The Mental Side of Climbing: Brain Beta

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris Climbing

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

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

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

My Mind Holds Me Back

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Tim Spanagel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1

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

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

Thanks to Michael Cheng for the video!

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

Day 2

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

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

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

Training your Mind to Climb

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

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

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

Getting in Touch with Your Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Further Reading and Listening

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

How I Trained for Fat Camp by Dan Mirsky

The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner

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Nine Tips for Weekend Warriors: How to Climb Outside More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip 3: Meet New People and Make Outdoor Climbing Opportunities

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

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

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

Tip 4: Good Weather is Hard to Come By

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

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

Tip 5: Pay for Convenience Where you Can

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

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

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

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

Tip 6: Lower Your Climbing Area Standards

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

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

Tip 7: Do a Little Planning

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

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

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

Tip 8: Find a Food Routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Running and Climbing Part 3: Running for Weight Loss

climber tying in

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

Recap of Parts 1 and 2:

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

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

Weight Management for Climbers

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

What about resistance training?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exercise Doesn’t Burn Many Calories

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

Fred Eats Girl Scout Cookies

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

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

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

Save Time, Skip the Peanut Butter

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

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

Excessive Exercise Prevents Weight Loss

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

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

Neely Quinn, Nutrition Therapist and founder of TrainingBeta.com

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

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

Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Body

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

Running and Weight Loss: What Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running and Your Legs

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

The Verdict on Running and Weight Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

How to Lose Weight for Climbing by Neely Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

A New Route Pyramid

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

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

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

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

What I think Has Helped the Most

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

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

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

My Autumn Mantra: “Maintain, Maintain, Maintain”

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Shooting for the Moon

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

Image result for shoot for the moon picture

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

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

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

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

On Becoming a Better Climber

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

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

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

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

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris

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

Comparing Sport – Specific and General Endurance Training

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

A Study on Cross Training: Running and Swimming

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

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

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

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

Cross Training for Running with Cycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions from the Research

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

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

The Anderson Brothers in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual

It’s All in The Forearms

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

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

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

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

You Can Run if You Want To

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

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

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

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

Resources

Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance

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

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

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

Rock Climber’s Training Manual

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

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

girl running

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

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

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

24 Hours in a Day

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

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

Steve Bechtel – Training Beta Episode 7

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

You can’t be good at everything all the time

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

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

Steve Bechtel – Power Company Climbing Podcast Episode 6

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

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

The Deal with Endurance

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

Aerobic Energy System

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

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

Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP)

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

What is VO2 Max?

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

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

The Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Everyone Agrees on Aerobic Fitness

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

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

Eric Horst Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 20

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

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

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

Make sure to follow me on Instagram, or Facebook, or even subscribe to my newsletter to be notified when the next post comes out!

Resources

Teach PE: Aerobic Energy System

Study of VO2 Max in Various Populations

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

Top End Sports: VO2 Max Norms

Sports Med: The Physiology of Sport Rock Climbing

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

VO2 Max Measurements from Virginia.edu

Physiology of Difficult Rock Climbing by Phil Watts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Mistakes You are Making in Your Pre-Climbing Warm-up

lauren abernathy gravity vault

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.

According to a review of many studies published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the following conclusion regarding warming up prior to exercise can be drawn.

 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. 

Warm-Up and Stretching in the Prevention of Muscular Injury – K. Woods, P. Bishop, E. Jones

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.

lauren abernathy gravity vault
Me warming up to boulder using resistance bands Full cheese because I’m psyched on preventing shoulder injuries.
Photo by Teagan Maddux

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.”

Dynamic Climbing Warmup by Dr. Jared Vagy (aka The Climbing Doctor)

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.

flashboard rumney
Mike warming up his fingers with our flashboard before hopping on Flesh For Lulu in Rumney, NH.

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 of How 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.

How to Climb 5.12 – Eric Horst pg. 102

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.

Dynamic Climbing Warm-Up with Dr. Jared Vagy

Logical Progression – the first book that convinced of the importance of a good warm-up and taught me how to do it.

Preventing Climbing Injury pt. 1 – Power Company Interview with Dr. Jared Vagy

Injury Free Bouldering with Neil Gresham – Rock and Ice Magazine (see point 1)

I’ll be posting my own article on how to warm up in the next month. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter to stay in the loop when it gets published!

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 lauren@senderellastory.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!

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Compete

lauren iron maiden comp

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:

  1. I needed a way to make indoor climbing more exciting
  2. I wanted a way to simulate a tough day of trying hard outside for an extended period of time.
  3. 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.

Competition Structure

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.

Scoring

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.

The Setting

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).

lauren iron maiden comp
Me having the best time working on this spicy roof problem.

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 very uncomfortable 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.

senderella story
Me and my gal pals at the street art bar in Brooklyn.

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 senderellastory@gmail.com! 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!

Power Endurance Training for Climbing: 4 Workouts and How To Implement Them

senderella story lauren abernathy climbing teagan maddux

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.

#1: Boulders on the Minute from Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression

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.

RESOURCE: Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel

#2: Route Intervals from the Rock Climber’s Training Manual

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.

RESOURCE: The Rock Climber’s Training Manual

#3: Linked Boulder Circuits from the Rock Climber’s Training Manual

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.

Up V3, down the purple V2, up the red V3. Repeat 7-8 times with rest in between.

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

RESOURCE: The Rock Climber’s Training Manual .

#4: The Classic 4×4

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.

When to do it?

In periodized training programs (see Block vs. Non-Linear Periodization), Power Endurance is the “finishing touch” before you head into the outdoor performance season. Any classic periodized program from the Rock Climber’s Training Manual, to How to Climb 5.12, to Climb 5.13 from the Power Company always finishes out the program with Power Endurance. But why is that?

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.” –

TrainingBeta Episode 110 with Steve Bechtel

The Big Take-Aways

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 lauren@senderellastory.com. I would love to hear from you!

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Resources:

Free Power Endurance Workout from TrainingBeta

Climb 5.12 and Climb 5.13

Rock Climber’s Training Manual

How to Climb 5.12

TrainingBeta Episode 110: Endurance and Power Endurance with Steve Bechtel

Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel

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