Climbing Technique: Gain More from Your Sessions

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

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

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

Observational Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time is Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Gym

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

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

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

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

While Sport Climbing

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

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

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

Thoughts on Onsighting

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

Bringing it Together

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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

9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes

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

How Data can Inform your Hangboard Training

hangboarding

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

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

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

Related: 4 Hangboard Protocols to Increase Finger Strength

hangboarding
Photo by Teagan Maddux

Some History on my Finger Training

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

The Session

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

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

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

Progress over Time

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

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

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

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

Why I am not Going Crazy with the Analytics

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

The Results

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

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

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

Assessment Results March vs. May

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

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

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

Discussion: Applying the Research

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

Hypertrophy and Strength: The Office Analogy

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

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

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

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

Natasha Barnes, elite climber, power lifter, and physiotherapist

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

Comparing myself to the Eva Lopez Intermittent Hangs Experiment

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

Eva’s Training Protocol

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

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

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

Comparing Testing Protocols

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

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

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

tension board lauren abernathy
Awkward two finger pockets.

Using this Data to make Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Get Obsessed with Numbers

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

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

Progress is Not Linear

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

Details Matter but Consistency Matters More

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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

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

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

https://natashabarnesrehab.com/aboutme

Why I’m Not Training Endurance in Quarantine

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

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

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

Do you need endurance right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strength is a Number One Dad Mug

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

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

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

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

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

Using a Hammer as a Wrench

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

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

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

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

Endurance is Fleeting

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

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

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

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

NERD ALERT: Endurance Adaptation Science

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

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

But what the f* are mitochondria?

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

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

Mitochondria and Aerobic Endurance

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

Putting it Together

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

Comparing the endurance adaptation to finger strength

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

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

My Own Training: A Few Caveats

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

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

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

If you’re going to train endurance anyway

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

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

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

Kris echos this sentiment.

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

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

A Note on Running

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

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

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

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

Resources

TrainingBeta Episode 147: Best Practices for Training at Home

Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training

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

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

Dr. Eva Lopez – Max Hangs vs. Intermittent Hangs

Quick Mitochondria Video

How to Climb 5.12 by Eric Horst

The Essentials of Increasing Your Pinch Strength

lauren abernathy triangle rock club

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

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

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

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

Who should be doing this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a pinch?

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

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

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

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

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

Pinch Ergonomics

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

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

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

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

So what is a good pinch position?

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

Photo credit powercompanyclimbing.com

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

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

So how can I improve my pinch strength?

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

Pinch Strength Improvement by Climbing

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

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

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

Pinches on a Hangboard

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

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

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

Pinch Blocks

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

Pinch Training: Max Hangs

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

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

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

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

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

Pinch Training: Repeaters

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

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

Which protocol should I choose?

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

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

Wide or Narrow?

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

Eva Lopez: Training Pinch Strength for Climbers

Mayo Clinic: De Quervain’s Syndrome

Geek Climber Pinch Block Training ft. Eric Horst

Natasha Barnes – Hangboard workshop

Eva Lopez: Max Hangs vs. Intermittent Hangs

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

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, Facebook, and 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, Facebook, and 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