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

senderella story lauren abernathy climbing teagan maddux

We’ve all felt it. Your forearms feel like a time bomb. You’ve done all the moves on your project but for some reason you can’t link it all together. You’re left one-hanging over and over and you can’t figure out why.

The solution could implicate many factors. It might be mental, it may be some sub-par beta that you need to let go of, or it might be that you don’t have enough power endurance. It’s probably a combination of these. But today, we will address one of them. So let’s get into it by answering a big question: what is power endurance?

Defining Power Endurance

In NERD TERMS (or scientific terms) this is the anaerobic lactic energy system. If you want to get deep into the biochemistry and learn literally all about it check out Eric Horst’s Energy System Podcast on this Energy System. If you don’t want to learn about ATP and Lactate and glycolysis, etc. That’s OK too. Just read on.

Let’s take a crash course in the three energy systems VERY QUICKLY before we get into the weeds on power endurance. Please note that I am intentionally oversimplifying this because I think you can get by and apply these concepts to your training without being overwhelmed by exercise science and physiology.

With, that let’s start with the alactic energy system.

Alactic Energy System (Power)

Think explosive, short term power. This energy pathway does not require oxygen. Examples include a 5 move boulder problem or a 1 rep max deadlift, a 10 second sprint interval. Short, maximal power = anaerobic energy system. This energy system will output for about 8-12 seconds before your body has to bring in another energy pathway as backup.

Aerobic Energy System (Endurance)

Think sustained, long-term efforts. Like marathons, long multi-pitch routes, or swimming long distances. Endurance sports mainly use the aerobic energy system. This energy system can be the primary source of energy production for extended periods of time

Anaerobic Lactic System (Power Endurance)

In practical terms, the Power Endurance energy system is the primary energy system that is being used when you are in a sequence of near-maximal effort for a period of time that ranges from 30s – 3 minutes. Think of it in terms of the crux of a route or how you feel on a long boulder problem – or maybe in terms of a 400 meter sprint. I like to think if it as going at 80%-90% maximum capacity for as long as I possibly can. Here is how the Anderson brothers explain it:

“When the limits of aerobic respiration are reached, the muscle increasingly (but not exclusively) relies on glycolysis, which doesn’t require oxygen. On difficult near limit rock climbs, this threshold is reached very quickly and the pump clock begins to tick.”
The Rock Climber’s Training Manual pg. 153

Summarily, if you train to increase the capacity of your power endurance, you can add time to your own proverbial pump clock. This will help you stay on the wall through crux sequences and long boulder problems.

If you really want to learn more about the energy systems and you have 7 minutes to geek out. Please do! Go ahead and watch this video.

How to Train Power Endurance

Training power endurance is done by simulating the intensity and length of crux sequences by using repeated intervals of intense work with little rest in between. Think of taking 80% of the hardest moves you can do and being able to stretch your ability to work at this level of intensity as far as it will go. Here are a couple of experts explaining this style of training:

 “Unlike endurance, where you have a manageable pump, in training power endurance you will become very pumped to the point of possibly coming off the wall…”
-Jackie Pettitt

“Continuous difficult bouldering or climbing — with only brief shakeouts–that produces muscular failure in approximately two to five minutes is the preferred training method.” – Eric Horst, How to Climb 5.12 pg. 62

There are tons of different ways to train power endurance. Here are a few of my favorites. Note that these are difficult sessions, so be sure to be well warmed up before performing any of these. Additionally, be prepared to take a good rest day afterwards.

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

This is my go-to Power/Strength Endurance session. I do this year round, except when it’s getting really close to send time in the fall – then I resort to other even more intense methods. For me, this is less intense than other forms of power endurance training. It is more about training the work capacity to do high-intensity movements for a long duration of time. E.g. working the limit moves on your project all day.

The workout goes like this: you set a timer and complete boulders 1-2 grades below your max on the minute every 3 minutes (if this does not feel intense enough, drop it down to 2 minutes).

At time 0:00 you will start climbing, then you will rest until your stopwatch says 3:00. You will then continue on at 6:00, 9:00, etc. until you complete 6 problems. After you complete your six boulder problems, rest for 10-15 minutes. Repeat the circuit (resting in between) three times.

Progressing this: You can progress this session by reducing time between boulders (going from 3 minutes to 2 minutes, etc.) or increasing the difficulty of the problems in the circuit. The idea is to make this session intense, so adding more boulders is not really the idea if you are trying to make this more difficult.

RESOURCE: Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel

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

Pick a route that is 1-2 letter grades above your max onsight. For me, I would find a 5.11+ in the gym since my highest onsight is a 5.11a. Then, I would record how long it takes me to do one lap. I would start with a 1:2 work to rest ratio. I would complete 2-4 laps total. The workout would look like this.

Lap #1: 2 minutes.
REST 4 minutes
Lap #2: 2 minutes
REST 4 Minutes
Lap #3: 2 minutes
Rest 4 Minutes

You get the picture.

How to progress this: The main way to progress this is to decrease the work to rest ratio. The goal would be to get this ratio from 1:2 to 1:1. You could also find a slightly harder route, but I find that it takes plenty of sessions to get from 1:2 to 1:1 – this should keep you pretty busy.

RESOURCE: The Rock Climber’s Training Manual

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

My FAVORITE way to train power endurance (and possibly the most dreadful) is the linked boulder circuit. This type of PE training is very intense and I do not participate in this year-round. This is how you do it.

Pick 2-3 boulder problems on the wall (you’re going to go down at least one of them). These should total 20-40 hand moves. The difficulty of the circuit should be such that you can complete the full circuit many times over. For example my limit as a boulderer is V6, my linked boulder circuits usually don’t include anything more difficult than V4. Here’s me performing a linked boulder circuit in the gym.

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

After you’ve figured out your circuit (make sure you’ve done the problems and rehearsed all the moves before you get started), get your timer ready. Complete the circuit and time how long it takes to do it. Start with a work to rest ratio of 1:2.

For a circuit of 20-40 hand move, perform it 6-8 times. For 40-60 hand moves, Perform the circuit 4-6 times.

Ground Rules: If you fall but you don’t feel too pumped, continue the circuit. If you completely pump out, end the circuit, check the time and record the number of hand moves (or just write down where you fell). Once you can’t complete 75% of the circuit, end the session.

Progressing the Circuit: Similar to the other sessions described here, you can progress by decreasing the work to rest ratio. The objective is going from 1:2 to 1:1. Additionally you can make the circuit harder by changing the order of problems in the circuit. If your circuit is Up V4-down V2- Up V3, you can increase the difficulty by doing the V3 first and putting the V4 at the end. Alternatively, you can make the circuit more difficult by increasing the difficulty of the problems in the circuit. E.g. swap out the V3 for a V4, etc

RESOURCE: The Rock Climber’s Training Manual .

#4: The Classic 4×4

Although this is similar to the Bechtelian Power Endurance workout explained in #1, the 4×4 is a classic and must be included in this list.

The 4×4 is traditionally done with boulders. You proceed to do four slightly sub-maximal boulder problems right in a row. After completing them you rest for a time (I would say something similar to the 1:2 or 1:1 work to rest ratios we’ve discussed prior would be fine). And then you repeat the 4 boulders again. Do this until you have done 16 total routes.

It’s easy to remember and does a pretty good job for what it is.

How to progress the 4×4: Similar to the other sessions we’ve discussed, you can either make the problems more difficult OR you can shorten the rest interval. Either one should do the trick.

