Girls Matter Too: The Jersey Jam at Mountain Creek

I handed over a wadded up ten dollar bill to the guy behind a sign that said “Jersey Rail Jam sign-up.”

The woman behind the table ecstatically informed me that I was the first female skier to sign up all day. I asked if there would be a female category – expecting the usual “There aren’t enough of you. So no.”

At this point, I was pretty used to the “female at a local rail jam” routine: Show up, be the only girl, compete in the amateur category, get lumped in with the boys, feel a little weird but still have a lot of fun, go home.

Sometimes though, there are other girls.

In one competition a few years back, there were five girls combined between skiers and snowboarders.  A couple of them were quite young, about ten years old. I took it upon myself to ask the judge’s panel if we could have an overall girls category between skiers and snowboarders – we had the numbers for a podium. “Sorry, there just aren’t enough of you.” I pleaded “you don’t even have to give us prize money like the boys, just throw one or two of us a beanie as honorable mention or something.”

Nothing. We got nothing.

You Suck at Skiing

There are few casual female freestyle skiers compared to men. With an atmosphere like that previously described, it is not hard to see why. Combine that with occasional sexist heckling from the lifts and freestyle skiing becomes quickly unappetizing.

“Hey you suck at skiing, but you’re hot!”

These are actual words yelled to me off a lift line at my home resort. Generally, us female skiers are very grateful to receive such helpful feedback.

But tides shifted that day in New Jersey, as I was informed that not only was there a female category for both skiers and snowboarders, female skiers and boarders would also receive the same amount of prize money as the men. Suddenly, I felt a little bit like I mattered.

Not Alone

When it came time to practice for the Rail Jam, my second surprise of the day came. I was not the only girl – there was another one.

When I saw her at the top of the hill, we locked eyes. My sole competitor opened her arms and we instantly brought it in for a hug. “I’m not alone!” I said. She echoed my sentiments. We agreed that this was going to be way more fun having someone to compete against.

Practice went on, we talked tricks. We watched each other, we sized each other up, we cheered for each other. It was wonderful to have a competitor.

Then came the actual competition.

What is a Rail Jam?

If you have never witnessed a rail jam, it works like this: there are a series of features set up that the participants can use to do whatever tricks they want. The competition is an open format and there is no order – it’s a free for all. After you complete your run, you hike back up to the top of the hill and repeat. We had an hour to “jam” and judging is usually based on overall impression – how hard are your runs in terms of technical difficulty, how clean, etc.  

Me hitting one of the six rail features in the competition. In the upper corner you can see the pile-up of competitors waiting to drop in. My shirt says Straight Outta Cincinnati, which I wear when I’m skiing because I think it’s funny when people ask me how I am a skier from Ohio.
Photo by Mike Finocchiaro.

My competitor Jess and I went with the boys. Before the competition, I was a little worried about this. I was concerned that I wouldn’t get as many runs in as I wanted to since there were so many people – 98% of which were men (and by men I mean mostly teenage boys).

My final shock of the day was that at the top of the hill, I was treated with respect. I was not harassed, I didn’t feel “special” or “weird” or like I was on the verge of being asked on a date or something. I was just a skier competing, like everyone else.

First Place in Fun

One of the mothers on the sidelines commented that I looked like I was having the most fun out of anyone. She might have been right. I was so satisfied by the community I got to be a part of that day that it showed all over my face.

Though I technically ended up in last place – I skied better than I ever had in a competition. I had never landed a front 270 in competition before until that day. And because rules are rules, as the second place winner for the ladies ski comp, I walked away with $150 and a neat little swag bag.

Make it Accessible

I know, I know. The second place male skier had to compete against way more people. He did harder tricks than me and admittedly, receiving prize money when you came in last place really doesn’t make any sense.

But consider that if we are ever going to increase female participation in action sports, we must figure out a way to make women feel like they belong there. Competitive skiing has increased my confidence and enriched my life in many ways. I think there are a lot of young girls and women out there that would really enjoy it too, but they don’t feel like they’re invited to the party. If competition sponsors decide they want to shell out the extra dollars to make the ladies feel like they’re worth a damn, then I truly do not see a problem.

