Climbing Training: Self-Coaching During COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak has created a media explosion – even within the climbing community. Every climbing trainer is stuck inside wanting nothing more than to give you what you need stay inside and keep up with your training. The breadth of information is invaluable. However, whether or not you navigate it well enough get results is a different story.

As someone that carefully plans their training (I had a training roadmap for all of 2020 figured out in December 2019), losing access to normal climbing facilities threw me for a loop. I found myself overwhelmed with all the training options for my time in isolation. Fortunately I avoided the paralysis by analysis and I crafted myself a training regimen that addresses my weaknesses, utilizes the equipment I have, and that I find enjoyable.

Here is the process that I followed to create my own quarantraining plan. It may help you with yours. I recommend getting out a piece of paper and a pen before continuing on.

Step 1: Brainstorm

For the days following the closure of my gym, my head was a junk pile of ideas. I had so many thoughts about my weaknesses, exercises I wanted to do, and “fun stuff” that was not super climbing specific, but that I enjoyed. Always wanted to learn handstands? Want to finally do a pistol squat? At last have the time to consistently follow a hangboard protocol? Awesome. Write it down.

Here is what my sheet looked like:

I may have set my coffee cup down on this after I finished scribbling.

Step 2: Assessment

In addition to brainstorming on what you might want to work on, it is also advisable to give yourself some kind of assessment to point you in the right direction. My baseline for training this season is an assessment I took in December ahead of the Power Company Empowered event. Though I don’t have the tools to completely repeat the assessment right now, I was able to at least complete some of it.

You can read the blog post here about how to do a minimal at-home climbing assessment. It does require a pull-up bar and a hangboard.

I repeated the assessment and compared to my previous results and the benchmarks for my goals. This gave me some direction for my training priorities.

See below for my results.

Figure 1: Endurance well within range of 2020 objective. Max weight hang and pull-ups are on par as well, but need work to ensure I maintain these qualities.

Some Background on my December Assessment

Based on some additional campus board testing and help from the Power Company coaches, I know that my biggest weaknesses are my maximal pulling power and explosive reach, so that was the focus of my December through March training. In broad terms, I didn’t need to work on being able to pull more weight. I needed to work on being able to pull that weight faster and farther.

A Note for those with Minimal Training Equipment:
Now is the time to get creative. Perhaps your door frame is your hangboard now. Perhaps the only thing you have to press overhead is a bag of rice. If you do not have a lot of training equipment, create your own assessment based on what you have available. For example, working towards doing 25 push-ups in a row is an admirable goal for general strength and conditioning and requires no equipment. Find something to assess and create something to work toward.

What to do with these results?

Seeing that my forearm endurance is not an issue and knowing that endurance is a quality that can be trained up quickly (2-4 weeks), I am not concerning myself too much with trying to keep my endurance up. Training endurance on a hangboard sucks anyway.

What I can see is that I still have some room for improvement in my overall finger strength and my pulling power, though according to these metrics, I am well within the ballpark of my goals for the year. At minimum, I need to maintain these qualities.

Pinches are also a weakness of mine. I was in the middle of a pinch training protocol when COVID-19 started impacting my life, so I will continue my pinch training with my new homemade pinch blocks.

Between the exercises I find enjoyable, an understanding of my weaknesses, and the types of training I am interested in learning about, I put together some training goals.

Step 3: Make Some Training Goals

Since the end date of this crisis is unknown, it is hard to determine what I want the end result to be. Because of this, my goals are somewhat generic. If you have more specific goals like “do 10 pull ups” that is great and probably better than my generic list. I simply do not feel the need to make overly specific goals since I have no idea how much time I have to complete them. My goals are as follows, in no particular order.

  • Improve maximal finger strength and pinch strength by hangboarding and using pinch blocks
  • Increase pulling power by performing pull workouts
  • Maintain work capacity by performing kettlebell workouts.
  • Increase abdominal strength by doing ab workouts and practicing front levers
  • Maintain pushing strength
  • Maintain mobility by performing 10 minutes of a mobility warm-up prior to any training session.

After I realized what my goals were, I looked at how I wanted to structure it into a schedule.

Step 4: Make a Schedule and Execute

Get a calendar our and based on what your week looks like, carve out blocks where training can happen. Keep in mind that you do not need 90 minutes for a good training session. You can do a lot of good work in 30-45 minutes. Some excellent ab workouts only take four minutes. Now, more than ever, you hardly have the excuse of time as to why you cannot get some training done. If you care about it, you will make time for it.