A Warning about 4x4s
Although they are traditionally thought of as a classic power endurance workout, the rest after you come off the wall between boulders is not ideal.

“The 5 or more seconds that pass as the climber drops from as the climber drops from the end of one problem to start the next is a virtual eternity to battered forearms gasping for respite. These unrealistic rests reduce training stress and interfere with desired adaptation.” The Rock Climber’s Training Manual pg. 156

That being said, they are a simple session to implement and if simple gets you to commit to doing them consistently, then that’s great and there isn’t much else to argue about.

Power Endurance Training: Seasonal Timing

Personally, 4-8 weeks prior to fall outdoor climbing season is when I start focusing on Power Endurance Training. That is because my favorite fall climbing areas are the Red River Gorge – and more recently, Mallorca. These areas are generally steep and require one to make big, powerful moves when fatigued and “pumped out” if you will.

When to do it?

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

Essentially, for a relatively short period of time, your body makes adaptations so that you can “extend the pump clock” (in very simple non-biological terms). However, this type of training can be very stressful on the muscles and nervous system and these adaptations DO NOT last forever.

“Anaerobic endurance training places high levels of stress on the nervous system and muscles. Beyond a certain point, the body cannot recover from these workouts.”
– Eric Horst, How to Climb 5.12 pg. 63

For most of these periodized programs, it is not recommended that you solely train this energy system (PE workouts 3-4 times per week) for more than 2-4 weeks.

Which brings me to non-linear periodization.

Programming Power Endurance for Non-Linear Periodization

I have been following a non-linear program for about a year now and it has been working well for me. My trips this fall are spread out and I basically need to have 3 spikes of solid power endurance for a trip to the Red River Gorge for Labor Day, a trip to Mallorca in October and another trip to the Red in November.

I am navigating this by emphasizing power endurance in my time leading up to these trips, but I continuing to train strength and endurance throughout the rest of the fall.

My tactic is pretty simple: overall, I am making sure to have one linked boulder circuit session per week and one route interval (lower intensity PE) per week. Then my other 1-2 sessions are used to maintain strength and low-end endurance.

Between the trips I am going to take complete rest weeks. My goal is to train up power endurance more as I get close to my ventures outdoors, but not to the point of overload.

A Word from the Experts

I took a lot of these queues from Steve Bechtel’s interview in Episode 110 of the TrainingBeta Podcast:

“If I was looking at my year, I’m going to spend probably two months trying to develop strength and power. I’m going to be working primarily on bouldering, on explosiveness, on the hangboard, all those sorts of things. We need to always be developing strength and power because there’s really good correlations between someone being stronger and their ability to endure submaximal loads. I can spend a lot of time working strength and power.

I’m going to take about a month after that. I’ve spent about eight weeks working strength and power and I’m going to take about four weeks and I can combine in some of this low intensity interval stuff at the end of sessions and stuff like that. Then, we go into a glycolytic peak. That’s when Mike and Mark [the brothers behind the Rock Climber’s training manual] would reduce rest periods and that’s when we can put in all of these basic things like boulder problem 4×4’s, linked problems, all those sorts of things but understanding that that’s this last little thing. It’s the frosting on the cake. If you’re a Mad Max fan, that’s the nitrous. The last little boost you give your engine but you can’t run the nitrous all the time or you’re going to burn the engine out.” –

TrainingBeta Episode 110 with Steve Bechtel

The Big Take-Aways

Firstly, I hope you have learned about the different energy systems that contribute to your climbing. Having a basic understanding of the systems that get you up the wall is critical to becoming a better climber.

Secondly, I hope you’ve learned a few interesting sessions to incorporate into your time at the gym to help you improve on your projects this season.

And thirdly, I hope you’ve learned that you should strategically train power endurance so that you sustainably improve without wearing yourself out.

How do you like to train power endurance? Is this your first time hearing about energy systems in climbing? What has your experience been with power endurance training? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com. I would love to hear from you!

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Resources:

Free Power Endurance Workout from TrainingBeta

Climb 5.12 and Climb 5.13

Rock Climber’s Training Manual

How to Climb 5.12

TrainingBeta Episode 110: Endurance and Power Endurance with Steve Bechtel

Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel

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A Comprehensive Guide to Tracking Your Climbing and Training

lauren abernathy gravity vault hoboken

My pile of graph paper notebooks are among my favorite possessions. And that is because months of hard work and valuable data are contained within them. If you have read Part One of this series of posts, then you understand the value of tracking your climbing training.

In this post I will explore how I personally track my climbing for different types of training sessions and over trips outside. Again, make sure to read Part One if you haven’t already.

Ground Rules

  1. Get a notebook and bring it with you always. First and foremost, your rule and your mission is to get a notebook that you like that fits conveniently in your climbing pack. I like graph paper notebooks with a hard back. I use a minimalism art classic notebook. It’s durable, I like the graph paper, and it works well.
  2. No phones for tracking your training. Personally, my phone serves as a timer and a source of music during climbing sessions. That is all. I try to put it on airplane mode while I climb because I don’t need texts and notifications and bullshits to be distracting me when I need to be present for the task at hand. Yes there are probably apps that you can use, but at least give the notebook a chance for a month. Besides, phones die – notebooks don’t.
  3. Always write down the date. Sounds simple, but it’s important.
  4. Reflect on Your Training Each Month. Dedicate half an hour each month or so to taking a look at what you’ve done over the past month. I usually make a monthly summary page in my notebook, put it in a spreadsheet, or at least take stock of what I’ve done and make tweaks if needed for the coming month.

With that taken care of, let’s get into how you can track each session.

Bouldering

Before I start any sort of bouldering session, I warm up. I don’t usually take excessive notes during the warmup. I write down what movement drill I’m using and what grade the route was. See example below.

lauren abernathy - senderella story notebook
Please excuse my disgusting handwriting. Hopefully if you had any sexist preconceptions about female handwriting, I have successfully destroyed them.

How to Track your Limit Boulders

For a session of bouldering at my absolute limit, I take notes for each attempt on the limit boulder (check out this article/video if you don’t know what limit bouldering is).

Here is an example of this transcribed from my notebook. I have typed it up for your viewing pleasure.

Note that “Quality” is how I felt I did on a scale of 1 to 5. It is not necessarily how far I make it, but a score of how well I think I did. Note that I stole this method of writing down bouldering sessions from Steve Bechtel in his book Logical Progression.

The notes section is to keep track of beta. Especially because I usually work the same limit boulders over many weeks. If I figure out any key beta, I write it down in the notes section.

lauren abernathy gravity vault hoboken
Me taking notes during a bouldering session at my local gym with my notebook. Photo by Teagan Maddux.

Volume Bouldering Session

In addition to limit boulder sessions, I also participate in strength endurance sessions. You might call them high volume bouldering sessions or even power endurance sessions.

Whatever you want to call them, I pick six boulders that are just below my max (usually 1-2 grades below) and do them on the minute every two minutes. (FYI this is another awesome session that I got from Logical Progression).

This is is an example of one of these sets of 6 problems. I perform a circuit like this three times in one session.

I think I meant large, comfortable crimps when I wrote the phrase ‘crimp jug’.

As you can see, I take care to have a mix of holds and angles in my sessions to stay well rounded. A majority of the walls are slightly overhanging at my gym – which you can see by the angles. I find that writing down angles and types of holds helps me to ensure that I’m not only climbing one type of problem all the time.

Routes

Endurance Days

Since the main goal of endurance climbing days is to climb a high volume and practice movement skills, my notation is pretty simple. I make sure to record what movement drills I did, the duration of the drill, and the grade of the routes I did for each drill. Here’s an example.