Myself, my competitor, and her trusty companion owning our podium of two. We were really, really psyched.
Photo by Mike Finocchiaro.

For many, the 2020 Jersey Jam was simply a strange gathering on the side of a small ski hill in New Jersey. For me, it was a win for the women’s ski community.

Thank you, Mountain Creek for hosting this event. I had so much fun and it feels good to matter.

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Essentials of Antagonist Training for Climbers

Lauren Abernathy pull-up

Nearly red in the face, I pulled my chin, a 53lb kettle bell, a 10lb plate, and my harness up high enough to call the whole thing a pull-up. My personal record for a one rep max for a pull-up went up: bodyweight plus 63lbs. My bench press on the other hand was less than stellar, 5 reps at 75% of my bodyweight was all I could muster.

There are not many sports that rely so heavily on pulling strength, but climbing is one of them. As as you might be able to pull, if you cannot push, there is trouble ahead. Enter antagonist training.

Despite what you might have heard, antagonist training is not captain hook working to improve his sword-fighting. It is not a buzz word you use to describe doing whatever exercises please you at the end of a climbing session either. But if not these things, what is antagonist training? And how can we use it to be stronger and prevent injury?

Let’s start with the basics.

In every movement, there is a prime mover and an antagonist. A simple example is the motion of a bicep curl. The bicep is the prime mover, the tricep is the antagonist. Simple enough.

Now, let’s complicate things. I really like how Dr. Jared Vagy explained this in his blog post on the topic, so I will steal a page from his book in my explanation.

Primer Movers and Antagonists in Climbing

In climbing, we are mostly pulling. So when you hear the word antagonist training in the context of climbing, you should think “pushing”.

This is not to say that we do not push in climbing. Sometimes, we do have to mantle or push against holds for stabilization. At which point, the script is flipped between the prime movers and the antagonists. However, the ratio of pulling to pushing in climbing is clearly skewed towards pulling. With that, we need to focus our antagonist efforts towards balancing out all the pulling we do.

For years we programmed push-ups and overhead presses as injury-proofing antagonist movements, but as our involvement with competition climbers has advanced, we are seeing a greater and greater need for good total body strength to deal with the specific demands of the sport.

Unstoppable Force pg. 177

What the Research Says

Though I was not able to find extensive research explicitly relating antagonist strength ratio to injury risk or athletic performance, there are a few studies that I want to discuss here.

Measuring Antagonist Strength Ratios in Healthy Adults

In one study, 180 healthy and active adults (69 males, 111 females) aged 18 to 45 were tested to determine their pulling to pushing ratio. This was done by measuring the number of repetitions for push-ups and a modified pull-ups (shown below). On average the push:pull ratios were 1.57:1 and 2.72:1 for men and women, respectively.

Photo as shown in the aforementioned research article. Modified pull-up.

This study was done to show a benchmark for injury-free, active adults. I would be curious on the outcomes of this study if it were conducted with a population of climbers. Though we do not have this information, we do have a study on a different group of athletes: elite rugby players. Do you think they will be just as push-dominant as the recreationaly active adults? You might be surprised.

The Rugby Players

In another study of 42 elite male rugby players who regularly train both weighted pull-ups and bench presses were studied. For as much pushing as these athletes do in their sport, the average push:pull ratio between their one rep max (1RM) bench press and their 1RM pull-up came out to be nearly 1:1. Though I am not a male rugby player, this does give me some information to infer as a climber. If these push-centric athletes are managing a 1:1 ratio in their sport, perhaps climbers should try for the same. However, research is not everything. If this does not speak to you, perhaps a coach with decades of practical experience will.

A Coach’s Recommendation

In Unstoppable Force, written by Charlie Manganello and Steve Bechtel, Steve calls out the risk of imbalances in our antagonist strength.

We downplay the need for pressing strength in climbing, but strong pressing muscles – the ones we to push loads away from the body in training – are fundamental to good movement, joint stability, and continued progress in our pulling strength.

Unstoppable Force pg. 63.

Steve and Charlie go on to advise that if you cannot do three reps of a bench press at bodyweight, you may be holding back your pulling strength.