After you have your buckets of time, figure out what you can fit into these buckets. Maybe this is where some of your original ideas get eliminated. Have a favorite abs video you like doing? Perfect. Slot it in every other morning 30 minutes before you start your day.

Since I am a fan of training twice in one day and my body is accustomed to this, I am keeping this schedule for my quarantraining program. I am going training every other day, twice a day. Here are the three training days I am rotating through. The other days are for rest and maybe some walking around, though I am trying my best to limit my exposure to the outdoors in light of the current situation.

Vertical Pulling Days

pistol squat

Morning:
Power Pull-ups,
Repeaters (various grips)
Pistol Squats
1 arm isometric hangs

Evening:
Kettlebell Work Capacity
(Power Company Quarantraining), Pinches

Horizontal Pulling Day

hangboard senderellastory

Morning
One Arm Bent Over Rows
Single arm inverted rows
Pinches

Evening
Kettlebell Complexes
(Power Company Quarantraining), Repeaters

Pushing & Abs Day

Order of Operations

Though there are no absolute rules to this, I like to put my high intensity/low rep work in the morning and strength endurance work in the evening. Most coaches recommend that if you are doing maximal strength work and endurance work in the same day or in the span of a couple of days, strength comes first before endurance-type work. You may have to experiment to figure out what order works best for you and your schedule. The order that yields measurably better results is the one you will want to go with.

If you need help with this, I really like this youtube video from Lattice Training. It gives a lot of examples to help you grasp the concept of how to best shuffle your training activities.

Everything Should Have a Reason

For everything you decide to do during your time of isolation, make sure there is a good reason why you are doing it. This check alone will help you get rid of “junk” that might slip in with the onslaught of training information coming your way.

Forget About Perfection

I could list a lot of things about this situation that are less than ideal. The training program I have made here is no exception. However, it is good enough. I can point to every single thing I am doing and give a reason why I am doing it. Good enough now is better than perfection after two weeks of thinking about it.

Have questions about what I’m doing? Need help coaching yourself? I am more than happy to help. If you need someone to talk to or bounce ideas off of, shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com or leave a comment below.
I am more than happy to help.

Resources

Home Self-Assessment and Relevant Data Sets – Power Company Climbing

Training for Climbing Website: Rotator Cuff and 4 minute plank circuits

Power Company Quarantraining Group

Rock Climbers Training Manual – a variation on their intermediate repeater protocol

Logical Progression for integrated strength training and other general goodness- Climb Strong

Unstoppable Force – Bible of resistance training and mobility for climbers

Troubleshooting your Climbing Training – Lattice Team

Photos by Teagan Maddux

Equipment I’m Using

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Quarantraining: At Home Climbing Training Resources for COVID-19

hangboard senderellastory

Unless you live near an outdoor climbing area or you already have a home climbing gym set-up, the precautions surrounding the coronavirus have probably impacted your climbing plans in some way.

Personally, I have a trip to the Red River Gorge coming up in two weeks and my gym just shut down. Right now would be a really good time to be doing power endurance on ropes and boulders. Alas, I have no gym. The nearest sport climbing is too far for after work climbing and I am succumbing to reality. The rest of my training block before the Red will primarily be spent in my apartment.

My condolences if you are in a similar situation. I am grateful to be healthy and have resources to build out a teeny tiny home “gym”. This definitely sucks, but we have to move on.

There is no time for whining. It’s time to make do and train through it.

For those of you who “just climb to train” this is a great opportunity to learn about the supplemental training options that can also benefit your climbing. So if you feel frustrated or trapped, here are some ideas and resources to keep getting better at climbing while being socially responsible.

Note that what you do with your home workouts should still be in line with your goals and your training plan. Please, please send me an email or a DM on instagram or whatever if you need to. I am more than happy to help you sort through all the information and help you train through the chaos. With that, here are some free resources and tips to make the best of these interesting times.

Coaches Offering Free At Home Training Sessions

Because climbers are all part of the same community, these coaches are offering free resources for your quaran-training. Make sure to give them a like or a follow since they are sharing their years of training, hard work, and expertise for free.

Power Company

The team over at the Power Company have put together a blog post with some tips for training during the Covid-19 outbreak. Additionally, they have a free quaran-training group that you can join for more details and support. Simply scroll to the bottom of the post for details. You will provide your email, then you will need to download and yourself up with the Power Company app. It is very, very easy.