Lauren Abernathy Gravity Vault Hoboken
Me performing some low-end endurance training at the end of a session. Photo by Teagan Maddux.

Indoor Projecting Days

Though I personally don’t do very much projecting on routes indoors (I’d rather work limit moves on the bouldering wall and I get outside a decent amount), if you want to keep track of an indoor project, do it the same way you would for a limit boulder, but maybe add how much rest you take between attempts indoors.

Outside

Personally I treat my days outside as more of journal entries. At the end of the day I write down what routes I did. if I was going for a big redpoint, I’d write down how the attempts went, the amount of time between attempts, sometimes what I ate. I like having journal entries from days outside because they’re pretty fun to look back on and writing them is a quick way to pass the time around the campfire or on the way home from the crag in the car.

Redpointing: Mapping Your Beta

For routes that have particularly long cruxes, or for routes that are on-location that I may have to come back for later, I sometimes draw out the route and write down the beta to memorize it.

If you’ve seen Reel Rock 12 – you saw a glimpse of Margo Hayes with her big beta map that showed La Rambla while she was working on it. When I feel it is necessary, I do the same thing. This tactic really helped me when I did my first 5.12, Starry in the New River Gorge. If you are really having trouble with a crux sequence and you want to give it some quality mental rehearsal on a rest day – try drawing it out next time.

Other Training Activities

Hopefully if you are engaging in a hangboard protocol or some kind of strength training program you are keeping track to ensure that you are progressively increasing the load of these workouts. If you are not, then you had better start.

Here is how I keep track of my integrated strength and hangboarding sessions.

Tracking this is pretty self-explanatory. You need to track your reps, your resistance, and your rest between sets. If you don’t know, the way integrated strength works is that during your rest between hangboard sets, you perform a resistance exercise followed by a stretch or mobility exercise. Again, thank you Steve Bechtel for this wisdom from Logical Progression – resting during hangboarding is now so much more effective and significantly less boring.

However, if you don’t track your supplemental workouts you really should. If you do not put effort into planning and track your resistance training, you likely won’t systematically increase the load or change up your workouts frequently enough – or stick with an exercise long enough to see results for that matter. You can only get out what you put in. A little plan and tracking goes a long way – especially in the weight room.

The Verdict

Summarily, there is a lot to be gained by keeping track of indoor and outdoor climbing sessions. If you aren’t already keeping track of what you’re doing, it is never too late to start. Even if you don’t subscribe to a “training plan” per se, even the act of mindfully logging your climbing sessions will help you notice patterns in your climbing. This can lead to significant improvement.

I hope this article answered any questions you have about logging your climbing. Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com – I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Beginner Hangboarding: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Hangboard Training

photo by Teagan Maddux

In a 2003 study, 9 climbers, 9 rowers, and 9 leg athletes faced off in a competition of finger strength. On average the climbers were able to exert 40% more maximum voluntary force on a climbing-specific grip than the other two groups. Why would climbers have stronger fingers than non-climbers? Obviously because as you climb more, your fingers adapt to the stimulus of climbing and become stronger. Clearly, in climbing more than any other sport, finger strength is a critical adaptation to develop.

Finger strength is but one of many factors that contributes to climbing performance. Your skill as a climber is more important. Therefore, the majority of gains in your climbing abilities are going to come from practicing the skill of climbing.

However, as the grades get more difficult, the holds get smaller. Sometimes the difference between you and an outdoor project is a shitty crimp that you need to be able to crank down on or clip off of. In this case you might want to increase your finger strength. A great way to do that is to train on a hangboard.

What is a hangboard?

A hangboard, or a fingerboard, is a training device that replicates climbing holds. They are meant for you to hang from by one or both arms – depending on your skill level. There are tons of different kinds of hangboards to choose from and most gyms will have a least one or two for you to play around on.

Lauren Abernathy Hangboarding
Me hanging with some extra weight added.

6 Questions to answer before you start hangboarding

But before you get too excited about training on these colorful torture devices, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself.

What grades are you climbing comfortably outside?

Personally, I think I started hangboarding way too early. If I could go back I would have postponed my adventures in using a hangboard until after I broke into outdoor 5.11 climbing. I could have spent a lot less time doing Anderson Brothers Repeaters and more time getting comfortable leading routes and improving my technique.

In my personal opinion, I do not think the use of the hangboard is necessary if you are a 5.10 climber. I think it can be useful once you are a 5.11 climber (you can redpoint 5.11s in 1-5 tries outside/you can onsight at the 5.11 level). Some trainers even say your need to be climbing 5.12 before starting to use a hangboard.

I would say as a very general rule, don’t worry about it until you can at least comfortably lead 5.11 outside, and if you are progressing farther than 5.11 or 5.12 without one, then that’s great too.


*Please note that everyone is different. Maybe you’re newer but you can really only get to a climbing gym once a week – hangboarding at home might be all you have. Maybe your knee is injured and your only option is to get on the hangboard. I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but generalizations are helpful sometimes.

What is your home crag like?

While grades are a helpful indicator of whether you’re ready to start hangboarding, you should also consider your home crag and your projects. For example, at the Red River Gorge, many of the holds are very large even at the higher grades due to the steep nature of the routes.

lauren red river gorge
Me falling off a steep, thuggy route in the Red River Gorge.

In the Red, 5.11 routes like Monkey in the Middle and Air Ride Equipped are awesome and the holds are mainly jugs. There may be a few small holds here and there, but nothing extraordinarily small. To pull off routes like these, you do not need iron clad fingers. You need fitness, power for some bigger moves, and the mental capacity to keep clipping when you get pumped out of your mind. 

In contrast, crags like Wild Iris are infamous for having many small pockets. Finger strength (especially on pockets) is a critical attribute to develop in order to pull off a vertical 5.11 route there.

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris
Me pulling on some pockets in Wild Iris, Wyoming.

While we should all strive to become well-rounded climbers, you want to make sure your training is aligned with what your actual goals are. If your home crag doesn’t require insane amounts of finger strength, you might be better off bagging your projects this season by practicing your climbing skills and staying off the hangboard.

Can you hang on the holds with your body weight?

Although I am aware that pulley systems exist and are readily available in some gyms, it seems to me that if you cannot comfortably hang on a 20mm edge with your own body weight for 10s, you might not need to use hangboard yet.

If your fingers are not strong enough to deal with your body weight on relatively moderate holds, you should keep climbing regularly and your tendons will catch up eventually.

Have you been climbing consistently (2-4x per week) for at least a year?

It takes a while for your tendons to catch up to your muscles. Tendons increase in strength at a much slower rate than muscles do.

Alex Honnold illustriously describes this problem in his interview on the Tim Ferriss show:

… An adult, a 25-year-old male would gain muscle mass super-fast, so really quickly they could exceed the capacity of their tendons and then basically just rip their tendons out of their arms. – Alex Honnold

Tim Ferriss Show: Episode 160

Essentially, those that try to progress too fast and do not let their fingers catch up usually end up injuring themselves.

For at least the first year (and first two years realistically), you do not need to touch a hangboard to improve your climbing. Just climb a lot and your fingers will get much stronger on their own – safely and sustainably.

Are you at a Plateau?

The reason that I started my first hangboard regimen was because I felt that I had hit a plateau—like I was not getting better outside and I need some kind of punch to get me over the slump. I dove headfirst into the The Rock Climber’s Training Manual and committed fully to their 6 week program that was 50% hangboarding and 50% climbing for during the prescribed Strength Phase.

