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at email@example.com. As always, if you don’t already, give me a follow on Instagram or a like on Facebook to stay up to date when new posts come out.
Please note that this blog post contains affiliate links for products that I have personally used and enjoyed. If you are interested in purchasing any of these products, kindly consider using the links in the post above. This helps keep SenderellaStory.com in existence and keeps it ad-free!
Summer months can get be infuriating for the avid outdoor climber. It’s hot outside, you’re sick of climbing on plastic, and at about week twelve of being stuck in the gym, you develop a bit of cabin fever.
That was me in the summer of 2019, at which point I decided I needed to spice things up and do something I don’t normally do: a bouldering competition. My decision to do this was driven by a few factors:
I needed a way to make indoor climbing more exciting
I wanted a way to simulate a tough day of trying hard outside for an extended period of time.
I really don’t like competing very much, and I thought it would be a good way to challenge myself mentally.
So if you’re a stuck-up outdoor climber – especially if you’re a sport or trad climber, consider entering a bouldering comp. Here’s a little run-down of how my second comp ever went for me. It might inspire you to try one too.
Pulling the Trigger
This all started when I saw the poster for this all-girls bouldering competition plastered in the stairwell of my local gym. I was excited that the ladies of climbing were getting their very own stage for a competition and excited to get to check out what the most hard-ass climber girls of New York City were made of. After all, Ashima started here.
Yet part of me was mortified at the thought of another bouldering comp. Summarily, my emotions surrounding this were the kind of nausea-stoke that usually results in me deciding that this is the perfect kind of discomfort and that I absolutely needed to do it.
A week later, I had garnered the support of my friends Steph and Liz and we were off to be the hardened competitors that we weren’t.
There were a few categories in the Iron Maiden competition:
Masters (40+), Citizen – broken into beginner, intermediate and advanaced, then
there is the Open category. In the open category, if you place top 8, you get
to go into the finals in the evening. They set up new boulders, you go into
isolation, there’s an audience – the whole 9. Which is really cool.
In my head, V0 up through V6/V7 makes you a beginner/intermediate climber. So I assumed that I’d be in the Citizen’s intermediate category and that was fine by me.
Additionally, to keep the competition organized and not overcrowded, there were three sessions of 25 competitors – “heats” if you will. It was great and there was plenty of room.
Each of the boulders was allocated a certain number of
points. You were scored by your top 5 routes. You also were asked to record the
number of attempts it took to complete the boulders.
I was not sure what I was getting into, but wow the setting
was extremely fun. I discovered that I actually love balancey competition slab.
And these were my highest scoring boulders.
However, I was super close to bagging this sexy roof problem and frankly I probably spent a majority of the comp working on It because it was so fun (also it was worth a lot of points).
Overall, the setting was challenging, interesting at many levels of difficulty, and there was a wonderful variety of problems.
Ladies Supporting Ladies
For me, the magic of this comp was seeing some really strong ladies crush. And even better was the fact that once we were in the swing of competing, the atmosphere shifted from competitive to collaborative. After the first hour, the sharing of beta and the cheering on of total strangers was in full swing. No matter if someone just topped your boulder, when someone topped something tough, they were greeted by strangers at the bottom with a fist bump or a high five from a fellow competitor.
I was especially proud to be a female climber that day.
The Mental Games
In Arno Ilgner’s famous book The Rock Warrior’s Way he cites an interesting exercise called “Foreign Affairs”. He recommends that you “put yourself in a climbing situation that you normally avoid or have never considered.” He goes on to instruct that you should “see if you react–by becoming frustrated, angry or blaming something such as weak forearms. These type of reactions indicate unconsciousness”. This exercise was the driving force behind me entering this competition and the results were compelling.
For the first two hours of the comp, I was exceptionally nervous and my own negative self-talk was rampant. It’s one thing to see someone top something that you’ve thrown yourself at 10 times already. It’s another thing to be competing against that person. Between that and the photographer that silent giggled at me eating shit over and over again, I felt like hot garbage. My ego was about as wounded as it could be – which I fully recognize is what I was afraid of.
At about the 90 minute mark I was seriously asking myself
why I’d signed up for this thing.
Going Down Swinging
Then at the two hour mark I decided that I definitely was not going to do well in this. I threw strategy out the window and did the boulders that looked fun. The last hour was a blur, but it was also where I did my best climbing. My ego out of the way, I focused on climbing and not how much I thought I was sucking.
For reference, I spent about 90 minutes of the comp working on 3500 and 3600. More than 10 attempts each, probably. I didn’t get either of them. Failure reel below.
Then, in the literal last 15 minutes, I put up 3000 and 3200. At the buzzer I had one hand on the finish of 3300 and fell moving my second hand up – that was my second try on the route.
Needless to say, when I stopped letting my ego run the show and started caring about the process of climbing, my performance skyrocketed.
My experiment in making myself veryuncomfortable was very telling and was overall a great success.
The Surprising Outcome
Remember when I started this competition? I didn’t even consider signing myself up for the advanced category; the Advanced and Open categories were untouchable to me. I had no aspirations of competing at that level.
The results were posted a couple of days after the competition.
Not only did I somehow qualify for the advanced category, I wasn’t so far off from the top finishers. My average score per route was about 2500. To place in the advanced category, I need to up that to about 3000, and qualifying for open required an average difficulty of around 3300. If I can get my head together an get a little stronger, I’ll have a better shot next year.
Either way, I ended up way better than I expected.
To the Bar and Onto the Next
Assuming there was no way that any of us placed, Liz, Steph and I headed out into the New York heat. We left the gym starving and ready for a beer. Fortunately as we wondered through Brooklyn, we waltzed into a Biergarten full of street art and burgers. We were by far the chalkiest, greasiest people there. But the friendly hipsters of Brooklyn didn’t seem to mind.