Why it Matters

Perhaps if you have just started climbing, this may seem like absolutely too much information. However, if you are a year or two in and you have done nothing but climb 2-4 days a week, it may be time to take a look in the mirror to see if you are overdue for some antagonist work. No guarantees, but it may grant you some strength and injury prevention in the long haul. Like Steve Bechtel says “strength is safety.” So how can you tell if you are overdue for some opposition training? Why not give yourself an assessment?

A Quick and Dirty Push to Pull Ratio Assessment

Here’s a little assessment you could give yourself. Ideally, perform it before climbing, but after warming up so you are not fatigued. Additionally, try to take at least a full day of rest between each of these assessments.

Day 1: Upper Body Endurance

  • Perform as many push-ups as you can do in one set. Record the total. Make sure you are doing real push-ups, not the ones where your arms are a thousand miles from your sides and your ass is in the air. If you cannot do a push-up, perform an incline push-up on a bench instead.
  • Rest 3-5 minutes
  • Record as many pull-ups as you can do in one set. If you cannot do a pull-up, use a band or a chair to remove resistance from the bar. Record the total number of pull-ups you can do. Do not kip, swing, or cheat between reps. Do them well and do them right.

Day 2: Maximal Upper Body Strength

  • Find your one rep max for the bench press. If you don’t know how to bench, I suggest finding a trusted friend to teach you and help to spot you. Make sure to warm-up and work up to finding your 1RM (with a spotter or safety bars). If you don’t want to load up all the way to a 1RM, I recommend finding your 2-3 rep max and using a calculator to predict your 1RM instead. Make sure you rest for at least 3 minutes between sets.
  • Rest for 3-5 minutes before moving onto the 1RM pull-up.
  • Find your one rep max for the pull-up. Warm up for this as well. Do a few bodyweight pull-ups. Start adding weight, continue adding until you reach your one rep max. Make sure you rest for at least 3 minutes between sets. Record your 1RM.

Disclaimer: I am not demanding that you do this, perform at your own risk and make sure that you are not putting yourself in harm’s way by partaking in the above. And don’t blame me if you find that you are sore the day after!

Let me know your Assessment Results!

If you decide to take this assessment, shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com and let me know how it went!

This is part one in a series. In the next installment, I will tackle my favorite antagonist exercises and provide tips on working them into your climbing schedule. Make sure to subscribe to my monthly email list to stay up to date when the next post comes out! You can also stay up to date by following me on Instagram.

Resources

Upper Body Push and Pull Strength Ratio in Recreationally Active Adults

Push to Pull Ratio in Elite Rugby Players

Unstoppable Force: Strength Training for Climbing

The Climbing Doctor: Train Antagonist Strength for Climbing

Mallorca Trip Report: Guide to a Deep Water Solo Adventure

deep water solo mallorca

After visiting the magical island of Mallorca for the first time in 2018, I decided that I had to return in 2019. The second time, I brought my other half with me so he could see the island I had come to love so much.

deep water solo mallorca
Michael and I enjoying our first day out deep water soloing together.

Barely Made It

The adventure began with a startling automated text message the morning of our departure.

“Due to government intervention, your flight to Barcelona has been cancelled indefinitely.”

In the week before the trip, riots had broken out in Barcelona. The overall function of the city was severely impaired and the protests centralized around the airport. I had been nervous all week that we somehow wouldn’t make it to Spain. My fears were unfortunately realized.

A few hours and some phone calls later, Michael and I had somehow cobbled together travel plans departing one week later only costing us about $200 in flight change fees on the part of Vueling, the local airline that would take us from Barcelona to Mallorca.

A week later, we were on a flight from Barcelona to Mallorca, ready to start our island climbing adventure.

 The Digs

After getting picked up by the Rockbusters crew, the same guide service I used in 2018, we were taken grocery shopping and to the Hippocampo hostel. The bathrooms had been fully renovated since 2018 and the rest was as lovely as I remember it.

Hippocampo Mallorca
The Hippocampo Hostel

After getting settled, we sat down to dinner with chef Erin Lingle (who runs a restaurant in DC that is regularly featured in the Michelin travel guide) then went to sleep before our first day of deep water soloing.

prawns
The best camp food you’ve ever eaten that you didn’t have to cook.