I started the Anderson Brothers Program because I was going to Spain to climb after college for 2 weeks and I wanted to be ready, so I just went for it.

Many climbers, at some point will hit a plateau in which they no longer improve just by climbing regularly. Some people work up to some pretty high grades without incorporating any sort of structured training program.

However, if you are time-constrained and you do not want to spend a 3rd season in a row climbing the same grades you were last year, it might be time to incorporate a hangboard protocol into your training.

Are you mature enough to structure your training properly around your hangboard sessions?

Simply put, hangboarding is a significant stress on your fingers. The point of hangboarding is to provide a significant enough stimulus that your body undergoes structural and neurological changes to adapt to this stimulus.

Therefore, your body needs time to recover. If you do not think you have the maturity to give yourself proper rest after a hangboard session, hangboarding might not be right for you.

Everyone is different, but I would not recommend doing a hard bouldering session the day after an intense hangboard session. Completely resting your fingers or doing a very low-intensity endurance session are more optimal activities to promote recovery from a hangboard workout.

The Anderson brothers recommend 48 hours of complete rest after performing the repeater workout shown in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual.

Additionally, according to Dr. Eva Lopez, hangboarding should always come first in a climbing session. Do not wait until after you climb for two hours to slap around haphazardly on the hangboard. If you are going to do it, do it right and make it worthwhile.

What’s next?

So let’s say you’ve answered favorably to more than a few of the above questions. Based on the above and your best judgement, you are ready to engage in your first hangboard training program.

There are tons of different ways to use a hangboard and tons of different boards to choose from.

For guidance on my four favorite hangboard protocols, check out this article.

What is your experience with hangboarding? If you’ve never done it, do you think it’s time to start? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com

And make sure to stay up to date and subscribe to my monthly newsletter! In addition to letting you know when new posts come out, you’ll get five quick tips, tricks and tidbits to help make you a better climber straight to your inbox each month!

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Three Reasons Why You Should Track Your Climbing Training

senderella story - track your training

It’s a normal day in my local climbing gym. Between each boulder problem, I’m resting making notes, rinse repeat.

Then a teenage kid makes eye contact with me. He starts wondering over.

Oh God.

I pull out my headphones and brace for impact.

“Excuse me. Can you tell me what you’re writing in your notebook?” He ingests some air and proceeds. “Do you write something about every route you do? Why are you doing that? Does it even help?”

I stared down at his rental shoes.
He had a lot of questions.

The answers to them are described below.

What’s in a notebook?

I have been training for a while now, but it wasn’t until August 2018 that I started religiously writing everything down. I now have a stack of two notebooks full of training data, and I’m about to start in on my third notebook.

climbing notebook
My handy dandy notebook

So what on earth is filling up these pages? A lot of useful information, that’s what.

Examples of Past Data Used to Improve the Future

Before I tell you how to track your training and days of climbing, I want to give you some examples of how I use the past data that I’ve recorded to impact my training and days at the crag.

Everything went perfectly when I sent my first 5.12 on a short trip to the New River Gorge. And I wrote down tons of notes about the week leading up to the send, day of the send, etc. We aren’t talking pages and pages here, but I am now taking those notes and applying them to my next trips.

EXAMPLE A: The week before a trip

Leading up to my trip to the New, I went ahead and got a massage the day before we left. It felt amazing and the usual sore spots under my shoulder blades (my left Rhomboid in particular) disappeared completely. I know I’m going to be tight from lots of power endurance training when I leave for the Red in September and guess what – I scheduled a massage a couple of days before that trip too! The massage obviously didn’t send the route for me, but it felt great and it sure didn’t hurt anything.

EXAMPLE B: The day of a send

Again, the day of send at the New went super well. I wasn’t hungry, but I had energy and felt like really good. So when I went to tackle Groovin’ (5.11d in Birdsboro, PA) I knew I needed to be feeling just as good. The day of, I took cues from my recent send at the New. Half a PB&J right after my warmup routes. Stretched the exact same way I had at the New. Went up after my warmup and sent the thing. Went down almost the same as my first 5.12.

Maybe it’s all just a placebo effect. Maybe it’s not what I’m doing that matters, perhaps it’s just that I’m creating constants in variable situations. Placebo or not, I’m happy I that I have recorded what is working well for me.

New River Gorge Beta
Mike writing down beta and notes during our campaign on Starry in the New River Gorge

These examples aside, why else should we track our training and climbing? You can’t just transcribe your sour patch kid consumption the day of a good performance and expect to send all the time. So let’s dig into the top three reasons why you should track your training and climbing.

Reason 1: Staying Motivated

Sometimes in our training we think we are not getting better. This can be very demotivating.

But how good is your memory? Do you remember how many V3s you could do in a 45 minute session at this time last year? Do you have any idea how many tries it would typically take you to climb V6 five months ago? Or better yet, what did you eat for breakfast six days ago? Do you remember any of this exactly? I don’t. You probably don’t either.

So this year you might be thinking “wow, I haven’t gotten any better.” And maybe you’re right, maybe you haven’t. But maybe you have gotten better, but you don’t have the data to back it up. Your memory is not a trustworthy resource. Get a notebook.

Example: Finger Strength Data

I was curious about how much stronger my fingers have become since starting to train back in May of 2017. Unfortunately, my training log from then is not great, but this is a screenshot of what I recorded. I was doing 10:5 repeaters a la the beginner hangboard workout in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual. My method of measuring resistance was which color theraband I had strapped onto my hilariously sketchy door frame pull-up bar hangboard setup (college apartments don’t allow holes drilled into the wall – Or beer spilled on the carpet…. But I digress).

In those days, I had to remove weight from my body to use the hangboard and I hadn’t climbed anything harder than 5.10c (probably didn’t need to be using a hangboard yet, but you can’t change the past).

Fast forward to July 2019. Two 5.12 ascents under my belt, four 5.11+ ascents, and plenty of 5.11a/b. My fingers have changed quite a bit since then. I’m actually shocked and amazed. This is what my repeater workout looks like now.

Please note that I was originally using the edges on the Rock Prodigy Board, so I don’t have exact measurements of edge depth. I now use a Tension hangboard at my gym that labels the hold depths.

Where I could barely hang on my bodyweight on a large edge two years ago, I can now add 18 pounds on a smaller edge and perform a higher volume of training. In 2017 I could not do repeaters on a sloper with my full weight. Two years later, I can add 25lbs to my frame and do a higher volume of training on the same hold.

Moral of the story: Two years of consistent hangboard training has been very successful and this is very motivating to me.

Lauren Abernathy hangboard
Hanging on my fingers with weight added in Spring 2019 at my local gym.

Measuring Progress is Motivating

From the data I have gathered on myself the past two years, I can now see that using a fingerboard regularly has significantly impacted my finger strength. Now, when training my fingers feels like a painful chore, I can latch onto this progress and stay motivated.

And the same goes for climbing. I can look back at a power endurance session from August 2018. I can see that in a session of 6×3 boulder problems (3 sets of 6 boulders near your limit. Similar to 4x4s.), I was able to do maybe 50% V3 and 50% V4.

Now, I look at my progress since then, I am doing 90% V4 and 10% V5. The progress was slow, but I can measure it and I’m motivated to keep going.

Staying motivated to stick with a training regime is half the battle. Help yourself to be consistent by tracking your progress.

Reason 2: Knowing What’s Working

What was your most recent accomplishment? If you had to describe the top three things that got you there, could you do it? Could you tell me what you did 3 months before, 6 weeks before, the night before? Do you have the details to help you perform well in the future? If you don’t that kindof sucks, doesn’t it?