I am glad to have competed. Even though I was a mental blob for most of the comp, getting to experience the shift in performance with a shift in mindset was extremely interesting. It’s plenty of fodder to dissect for future performance climbing days and I’m glad I got to observe myself in that environment.
I plan to keep working to improve – who knows. Maybe I’ll actually set some real bouldering goals in the next year on top of the usual sport climbing objectives. This competition has left me inspired and hungry for more.
Thanks to everyone who put together the Iron Maiden competition! It was a great event and it was awesome to get to climb with such strong ladies!
Here’s a cool video they made out of this year’s event if you want to check it out! Would highly recommend to all my ladies out East!
Have you competed in a comp before? Do you like it or do you hate it? What do you do to get yourself out of your comfort zone? Leave a comment or shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’m here to support you getting out of your comfort zone!
**please note that there is an affiliate link in the Above for The Rock Warrior’s Way. It’s a great book and I would highly recommend it. Affiliate links help keep Senderellstory.com in existence and ad-free!
We’ve all felt it. Your forearms feel like a time bomb. You’ve done all the moves on your project but for some reason you can’t link it all together. You’re left one-hanging over and over and you can’t figure out why.
The solution could implicate many factors. It might be mental, it may be some sub-par beta that you need to let go of, or it might be that you don’t have enough power endurance. It’s probably a combination of these. But today, we will address one of them. So let’s get into it by answering a big question: what is power endurance?
Defining Power Endurance
In NERD TERMS (or scientific terms) this is the anaerobic lactic energy system. If you want to get deep into the biochemistry and learn literally all about it check out Eric Horst’s Energy System Podcast on this Energy System. If you don’t want to learn about ATP and Lactate and glycolysis, etc. That’s OK too. Just read on.
Let’s take a crash course in the three energy systems VERY QUICKLY before we get into the weeds on power endurance. Please note that I am intentionally oversimplifying this because I think you can get by and apply these concepts to your training without being overwhelmed by exercise science and physiology.
With, that let’s start with the alactic energy system.
Alactic Energy System (Power)
Think explosive, short term power. This energy pathway does not require oxygen. Examples include a 5 move boulder problem or a 1 rep max deadlift, a 10 second sprint interval. Short, maximal power = anaerobic energy system. This energy system will output for about 8-12 seconds before your body has to bring in another energy pathway as backup.
Aerobic Energy System (Endurance)
Think sustained, long-term efforts. Like marathons, long multi-pitch routes, or swimming long distances. Endurance sports mainly use the aerobic energy system. This energy system can be the primary source of energy production for extended periods of time
Anaerobic Lactic System (Power Endurance)
In practical terms, the Power Endurance energy system is the primary energy system that is being used when you are in a sequence of near-maximal effort for a period of time that ranges from 30s – 3 minutes. Think of it in terms of the crux of a route or how you feel on a long boulder problem – or maybe in terms of a 400 meter sprint. I like to think if it as going at 80%-90% maximum capacity for as long as I possibly can. Here is how the Anderson brothers explain it:
“When the limits of aerobic respiration are reached, the muscle increasingly (but not exclusively) relies on glycolysis, which doesn’t require oxygen. On difficult near limit rock climbs, this threshold is reached very quickly and the pump clock begins to tick.” – The Rock Climber’s Training Manual pg. 153
Summarily, if you train to increase the capacity of your power endurance, you can add time to your own proverbial pump clock. This will help you stay on the wall through crux sequences and long boulder problems.
If you really want to learn more about the energy systems and you have 7 minutes to geek out. Please do! Go ahead and watch this video.
How to Train Power Endurance
Training power endurance is done by simulating the intensity and length of crux sequences by using repeated intervals of intense work with little rest in between. Think of taking 80% of the hardest moves you can do and being able to stretch your ability to work at this level of intensity as far as it will go. Here are a couple of experts explaining this style of training:
“Unlike endurance, where you have a manageable pump, in training power endurance you will become very pumped to the point of possibly coming off the wall…” -Jackie Pettitt
“Continuous difficult bouldering or climbing — with only brief shakeouts–that produces muscular failure in approximately two to five minutes is the preferred training method.” – Eric Horst, How to Climb 5.12 pg. 62
There are tons of different ways to train power endurance. Here are a few of my favorites. Note that these are difficult sessions, so be sure to be well warmed up before performing any of these. Additionally, be prepared to take a good rest day afterwards.
This is my go-to Power/Strength Endurance session. I do this year round, except when it’s getting really close to send time in the fall – then I resort to other even more intense methods. For me, this is less intense than other forms of power endurance training. It is more about training the work capacity to do high-intensity movements for a long duration of time. E.g. working the limit moves on your project all day.
The workout goes like this: you set a timer and complete boulders 1-2 grades below your max on the minute every 3 minutes (if this does not feel intense enough, drop it down to 2 minutes).
At time 0:00 you will start climbing, then you will rest until your stopwatch says 3:00. You will then continue on at 6:00, 9:00, etc. until you complete 6 problems. After you complete your six boulder problems, rest for 10-15 minutes. Repeat the circuit (resting in between) three times.
Progressing this: You can progress this session by reducing time between boulders (going from 3 minutes to 2 minutes, etc.) or increasing the difficulty of the problems in the circuit. The idea is to make this session intense, so adding more boulders is not really the idea if you are trying to make this more difficult.
Pick a route that is 1-2 letter grades above your max onsight. For me, I would find a 5.11+ in the gym since my highest onsight is a 5.11a. Then, I would record how long it takes me to do one lap. I would start with a 1:2 work to rest ratio. I would complete 2-4 laps total. The workout would look like this.
Lap #1: 2 minutes. REST 4 minutes Lap #2: 2 minutes REST 4 Minutes Lap #3: 2 minutes Rest 4 Minutes
You get the picture.