How I Packed

After last year’s trip, I came with some wisdom about how to pack. Here are my critical packing list items for deep water soloing:

  • As many shoes as you can bring. I brought four pairs, some of them were pretty old/non-aggressive. It definitely helped to have a solid rotation of shoes so that you always have a pair that is completely dry.
  • A dry bag. I didn’t have one the first year, but it was really nice to have to ensure your stuff stays dry around the crag. Also nice to have if you want to swim over to the start of the route and keep your shoes dry.
  • Jackets. It got to be a little windy and soggy sometimes, so my favorite combination was to put my thin outdoor research rain jacket underneath my puffy. This allowed my puffy to keep me warm without drenching it in seawater.
  • Pro-Bro tip: I saw a lot of guys bring two pairs of swim trunks out to the crags. Seemed like it was nice to be able to change into different trunks halfway through the day. Alternatively, you can be like the Italians and wear a speedo, which seems to mitigate some of the swim trunk issues. Do as you please.

Lots of liquid chalk. My favorite is Friction Labs. One tube lasted Michael and I about a week.

cala barques couple
Rocking my rain jacket under puffy for maximum warmth and dryness.

How To Start the Routes

Many of the crags I visited in Mallorca required downclimbs to start the routes. For many people and sometimes myself included, the downclimbs are scarier than actually climbing the routes themselves.

However,  keep in mind that the grades of the downclimbs are pretty low. Additionally, there is usually some sort of way to completely sit and relax before actually starting the routes. It is not as if the route is a combination of a downclimb and an upclimb of the routes.

This is not true for all of them however, some start with a convenient cliff edge or can be accessed by boat.

Falling

Obviously, the falls are the hallmark of deep water soloing. If you are planning to go on a deep water solo trip, I would recommend ensuring that you are comfortable taking falls while leading. Additionally, if you can take any of these falls while on steep, overhanging routes in the gym or outside, this is great mental preparation for a trip to Mallorca.

Rockbusters does a great job of taking you to good “warm-up” crags on day one to help you adjust to the ropelessness of deep water soloing. Mentally, I get better and better throughout the week. It fascinates me that usually my hardest sends seem to happen at the end of the week long trips. Despite increased fatigue, because I am very comfortable with trying hard and taking falls by the end of the week, I climb my best. I would love to see what I could do if I had time to spend a month there, but alas, duty calls and I can only get a week away from work.

bisexual cala barques 7a
Me taking the plunge while working Bisexual, 7a.

Trip Highlights

  • Getting heckled by Germans. Nothing like getting beta sprayed at you from two fat, German guys on a dingy.
  • Halloween. The Hippocampo campground went from deserted to full of about 10 local families with their kids – all dressed up for Halloween and trick or treating at our hostel rooms. Sorry kids, all I had was protein Clif Bars!
  • Sending Metrosexual and Bisexual. Since I had seen these two routes on my first trip, I knew I wanted to do both of them. They are located in the Cala Barques crag. Felt really, really cool to send 5.12 while deep water soloing.

Why Go Deep Water Soloing in Mallorca?

  1. Aesthetics and Vacation Quality. Let’s face it, most climbing trips do not boast the glamour of a beach bar on the approach to the crag, surrounded by gorgeous limestone cliffs and turquoise water. At best you are staying in a pretty nice cabin probably without cell service. At worst, you are in a tent clutching bear spray after you cooked dinner in the dark on a rock for two hours. Getting the vibe of a beach vacation with the exertion and thrill of a climbing trip is really nice.
  2. Projecting is extra hard. Projecting is hard when you deep water solo. There is no “working the moves”. Once you make it farther on the route than you have before, you need to take whatever beta your buddy gave you and make it go first try, lest you fall into the water for the 50th time. It can be extra frustrating, but I think it makes you a better climber overall – and the sends are very rewarding when they come.
  3. Improve your mental game. Taking falls on lead can be scary, getting yourself to be OK with falling into water is a different challenge. Though objectively, you know that falling is mostly ok (depending on how high you are…) getting your body and mind to believe it is a different story. Deep water soloing is a great challenge in convincing your brain to deal with risk. It is both thrilling and extremely satisfying.
deep water solo mallorca
the start shared by Metrosexual and Bisexual in the Cala Barques area

So go on, get out there. Mallorca is a climbing trip you won’t ever forget.
If you have any questions about using Rockbusters as a guide service, feel free to shoot me an email. I have been on three trips with them and they have all been an amazing experience.

rockbusters mallorca
The whole crew at the end of an awesome week of climbing.