What if life gets in the way and you can’t climb for a few years? What if you want to get back to where you were before but you have no idea what you did to improve because you don’t remember what you were doing in the gym?

Bottom line is that if you write down what you’re doing and it works really well, you might be able to use that knowledge to perform well in the future.

Example: Prepping for Wild Iris

In July 2019, I took my first trip to Wild Iris. I knew there would be pockets and I knew the routes were short and somewhat bouldery. With that, I made sure to do two things:

  1. I had a limit boulder session each week for the twelve weeks leading up to the trip
  2. I incorporated 2 finger pockets into my hangboard workout (which was miserable, by the way) 8 weeks prior to the trip for a total of 8 sessions.

The trip went super well. I was able to send a 5.12a out there, I topped my first 5.12b, and almost bagged a second 5.12a on the last day. Trip goals were accomplished and the training did it’s job. I’ll probably go back next year, and I will use this year as a guideline.

Having the details of what worked and what didn’t will help you produce quality performances in the future.

Reason 3: Knowing When to Change it Up (and when not to)

The best training program is the one you’re not doing.

Eric Horst – Training for Climbing Podcast

Sometimes I feel like I have been doing a certain training protocol, be it on the hangboard, a movement drill, or whatever for a really long time. Then I look back and realize that I haven’t even done 5 sessions of it. But sometimes, I realize I’ve been doing the same lift or the same route difficulty/amount for 10 weeks and I know then that I need to change up the stimulus to keep getting better.

Keeping Track to Be Consistent

Let’s dive into some interesting research brought up by trainer Steve Bechtel on episode 110 of the TrainingBeta Podcast

Consistency is the thing. One of the really important factors in any training is being consistent with doing the training over the long period.

I’m going to quickly delve into a little bit of research which is really interesting…

They had a group of athletes doing 20 sessions of training and then they stopped training. It was about three days a week so this was maybe six weeks of training. They stopped training and after six months they were back to a total loss of strength. They went back to their baseline values. Makes sense. We train hard for six days a week then we stop training completely and have a total loss of strength.

But they had another group that did 40 sessions so we can assume that’s about 12 or 13 weeks. The total loss of strength didn’t occur for those people even after a year.

So yeah. Sticking with something for four weeks, getting bored and changing the stimulus mindlessly is going to destroy the progress you’re making.

You have to keep tracking of what you’re doing so that long-term improvement to be made. Don’t quit after three weeks and don’t be dumb enough to lose track of how long you’ve been doing something either.

Consistency is key. Don’t miscalculate your consistency because you don’t keep track of what you’re doing.

Gravity Vault
My notebook is as critical as my chalk when I go climbing in the gym.

The Verdict

Logging your training is arguable as important as training itself. If you don’t keep track of what you’re doing, how can you see progress, figure out what’s working, and plan for the future? I think this quote sums this up nicely.

“…you’re going to refer back to your log frequently. This is not an optional aside to your training, but rather a guide. A few seasons into your training career, and it will be the most valuable piece of gear you own. “

Steve Bechtel – Logical Progression pg. 15
backpack and outdoor packing
Packing my bag for the crag. Hand salve, skin care kit, Pabst and training notebook are critical ingredients to a good weekend outside.

This post is part one in a series. Stay tuned for part two where I’ll give a detailed how-to guide for tracking your training and climbing. If you want to know when it’s out, go ahead and subscribe to my monthly newsletter! In addition to keeping up with my most recent posts, you’ll get five quick tips, tricks and tidbits to help make you a better climber.

And as always, if you don’t already, give me a follow on Instagram or a like on Facebook to stay up to date when new posts come out.

Do you keep track of your training? Any progress that you’ve looked at that you find surprising? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com
I’d love to discuss!

Happy Climbing,

Senderella

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Four Strength Training Myths Debunked: Lifting for Climbers

Lauren Abernathy overhead press

“Don’t squat if you’re a climber”. “All you need to do is pull-ups.” “Climbers don’t need to lift.” “Lifting will make you heavy.” “Why are you deadlifting?” “Do lots of core exercises.” “Beginner climbers don’t need to strength train.” “High weight, low reps will make you bulky – look at power lifters!” “You don’t need to train until you can climb 5.13”.

Heard any of this before? I’ve heard all of it. And frankly a lot of it is total bullshit.

This post will dismantle four common strength training myths. I am not here to say that every climber should spend half of their time squatting to climb better – not at all, in fact. Rather, I would like to debunk the limiting beliefs around strength training that may be stunting your progress to becoming a better climber.

MYTH #1: Lifting Heavy will Make you HUGE

First of all, if you’re a woman, no matter how much you lift and eat, you are not going to gain lean muscle at the same rate as your male counterparts. Additionally, as long as you do not engage in hypertrophy type strength training, you are not going to gain tons of muscle that will “weigh you down”.

If you’re doing reps of five and under you’re basically training your muscles how to work better. You’re not actually going to be building your muscles as much…. For me, I’ve been lifting two days a week for the first two months then spent the last month just lifting one day a week and I haven’t – I don’t know about body composition but as far as actual weight, I haven’t gained a pound.

Nate Drolet – TrainingBeta Podcast Episode 32
lauren miller fork
Yep. You can tell from this picture that all the heavy weight training is making me absolutely gigantic.

Let’s start with defining “Heavy lifting“: it’s the kind of lifting where you can only perform 3-5 repetitions before failure. If you are familiar with it, power lifting may come to mind. And yes, power lifters are pretty huge, but the competitors in professional power lifting are required to lift insane amounts to be competitive in their sport, so naturally they need to be larger to be competitive. They still have outrageous power to weight ratios, it’s just that they go big in the “weight” portion of that equation. As a climber, you are free from these burdens. You are after maximized power to weight ratio, not absolute feats of strength.

Our goal as climbers is to gain maximal strength while gaining minimal muscle mass.

But how does one maximize power to weight ratio? I’ll tell you right now that it isn’t by “toning”, “lengthening” or doing tons of reps with non-challenging levels of resistance. It’s by lifting heavy loads and doing so briefly.

Sciencing the Shit out of This: Myofibrillar vs. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy

Quick biology lesson: there are two parts of a muscles fiber that we are interested in as climbers. You have the myofibrils, which are long skinny filaments. These are what contract and create movement. Surrounding the myofibrils is the sarcoplasm. You can think of the sarcoplasm as the storage space for fuel to help the myofibrils keep going. The sarcoplasm contains glycogen stores, mitochondria and mitochondria for production of ATP. (Ferriss, The Four Hour Body pg. 123).

So why is this a big deal? Well there are two types of hypertrophy: myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.

Myofibrillar Hypertrophy

Myofibrillar hypertrophy results from the heavy load, low repetition style of strength training we have discussed: 3-5 reps at 80-90% of your max. It increases the density of your myofibrils and creates dense, strong muscles capable of increased maximal output.

Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy

Conversely, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the result of training at higher rep counts with lower intensity: 8-12 reps at 60-70% of your max. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy will result in increased muscle mass, while presenting a less significant increase in absolute maximal output compared to the myofibril hypertrophy discussed above.

Please note that this is a simple explanation to a complex topic. It is likely that a little bit of each of these forms of hypertrophy is occurring when engaging in any type of strength training. However, you can obviously trigger which type of hypertrophy dominates based on your training protocol.

VERDICT
Heavy lifting at high resistance (80-90% of your max) with low rep counts (3-5 reps for 3-5 sets) makes you strong. It does not make you large.

