According to U.S. News, a record-breaking 112 million Americans are expected to travel for the Holidays. If you are like me, Christmas means piling presents, a suitcase, and maybe some local drafts in the car and hitting the road to head back to wherever family is.
It also means trying to figure out how to squeeze a workout in between the family functions and the consumption of one or two or ten of Aunt Jenny’s cookies.
If I am driving to whatever family/friends I am visiting and I know they don’t have any home gym options, nothing beats a portable, door frame pull-up bar. So if you have access to that, great! If not, no worries there are other ways to get strong without it. I love to get a good workout in before the holiday family mayhem starts, so if you are like me, take a look some of these workout options!
Workout #1: requires pull-up bar
I like doing what is known as a superset. You pair two exercises together, do them immediately after each other and then rest for a period after you have done both exercises. The workout below has three supersets of exercises and a bonus round.
Additionally, before getting into it any physical activity, I always to a 5 minute dynamic warmup of some sort. (jumping jacks, high knees, shoulder swings, etc. After that, you are good to get into the workout. See circuit below.
Explanations and Modifications
If you can’t quite do a pull-up/chin up (which is totally fine, you will get there!), I used to modify by either putting a foot on the back of a chair or tying resistance bands to the pull-up bar and put one or more feet in the band.
If normal pull-ups are too easy, you can always go the extra mile by bringing weights, a weight pin, a carrabiner and your climbing harness with you (I managed to squeeze in some very hungover weighted pull-ups when I was a music festival this past May. My friends on the trip were amazed at the motivation.)
Side plank can be done either on your hand or on you elbow–whatever works for you!
Yes. a Burpee pull-up is actually jumping up, doing a pull-up, coming back down, jumping your feet back into a plank, doing a push-up and jumping back up to the pull-up bar. If it sounds awful it’s because it is. Here’s a video of it
Workout #2: No equipment
Part 1: Upper body (follow the fitness blender video)
Part 2: Legs (mini leg blasters)
If you want to hit the legs as well, do some mini leg blasters. I still hold fast to my love of leg blasters as a useful way to spend 15 minutes and DESTROY YOUR LEGS without any equipment. (Especially if you are interested in ways to train for skiing.)
Try to do 10 mini leg blasters (see the circuit below) with 30 seconds of rest in-between. Credit to backcountry.com for their article on this leg workout that always has me ready to go for ski season!
So there you have it. Two workouts requiring minimal or no equipment that can help you break a sweat and feel like you’re still contributing to your overall fitness, even if you aren’t at home training on your usual wall.
I have climbed twice since Thanksgiving. Apart from a couple of training sessions the last week in November, I haven’t climbed at all in about three weeks.
Scary, huh? I assumed that when I went back to training that I’d feel weak, and fat and that I’d regret taking a break. Turns out the break was worth it–and so was tossing my generally healthy eating habits aside for a couple of weeks. You bet I slammed some pie over Thanksgiving, and I just got back from Hawaii. Lots of hiking and swimming—and drinking to celebrate our conquests. Life is to be lived. You can’t be light all the time.
But between some nagging finger twangs and life in general, a break was much needed. However, I am here to tell you that taking a big break was GREAT IDEA and very useful. I am fine, and climbing just as well as I was before. Sweet!
I hit the Moonboard today and had my best session ever—without any funny feelings in my wrist or fingers. These joints were getting to be painful after my trip to the Red and I could tell that I was on a one way street to really injuring myself if I didn’t give it a rest.
After some time for rest and reflection, I have decided to integrate the Moonboard into my training for the winter. Mostly for limit bouldering purposes since the benchmark V3 and V4 problems on it kick my butt. More on that later. Let’s start with the basics.
A Moonboard is a training tool for climbers, first and foremost. It was invented by UK-based climber Ben Moon. It is a wooden board with a bunch of holds in pre-prescribed positions, set at a 40 degree angle. The grades are stiff and the holds are mostly bad. There is an LED light above each hold and you can connect your phone to the board using the Moonboard App.
The app allows you to light your chosen problem up on the board. You can choose from thousands of problems grades V3-V-Insane that cimbers from all over the world are working and setting. Pretty sweet.
Why use a Moonboard?
I love my home gym, don’t get me wrong. However, I sense some grading inconsistencies in the gym—mostly dependent on the setter. I get it, if you’re 6’4” and climb V13 outside, your version of V4 and my version of what I think is V4 might be different. Understandable. One of the many benefits of the Moonboard is that it offers the ability to go back to the same problem session after session, year after year. As long as the board remains, the route is available. Instead of hiking out to your old project, to check your progress as a climber, you can benchmark your progress with a route inside—pretty cool.
In addition to the consistency, there are so many problems to choose from. You can tweak exactly how hard you want your limit problems to be, with the swipe of your finger on the app. This is great since finding the right limit problem from your gym’s set can really be a pain sometimes.
Warmup: (5 minutes of running, 10 minutes of dynamic stretching)
Climbing warmup: Do about 15 problems. A pyramid of 6-8 V1s, 3-5 V2s, a few V3s.
Hard climbing warmup: Spend 30-45 minutes projecting two or three V4 or V5 routes. At least one of these is on a steep overhang to prepare for the angle. I rest for 3-5 minutes between attempts on these “doable if I try it a few times” routes.