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Please note that if you decide to book a trip with Rockbusters and you book through the links in the above article, I get a small credit that helps keep this site up and running. However, I was not financially affiliated with them before adventuring with their guide service.. Rockbusters is a friend of this blog and they wanted to find a way to help me keep it running. Additionally, there are links to Amazon for the products that I packed, used and enjoyed. If you choose to buy any of them, at no cost to you, it gives this site a little kick back to the blog as well.

2019 Wrap-Up: Failure, Fun and Onto the Next

In the Fall of 2016, I went on one of my first trips to the Red River Gorge. I packed some clothes, some food, a hammock, and an intense fear of heights. My vertical neuroses paired interestingly with a fierce determination to become a good climber. This combination of fears and desires eventually left me hanging in terror on the seventh bolt of A Brief History of Climbing. I sat with my head against the wall crying because I was so uncomfortable with the heights. If you would have told that girl that in three years she would send 5.12, she would have laughed. If you told her she’d do it while deep water soloing in Spain, she might have slapped you. But here we are. I’ve done all of those things. It’s been a hell of a year.  

For those who may have missed it, at the beginning of 2019, I set the goal of red-pointing twelve 5.12s in at least four different climbing areas. Though I didn’t meet my objective, I was certainly made better for trying.

So with lots of training, focus, cursing, joy, and many aggressive weekend road trips, here is what I did piece together in my attempt at twelve 5.12s in 2019.

  • Groovin’ 5.11d in Birdsboro, PA
  • Starry 5.12a in The New River Gorge, WV
  • Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump 5.12a in Wild Iris, WY
  • Beattyville Pipeline, 5.12a in The Red River Gorge, KY
  • Orangahang 5.12a/b in Rumney, NH
  • Flesh For Lulu 5.12 a/b in Rumney, NH
  • Bisexual 7a/5.11d (Deep Water Solo) in Mallorca, Spain
  • Metrosexual 7a+/5.12a (Deep Water Solo) in Mallorca, Spain
Lauren Abernathy mallorca
Falling off the top of Bisexual in Mallorca.
Lauren abernathy Beattyville pipeline red river gorge
Me on Beattyville Pipeline.

Additionally, though I went bouldering only two or three times this year, I flashed my first V4 and sent my first V5 outside, which was a neat little bonus on top of my sport climbing objectives. With that, here is the little bit of wisdom, that I have personally collected over the past year.

Lauren - powerlinez bouldering
After the send of my first V5 outdoors.

Persistence or Bust

I love climbing, but getting better at it is not easy. Usually, if you are proud to accomplish something, it means you had work hard and make sacrifices to get it.

There were many times where I felt tired, or my day job was really stressful, or I wanted to press snooze on the alarm clock and skip my morning training session. Sometimes I did. But most of the time, I showed up with a plan and got shit done. Not every session felt great – most felt either lackluster or completely terrible. But I showed up.

Personally, I have seen that being consistent and finding excitement in incremental improvements is critical to continuous improvement in as a climber.

The Blog

Consistency is something that has been a key to pushing through with this blog as well. When I first started writing, I didn’t really know where it would take me, or have any idea what I was doing. Then after four or five months of having no more than twenty people readers, I thought that maybe I ought to quit. It felt a like I was performing a monologue for an auditorium of deaf kittens. Lots of work with no one listening.

I want to sincerely thank those of you who emailed me, messaged me and told me that something I had written had helped you or inspired you in the year since I started this blog. Knowing that someone had benefitted from something I had written kept me from quitting. It helped me to stay excited to write even when it seemed like this blog served no purpose besides sucking time from my loved ones, my climbing, and my apartment that needs to be tidied every now and again. So thank you, sincerely. I love writing and climbing and I do not have plans to stop doing either any time soon.

 Here’s to a New Year

With that, I wish you all the happiness, health, and sends in the coming year. May you set big, hairy, audacious goals. Even if you fail, may you learn a lot in the process.  