MYTH #2: You don’t need to strength train until you are climbing at an elite level

I hear this all the time. I get emails about it. I even feel a little judged when I’m weight training instead of climbing (during my one session a week that I do it). If I don’t have the strength to pistol squat on a tiny foot hold on my project, who cares if my body knows that I should put my foot there? I simply won’t have the strength and power to execute.

Climbing is not always the optimal stimulus for gaining the strength needed for difficult moves. This is where lifting can help.

Here is a brief overview of my lifting, bodyweight, and climbing performance since October of 2018. Please note that my personal record in both the deadlift and my 1RM in the pull-up increased significantly while my bodyweight is actually lower than it was in October 2018. Additionally, my redpoint grade has also had a significant increase, with my first 5.12 occurring in May 2019.

Lauren Abernathy Deadlift
Me surprising the shit out of myself with a 215lb PR.

But don’t just take my opinion. Listen to what Kathryn Sall had to say about it in her article in Rock and Ice. Kathryn went from a redpoint grade of 5.10b to 5.12a in seven months. And spoiler alert, Sall didn’t stay out of the weight room because she “wasn’t a good enough climber yet”.

By now this should be old news. Lifting weights makes you stronger, and you can lift without hypertrophy. Your muscle isn’t dead weight or bulk, it’s tissue that works for you and your climbing…. Lifting in a programmatic way—developing overall strength with systematic, deliberate workouts—made me a better athlete, which made me a better climber. I got to work on my deadlift, bench press and front squat (among others).  And with consistent practice, I can now do a pull up!

Kathyryn Sall – Rock and Ice Magazine, February 2018

For the beginner climbers

Climbing is extremely demanding on the upper body as I am sure you have figured out. If you are like me, when I started climbing the prospect of doing a single pull-up seemed wildly out of my reach. At that point, and overhanging V0 boulder was basically impossible. I truly did not have the strength.

Fast forward through summer 2015. I couldn’t climb because of the location of my internship. All summer I did P90X in my apartment (which was a truly ridiculous amount of working out). No real climbing technique gains were made, but I got a LOT stronger. Despite hardly climbing at all, I came back to school in the fall smashing routes and boulders that I wasn’t strong enough to do before. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Steve Bechtel to sum up this observation:

If weight training makes you better at climbing, you probably really suck at climbing.

Steve Bechtel

So the good news is, for beginner climbers, especially if you’re new to fitness altogether, a little strength will take you a long way (looking at all of you who haven’t done their first pull-up yet). But don’t spend too much time in the weight room. To get better at climbing, you should be climbing. Strength training is a beneficial supplement to your climbing training.

A quick note for males under age 30:
Presently, many of you have the hormonal profile to gain and maintain muscle mass and not worry too much about it. You might be able to get pretty strong by just climbing and you may truly not need to weight train. Unfortunately this will not last forever. According to Harvard Health, “after age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes.” It is very likely that you will have to incorporate targeted strength training if you want to have a long-lasting climbing career.

MYTH #3: Climbers should never perform resistance training with their legs

It is true that climbers do not need legs the size of an alpine skier to climb well. In fact, when you look at most elite climbers, especially sport climbers, you generally will not find oversized glutes, thighs or hamstrings. However, does this mean you should have weak, scrawny legs and campus up the wall? No. Think about the last time you climbed outdoors or inside. Were there any moves where you had to put your foot up really high on something really small and push off? Did you have to use your hamstrings to suck your hips into a steep overhang or compress an arete? What about heel hooking?

lauren abernathy gravity vault
Me working on my heel hook skills during a limit bouldering session.

The fact is that climbing requires strong legs for multitude of reason. The catch is that you want your legs to be very strong and not very large. Sound impossible? It’s not.

Meet Barry Ross, a world class sprint coach responsible for developing new techniques in the world of training sprinters. Check out the stats on a few of his past athletes.

Smal but Mighty

His best female multi-event athlete had deadlifted 405 pounds at a bodyweight of 132 pounds.
His youngest male lifter, 11 years old, has lifted 225 pounds at a bodyweight of 108 pounds.

Nearly all of his athletes including women can lift more than twice their bodyweight without wrist straps, and all have gained less than 10% additional bodyweight to get there.
The kicker: these results were achieved with less than 15 minutes of actual lifting time (time under tension) per week.

The Four Hour Body, Tim Ferriss, Pg. 408

Deadlifting and Squatting as Climbing Movements

Think about the actions of deadlifting. Now consider the last time you were on an overhang. Did you ever put your foot into the wall, push up on it, and subsequently straighten your leg? Looks a lot like a deadlift, doesn’t it? And what about squatting? Ever high step to a tiny hold and pistol squat on it to stand up? You’ve done all of these things because they’re critical movement patterns in climbing. And fortunately with two simple lower body exercises as a basis, you can get really strong at these movement patterns without gaining tons of weight in the lower half of your body.

So the next time someone tells you that climbers don’t need strong legs, please kindly tell them to stuff it.

In summary, work out your legs, but remember what we learned in Myth #1. In order to not get HUGE, you must lift heavy and keep the reps low.

MYTH #4: Strength Training Doesn’t Make You a Better Climber

Personally, I have made strength training a part of my routine for nearly all of my years of climbing. My strength workout is done one day per week: 3 sets of 3-4 different exercises. Every 6-8 weeks I switch up the lifts I am executing. Has my climbing improved? Yes. Has my overall strength increased? Yes. It is hard to parse out how much of my improvement is from practicing climbing and how much comes from strength training? Of course.

I firmly believe that becoming a stronger athlete has made me a better climber. Additionally, I have been training consistently and climbing consistently for two years now and I have been completely injury free.

From a more global perspective, I dare you to find an elite climber that does not have some sort of strength training protocol. Even the ever-outdoor, training minimalist Johnathan Siegrist keeps a set of weights at his home in Estes Park because he acknowledges the benefits of resistance training.

Open up the training tool box of any popular climbing trainer and you will find that their books include references to resistance training. From the Anderson brothers, to Eric Horst, to Steve Bechtel, to Kris Hampton, to Paxti Usobiaga, resistance training is commonly utilized to supplement and fortify a climber’s training regimen.

So get on board and get in the gym – for reasonable amounts of time, of course.

Resources, Further Reading & Listening

Research on differences in muscle mass between men and women.

The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

Power Company Podcast – Kettlebell Episode

Myofibrillar vs. sarcoplasmic hypertropy

Strength Training for Rock Climbing Series from Steve Bechtel

Power Company Climbing: 4 Strength Movements you should be Doing

Lifting Guidelines with Steve Bechtel

What’s your opinion on strength training? Do you do it? Do you not do it? Are you unsure of what you should be doing? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at senderellastory@gmail.com. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my monthly newsletter! You’ll get actionable tips on training for climbing straight to your inbox once a month.

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Happy Climbing!

Senderella

Sending your First 5.12: Movement Drills for Climbing

Lauren abernathy climbing moonboard
Lauren new river gorge climbing

“ARE YOU OK?!” My belayer yelled up at me. He could hear me sobbing – not what you want to hear from your friend who is 90 feet up on the sharp end of the rope.

Fortunately, these were tears of joy. I had just pulled the last hard move of the route and was sobbing my way to the chains.

“One! TWO!” I yelled down as I clipped each anchor. I’d done it. I finally sent my first 5.12. I was delighted.

For me, my first 5.12 was a big deal – it is for a lot of people. As Maureen Beck says in her Reel Rock Debut “There’s a freaking book about it: How to Climb 5.12!”.