How to progress this: The main way to progress this is to decrease the work to rest ratio. The goal would be to get this ratio from 1:2 to 1:1. You could also find a slightly harder route, but I find that it takes plenty of sessions to get from 1:2 to 1:1 – this should keep you pretty busy.
My FAVORITE way to train power endurance (and possibly the most dreadful) is the linked boulder circuit. This type of PE training is very intense and I do not participate in this year-round. This is how you do it.
Pick 2-3 boulder problems on the wall (you’re going to go down at least one of them). These should total 20-40 hand moves. The difficulty of the circuit should be such that you can complete the full circuit many times over. For example my limit as a boulderer is V6, my linked boulder circuits usually don’t include anything more difficult than V4. Here’s me performing a linked boulder circuit in the gym.
After you’ve figured out your circuit (make sure you’ve done the problems and rehearsed all the moves before you get started), get your timer ready. Complete the circuit and time how long it takes to do it. Start with a work to rest ratio of 1:2.
For a circuit of 20-40 hand move, perform it 6-8 times. For 40-60 hand moves, Perform the circuit 4-6 times.
Ground Rules: If you fall but you don’t feel too pumped, continue the circuit. If you completely pump out, end the circuit, check the time and record the number of hand moves (or just write down where you fell). Once you can’t complete 75% of the circuit, end the session.
Progressing the Circuit: Similar to the other sessions described here, you can progress by decreasing the work to rest ratio. The objective is going from 1:2 to 1:1. Additionally you can make the circuit harder by changing the order of problems in the circuit. If your circuit is Up V4-down V2- Up V3, you can increase the difficulty by doing the V3 first and putting the V4 at the end. Alternatively, you can make the circuit more difficult by increasing the difficulty of the problems in the circuit. E.g. swap out the V3 for a V4, etc
Although this is similar to the Bechtelian Power Endurance workout explained in #1, the 4×4 is a classic and must be included in this list.
The 4×4 is traditionally done with boulders. You proceed to do four slightly sub-maximal boulder problems right in a row. After completing them you rest for a time (I would say something similar to the 1:2 or 1:1 work to rest ratios we’ve discussed prior would be fine). And then you repeat the 4 boulders again. Do this until you have done 16 total routes.
It’s easy to remember and does a pretty good job for what it is.
How to progress the 4×4: Similar to the other sessions we’ve discussed, you can either make the problems more difficult OR you can shorten the rest interval. Either one should do the trick.
A Warning about 4x4s Although they are traditionally thought of as a classic power endurance workout, the rest after you come off the wall between boulders is not ideal.
“The 5 or more seconds that pass as the climber drops from as the climber drops from the end of one problem to start the next is a virtual eternity to battered forearms gasping for respite. These unrealistic rests reduce training stress and interfere with desired adaptation.” The Rock Climber’s Training Manual pg. 156
That being said, they are a simple session to implement and if simple gets you to commit to doing them consistently, then that’s great and there isn’t much else to argue about.
Power Endurance Training: Seasonal Timing
Personally, 4-8 weeks prior to fall outdoor climbing season is when I start focusing on Power Endurance Training. That is because my favorite fall climbing areas are the Red River Gorge – and more recently, Mallorca. These areas are generally steep and require one to make big, powerful moves when fatigued and “pumped out” if you will.
Essentially, for a relatively short period of time, your body makes adaptations so that you can “extend the pump clock” (in very simple non-biological terms). However, this type of training can be very stressful on the muscles and nervous system and these adaptations DO NOT last forever.
“Anaerobic endurance training places high levels of stress on the nervous system and muscles. Beyond a certain point, the body cannot recover from these workouts.” – Eric Horst, How to Climb 5.12 pg. 63
For most of these periodized programs, it is not recommended that you solely train this energy system (PE workouts 3-4 times per week) for more than 2-4 weeks.
Which brings me to non-linear periodization.
Programming Power Endurance for Non-Linear Periodization
I have been following a non-linear program for about a year now and it has been working well for me. My trips this fall are spread out and I basically need to have 3 spikes of solid power endurance for a trip to the Red River Gorge for Labor Day, a trip to Mallorca in October and another trip to the Red in November.
I am navigating this by emphasizing power endurance in my time leading up to these trips, but I continuing to train strength and endurance throughout the rest of the fall.
My tactic is pretty simple: overall, I am making sure to have one linked boulder circuit session per week and one route interval (lower intensity PE) per week. Then my other 1-2 sessions are used to maintain strength and low-end endurance.
Between the trips I am going to take complete rest weeks. My goal is to train up power endurance more as I get close to my ventures outdoors, but not to the point of overload.
A Word from the Experts
I took a lot of these queues from Steve Bechtel’s interview in Episode 110 of the TrainingBeta Podcast:
“If I was looking at my year, I’m going to spend probably two months trying to develop strength and power. I’m going to be working primarily on bouldering, on explosiveness, on the hangboard, all those sorts of things. We need to always be developing strength and power because there’s really good correlations between someone being stronger and their ability to endure submaximal loads. I can spend a lot of time working strength and power.
I’m going to take about a month after that. I’ve spent about eight weeks working strength and power and I’m going to take about four weeks and I can combine in some of this low intensity interval stuff at the end of sessions and stuff like that. Then, we go into a glycolytic peak. That’s when Mike and Mark [the brothers behind the Rock Climber’s training manual] would reduce rest periods and that’s when we can put in all of these basic things like boulder problem 4×4’s, linked problems, all those sorts of things but understanding that that’s this last little thing. It’s the frosting on the cake. If you’re a Mad Max fan, that’s the nitrous. The last little boost you give your engine but you can’t run the nitrous all the time or you’re going to burn the engine out.” –
Firstly, I hope you have learned about the different energy systems that contribute to your climbing. Having a basic understanding of the systems that get you up the wall is critical to becoming a better climber.