Hangboard warmup: I am terrible at pinches and slopers. These are my greatest weakness. The Moonboard has a lot of these holds which is AWESOME for training. I spend a few minutes warming up these two grips on the hangboard before embarking onto the Moonboard session since I am not so great at these types of holds. This is optional but I think it helps.
7-10s hangs, 3 reps on each hold (wide pinch and sloper). My gym has the rock prodigy hangboard, so I do bodyweight hangs on this. Note that for the pinches I alternate between hanging on my right hand and my left hand—one hand on the pinch, the other on the jug. See below.
I am not yet strong enough to bodyweight hang on the pinches on this board—I will be someday though! I also warmup briefly on the slopers.
Limit Bouldering: Two “benchmark” V3s. *Note that the hardest project I’ve sent in my gym is V6 and I can only really work V3 on the benchmark Moonboard problems. Often these V3s leave me getting chucked off the first move for a few tries. It is not easy. If you cannot climb V5-V6 in the gym, I would not recommend spending too much time on the Moonboard just yet.
I do 5-6 attempts per problem.
I rest at minimum 3 minutes between attempts. If I fell off the first move, I rest 3 minutes. If I fell after almost sending, I increase the rest to 5 minutes, sometimes I even rest for 6-7 minutes. Note that most of these routes I am not even close to sending until I have worked them for a few sessions. This makes them “limit” problems.
Once I am falling of the first or second move, even with a long recovery, I call it quits. Once my power is dissipated, the session is complete.
Is the Moonboard tough on your skin?
In short–YES. The Moonboard is definitely rough on the skin. My hands are usually in some skin-related pain by the end of the session. I am working on alleviating this, however. Sanding down your calluses is always a good idea, but here is another option/additive to your climbing skincare routine.
Today I experimented with exfoliating my hands mid-session, after warming up and before hitting the board. Sounds crazy, but it felt awesome. I went into the bathroom in the gym and used a gritty, exfoliating face scrub.
I like to use L’Oreal Paris’s Pure Sugar Scrub (FYI L’Oreal is my employer so I get to try a lot of L’Oreal products at a minimized cost to me. I like this stuff a lot, but please take my opinion with a grain of salt.) Just find something gritty and try it out. I thought it felt great and it prevented some potential flappers. The coffee smell is also pretty nice!
Rest after Moonboarding
I need at least 24 hours for my skin to recover after moonboarding. 1-2 days of rest, depending on who you are is probably a good idea if you really dissipated yourself during a moonboarding session.
Have you ever used a Moonboard? Does your gym have one? What problems have you worked on?! Leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts on this awesome (and sometimes frustrating training tool).
A couple of years back when I was still in school, a good friend who had just moved to Jackson Hole sent me a frantic text. Ahead of my upcoming trip to the world-renowned (and famously steep) resort, she warned me “Start working out your legs or you won’t be ready!”
Aware that Jackson Hole was a gnarly place and that my Ohio-based cardiovascular system was not yet prepared for the upcoming trip, I set to work finding a preseason ski training plan that would work with a climbing schedule (and still leave me free time to do my engineering homework and go to the bar with my friends).
Although this sounds pretty far-fetched, there is an effective preseason ski training plan presented by Backcountry.com that provides exactly what I describe above. Enter the leg blaster.
However if you’ve read anything about climbing training and you enjoy skiing, you can spot a pretty obvious issue. These sports demand your body to be conditioned for diverse physical outputs. The only things that overlap in these two sports are the necessity of some cardiovascular stamina, really intense core strength, and a healthy command of your mental game.
Fear not, though. For all you two sport enthusiasts, there are ways to optimize for both. I’ve been following this program for two ski seasons now. I have showed up to resorts from Jackson Hole to Revelstoke to Snowbird ready to slay without noticing significant impact to my climbing.
Geographically speaking, climbing season and ski season are not really concurrent for me. The outdoor climbing areas in the Northeast become mostly too cold, and ski season starts in Mid-November to December. After the end of the fall climbing season, I transition to indoor training for climbing and prepping my legs to hit the powder in the coming winter months.
Certainly refer to Backcountry for more details, but a leg blaster is essentially a series of eccentric body weight leg movements targeting the lower half. Below is an explanation of concentric vs. eccentric strength for skiing from Rob Shaul, who runs the Mountain Tactical Institute in Jackson, Wyoming (he is also the author of the Backcountry Article/the mastermind behind the leg blasting training protocol).
Alpine skiing demands eccentric leg strength. Think of concentric strength as “positive’ strength. This is the strength you use to stand up from the bottom of a squat, or hike up a steep hill. Eccentric strength is “negative’ strength. You use eccentric strength to lower yourself into the bottom of the squat, and hike down a steep hill. Eccentric strength absorbs force. Alpine skiing primarily demands eccentric strength.
So there you have it. Train your ability to absorb impact and get better at skiing. See below for an explanation of both “mini” and a “full” leg blaster.
Mini Leg Blaster
10 bodyweight squats
5 lunges each side (10 total)
5 jump lunges each side (10 total)
5 jump squats
Full Leg Blaster
20 bodyweight squats
10 lunges each side (20 total)
10 jump lunges each side (20 total)
10 jump squats
As you work through the program, you improve from 10 mini leg blasters to 5 full ones. The exercises should be done as quickly as possible without compromising form, 30s rest in between. I recommend keeping a stop watch on your phone and tallying on a piece of paper as you go.