Climbing my first 5.12 is a memory I will always treasure. So if you haven’t climbed 5.12 yet, or maybe you haven’t sent the grade in a while, I want to help you get there. So here’s the first installment of my own analysis on how I sent my first 5.12. This first of many in this series is all about improving your movement skills.

Mindful Practice vs. Going through the Motions

In 2017 when I set out on my first training program EVER, I started with the Rock Prodigy Program. It recommends doing a lot of ARC training. And supposedly in the process of getting in tons of mileage on rock, your technique will improve and you will become a better climber.

This is basically true. After incorporating lots of ARC training I went from doing my first 5.10a outside to doing my first 5.11a outside in a matter of three months. Which is pretty considerable. I believe my increased endurance and improved economy of movement had a lot to do with that.

lauren climbing rodellar
The author going in for a clip on the second 5.11a that she would send on her 2017 trip to Rodellar, Spain. Photo by Jan Novotny

However, as I got better at climbing, I had to up my game a little more. I had certainly increased the difficulty of the routes that I train endurance on; however, instead of mindlessly cranking out route after route, I started to carefully consider my movement. No matter the grade, I began to take care to perfect the sequences. I started to re-do the same routes and boulders over and over until they feel “perfect.”

I used to think I was practicing my technique by climbing a shit ton, but I realized that it is essential to focus on different aspects of your climbing (e.g. putting weight on your feet, keeping your hips from sagging, moving statically instead of dynamically, etc.) instead of going through the motions. Do not assume you’re getting better sheerly by climbing more. You must learn to practice deliberately.

Resources for Movement Drills

So how do you practice climbing deliberately? If you had asked me that six months prior to sending my first 5.12 I probably would have said “um… make sure you don’t miss footholds and don’t cut feet if you don’t have to, I guess”. I had no clue and I hadn’t really thought about it either. This is where the movement drill resources come in.

If you want to practice deliberately, it’s a good idea to break down your climbing into little concepts that you perfect. These can come in the form of a movement drills.

Everyone climbs a little differently, so I don’t want to sit here and tell you exactly what drills to do. You know yourself and you know the projects that you want to do. It’s up to you to find the best drills to incorporate into your climbing practice.

Here are some ideas of where you can get quality movement drills to incorporate into your sessions:

JUST FOR LAUGHS

Here are some other footwork related drills that seem a bit complex in the prop department. For entertainment value only:

  • putting jingle bells bracelets on people’s ankles and telling them to climb with “quiet feet”. Which is like asking a dog with a collar on to run without making noise.
  • Putting coins on holds and having people try to place their feet directly on the coins as they climb. Slightly less stupid, but who carries that much change?

I know, I know. My short list of resources probably amounted to about 50 different ways to practice your climbing movement. Don’t freak out. In the 5 weeks leading up to my first 5.12 redpoint, I only employed about 6 different movement drills from the Power Company Movement ebook, and consistently practiced them. Pick 6-8 drills that you will enjoy and can stick to, and then practice them often. Then after 4-8 weeks of practice, swap a few out for something new.

Practical Applications when Redpointing

At this point you might be thinking “Is this really going to apply when I’m thrashing at my limit outside? How does my perfect footwork on my 5.9 warmup help me when the going gets tough?”

The answer is that because you’ve practiced economical movement, you’re prepared to deploy it. While sussing out the beta of my first 5.12, Starry, at the New River Gorge I actively engaged TWO of the six movement drills that I had been doing from the Power Company ebook while working on the route. Here is an explanation of how I used the Heavy Feet Drill as well as the One Touch drill for my redpoint of Starry.

Heavy Feet

This the heavy feet drill. You may be familiar with this from a previous post.

On Starry there is a ledge that permits a full sit down rest in preparation for the crux sequence. The catch is that you have to traverse out pretty far to get to it. The debate is whether or not the rest is worth all that traversing. However, I noticed that the feet on the traverse out were very large and easy to work with. Thinking about my efficiency, I fully engaged the “heavy feet” drill during the traverse sequence. I did my best to put as much weight as possible on my feet to minimize exertion while traveling to and from the rest spot. As a result, the traverse didn’t really pump me out at all and I got a great rest on the ledge as a reward.

One Touch to Victory

Again, you might be familiar with this video from my last post, but one more time for the homies in the back because this drill is a GAME CHANGER:

The moves at the top of Starry were pretty tough, but I think this long crux sequence wouldn’t be any harder than V3 if took the 20 feet of crux and plopped it on the ground with a pad underneath it. However, when you do the crux, you’ve already been climbing steep stuff for 60-70 feet, so you’re a little gassed at that point.

With a high crux like this, efficiency is the name of the game. Every twitch of your hand counts and the pump clock is ticking.

So when I worked out the beta for the crux sequence, I had two obejctives:

  1. Figure out how to grab the holds correctly the first time and don’t waste energy adjusting or fidgeting.
  2. Eliminate sucky intermediates by doing one big move instead of multiple small ones.

The more I worked through the crux, the more I was able to accomplish the above objectives. By the time I went for the redpoint, the sequence was wired and I did a fairly minimal amount of readjusting through the crux. Either way, throughout the entire process, the efficiency that comes from “touching a hold once” was top of mind.

10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s NY Times Best Seller, Outliers, he cites a study on musicians stating that with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, you can become an expert at anything. While it has come to light that this rule isn’t as hard and fast as originally presented (and also does’t make total sense when discussing it through the lens of athleticism) the basis of the rule is that greatness comes with deliberate practice.

Lauren hoboken gravity vault climbing
Me practicing the one touch drill on an autobelay at my local gym.

Fitting it All In

So how does one fit this deliberate practice into their climbing schedule? Here are my two favorite ways to do it.

  1. I combine movement drills with my endurance training.
  2. When I warm up for bouldering, I incorporate drills into my warm-up. I especially like to repeat sub-maximal problems when warming up for a tough bouldering session until I feel that I have completed them perfectly (a la the “Perfect Repeat” drill as seen in the Power Company Movement Skills ebook*).

Practicing these movement drills in your warm-ups is very beneficial in integrating improved movement patterns into your bag of climbing tricks:

“We recommend doing a lot of the drills that we’ve developed while warming up because I want you to do it while there are no other stressors involved: when you’re not focused on sending, when you’re not pumped, when you’re not physically fatigued or powered down. I want you to be able to focus on how you’re pressing with your feet or driving through your arms while that’s the only thing you have to think about.”

Kris Hampton – Power Company Podcast Episode 124 – Meditation and Yoga for Climbers

The Month Before the Send

So how does this all tie into my first 5.12? Here are the specifics:

I started training movement skills for 2 hours total per week starting on April 22, 2019. I sent my first 5.12 at the New River Gorge on May 26, 2019 – about a month later.

I definitely noticed improvements in my movement patterns within a month of practicing them deliberately, which was cool to see. Do I think that movement drills alone helped me to send? No. But do I think that improving my economy of movement help me to a speedy 4-try send of my first 5.12? Absolutely.

The bottom line

If you want to break into 5.12, there are a lot of ways to get there, but the first and most important step to climbing 5.12 is improving your overall climbing ability – and that starts with deliberate skill practice.

What are your favorite movement drills? Have you ever used them before? Have specific questions about how I used them in my training? Drop me a comment or shoot me an email – I’d love to discuss!

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Four Hangboard Protocols to Increase Finger Strength

There is no “best way” to hangboard, but boy are there a lot of ways to do it. Many people, myself included, get a little overwhelmed about choosing the most effective method of hangboarding. The risk for “paralysis by analysis” is very high when examining the many different hangboard programs.