With that, I will leave you with the words of the late Warren Miller.

“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”

You are never too old to crush at something. Have a happy New Year.

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Systems over Goals: Set Yourself Up for Success

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.”

Joe Vitale

In 2019, I said my goals loud and proud for all of the internet to read – some of you all did too. In 2020, I am making some tweaks to and trying to re-frame the goal making process. Here are some actionable tips to help you examine the way you have (or have not) been making goals, your resolutions, and the overall quality of your follow through on the commitments you make to yourself.

With that, here are some new perspectives you can apply to your climbing goals in the coming year.

What Kind of Person are You?

Perhaps you have failed at sticking to your commitments in the past and you want to do better this time. In the past, you may have said “this is the year I will actually follow a training program”. And then life got in the way. Then you gave up. Now you are still climbing the same grades that you were two years ago and you are frustrated that you can’t follow through with commitments you make to yourself.

Maybe you have plenty of the motivation, but you don’t seem to understand how you can get yourself follow through. Might I suggest an eight question quiz to help determine your own tendencies around behavior modification? It will help you learn a bit about what makes you tick and help you to set yourself up for success. Perhaps it is not that you don’t have the motivation or the ability to achieve what you want to, maybe you simply have not designed your systems to your own unique habit-changing specifications. So take the quiz, find out how you work, and proceed from there.

Take the Quiz here.

Further Reading: Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Photo By Teagan Maddux

On Keeping Your Goals to Yourself

In addition to understanding how you work in the context of achieving goals and altering your habits, another interesting idea that I am pondering is the usefulness of sharing my goals with other people.

Though I have given a select few a glimpse into what I want to tackle next year, I plan to keep the spray about what I want to achieve in 2020 to a minimum. Though I will still be sharing in the process, I am keeping the end goal to myself this year? Here is why.

Though some people need added external pressure, I find that with my sometimes overwhelming fear of failure, letting the world know about what I plan to achieve does not really help me at all.

However, if you are the sort of person that lacks intrinsic motivation and has found that external accountability helps you to succeed, then godspeed. But make sure that you don’t phrase the discussion of your goals in a way that makes you feel less accountable for putting in the work to achieve them.

The next topic I want to address is the idea of focusing on our systems and habits more than the goals themselves.

Related: How to Set Quality Goals

Habits, not Goals

Though having big objectives is important, having a framework for what habits or systems you want to build is critical to achieving them.

If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Practically everyone has the goal of climbing harder in their next climbing season. Whether or not you succeed has little to do with the goal you set and a lot more to do with the plan you have in place to do so.

You may not have any big goals, but setting up habits like “I will do fifteen minutes of footwork drills at the beginning of my climbing sessions” will lead to improvements without being attached with some grand, long-term objective.

Personally, I like having big goals. However, making a goal is the easy part. Formulating a plan to execute is what takes effort.

Related Reading: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Simplifying for Success

Plans to reach our goals can vary in terms of complexity. If you are not participating in a training program right now, the odds that you are going to handle your training complexity going from zero to one hundred are statistically extremely low.

For those that have never followed a training plan before, you can likely get something out of making simple tweaks to your time in the gym. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Note that whether or not these suit you specifically, is up to you to determine.

  • Add movement drills to your climbing warm-up
  • Do the same hangboard session once a week for 8 weeks
  • Go to the climbing gym three times per week
  • Try any boulder that you do not flash at least five times
Measuring progress during a hangboard session. Photo by Teagan Maddux.

The list could go on forever. The point is, getting better at climbing doesn’t have to be complicated. If you know that you have failed at sticking to training plans before, then resolve to make small adjustments to your training, stick to them, and make changes once you stop seeing results.

This is not to say that getting better at climbing is easy. And eventually, your goals will necessitate increases in training complexity beyond the small tweaks to your sessions that are discussed above. That being said, if you don’t feel comfortable going big with a full-fledged training program. Start with small, manageable bites.

Please Start Measuring Something

Making small tweaks to your climbing session is a great way to get yourself headed in the right direction. However, if you don’t measure your progress, you really will not know if what you are doing is helping and when your progress is leveling off.