Train for Skiing After Climbing
So how do you work in leg blasters on a daily/weekly basis?
It’s pretty simple actually. It takes about 15 minutes to complete your leg blasting workout and no equipment is required. I tack it onto the end of a climbing session 2-3 times a week with 1-2 days of rest in between.
Note that I don’t do leg blasters before training/climbing. I only do them at the end of a session. I love both sports, but I’m not compromising a limit bouldering session because I just wrecked myself doing 50 jump squats.
For obvious reasons, excess leg muscle is sub-optimal for high performance climbing. According to the Anderson Brothers in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual,
“[Leg] Muscles ‘in training’ can store up to 5 lbs of useless (to climbing) glucose and water alone.”
Doing the volume of low weight high rep leg exercise as prescribed for pre-season ski conditioning (and skiing itself) is likely going to lead to some hypertrophy; however, I like to think this is advantageous in the outdoor climbing off-season.
Think of this additional leg muscle is “training weight”. As you train for climbing you’ll be training with the weight of your beefy, shred-ready thighs, preparing your upper body and your fingers to climb at a heavier weight (and then you will presumably drop this excess weight at the start of climbing season.
According to the Anderson Brothers, “At the end of each season’s peak, it is acceptable (and even desirable), to relax dietary restrictions and bulk up five to ten pounds…It is very difficult to add muscle and effectively build strength with restricted caloric intake.”
So eat well, get comfortable with putting on some training weight. It takes time to completely lose muscle gained during the ski season, so don’t expect your legs to shrink overnight. Muscle will begin receding after about one month. Once three months of not skiing in the summer have passed, your legs should be nice and scrawny for fall send season. If you want to read all about the effects of detraining on your muscle, I found an extremely well-researched article on muscleforlife.com. Check out an excerpt from the article below:
Sure, in a perfect world you never have to climb with excess leg muscle weighing you down. But to be a two sport athlete, sacrifices must be made. Personally, I love skiing waist-deep powder. So let the gains begin.
Training Cardio for Ski Season
Another physical adaptation that may need to be increased for ski season is your cardiovascular capacity. As someone that does not live at a high altitude, I am not naturally prepared to be hiking uphill with skis on my back at 10,000 ft.
So cardio for ski season is necessary, for me at least.
Last year was the first year I included cardio training in my pre-season program. I am pretty cardio averse so I had to enlist the help of the good people of Orange Theory to get myself to do it. I personally do not enjoy cardio so going to a class where I was forced to run and row (all out sprints included) was a good choice for me.
This year, in order to save my sweet sweet moola for a new pair of skis, I’m forgoing the Orange Theory membership and trading it in for some quality time on the rower and the treadmill.
Although it would be nice to have the time for a long run a few times a week, I am opting to train my cardio systems with High Intensity Interval Training twice per week instead. This is a less time consuming cardio regimen and has been proven to be very effective as well.
This article on HIIT from BodyBuilding.com explains the concept pretty simply. I will either do my HIIT training on the rower or the treadmill and I won’t do HIIT more than twice a week. Leg blasters are pretty intense cardio anyway, and honestly I don’t have the time to do more than two HIIT sessions per week in addition to climbing training.
Weekly Training Overview
So what does this look like on a weekly basis?
See sample schedule below (for an explanation of the climbing portion of this training schedule, click here and here):
Monday: Limit bouldering
Tuesday: Strength, HIIT
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: Power Endurance, leg blasters
Friday: Endurance, HIIT
Saturday: Climb indoors/ski outside/rest (depends on the weather/life obligations)
Sunday: Leg blasters
Things to keep in mind
1. Intense cardio can wreck your climbing recovery. If possible, it’s best to give yourself full and complete rest days instead of doing some sort of training everyday.
2. Leg blasters can and will destroy your legs, especially if you haven’t worked out the old gams in a while. When I get back to doing them each season I take it easy, starting with 7-8 mini leg blasters and working my way up (although 10 minis is the recommended starting point). As soon as my thighs start feeling “pumped” I call it quits and cool down. Being sore and walking like you have a stick up your ass for 3 days straight sucks (and it will make climbing suck too). Don’t overdo it.
3. Make sure you have good form for these exercises! Don’t hurt your knees before ski season even starts.
4. Warm up before leg blasting. You probably will be warmed up from climbing, but make sure you at least do some walking/dynamic warmups before you start your leg blasting/HIIT workouts.
With that, happy skiing and happy climbing. Shoot me an email if you have any questions!
I first found out about Brian Suntay when his tag line on the TrainingBeta blog caught my eye–“Ohio-based engineer crushing 5.14 at the Red River Gorge and Rifle”. As an Ohio Native (and a fellow engineer) I was very psyched to find a kindred spirit in the climbing community who is climbing at such a high level.
Brian is a very accomplished climber and has an extremely impressive resume. He has completed routes up through 5.14 in the Red and many 5.13+ routes in Rifle. He started climbing in college and predominantly trains out of his basement to cut down on the commute to the gym. If you haven’t read his post on Trainingbeta, I would recommend it–it will be especially helpful to read in the context of this interview.
I had the pleasure of picking Brian’s brain on some topics I had been wondering about and I got to discuss my project at the Red with him as well. Brian has some awesome insights and I hope you all get a lot out of this. I know I did.