Secondly, I hope you’ve learned a few interesting sessions to incorporate into your time at the gym to help you improve on your projects this season.
And thirdly, I hope you’ve learned that you should strategically train power endurance so that you sustainably improve without wearing yourself out.
How do you like to train power endurance? Is this your first time hearing about energy systems in climbing? What has your experience been with power endurance training? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you!
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My pile of graph paper notebooks are among my favorite possessions. And that is because months of hard work and valuable data are contained within them. If you have read Part One of this series of posts, then you understand the value of tracking your climbing training.
In this post I will explore how I personally track my climbing for different types of training sessions and over trips outside. Again, make sure to read Part One if you haven’t already.
Get a notebook and bring it with you always. First and foremost, your rule and your mission is to get a notebook that you like that fits conveniently in your climbing pack. I like graph paper notebooks with a hard back. I use a minimalism art classic notebook. It’s durable, I like the graph paper, and it works well.
No phones for tracking your training. Personally, my phone serves as a timer and a source of music during climbing sessions. That is all. I try to put it on airplane mode while I climb because I don’t need texts and notifications and bullshits to be distracting me when I need to be present for the task at hand. Yes there are probably apps that you can use, but at least give the notebook a chance for a month. Besides, phones die – notebooks don’t.
Always write down the date. Sounds simple, but it’s important.
Reflect on Your Training Each Month. Dedicate half an hour each month or so to taking a look at what you’ve done over the past month. I usually make a monthly summary page in my notebook, put it in a spreadsheet, or at least take stock of what I’ve done and make tweaks if needed for the coming month.
With that taken care of, let’s get into how you can track each session.
Before I start any sort of bouldering session, I warm up. I don’t usually take excessive notes during the warmup. I write down what movement drill I’m using and what grade the route was. See example below.
How to Track your Limit Boulders
For a session of bouldering at my absolute limit, I take notes for each attempt on the limit boulder (check out this article/video if you don’t know what limit bouldering is).
Here is an example of this transcribed from my notebook. I have typed it up for your viewing pleasure.
Note that “Quality” is how I felt I did on a scale of 1 to 5. It is not necessarily how far I make it, but a score of how well I think I did. Note that I stole this method of writing down bouldering sessions from Steve Bechtel in his book Logical Progression.
The notes section is to keep track of beta. Especially because I usually work the same limit boulders over many weeks. If I figure out any key beta, I write it down in the notes section.
Volume Bouldering Session
In addition to limit boulder sessions, I also participate in strength endurance sessions. You might call them high volume bouldering sessions or even power endurance sessions.
Whatever you want to call them, I pick six boulders that are just below my max (usually 1-2 grades below) and do them on the minute every two minutes. (FYI this is another awesome session that I got from Logical Progression).
This is is an example of one of these sets of 6 problems. I perform a circuit like this three times in one session.
As you can see, I take care to have a mix of holds and angles in my sessions to stay well rounded. A majority of the walls are slightly overhanging at my gym – which you can see by the angles. I find that writing down angles and types of holds helps me to ensure that I’m not only climbing one type of problem all the time.
Since the main goal of endurance climbing days is to climb a high volume and practice movement skills, my notation is pretty simple. I make sure to record what movement drills I did, the duration of the drill, and the grade of the routes I did for each drill. Here’s an example.
Indoor Projecting Days
Though I personally don’t do very much projecting on routes indoors (I’d rather work limit moves on the bouldering wall and I get outside a decent amount), if you want to keep track of an indoor project, do it the same way you would for a limit boulder, but maybe add how much rest you take between attempts indoors.
Personally I treat my days outside as more of journal entries. At the end of the day I write down what routes I did. if I was going for a big redpoint, I’d write down how the attempts went, the amount of time between attempts, sometimes what I ate. I like having journal entries from days outside because they’re pretty fun to look back on and writing them is a quick way to pass the time around the campfire or on the way home from the crag in the car.
Redpointing: Mapping Your Beta
For routes that have particularly long cruxes, or for routes that are on-location that I may have to come back for later, I sometimes draw out the route and write down the beta to memorize it.
If you’ve seen Reel Rock 12 – you saw a glimpse of Margo Hayes with her big beta map that showed La Rambla while she was working on it. When I feel it is necessary, I do the same thing. This tactic really helped me when I did my first 5.12, Starry in the New River Gorge. If you are really having trouble with a crux sequence and you want to give it some quality mental rehearsal on a rest day – try drawing it out next time.
Other Training Activities
Hopefully if you are engaging in a hangboard protocol or some kind of strength training program you are keeping track to ensure that you are progressively increasing the load of these workouts. If you are not, then you had better start.
Tracking this is pretty self-explanatory. You need to track your reps, your resistance, and your rest between sets. If you don’t know, the way integrated strength works is that during your rest between hangboard sets, you perform a resistance exercise followed by a stretch or mobility exercise. Again, thank you Steve Bechtel for this wisdom from Logical Progression – resting during hangboarding is now so much more effective and significantly less boring.
However, if you don’t track your supplemental workouts you really should. If you do not put effort into planning and track your resistance training, you likely won’t systematically increase the load or change up your workouts frequently enough – or stick with an exercise long enough to see results for that matter. You can only get out what you put in. A little plan and tracking goes a long way – especially in the weight room.
Summarily, there is a lot to be gained by keeping track of indoor and outdoor climbing sessions. If you aren’t already keeping track of what you’re doing, it is never too late to start. Even if you don’t subscribe to a “training plan” per se, even the act of mindfully logging your climbing sessions will help you notice patterns in your climbing. This can lead to significant improvement.
I hope this article answered any questions you have about logging your climbing. Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – I would love to hear your thoughts!