The first step in knowing that you want something in your climbing to change is to have a grasp on what your climbing consists of now. But if you have no idea how strong you are, what you consistently send, or how much climbing you have actually been doing, it is really difficult to do that.

Perhaps you are very new to climbing and all you need to do is go to the gym more to get better. However, you might be a veteran that truly needs to take a hard look at some serious finger training to break into the next grade.

Whatever your situation, some measurement will go a long way.

senderella story - track your training
Taking notes during a climbing session. Photo by Teagan Maddux

Depending on your current habits, maybe it is unrealistic to expect that you will become a detailed note taker that logs their training sessions like I do. If that’s you, fine. Meet yourself where you’re at, but please track something. Here are a few ideas for baby steps you can take to become a better tracker of your climbing and training sessions.

  • Record every time you go climbing or train for climbing. Keep a tally. Bonus points if you separate days inside vs. days outside.
  • Write one sentence about what you did, how it went, for how long, and the date for every time you train or climb in a notebook or excel sheet.
  • Give every session a rating of perceived exertion (how tough the session was) on a scale of 1 to 10.

Once you get in the habit of recording something for each of your training sessions, get more detailed. If you really care about getting better at climbing, you need to keep track of what you are doing.

Related: Comprehensive Guide to Tracking your Climbing and Training

Shut Up and Crush It

So now, please go forward. Spray about it or don’t, but use the above to shift your mindset and crush next year. I am really excited for you and all the dreams you have. So please go make them a reality. See you at the gym.

Do you enjoy making goals? Is training something you are trying to be more disciplined about next year – leave a comment below and let’s discuss!

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The Case for Stronger Fingers

Guest Post Intro

I am very excited to introduce my first guest post to the Senderella Story blog. I have admired Chelsea as a female in the climbing trainer space for a while, so I am delighted to have her words here on this sight. Chelsea has crushed multiple routes up to 5.13b and V8 in the state of Washington. She works as a self-made professional climbing coach for women and is a passionate climber herself. In her climbing and her work, she brings the best of herself to help others climb as hard as they can.

I am very excited to get some Pacific Northwest perspective on the blog since there is a lot of Southern Sandstone flair on here. Sometimes when you have spent a lot of your climbing career yanking on Red River Gorge jugs you tend occasionally discount the advantages of having super strong fingers.

With that, here is a post from Chelsea where she breaks down the case for stronger fingers and the basic principles of hangboarding.

Why Stronger Fingers Help You Climb Harder

Most climbers know that stronger fingers are incredibly beneficial for climbing harder, but the why behind what we are doing is so important and can help to direct our training to give us the biggest benefits possible!

When we train for climbing, we want to make sure we are focusing on exercises that will translate and transfer well back to our climbing. Ain’t nobody got time for exercises that don’t actually improve our climbing!

The principle that we are looking for is called specificity

When is the last time you fell off a route or boulder because you were pumped? Like no other reason than besides you were pumped?

I honestly can’t think of many times this has happened to me. 

But what does happen (A LOT) is that I fall off because I can’t do a move – either I’m not strong enough or powerful enough. Especially for women, this is something I see so often!

Chelsea enjoying a finger-intensive route in China Bend, WA

Strength Breeds Endurance

When I do get truly pumped its because the moves below where I fell took too much out of me, and took away from my overall strength. And this is exactly why when we train finger strength, we want to make it as specific to climbing as we can. 

I have tried just about every hangboard program out there. A lot of these programs are volume heavy, and low-intensity in hopes of creating more finger strength.

What I have found is that we actually need less volume (volume is the enemy of strength and power) and MORE intensity. This is KEY to building maximal finger strength.

For some individuals, an increase in finger strength is low-hanging fruit when it comes to breaking into the next grade or breaking out of a plateau.

Progressive Overload

One of the most important tenets of training (and exercise in general!) is the idea of “progressive overload.”

Progressive overload is simple in theory – it involves continually increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system to continually make gains in muscle size, strength, and endurance. Simply put, in order to get stronger, you must continually make your muscles work harder than they’re used to. 

Makes sense, right?

When it comes to climbing, the same thing applies. We must continually increase the demand placed on the body by making what we do continually more difficult.