S: Can you take me through a brief history of your climbing and training? How long did it take you to progress through the grades? When did you start training?
B: I’ve been climbing for about 12 years so it’s hard for me to remember how long it took to break through the grades. I started when I was in college and I didn’t really train for it the first few years other than climbing in the gym and climbing outside. Fortunately for me, climbing came pretty naturally. I pretty much worked my way up the grades up to 5.13a by climbing outside, I think. I remember training for a route in the Madness cave that I really wanted to do, so I think that’s when I really started training. I followed a typical periodized training plan for quite a while. I didn’t really know any better and it worked for the most part. Probably over the last few years I switched it up a bit based on new knowledge I gained from kettlebell training and because I wanted to train a little less due to the amount of free time I had and to allow for other activities. And, since I’ve been training for a little while now, I kinda know what works and doesn’t work for me. So now I pretty much just make my own training programs.
Brian’s Thoughts on Deadlifting for Climbing
S: Do you think deadlifting has helped your climbing? Is that why it’s still in your program? I recently started doing it and I think it’s weirdly super fun, but I don’t know how to “feel out” if it’s helping my climbing or not.
B: Absolutely. It works and I keep doing it because I think it is fun. I interchange them with heavy kettlebell swings because if done correctly they both target the posterior chain, which is useful for shorties to keep their feet on when doing reachy moves and helps with steep climbing. If you’re doing it right, you should feel it the most in your glutes and hamstrings. If you feel it in your lower back, then your form might need a little tweaking. Definitely consult a strength or power lifting coach if you feel like you need someone to check on your form.
Resting and Training when Tired
S: One of the things I’m struggling with is figuring out what to do on training days when I am tired. If I feel to drained to do power endurance(PE). I’ll do a ton of moderate routes on autobelays in about 40 minutes and call it a day—do you think this is a good substitute if you’re pooped or would you still stick to your power endurance plan for the day, but scale back the difficulty?
B: If you are following the logical progression protocol, I’d prefer not to skip days. I’d like to stick to the plan as much as possible just because you are training one pathway (strength/PE/etc) only once a week. If you are feeling tired though you can add a rest day, so for example, train strength Monday, rest Tues/Wed, train PE Thursday, rest Friday, train endurance Saturday, rest Sunday, repeat. Or you can have two rest days between training days. Or you can do your easy enduro day or maybe instead practice climbing technique and push your PE training to the following day. The nice thing about logical progression is that it is very flexible. If you are tired or life happens, you can push everything back a day and carry on.
On most training days, definitely don’t overdo it and save some fuel in the tank. You will feel less wrecked, recover quicker, and your next training day will feel pretty good. 80% is a good number. If I’m cross training or lifting I usually go 80% in terms of weight and number of reps. For example let’s say my max deadlift is 325lbs. My training weight will be around 260lbs and if I’m doing sets of 5 reps I should be able to pull 6 reps each time no problem, but I stop at 5 reps. Does that make sense? Another good example more related to climbing would be 4x4s. If I picked the problems correctly, I should maybe be falling on the last problem on the last set. I think it is better to complete all problems on all sets and readjust to make it harder than to pick too hard of problems and hit failure earlier.
Projecting on a Time Budget
S: I only have three days to take down my project at the Red (life, ugh). It’s Super Best Friends, 12b in Muir Valley—what advice do you have for limited time on-location projecting? For Rifle, how did you approach your projects? Did you try to onsight and then start working sections, or did you immediately start “chunking” the route? If you could go through an example route that you took down in 1-3 days that would be very helpful!
B: Ugh. Life. I know how that feels. Limited time projecting is a tough one. Just for reference, my hard, multiple weekend, maybe multiple season projecting grade is 14a/b. I can usually knock out 13a/b in 1-3 tries. Honestly, when I was in Rifle I really wanted to project a 14. However, due to the heat and a longer learning curve than I anticipated, I had to bump my grades down a few notches. So instead of maybe projecting one 14 throughout my whole stay there, I decided to try and knock out several Rifle classics instead. Due to the cryptic nature of Rifle, I definitely did not try to onsight anything. I broke all the routes down, usually going bolt-to-bolt, trying to figure out the best sequences and just trying to become comfortable with the rock, the moves, and the clips. I’d probably go through each section a couple of times to make sure I can get through it efficiently. I want to make sure I know my hands and feet so that I’m not searching for them while redpointing. The more comfortable I am, the better and faster I move, and the less I squeeze, saving my energy for when I really need it. Once I figure out my beta I knew I had the endurance so other than that, it was just trying really effing hard to hold on and not fall.
With Super Best Friends you will be breaking into a new grade. It will be tough but very doable. The route breaks down pretty well too from what I can remember. You have a move down low before a good ledge rest, then several bolts in the steep section, followed by a hard pull over the lip to easier, but pumpy climbing. You have three days, right?
S: Yes. To give a little more detail, I goton it almost as a joke because everything else I wanted at Solarium was taken. My first attempt I made it to bolt 3, fell had to try the move a couple of times. Then I got to the nice ledge to rest. Clipped, rested a while, (long while, the ledge is so nice) then I cranked through and fell trying to clip the 2nd to last bolt before the headwall. I think like bolt 8 or 9. I planned to put in more work the next day, but then the rest of the trip got rained out. And here we are!