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In a 2003 study, 9 climbers, 9 rowers, and 9 leg athletes faced off in a competition of finger strength. On average the climbers were able to exert 40% more maximum voluntary force on a climbing-specific grip than the other two groups. Why would climbers have stronger fingers than non-climbers? Obviously because as you climb more, your fingers adapt to the stimulus of climbing and become stronger. Clearly, in climbing more than any other sport, finger strength is a critical adaptation to develop.
Finger strength is but one of many factors that contributes to climbing performance. Your skill as a climber is more important. Therefore, the majority of gains in your climbing abilities are going to come from practicing the skill of climbing.
However, as the grades get more difficult, the holds get smaller. Sometimes the difference between you and an outdoor project is a shitty crimp that you need to be able to crank down on or clip off of. In this case you might want to increase your finger strength. A great way to do that is to train on a hangboard.
What is a hangboard?
A hangboard, or a fingerboard, is a training device that replicates climbing holds. They are meant for you to hang from by one or both arms – depending on your skill level. There are tons of different kinds of hangboards to choose from and most gyms will have a least one or two for you to play around on.
6 Questions to answer before you start hangboarding
But before you get too excited about training on these colorful torture devices, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself.
What grades are you climbing comfortably outside?
Personally, I think I started hangboarding way too early. If I could go back I would have postponed my adventures in using a hangboard until after I broke into outdoor 5.11 climbing. I could have spent a lot less time doing Anderson Brothers Repeaters and more time getting comfortable leading routes and improving my technique.
In my personal opinion, I do not think the use of the hangboard is necessary if you are a 5.10 climber. I think it can be useful once you are a 5.11 climber (you can redpoint 5.11s in 1-5 tries outside/you can onsight at the 5.11 level). Some trainers even say your need to be climbing 5.12 before starting to use a hangboard.
I would say as a very general rule, don’t worry about it until you can at least comfortably lead 5.11 outside, and if you are progressing farther than 5.11 or 5.12 without one, then that’s great too.
*Please note that everyone is different. Maybe you’re newer but you can really only get to a climbing gym once a week – hangboarding at home might be all you have. Maybe your knee is injured and your only option is to get on the hangboard. I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but generalizations are helpful sometimes.
What is your home
While grades are a helpful indicator of whether you’re ready
to start hangboarding, you should also consider your home crag and your projects.
For example, at the Red River Gorge, many of the holds are very large even at
the higher grades due to the steep nature of the routes.
In the Red, 5.11 routes like Monkey in the Middle and Air Ride Equipped are awesome and the holds are mainly jugs. There may be a few small holds here and there, but nothing extraordinarily small. To pull off routes like these, you do not need iron clad fingers. You need fitness, power for some bigger moves, and the mental capacity to keep clipping when you get pumped out of your mind.
In contrast, crags like Wild Iris are infamous for having many small pockets. Finger strength (especially on pockets) is a critical attribute to develop in order to pull off a vertical 5.11 route there.
While we should all strive to become well-rounded climbers,
you want to make sure your training is aligned with what your actual goals are.
If your home crag doesn’t require insane amounts of finger strength, you might
be better off bagging your projects this season by practicing your climbing
skills and staying off the hangboard.
Can you hang on the
holds with your body weight?
Although I am aware that pulley systems exist and are readily available in some gyms, it seems to me that if you cannot comfortably hang on a 20mm edge with your own body weight for 10s, you might not need to use hangboard yet.
If your fingers are not strong enough to deal with your body weight on relatively moderate holds, you should keep climbing regularly and your tendons will catch up eventually.
Have you been
climbing consistently (2-4x per week) for at least a year?
It takes a while for your tendons to catch up to your muscles. Tendons increase in strength at a much slower rate than muscles do.
Alex Honnold illustriously describes this problem in his interview on the Tim Ferriss show:
… An adult, a 25-year-old male would gain muscle mass super-fast, so really quickly they could exceed the capacity of their tendons and then basically just rip their tendons out of their arms. – Alex Honnold
Essentially, those that try to progress too fast and do not
let their fingers catch up usually end up injuring themselves.
For at least the first year (and first two years realistically), you do not need to touch a hangboard to improve your climbing. Just climb a lot and your fingers will get much stronger on their own – safely and sustainably.
Are you at a Plateau?
The reason that I started my first hangboard regimen was because I felt that I had hit a plateau—like I was not getting better outside and I need some kind of punch to get me over the slump. I dove headfirst into the The Rock Climber’s Training Manual and committed fully to their 6 week program that was 50% hangboarding and 50% climbing for during the prescribed Strength Phase.
I started the Anderson Brothers Program because I was going to Spain to climb after college for 2 weeks and I wanted to be ready, so I just went for it.
Many climbers, at some point will hit a plateau in which
they no longer improve just by climbing regularly. Some people work up to some
pretty high grades without incorporating any sort of structured training
However, if you are time-constrained and you do not want to
spend a 3rd season in a row climbing the same grades you were last
year, it might be time to incorporate a hangboard protocol into your training.
Are you mature enough
to structure your training properly around your hangboard sessions?
Simply put, hangboarding is a significant stress on your
fingers. The point of hangboarding is to provide a significant enough stimulus
that your body undergoes structural and neurological changes to adapt to this
Therefore, your body needs time to recover. If you do not think you have the maturity to give yourself proper rest after a hangboard session, hangboarding might not be right for you.
Everyone is different, but I would not recommend doing a hard bouldering session the day after an intense hangboard session. Completely resting your fingers or doing a very low-intensity endurance session are more optimal activities to promote recovery from a hangboard workout.
Additionally, according to Dr. Eva Lopez, hangboarding should always come first in a climbing session. Do not wait until after you climb for two hours to slap around haphazardly on the hangboard. If you are going to do it, do it right and make it worthwhile.
So let’s say you’ve answered favorably to more than a few of
the above questions. Based on the above and your best judgement, you are ready
to engage in your first hangboard training program.
There are tons of different ways to use a hangboard and tons of different boards to choose from.