How do we do this? There are a few different ways. We can increase intensity and therefore further challenge the body by increasing the resistance (weight) for an exercise, increasing duration, increasing sets or reps, increase training frequency and decreasing rest time.

Using a Hangboard for Progressive Overload

Enter hangboarding! This is my ALL-TIME favorite tool to use to get stronger for climbing because of how well it lends itself to the idea of progressive overload.

One of the best ways to add difficulty for hangboarding and finger strength!

We can make hangboarding more difficult and produce progressive overload by adding more weight to hangs, hanging for longer periods of time, doing hangs on one arm, increasing sets/reps and decreasing rest periods.

While some argue that the best way to improve your climbing is, well, climbing, I think differently. At some point in our climbing careers, finger strength training can be extremely important to becoming stronger at our favorite sport. 

We want to make sure that what we do when we are training transfers over to our climbing as much as it possibly can. Because, hey, most of us are fitting training into a busy lifestyle and want to maximize the results that we can get – I mean I certainly do!

This is where specificity comes into play. We want to make sure the training that we are doing is directly translatable to our climbing. It needs to be specific enough so that the strength that we gain from training shows up in our climbing AND makes a positive impact.

Finger strength is one of the most measurable things that we can do with our climbing. We can write down EXACTLY how much weight we used and which edge – from this information we can see a direct rise in our finger strength. 

I work with a lot of women who have been implementing the Lady Beta training plans (which have a heavy focus on hangboarding) and they have seen massive improvements in not only their strength, but their endurance as well! 

When we become stronger overall, each individual move takes less and less out of us, we have a larger strength reserve to pull from and we won’t need as much endurance. 

When we start using structured exercise as a tool to accomplish our goals and stop using it as a way to just fatigue our bodies, this is where we can start to see massive benefit in our climbing.

Chelsea climbing some crimpy granite in Leavenworth, WA

Where You Can Find Chelsea

Chelsea runs her own website, FromTheMountainsWellness.blog. You can also find her on Instagram, @ladybeta.coaching. And for all my rad ladies out there, she has an awesome facebook group that Chelsea would be delighted for you to join! Chelsea is a source of major stoke on my own social media feed, so give her a follow if you feel so inclined.

Chelsea’s Hangboarding Program

As a professional climbing coach, Chelsea has poured her heart and soul into creating a six week hangboard program to help climbers like yourself get stronger fingers. So if you need some motivation to get after it in the gym this winter, throw some money at it and get cracking. Sale pricing ends on Friday 12/20 so go get it while it’s hot!

*Note that I am not financially affiliated with LadyBeta.Coaching.
I just love supporting rad, entrepreneurial climbing ladies because it makes me happy.

Related Reading

How to Understand if You are Ready to Begin a Hanboarding Protocol

4 Hangboard Protocols To Increase Finger Strength

How You Can Listen to Your Body: Climbing Injuries

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

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

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

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

What are you feeling?

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

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

What have you been doing leading up to this point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Time of the Month

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

Look to the Past to Tell your Future

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

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

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

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Running and Climbing Part 4: Alpine Environments and Long Approaches

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

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

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

Processed with VSCO with l4 preset

How Quickly Do you Adapt to Altitude?

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

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

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

Long, Nasty Approaches

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

Example: preparing for a long approach in the Alpine

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

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

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

Can running help with faster altitude adaptation?

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

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

What this means for Sea-Level Climbers

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

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

My Own Experience

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

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

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

To Run or Not to Run

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

Here are links to the entire series:

Part 1: Can running help your climbing?

Part 2: Sport Specific vs. General Endurance

Part 3: Running and Weight Loss

Resources

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

What to Train to Send your Project

A Flatlander’s Training Tips for Altitude

James Lucas: 50 Days of Bouldering Outside

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

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The Mental Side of Climbing: Brain Beta

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris Climbing

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

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

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

My Mind Holds Me Back

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Tim Spanagel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1

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

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

Thanks to Michael Cheng for the video!

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

Day 2

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

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

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

Training your Mind to Climb

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

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

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

Getting in Touch with Your Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Further Reading and Listening

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

How I Trained for Fat Camp by Dan Mirsky

The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner

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