After clarifying a little more about the upcoming 3 day project, Brian gave me some extremely strategies to take this thing down.
If I were you (after warming up of course) hop on the route and just break it down. Figure out the bottom section to ledge rest. Then break down the steep part. Figure out your most efficient way through the steep part. Go bolt-to-bolt, repeating sections before moving on the next bolt as necessary to make sure you know what to do. Make sure you rest a lot too while figuring it out. Figure out your best option to pull over the lip (I think some bumping might be involved, but I can’t remember). Then figure out the top. After clipping the anchors, feel free to lower down to the lip and repeat that section on top-rope while pretend clipping on your way up. Rest well, eat up, then get on it once more if you aren’t feeling too tired. Sometimes you might need two beta burns to figure out all the beta and that’s okay. If you put a second beta burn, do the same as the first and call it a day afterwards. Save yourself some energy.
Have a goal of climbing the route in so many # of sections (ex. 1) to the ledge 2) steepness 3) pulling lip and to the top) but feel free to turn it into fewer sections depending on how you feel. Climb to the ledge and milk the rest. Then try your best to link the steep section. If you start redlining before the lip, then take and rest. If you were pretty close to the lip you can try linking through the lip and then to the top. Like with training, don’t redline on the route unless you know and have the confidence to take it to the top. If you are redlining at the beginning of the steep section, then take and rest. If you are redlining at the lip, then go for it and don’t let go because you know you can shake it out all the way to the top. Does that make sense?
The main idea is to break it down as if it were kind of like a “timed rest” 4×4 where you would do a problem, rest 1 min, then do another prob, rest 1 min, etc. As you progress, you can do the same problems but decrease rest time until you can do all problems back to back. If you want to train in the gym for your route then you can try to do something similar on your PE days. You can set up your 4×4 so that it is similar to the route. For problem 1 pick something bouldery. For problems 2 and 3, something steep and pumpy. And problem 4, something pumpy but easier than problems 2 and 3. Go through each problem resting 1.5 to 2 min between each problem. Rest 5-10 min between each set and repeat 4 times total. If you complete everything without falling, decrease your between problem rest time by 15 seconds.
What advice do you have for the average weekend warrior that wants to improve their climbing?
B: If you are motivated you can do a lot. Have a goal, find a plan to get you to that goal, and stick to it and follow it through before making any changes. If you train in the gym, stay focused. It’s easy to start socializing. I feel bad when I’m at the gym because I don’t really socialize. I’m sure many folks who see me at the gym might think I’m not very friendly (I’m quite the opposite though!), but for me, gym time is training time and I’m in there so that I can send my outside projects, so I tend to shut out everything else. I feel bad, but there just isn’t enough time to socialize and train. Also, keep things simple. The simplest training plans are usually the most effective. Climb a lot. Since you are breaking into the 12’s the most beneficial thing for you is to just climb. Maybe 80% of training should be climbing and the other 20% can be hangboarding or cross training. Lastly, find a partner or group of friends who are just as motivated to train and get out on the weekends. A large part of my success is due to the fact that I had an equally motivated training and climbing partner, my wife, for 12 years. It’s really nice to have someone you can rely on regularly for motivation and who is also willing and wanting to get outside
I hope this article finds you well. As a former Red River Gorge native, I am thrilled to discuss some tips for my favorite style of climbing: steep, overhanging.
I used to hate overhanging routes. They made me feel weak, uncoordinated, and a V0 on a 45 degree angle usually left me feeling pretty pathetic. However, with some targeted training and an attitude adjustment, this is usually the kind of route that makes me smile the most:
Personally, when I first started climbing (and before I knew anything about training) what I did to get better at steep routes was climbing more steep routes and doing pull-ups. When I first started climbing I literally could not do a single pull-up. To accommodate for this I modified with resistance bands and/or putting one foot on a chair. I also started doing a lot of easy, steep boulders over and over. I found this to be pretty impactful, generally.
Of course, there are always a few quick things that you can think about as you start pondering problems in the cave in your local gym, or the steep route at the crag you’ve been dying to try. You definitely do not have to be able to do even one pull-up to climb steep routes, but it does help!
Check out these tips and instructional videos to see how you can take your overhang game from V0 to hero:
Twist your body to climb overhanging routes more efficiently
In a similar vane (and you’ve probably heard this one before) you can conserve energy by climbing with straight arms, only bending them when it is absolutely necessary–same goes for overhangs. Keep that in mind the next time you’re three moves in and you’re pumping out. If you think you need to lock off to do a move, think again!
Keep your hips into the wall! Check out the video below to get a more detailed overview of why this is so critical.
Drive with your feet! Even though the route is steep, you can and you must continue to drive with your lower half. Make sure you place your feet such that you can push/pull yourself through your next move.Think about how many pull-ups you can do vs. how many flights of stairs you can climb. The more weight that you can take off your arms, the better!
New to climbing? Do overhangs bum you out? Can you barely hang on for one route?
If upper body strength and steep routes are a challenge for you, try adding 3 sets of pull-ups (5-10 reps) a twice a week and make it a point to climb a little overhang every time you hit the gym! Climbing more overhang is going to be the key to improve, but spending a small amount of time improving your strength can help too!
Everyone with useful beta and better technique than me: Lauren, just heel hook. Me: Nope. No thanks, I’d rather inefficiently stab my toe into the wall with my knee in my face instead.