What is your experience with hangboarding? If you’ve never done it, do you think it’s time to start? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at email@example.com
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It’s a normal day in my local climbing gym. Between each boulder problem, I’m resting making notes, rinse repeat.
Then a teenage kid makes eye contact with me. He starts wondering over.
I pull out my headphones and brace for impact.
“Excuse me. Can you tell me what you’re writing in your notebook?” He ingests some air and proceeds. “Do you write something about every route you do? Why are you doing that? Does it even help?”
I stared down at his rental shoes. He had a lot of questions.
The answers to them are described below.
What’s in a notebook?
I have been training for a while now, but it wasn’t until August 2018 that I started religiously writing everything down. I now have a stack of two notebooks full of training data, and I’m about to start in on my third notebook.
So what on earth is filling up these pages? A lot of useful information, that’s what.
Examples of Past Data Used to Improve the Future
Before I tell you how to track your training and days of climbing, I want to give you some examples of how I use the past data that I’ve recorded to impact my training and days at the crag.
Everything went perfectly when I sent my first 5.12 on a short trip to the New River Gorge. And I wrote down tons of notes about the week leading up to the send, day of the send, etc. We aren’t talking pages and pages here, but I am now taking those notes and applying them to my next trips.
EXAMPLE A: The week before a trip
Leading up to my trip to the New, I went ahead and got a massage the day before we left. It felt amazing and the usual sore spots under my shoulder blades (my left Rhomboid in particular) disappeared completely. I know I’m going to be tight from lots of power endurance training when I leave for the Red in September and guess what – I scheduled a massage a couple of days before that trip too! The massage obviously didn’t send the route for me, but it felt great and it sure didn’t hurt anything.
EXAMPLE B: The day of a send
Again, the day of send at the New went super well. I wasn’t hungry, but I had energy and felt like really good. So when I went to tackle Groovin’ (5.11d in Birdsboro, PA) I knew I needed to be feeling just as good. The day of, I took cues from my recent send at the New. Half a PB&J right after my warmup routes. Stretched the exact same way I had at the New. Went up after my warmup and sent the thing. Went down almost the same as my first 5.12.
Maybe it’s all just a placebo effect. Maybe it’s not what I’m doing that matters, perhaps it’s just that I’m creating constants in variable situations. Placebo or not, I’m happy I that I have recorded what is working well for me.
These examples aside, why else should we track our training and climbing? You can’t just transcribe your sour patch kid consumption the day of a good performance and expect to send all the time. So let’s dig into the top three reasons why you should track your training and climbing.
Reason 1: Staying Motivated
Sometimes in our training we think we are not getting better. This can be very demotivating.
But how good is your memory? Do you remember how many V3s you could do in a 45 minute session at this time last year? Do you have any idea how many tries it would typically take you to climb V6 five months ago? Or better yet, what did you eat for breakfast six days ago? Do you remember any of this exactly? I don’t. You probably don’t either.
So this year you might be thinking “wow, I haven’t gotten any better.” And maybe you’re right, maybe you haven’t. But maybe you have gotten better, but you don’t have the data to back it up. Your memory is not a trustworthy resource. Get a notebook.
Example: Finger Strength Data
I was curious about how much stronger my fingers have become since starting to train back in May of 2017. Unfortunately, my training log from then is not great, but this is a screenshot of what I recorded. I was doing 10:5 repeaters a la the beginner hangboard workout in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual. My method of measuring resistance was which color theraband I had strapped onto my hilariously sketchy door frame pull-up bar hangboard setup (college apartments don’t allow holes drilled into the wall – Or beer spilled on the carpet…. But I digress).
In those days, I had to remove weight from my body to use the hangboard and I hadn’t climbed anything harder than 5.10c (probably didn’t need to be using a hangboard yet, but you can’t change the past).
Fast forward to July 2019. Two 5.12 ascents under my belt, four 5.11+ ascents, and plenty of 5.11a/b. My fingers have changed quite a bit since then. I’m actually shocked and amazed. This is what my repeater workout looks like now.
Where I could barely hang on my bodyweight on a large edge two years ago, I can now add 18 pounds on a smaller edge and perform a higher volume of training. In 2017 I could not do repeaters on a sloper with my full weight. Two years later, I can add 25lbs to my frame and do a higher volume of training on the same hold.
From the data I have gathered on myself the past two years, I can now see that using a fingerboard regularly has significantly impacted my finger strength. Now, when training my fingers feels like a painful chore, I can latch onto this progress and stay motivated.
And the same goes for climbing. I can look back at a power endurance session from August 2018. I can see that in a session of 6×3 boulder problems (3 sets of 6 boulders near your limit. Similar to 4x4s.), I was able to do maybe 50% V3 and 50% V4.
Now, I look at my progress since then, I am doing 90% V4 and 10% V5. The progress was slow, but I can measure it and I’m motivated to keep going.
Staying motivated to stick with a training regime is half the battle. Help yourself to be consistent by tracking your progress.
Reason 2: Knowing What’s Working
What was your most recent accomplishment? If you had to describe the top three things that got you there, could you do it? Could you tell me what you did 3 months before, 6 weeks before, the night before? Do you have the details to help you perform well in the future? If you don’t that kindof sucks, doesn’t it?
What if life gets in the way and you can’t climb for a few years? What if you want to get back to where you were before but you have no idea what you did to improve because you don’t remember what you were doing in the gym?
Bottom line is that if you write down what you’re doing and it works really well, you might be able to use that knowledge to perform well in the future.
Example: Prepping for Wild Iris
In July 2019, I took my first trip to Wild Iris. I knew there would be pockets and I knew the routes were short and somewhat bouldery. With that, I made sure to do two things:
I had a limit boulder session each week for the twelve weeks leading up to the trip
I incorporated 2 finger pockets into my hangboard workout (which was miserable, by the way) 8 weeks prior to the trip for a total of 8 sessions.