Facebook: Power Company Climbing
Instagram: @powercompanyclimbing

LadyBeta Coaching

Chelsea Murn over at Lady Beta has also been putting in work to help you stay on top of your training during the Covid-19 outbreak. Click here for some free at-home workouts.

Facebook: Lady Beta
Instagram @ladybeta.coaching

Lattice Training

The guys over at lattice training, based out of the UK are also doing their best to help you with training at home. They have put a couple of home-based workouts on their youtube channel.

I can also see from their facebook page that they are giving advice where they can and it sounds like they will be putting out more resources.

Facebook: Lattice Training
Instagram: @LatticeTraining

The Tools: At Home Training Equipment

I have not urgently purchased toilet paper recently. However, I just panic bought kettlebells and a doorframe pull-up bar this morning. My current home gym set-up is two 8lb dumbells, a flash board, really light therabands, and some random free weights. I have been meaning to upgrade for a while, so here is my new minimalist apartment training equipment list:

  • Flashboard by Tension Climbing
  • Door frame pull up bar – I’m going to hang my flashboard from this with carabiners and slings.
  • Two kettlebells a “light one” and a “heavy one”
    If you need to know how to pick your kettlebell sizes, listen to this Power Company podcast about kettlebell training.
  • Slings and carabiners (You need these for outdoor sport climbing anyway, so get some if you do not already have them).
  • Therabands I love these for warming up my shoulders. I take mine with me outdoors as well. These are a good investment even if there isn’t a pandemic going on.

Here are some other portable hangboard options if the flashboard
is not your taste:

Mike using our flashboard in New Hampshire last fall.

However, if you are free to bolt things into your wall, just get a hangboard and do it. Alternatively, the cheaper option is to go buy some strips of wood and nail them somewhere. Details in the Power Company Covid-19 post.

Watching Climbing Can Make You Better At Climbing

In a facebook post from ClimbStrong coach Steve Bechtel, he points out that watching pros climb can make you better at climbing. I can’t say it better myself, so I’ll put the text here:

“One of my favorite books of late is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. In it, Coyle visited and analyzed “talent hotbeds” – places that were churning out more than their fair share of high performers. One common trait among those performers: they intently studied the elites in their field day after day. I remember watching a video of Marc LeMenestrel climbing back in the late 80s and picking up two or three great movement tips just from watching him climb one pitch! With the wide variety of videos available there’s no excuse not to focus your internet surf time into something useful. Want to get better at crack climbing? Spend 15-20 minutes a day watching and studying the elite crack climbers of today. Same goes for bouldering, for hard sport climbing, you name it. Watch for pacing, time the rests, look at body position and the way they hold the holds. I recommend studying video until you find a “nugget” then write it down. Once you’ve found your nugget for the day, shut the videos off and plan on exploring that nugget on your next climbing or training day. “

I’ll be watching videos of my future project at the Red River Gorge for the next couple of weeks and taking notes. There are a million climbing videos out there. So hop on youtube and study the pros.

Mental Training Materials and Books

Fortunately for us, there is a lot to be gained from improving our mental game for climbing. Here are two of my favorite books that cover this subject.

9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes by Dave MacLeod
A great book that every climber should read. I would highly recommend putting this on your list for a variety of reasons. There are some great mental fortitude tips in here as well.

The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner
I have written a little about this book before, but it was the first book of its kind and it is an absolute classic. If you have not already, add this to your quarantine reading list.

Stay Strong and Make a Difference

There are many variables in life that make training for climbing difficult. A pandemic shutting down your climbing gym, cancelling your trip you have been training for, or causing you to lose exceptional amounts of income is unprecedented. These are strange times and we have to adapt. So be kind to one another, be responsible, and shoot me a note if you want help sifting through resources your quaran-training.

I leave you with this, because we all can make a difference.

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

Dalai Lama

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

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How I Dealt with Tennis Elbow

hangboarding

At some point in your climbing career, the act of cranking out a set of pull-ups becomes a mundane task. So it came as a surprise to me at 6:15 on a Monday morning, while doing a bodyweight pull-up, the familiar sensation of fatigue was replaced by an unfamiliar shooting pain in both my elbows. My arms lit up like Christmas trees.

This was the first time I had ever experienced this kind of elbow pain. And it seemed to come out of nowhere.

For one week I proceeded to pretend it was not a problem. The week following I started trying to figure out what to do. This resulted in the plan you see below. Between February 9 and 25, 2020 I changed how I was climbing and the exercises I was doing. I also had a five day stretch away from climbing during this period for a ski trip which may have contributed to reducing the severity of the injury as well. Over the course of February, I continued climbing, training, and largely resolved my elbow pain. In this post, I give the details on how I did it.