It’s been a hard fought battle with my peers, but I have finally conceded: heel hooks are extremely useful, especially if done correctly. For this Technique Tip Tuesday, let’s take a second to watch this shaggy man with a fun accent tell us how to do it right!
The difference between active and passive heel hooks is something I had never considered before, but I am very happy to have learned. Here is another video that underscores the effectiveness of actively heel hooking with some more XTREME examples (also some super rad tunes in the background.)
Here’s my buddy being really dramatic about the SICK actively engaged heel hook he’s about to pull off:
Do you like heel hooks? Do you hate them? Are you a convert like me?!
Comment or shoot me an email and let me know. I’d love to chat.
Logical Progression refers to the simple progression we make in a nonlinear plan. By training strength, then power, and then endurance in sequence, you’ll see that you truly can develop all of these facets of your fitness at the same time, and perform better year-round.
With this book as your guide, I hope that you’ll embrace a different way of looking at training, and performing, in climbing.
– Steve Bechtel, Logical Progression
At the time this is being published I am halfway through Steve Bechtel’s Logical ProgressionProgram. I was a little scared to try a new program for the ever-important Fall Climbing Season, but so far I am very glad I did. In seven weeks I’ve seen a noticeable impact to my climbing. Read on to see if you think this program would be helpful for you!
To summarize the book and program, Steve Bechtel has designed a program around concurrently training strength, power/strength endurance, endurance, and power. For an explanation of non-linear periodization, click here. You rotate through training days, working a different facet of training each day (e.g. in 5-7 day time frame you would have done a strength, endurance, power endurance, and limit bouldering workouts).
Steve offers a few different options for the program orientation. I went with the “Level 1” program as it is the most entry-level option and geared toward climbers that are new (or new-ish) to training. The Level 1 program also has the most simplistic setup, which sounded good to me.
Below is a general overview of the training sessions I’ve completed over the course of 7 weeks.
6 Endurance Workouts
7 integrated strength workouts
6 Limit bouldering sessions
6 power endurance sessions
Although there were some hiccups here and there, I think I did a good job of not skipping certain training days in favor of others–something Steve warns about in the book.
Overall impression of Logical Progression Program
So far I am really enjoying the variety that the program has to offer. Training all facets of climbing concurrently has been really amusing and it’s been pretty easy to stay psyched on training.
I still have six-seven more weeks to go, so we’ll see if it gets harder to stay stoked, but I’m thinking it won’t.
The structure/flexibility of the program is great. In the past month I have moved to a new city, moved apartments twice (long story), started a new job, started this blog, and have still managed to train and avoid stressing about making training work with my schedule. So from a strategic standpoint, this program is ideal for the average weekend warrior.
I was pretty nervous to switch from the Rock Prodigy program, but Steve Bechtel is the man and I decided to give it a shot. So far, the results have been noticeable and I’m pretty psyched about it.
First of all, I like that Steve recommends that you switch up the hangboard protocol halfway through the program. I feel like there are so many protocols claiming to be “the best”, so it’s refreshing to have a trainer claim that threre is more than one way to hangboard.
So far, I have only completed the 3-6-9 ladder portion of the hangboard program, so I will speak to the results of this.
When I first read through the first part of the hangboard program, my first thought was “how the hell are my fingers going to get stronger if I’m spending only 3 minutes PER WEEK hanging on them.”
The proof is in the pudding. My finger strength improved measurably. See beginning, middle and end below.
Open hand, 20mm, Bodyweight (BW)
Half crimp, 20mm edge, BW
Full crimp, 30mm edge, BW *note that I was taking it a easy on this day because it was my first time back on a hangboard in a while
Workout #3: Open hand, 25mm, BW +15lbs
Half crimp on 25mm edge, BW+15 lbs
Full crimp, 20mm, BW Workout #6: Open hand, 15mm, BW +13lbs Half crimp on 15mm edge, BW+13 lbs
Full crimp, 15mm, BW
If you want to attribute this to “newbie gains”–you really can’t, because I’ve done 30+ hangboard workouts in the past year and a half (a la the Rock Prodigy program).
Integrated Strength Gains
Bechtel incorporates some climbing specific strength training into his program. He actually has an interesting structure for strength training called Integrated Strength. I don’t want to get too in the weeds about it, so read more about it here. Essentially you end up doing a hangboard exercise, a lift, and a mobility exercise right in a row. It is a very interesting approach.
Below I review some personal records from the integrated strength workouts:
Deadlift: 165lbs – 5 reps Hanging leg raise: 6 reps
Weighted push-ups: 25lb plate, 5 reps (I could NOT come even remotely close to doing the one arm, one leg push-up as recommended, so putting a plate on my back to up the intensity was my best option).
My deadlift increased by about 20lbs throughout the 6 workouts, push-ups didn’t go up by too much, but the hanging leg raises definitely got easier and improved in quality as I kept going. (Note that the try-hard face you see below is completely required, these BREAK ME.)
Power/Strength Endurance Results
Essentially, the power endurance workouts are 3 sets of 6 boulder problems that are right around your limit–leaving only 2 minutes or so between problems for recovery.
Bechtel recommends an interesting method of quantifying these workouts. Basically, you add up the grade of all the routes and take the average of these. He calls this your v-score or v-average.