The trip went super well. I was able to send a 5.12a out there, I topped my first 5.12b, and almost bagged a second 5.12a on the last day. Trip goals were accomplished and the training did it’s job. I’ll probably go back next year, and I will use this year as a guideline.
Having the details of what worked and what didn’t will help you produce quality performances in the future.
Reason 3: Knowing When to Change it Up(and when not to)
The best training program is the one you’re not doing.
Eric Horst – Training for Climbing Podcast
Sometimes I feel like I have been doing a certain training protocol, be it on the hangboard, a movement drill, or whatever for a really long time. Then I look back and realize that I haven’t even done 5 sessions of it. But sometimes, I realize I’ve been doing the same lift or the same route difficulty/amount for 10 weeks and I know then that I need to change up the stimulus to keep getting better.
Consistency is the thing. One of the really important factors in any training is being consistent with doing the training over the long period.
I’m going to quickly delve into a little bit of research which is really interesting…
They had a group of athletes doing 20 sessions of training and then they stopped training. It was about three days a week so this was maybe six weeks of training. They stopped training and after six months they were back to a total loss of strength. They went back to their baseline values. Makes sense. We train hard for six days a week then we stop training completely and have a total loss of strength.
But they had another group that did 40 sessions so we can assume that’s about 12 or 13 weeks. The total loss of strength didn’t occur for those people even after a year.
So yeah. Sticking with something for four weeks, getting bored and changing the stimulus mindlessly is going to destroy the progress you’re making.
You have to keep tracking of what you’re doing so that long-term improvement to be made. Don’t quit after three weeks and don’t be dumb enough to lose track of how long you’ve been doing something either.
Consistency is key. Don’t miscalculate your consistency because you don’t keep track of what you’re doing.
Logging your training is arguable as important as training itself. If you don’t keep track of what you’re doing, how can you see progress, figure out what’s working, and plan for the future? I think this quote sums this up nicely.
“…you’re going to refer back to your log frequently. This is not an optional aside to your training, but rather a guide. A few seasons into your training career, and it will be the most valuable piece of gear you own. “
This post is part one in a series. Stay tuned for part two where I’ll give a detailed how-to guide for tracking your training and climbing. If you want to know when it’s out, go ahead and subscribe to my monthly newsletter! In addition to keeping up with my most recent posts, you’ll get five quick tips, tricks and tidbits to help make you a better climber.
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Do you keep track of your training? Any progress that you’ve looked at that you find surprising? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to discuss!
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“Don’t squat if you’re a climber”. “All you need to do is pull-ups.” “Climbers don’t need to lift.” “Lifting will make you heavy.” “Why are you deadlifting?” “Do lots of core exercises.” “Beginner climbers don’t need to strength train.” “High weight, low reps will make you bulky – look at power lifters!” “You don’t need to train until you can climb 5.13”.
Heard any of this before? I’ve heard all of it. And frankly a lot of it is total bullshit.
This post will dismantle four common strength training myths. I am not here to say that every climber should spend half of their time squatting to climb better – not at all, in fact. Rather, I would like to debunk the limiting beliefs around strength training that may be stunting your progress to becoming a better climber.
If you’re doing reps of five and under you’re basically training your muscles how to work better. You’re not actually going to be building your muscles as much…. For me, I’ve been lifting two days a week for the first two months then spent the last month just lifting one day a week and I haven’t – I don’t know about body composition but as far as actual weight, I haven’t gained a pound.
Let’s start with defining “Heavy lifting“: it’s the kind of lifting where you can only perform 3-5 repetitions before failure. If you are familiar with it, power lifting may come to mind. And yes, power lifters are pretty huge, but the competitors in professional power lifting are required to lift insane amounts to be competitive in their sport, so naturally they need to be larger to be competitive. They still have outrageous power to weight ratios, it’s just that they go big in the “weight” portion of that equation. As a climber, you are free from these burdens. You are after maximized power to weight ratio, not absolute feats of strength.
Our goal as climbers is to gain maximal strength while gaining minimal muscle mass.
But how does one maximize power to weight ratio? I’ll tell you right now that it isn’t by “toning”, “lengthening” or doing tons of reps with non-challenging levels of resistance. It’s by lifting heavy loads and doing so briefly.
Sciencing the Shit out of This: Myofibrillar vs. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy
Quick biology lesson: there are two parts of a muscles fiber that we are interested in as climbers. You have the myofibrils, which are long skinny filaments. These are what contract and create movement. Surrounding the myofibrils is the sarcoplasm. You can think of the sarcoplasm as the storage space for fuel to help the myofibrils keep going. The sarcoplasm contains glycogen stores, mitochondria and mitochondria for production of ATP. (Ferriss, The Four Hour Body pg. 123).
So why is this a big deal? Well there are two types of hypertrophy: myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy results from the heavy load, low repetition style of strength training we have discussed: 3-5 reps at 80-90% of your max. It increases the density of your myofibrils and creates dense, strong muscles capable of increased maximal output.
Conversely, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the result of training at higher rep counts with lower intensity: 8-12 reps at 60-70% of your max. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy will result in increased muscle mass, while presenting a less significant increase in absolute maximal output compared to the myofibril hypertrophy discussed above.
Please note that this is a simple explanation to a complex topic. It is likely that a little bit of each of these forms of hypertrophy is occurring when engaging in any type of strength training. However, you can obviously trigger which type of hypertrophy dominates based on your training protocol.
VERDICT Heavy lifting at high resistance (80-90% of your max) with low rep counts (3-5 reps for 3-5 sets) makes you strong. It does not make you large.