First, let’s start with the basics.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is the inflammation of the tissues surrounding your lateral epicondyle – the bony notch on the outside of your elbow. It is commonly referred to, in medical terms, as lateral epicondylitis.

In his post on ‘Dodgy Elbows‘, Dr. Julian Saunders explain the common conditions of both golfer’s and tennis elbow. He elaborated on the differences between tendonitis and tendonosis, both of which can result in the symptoms that encompass tennis elbow.

“Tendonitis elicits a sharp pain, felt around the medial or lateral epicondyle. It tends to worsen with activity to the point that you may have to stop the session. Left to its natural course (without aggravating activity), it should resolve in a few weeks. Tendonosis, on the other hand, is a dull ache (same place) that is felt at the start of climbing.”

Since my case of tennis elbow set on really quickly and subsided quickly as well, I am led to believe that I suffered only from tendonitis (inflammation) and not full-blown tendonosis.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Sources vary regarding what causes elbow tendonoses. It seems that these conditions are typically brought on by overuse, and repetitive motion. Interestingly, tennis elbow is sometimes related to excessive typing, weight lifting, carpentry, painting, and ironically, golf. Dr. Saunders evaluates tennis elbow in the context of climbing.

“The classic scenario is a sudden increase in training. The muscle, having a greater blood supply, is able to increase its strength faster than the tendon, leaving the tendon comparatively weak. Further use leads to tendon damage and degeneration. “

Evaluating the cause for myself, I believe some combination of desk work with an increase in training volume in January lead to the temporary demise of my elbows.

What can you do about it?

When I asked for feedback on instagram for how you all have dealt with elbow issuas, answers ranged from flex bars to yoga to cutting out gluten. There are many ways to skin a cat, but here is what I did to resolve my own elbow tendonitis.

Isometric Hangs at 120 Degrees

These were recommended to me by Kris Hampton at the Power Company (and many of you recommended these to me on instagram as well). Three to four times a week, I completed 3-4 sets of 120 degree isometric hangs. The duration was long, about thirty seconds per hang. I used pretty big edges in a half crimp position, edge size being 25mm+.

I incorporated these into my strength routine and warm-up. Here’s a video from the Power Company for more details.

Related: Dr. Tyler Nelson on the Power Company Podcast

isometric hangs
Me hanging around as part of my “heal my elbows” warm-up before a climbing session.

Reverse Wrist Curls

Similar in frequency to the isometric hangs, I completed reverse wrist curls three to four times per week. I used pretty heavy weight (10lbs) and used my other hand to support the movement. I performed 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps. Some argue that the sets/weight/reps don’t really matter as long as you do them. However, I have noticed that many esteemed trainers recommends that you load these heavily and I found that 10lbs was OK for me. Whatever you do, you should be getting fatigued.

These I incorporated into strength workouts or into my climbing warm-up as well.

Note that I prefer to keep the tempo a bit slower on the eccentric part of the motion than what is shown in the video below.

Related: Hooper’s Beta on Outside Elbow Pain

Ice and the Incurable Shitty Ankle

In one of my favorite pieces of stand-up ever, Louis CK talks about turning forty and his “incurable shitty ankle.” After being told to stretch for thirty minutes a day he asks the doctor “so how long will that take to fix it?”. To which the doctor replies “No, that’s just something you do now, until you and your shitty ankle both die.”

This sums up my feelings towards ice. If the doctor were talking to me he might say “Your elbows are effed up, you should do your exercises and you should ice after climbing. Forever. Period.” Though hopefully the exercises and the icing won’t go on forever, I am going to keep at it for at least a few months.

Perhaps some would argue that the ice is not doing anything, but it also does not cost anything to strap some ice packs to my elbows for a few minutes in the evening. Since the combination of these handful of protocol is working, I will probably continue icing after climbing 1-2 times per week until I feel completely recovered.

Research on Cold Exposure

Though the mantra of “Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation” is commonly touted in the context of soft tissue injury, there is not an exceptional body of evidence to support it. That being said, it is likely because in many cases, science is actual behind practical application. Interestingly, however, in a systematic review of cryotherapy, it was concluded that it had positive effects on return to participation for athletes.

In short, I think ice works and I think it worked for me. There is at least some science to back it up, so I will keep icing.

In addition to cold exposure after climbing, I also altered my climbing sessions.