Below I compare my average v-score from my best strength endurance circuit in my first workout to that of my final workout. Note that the rest between problems from the first workout was about 2 minutes. In my most recent PE workout I’ve reduced the rest to 1 minute.
Session 1: Average V-score = 3 Session 3: Average V-score = 3.9 Session 6: Average V-score = 4.2
Essentially, I’ve gone from doing 6 boulder problems with V3 and V4 problems, to doing sets with V4 and V5 problems with less rest in between.
Noteable Ascents – Indoors and Outdoors
First 5.12 indoors – flashed it
Regularly Flashing 11+ (in the gym)
First V6 indoors
Able to work the moves/complete the crux on Orangahang, 5.12a in Rumney (new project–very psyched about it)
Flashed Waimea, 5.10d in Rumney–I’ve onsighted 10d before, but if feels good to do it in a new crag with a style different from the Red. It also felt pretty easy which was cool.
These halfway point results are substantial from my perspective. I look forward to continue putting in work on Orangahang and other project and am very excited to see where this program takes me.
More to come, overall I’d highly recommend the program based on my half-way-there results.
The worst whip I’ve ever taken resulted in two staples in the back of my head. Why did I fall? My foot blew!
Footwork is very important in climbing–debatably the most important aspect of your technique. Practicing good footwork can make or break your ascents (and maybe even your head).
So what can be done to specifically target footwork improvement? Let’s find out!
I went scouring the internet and my climbing reference books to find some groundbreaking drill that is fun, exciting, convenient, and will cure inefficient footwork for life. I found no such thing.
What I did find (and have my own experience with) are the two drills below. They are widely recommended because they are simple and effective. If you haven’t heard of them, try them out this week and see what you think!
Silent feet – When climbing practice silent foot placement. Ensure that the feet are placed carefully and quietly. When feet are placed silently, they are placed accurately. If the toe gently lands on the chip, and sticks, that one movement is all you need and then you move on. It is meticulous. It is efficient.
Downclimbing – most of climbing is done looking up, leading with your hands. When you downclimb, your feet lead and the weight is on the toes. Make sure that when you do it, you climb as carefully down as you do up. It can be strange at first, but you get used to it.
The best way to practice these drills is to do so when you warm up. Hop on some easy boulders to warm up for your day of climbing, climb carefully with silent feet and climb down the routes as well.
Here’s a video that I think illustrates this super well (skip about a minute in if you don’t care about what literature pro climbers are reading–feel free to watch if you do!)
I hope you enjoyed your weekly dose of climbing technique. For the betterment of myself and others I’ll be bringing you a technique tip every Tuesday for Technique Tip Tuesday! I’m a sucker for alliterations.
In part three we review two types of training structures. There are different ways to set up your training on a day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month basis. These are block and non-linear periodization. They both have their pros and cons and either training structure is only as good as the climber’s adherence to the program.
What is periodization?
Generically speaking, periodization is the idea that training is more effective if you train certain attributes in a time-specific way. Periodization is an idea that is employed in many athletic fields, climbing included. See scholarly definition below.
Periodization is an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time.
I have personal experience with both styles. I have completed multiple macrocycles of what is essentially a block periodization program and it was very effective. This is what made up the first year or so of my training.
Currently, I am in the middle of my first non-linear program and I am really enjoying the change—the results are not yet in in terms of improvement in my climbing as I have not yet completed it, but at minimum certain measurable aspects of my climbing have definitely improved (finger strength, completion/improvement on some indoor boulders, etc.).
I could explain each style of program with some lengthy post, but the comparison of the two can be nicely summed up using the table below.
Breaks up your training into 3-4 distinct phases where you focus on one attribute of climbing at a time for 4-6 weeks.*
*Note that although the focus is on one attribute per phase—there are other attributes being worked on simultaneously in the background. No block training program is purely one component at a time.
Rotation throughout the program, working on all critical attributes concurrently over the course of 7-10 days (depending on how much rest you need).
The schedule would look some thing like this:
Mon – Strength Weds – Power Thurs – Endurance Saturday – Power Endurance
Reach a performance peak at the end of the training plan. During some periods of the training, outdoor climbing may need to be ommitted for adherence to the program .
Outdoor climbing can be de-coupled with training. You can go climb outside and project on the weekends—no specific performance “peak”.
You can, in theory, be performing all throughout the program. Flexible and engaging because you rotate through different workouts (strength, limit bouldering, etc.) in addition to working different aspects in one single training session.
Training must be planned around trip outside to work on goal route. Potential omission of outdoor climbing to focus on training. Can be daunting to focus on one attribute for a month at a time. Certain aspects decline while focusing on other aspects.
No specific performance peak. May develop certain aspects (finger strength, power) more slowly than if you focused on one aspect at a time.
After evaluating my own goals for the season and my schedule, I have chosen a nonlinear periodization program for this training season. I am currently following the Logical Progressionprogram laid out by Steve Bechtel and I am really enjoying it so far. I chose this program because I think it works well for the time frame in which I need to be in tip top shape. I will be trying to hit some personal bests on a couple of trips in October and November, so a very targeted performance peak does not work for me this year in terms of timing. I also thought it might be time to change it up a bit, which has been really fun so far!
I am headed to Mallorca, Spain for a week in October (1 month out!). I am also headed to the Red River Gorge for a long weekend as well. I will have just three days to try and take down my first 12b (ahh!).