MYTH #2: You don’t need to strength train until you are climbing at an elite level
I hear this all the time. I get emails about it. I even feel a little judged when I’m weight training instead of climbing (during my one session a week that I do it). If I don’t have the strength to pistol squat on a tiny foot hold on my project, who cares if my body knows that I should put my foot there? I simply won’t have the strength and power to execute.
Climbing is not always the optimal stimulus for gaining the strength needed for difficult moves. This is where lifting can help.
Here is a brief overview of my lifting, bodyweight, and climbing performance since October of 2018. Please note that my personal record in both the deadlift and my 1RM in the pull-up increased significantly while my bodyweight is actually lower than it was in October 2018. Additionally, my redpoint grade has also had a significant increase, with my first 5.12 occurring in May 2019.
But don’t just take my opinion. Listen to what Kathryn Sall had to say about it in her article in Rock and Ice. Kathryn went from a redpoint grade of 5.10b to 5.12a in seven months.And spoiler alert, Sall didn’t stay out of the weight room because she “wasn’t a good enough climber yet”.
By now this should be old news. Lifting weights makes you stronger, and you can lift without hypertrophy. Your muscle isn’t dead weight or bulk, it’s tissue that works for you and your climbing…. Lifting in a programmatic way—developing overall strength with systematic, deliberate workouts—made me a better athlete, which made me a better climber. I got to work on my deadlift, bench press and front squat (among others). And with consistent practice, I can now do a pull up!
Climbing is extremely demanding on the upper body as I am sure you have figured out. If you are like me, when I started climbing the prospect of doing a single pull-up seemed wildly out of my reach. At that point, and overhanging V0 boulder was basically impossible. I truly did not have the strength.
Fast forward through summer 2015. I couldn’t climb because of the location of my internship. All summer I did P90X in my apartment (which was a truly ridiculous amount of working out). No real climbing technique gains were made, but I got a LOT stronger. Despite hardly climbing at all, I came back to school in the fall smashing routes and boulders that I wasn’t strong enough to do before. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Steve Bechtel to sum up this observation:
If weight training makes you better at climbing, you probably really suck at climbing.
So the good news is, for beginner climbers, especially if you’re new to fitness altogether, a little strength will take you a long way (looking at all of you who haven’t done their first pull-up yet). But don’t spend too much time in the weight room. To get better at climbing, you should be climbing. Strength training is a beneficial supplement to your climbing training.
A quick note for males under age 30: Presently, many of you have the hormonal profile to gain and maintain muscle mass and not worry too much about it. You might be able to get pretty strong by just climbing and you may truly not need to weight train. Unfortunately this will not last forever. According to Harvard Health, “after age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes.” It is very likely that you will have to incorporate targeted strength training if you want to have a long-lasting climbing career.
MYTH #3: Climbers should never perform resistance training with their legs
It is true that climbers do not need legs the size of an alpine skier to climb well. In fact, when you look at most elite climbers, especially sport climbers, you generally will not find oversized glutes, thighs or hamstrings. However, does this mean you should have weak, scrawny legs and campus up the wall? No. Think about the last time you climbed outdoors or inside. Were there any moves where you had to put your foot up really high on something really small and push off? Did you have to use your hamstrings to suck your hips into a steep overhang or compress an arete? What about heel hooking?
The fact is that climbing requires strong legs for multitude of reason. The catch is that you want your legs to be very strong and not very large. Sound impossible? It’s not.
Meet Barry Ross, a world class sprint coach responsible for developing new techniques in the world of training sprinters. Check out the stats on a few of his past athletes.
Smal but Mighty
His best female multi-event athlete had deadlifted 405 pounds at a bodyweight of 132 pounds. His youngest male lifter, 11 years old, has lifted 225 pounds at a bodyweight of 108 pounds.
Nearly all of his athletes including women can lift more than twice their bodyweight without wrist straps, and all have gained less than 10% additional bodyweight to get there. The kicker: these results were achieved with less than 15 minutes of actual lifting time (time under tension) per week.
Think about the actions of deadlifting. Now consider the last time you were on an overhang. Did you ever put your foot into the wall, push up on it, and subsequently straighten your leg? Looks a lot like a deadlift, doesn’t it? And what about squatting? Ever high step to a tiny hold and pistol squat on it to stand up? You’ve done all of these things because they’re critical movement patterns in climbing. And fortunately with two simple lower body exercises as a basis, you can get really strong at these movement patterns without gaining tons of weight in the lower half of your body.
So the next time someone tells you that climbers don’t need strong legs, please kindly tell them to stuff it.
In summary, work out your legs, but remember what we learned in Myth #1. In order to not get HUGE, you must lift heavy and keep the reps low.
MYTH #4: Strength Training Doesn’t Make You a Better Climber
Personally, I have made strength training a part of my routine for nearly all of my years of climbing. My strength workout is done one day per week: 3 sets of 3-4 different exercises. Every 6-8 weeks I switch up the lifts I am executing. Has my climbing improved? Yes. Has my overall strength increased? Yes. It is hard to parse out how much of my improvement is from practicing climbing and how much comes from strength training? Of course.
I firmly believe that becoming a stronger athlete has made me a better climber. Additionally, I have been training consistently and climbing consistently for two years now and I have been completely injury free.
From a more global perspective, I dare you to find an elite climber that does not have some sort of strength training protocol. Even the ever-outdoor, training minimalist Johnathan Siegrist keeps a set of weights at his home in Estes Park because he acknowledges the benefits of resistance training.
Open up the training tool box of any popular climbing trainer and you will find that their books include references to resistance training. From the Anderson brothers, to Eric Horst, to Steve Bechtel, to Kris Hampton, to Paxti Usobiaga, resistance training is commonly utilized to supplement and fortify a climber’s training regimen.
So get on board and get in the gym – for reasonable amounts of time, of course.
What’s your opinion on strength training? Do you do it? Do you not do it? Are you unsure of what you should be doing? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at email@example.com. I would love to hear your thoughts!
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