Changing my Training

After getting over the emotional hump of acknowledging my injury and deciding to climb “around it”, I adopted a new rule of thumb: if it hurts during or after the training session, it is out of the training plan.

Basically, I knew what definitely hurt my elbows during training, these activities were swiftly removed and sometimes replaced. For example, I realized that power pull-ups were not ‘elbow-approved’; however, bent over rows were. So I replaced what was painful with something else. A little different, but it got the job done.

In my first week with this new adage, I made careful notes of what hurt and what didn’t — the day before and the day after training.

An important note: tendons tend to let you know if they were okay what you did 12-24 hours later, which is part of what makes tendon injuries tricky to deal with.

Then, I proceeded to do what I could without hurting myself more. I continued to train, though it was not as much or the way that I wanted to. However, I made sure to have an attitude of gratefulness that I was still able to keep climbing at all.

I could get into a lot of minutiae on what and how I changed in my training to accommodate my whiny elbows. If you want more details, leave a comment and we can discuss below.

Additional Upper Body Static Stretching

Though my warm-up typically involves some dynamic theraband stretch with the upper body, I was previously not including very much static stretching.

In TrainingBeta Episode 71 with Esther Smith, the renowned climbing physio posits that those with both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow could benefit from increased mobility in the upper body.

“Some people are much more prone to inner elbow problems, some people are much more prone to outer elbow problems. And even if you don’t have an active elbow problem going on, it’s these types of exercises to balance what is tight and what’s weak that I think every climber should be doing…”

Esther then goes on to list a front pectoral stretch, a tricep and lat stretch. I took this idea she introduced and incorporated it into my warm-ups and cool downs.

Based on this, the stretches I added were as follows. I did these during my warm-up before climbing and sometimes in my cool-down as well.

How do you move on from an injury?

As I write this, I would call myself 90% recovered. I am climbing strong and pull-ups no longer hurt. However, I am still taking care not to overdo it. My plan from here on out is to be conservative, vigilant, and continue doing what I am doing to eradicate the injury.

Have you struggled with elbow injuries in the past? What has worked for you? What has not? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com, I would love to hear from you!

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

Resources

https://www.orthobullets.com/shoulder-and-elbow/3082/lateral-epicondylitis-tennis-elbow

https://msspc.org/causes-of-tennis-elbow/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3396304/#i1062-6050-47-4-435-b54

https://www.powercompanyclimbing.com/blog/2019/10/21/ep-147-making-sense-of-science-for-climbers-with-dr-tyler-nelson

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC385267/

Unstoppable Force

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Featured image in thumbnail by Teagan Maddux.

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

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

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!

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

Running and Climbing Part 3: Running for Weight Loss

climber tying in

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

Recap of Parts 1 and 2:

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

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

Weight Management for Climbers

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

What about resistance training?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exercise Doesn’t Burn Many Calories

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

Fred Eats Girl Scout Cookies

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

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

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

Save Time, Skip the Peanut Butter

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

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

Excessive Exercise Prevents Weight Loss

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

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

Neely Quinn, Nutrition Therapist and founder of TrainingBeta.com

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

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

Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Body

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

Running and Weight Loss: What Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running and Your Legs

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

The Verdict on Running and Weight Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

How to Lose Weight for Climbing by Neely Quinn

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

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

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

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

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris

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

Comparing Sport – Specific and General Endurance Training

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

A Study on Cross Training: Running and Swimming

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

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

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

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

Cross Training for Running with Cycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions from the Research

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

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

The Anderson Brothers in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual

It’s All in The Forearms

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

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

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

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

You Can Run if You Want To

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

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

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

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

Resources

Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance

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

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

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

Rock Climber’s Training Manual

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

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

girl running

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

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

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

24 Hours in a Day

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

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

Steve Bechtel – Training Beta Episode 7

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

You can’t be good at everything all the time

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

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

Steve Bechtel – Power Company Climbing Podcast Episode 6

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

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

The Deal with Endurance

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

Aerobic Energy System

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

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

Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP)

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

What is VO2 Max?

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

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

The Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Everyone Agrees on Aerobic Fitness

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

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

Eric Horst Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 20

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

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

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

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Resources

Teach PE: Aerobic Energy System

Study of VO2 Max in Various Populations

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

Top End Sports: VO2 Max Norms

Sports Med: The Physiology of Sport Rock Climbing

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

VO2 Max Measurements from Virginia.edu

Physiology of Difficult Rock Climbing by Phil Watts