Once you have your own goals and your time frame nailed down, you can choose which will work best for you too!
Which style of training appeals to you and your goals? If you’ve tried both, which do you like better?
Leave a comment or shoot me and email, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Training for a project is like a mixing a great cocktail. A variety of ingredients, well-synthesized and carefully planned will yield great results. In this article we’re going to go over the different bases, modifiers, and huge cocktail-shaking forearms you need to make the ascent of your goal route both smooth and delicious.
Let us start with a quick exercise. Grab a beer and enjoy the short film below of Michaela Kiersch sending Golden Ticket (14c) at my [former] home crag–The Red River Gorge.
For starters, this route is 85 feet tall and has many challenging moves and holds. Note that Michaela has the endurance to deal with marginal crimps for all 85 ft. She has the power and strength to accomplish the move, recover from it, and clip the anchors. In addition, she has to have the stamina to try this route many times in one day since she is in school and is only able to make it down to the crag on the weekends.
Summarily, in order to redpoint this route, she needed to:
1. Be able to do all of the moves.
2. Be able to link all of these moves together.
3. Have the capacity to make put in multiple burns on it in one day since she is short on time.
4. Not get injured in the process
We may not all be intensely projecting 14c, but if you are reading this blog, you probably have a goal route–or a few–in mind (if you don’t, see How to Make a Training Plan Part 1: Goals You can Point To). It is natural then, that you would want your training program to address all of the above. After reviewing some of the most popular training regimens by a variety of authors and doing a few of them myself, it seems that training for single pitch sport climbing can be summarized by these 6 components: strength, endurance, power, skill, power endurance, and injury prevention.* *Note that my training and goals are primarily for single pitch sport climbs, at this time. The cruciality of these components will vary for other styles of climbing.
Strength The concept of strength is pretty simple–you either have the physical capacity to do something or you don’t. In climbing, a good program will focus on the following, in terms of strength:
By definition, an antagonist muscle is a muscle that directly opposes another muscle. In climbing, we use all of our muscles; however, climbers tend to overdevelop certain muscle groups. Therefore, a good program will have you develop the lesser-used muscles. Read more about antagonist muscle strength from The Climbing Doctor!
Selection of exercises with a focus on climbing specific movement
Whether you are too pumped to clip at bolt 3 or at bolt 11–if you don’t have the endurance to recover from the crux and finish the route, you are never going to send. Building up your low-end endurance capacity is important.
See Guide to Endurance Training for more details.
Let’s talk physics. See equation below.
Power = Work/time
Now let’s look at a practical example from my personal life.
My boyfriend, Mike, is very tall–about 6’3″. He is able to reach things that I cannot and thus, some moves work better for him when they are done statically. I am not tall, and there are some holds that I will not be reaching unless I start moving dynamically.
If Mike and I both do the same move, but he take 5 seconds to do it because he can move slowly, and I take 1 second to do it because I jumped–I have done the same amount of work in less time, and therefore I have displayed more power.*
A good training program will set you up to increase your power so that you can efficiently do those big powerful moves on your project without letting one big throw bust your whole send.
*if we are being extra nerdy, technically Mike has more mass than me, so technically he has done more work than I have. However, let’s not get too detailed.
This is where things get whacky. Experts get into debates all day about whether or not power endurance is even a real energy system–this is fine. As climbers, I think the term “power endurance” is a term that makes sense to many of us, so we are just going to take it and run with it. Let’s look at another example.
Climber A can climb v8 in the gym. Once he tries on it for a week or so, he can get warmed up, rest properly, and do the problem. If he wanted to do it again, however, he’d have to wait at least 5 minutes to rest and he may or may not have the capacity to do so when he tries again.
Climber B can also climb v8 in the gym. However, climber B has a different rest requirement to do this problem. She is able to place this problem in a circuit. Climber B can start on this v8, climb down a v3 to recover, stay on a jug for a nice, active rest and do the v8 again.
Both climbers exhibit the power to do the moves on this problem; however, Climber B has the power endurance to repeat these powerful moves without a full resting recovery. Climber A does not.
Power endurance is the ability to exhibit near-maximum power over and over again. It is the ability to maintain a prolonged display of near-maximum power. A quality training program will also focus on improving this element of a climber’s skill set.
If you want to learn more about this, give TrainingBeta Podcast Episode 101 a listen–one of my favorite trainers, Steve Bechtel, explains power/strength endurance very well.
At its core, climbing is a skill sport. If you want to get better at it, you will not do so by doing tons of pullups. You must learn lots of moves and hone your skills to improve as a climber. I think this point is summed up very well by Eric Horst in his book, How to Climb 5.12.
The best climbers [climb at] an exceedingly high level because they have internally programmed gazillions of different moves that are on call at a moment’s notice.
Essentially, you can be great at hangboarding, campusing, and doing pull-ups, but if you never improve your technique you won’t be getting better at climbing. A well-planned training program has plenty of on-rock time in which you can hone your skills.
If you are run-down, your shoulders feel like trash, and you slept three hours last night, you aren’t going to be performing or training optimally.
However you train, the first priority should be to avoid injury. Generally, if you can’t climb you can’t get better at climbing.
Overall, a quality training program will focus on improving your strength, power, endurance, skill, power endurance, and preventing injury. Blend all of these