Do not fear the many nuances and options for hangboard protocols, embrace them. You can achieve results with many different protocols long as you follow a few simple rules. In the words of Eva Lopez, a literal PhD in finger strength in climbers, when working to improve your finger strength, “Novelty is enough.”

Me on the hangboard at my local climbing gym

Additionally, the only unproductive ways to train with a hangboard involve doing any of the following.

  1. Performing your hangboard session in such a way that you injure yourself.
  2. Not giving yourself sufficient rest/quality recovery time after performing a hangboard workout.
  3. Not recording your hangboard workouts in detail and thereby not progressively overloading your fingers to stimulate strength increases

With the “don’t”s out of the way, let’s take a look at the four protocols.

Repeaters

The Repeater protocol, popularized by the Anderson Brothers, involves hangboarding in high volumes with minimal rests between hangs.

The Anderson Brothers repeater protocol specifically calls for 8-10 hold types/positions. Below is a little taste of what a repeater workout might look like. For each hold type you will perform 6 repetitions. One repetition is equal to 10 seconds on followed by a 5 second rest. After completing 6 reps, you move onto the next hold type.

Sloper, 6 sets.
10s hang followed by a 5s rest. Repeat 6x.
Rest 3 mins.

20mm Edge, Half Crimp Position, 6 sets.
10s hang followed by a 5s rest. Repeat 6x.
Rest 3 mins.

20mm Edge, Full Crimp Position, 6 sets.
10s hang followed by 5s rest. Repeat 6x.

The timing convention varies for the work to rest ratio. Some people like 7s on 3s off. Some people only do 4 sets instead of 6. Personally, I do not believe it matters what you do as long as you pick a method, stick with it for 6-8 sessions (or until you start plateauing), and record results meticulously.

Pros: You can do a full workout at home if you have a hangboard setup. Additionally, repeaters are a long term investment in finger strength.

According to research done by Eva Lopez Ph.D, repeaters are effective in producing structural changes to your fingers and forearms thus increasing your finger strength.

Additionally, due to the high volume/low resistance nature, you are not as likely to overload your fingers with weight. However, the high volume training has its own risks.

Cons: The repeater protocol is obviously high volume which is both exhausting and time consuming. A full Rock Prodigy Hangboard session of 8-10 hold types is a lengthy workout. Note that this is not the only repeater workout, but it is the classic example that most cite when discussing a repeater hangboard program.

Additionally, per the previously mentioned research performed by Eva Lopez Ph.D, the repeater protocol takes a long time to show significant strength gains. If your bouldering trip is in a month, a repeater protocol is not going to quickly yield significant strength gains.

Targeted Result: Structural changes. Power Endurance.

Resources: Eva Lopez on the Power Company podcast, Maximal Hangs vs. Intermittent Hangs – Eva Lopez Ph.D, Anderson Brothers Research Paper on the Rock Prodigy Hangboard, Basic Hangboard Routine from the Anderson Brothers

NERD ALERT
Examining Structural vs. Neurological Adaptations

Generally speaking, there are two different pathways for strength increase. The first is through neurological adaptation, the second is through structural changes. In Eva’s experiment she compared three different groups over 8 weeks–one performing a Max Hang protocol, another performing a repeater protocol, and the other group performing 4 weeks of max hangs followed by 4 weeks of repeaters.

It was found that in the repeater group in the first 4 weeks there was a +4.6% strength increase followed by a +13.9% overall strength increase in the subsequent weeks. Compared to the overall 28% gains in 8 weeks from the max hang protocol, the repeater protocol seems staggeringly low.

According to Dr. Lopez and supporting literature (you can find citations/references in her blog post) the way in which strength increases occurred for the repeater protocol is indicative of hypertrophy and structural changes. Whereas for the max hang protocol, the changes seemed to be primarily neurological.

Her study is nicely summed up in this awesome infographic. I would highly recommend checking out her post for more details on the subject. The research is very interesting and highly applicable.

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

Summarily, the reason that different hangboard protocols produce differing results is due to the fact that the body reacts to differently to different forms of training stimuli.

Max Hangs

Method: In broad terms, perform a 7-10s hang at a high intensity (in terms of weight, edge size), followed by a long rest of 5+ minutes between sets.

Max Hang Assessment hanboard
My boyfriend, Michael, performing his first max hang workout. Notice he is using a weight pin to add/remove weight as he determines the appropriate resistance for his max hang workouts.

An example workout that I perform during a max hang protocol is as follows:

First I warm up on jugs and large edges. I do 3-4 hangs total. Then I proceed with the following:

Pros: The strength results of this protocol are mostly neurological adaptations. This means that you are training your brain to use the muscles, tendons, etc. in your fingers and forearms more efficiently for greater strength outputs. This is a pro because neurological adaptation happens more quickly than structural adaptation.

Therefore, if you’re picking a protocol and you need to ramp up your finger strength for your trip to Wyoming in 6 weeks, this protocol will help you do so.

Cons: Putting heavy loads on your fingers is very taxing. However, if done properly, you will never be loading your fingers with more than they can handle.

Targeted Result: Neurological adaptations leading to increased finger strength.

Resources: Eva Lopez on the Power Company podcast, Maximal Hangs vs. Intermittent Hangs – Eva Lopez Ph.D, TrainingBeta: Max Hangs with Steve Maisch

Example: Jimmy starts hangboarding

Jimmy starts hangboarding, and he does the max hang protocol for 6 weeks. During that time, Jimmy’s strength goes up significantly and Jimmy is pretty psyched. Based on the literature, Jimmy’s strength is improving from neurological adaptations. Jimmy’s fingers are physically not changing much; however, Jimmy has trained his brain to “fire all four cylinders instead of just two”.

In order to keep progressing and avoid plateau, Jimmy decides to change up his hangboard program. Jimmy switches from the max hang protocol to the repeater protocol. Jimmy is frustrated because he is not getting as strong as quickly as he did when he was max hanging. But Jimmy is smart, so he keeps on with the program for 8 weeks, making minimal strength gains. What Jimmy cannot see, is that with the repeater protocol, his fingers are adapting physically to the stimulus of high volume hangboarding. Keeping with the engine metaphor, Jimmy has added a couple of cylinders to his engine; however, Jimmy’s brain has not yet adapted to having six cylinders instead of four.

Jimmy then returns to a max hang protocol and again has success in increasing finger strength. Jimmy now has more cylinders to fire. During his max hanging, Jimmy becomes neurologically adapted to “firing on all six cylinders” instead of just four. Jimmy’s fingers get super strong and Jimmy sends his project. Jimmy is smart. Jimmy trains intelligently and takes good notes while he hangboards so he can get stronger. Be like Jimmy.

3-6-9 Ladders

3-6-9 Ladders, to me, are a brilliant combination of the repeater and max hang protocols. What sets ladders apart from max hangs lies mostly in the total resistance load on the fingers. Steve Bechtel describes in his book Logical Progression, that he does not prescribe the max hang protocol and instead opts for ladders due to the lighter load placed on the fingers during training.

“The benefits are many, including better execution, less fatigue, reduced injury, and less stress. If you give me a program that doesn’t smoke the athlete, but shows increases in strength, I’ll try it. If it works every time, I’ll buy it. Over the past few years, we’ve come to regard the simple Ladder program as the safest, most effective strength protocol we’ve ever tried.” – Steve Bechtel, Logical Progression

The ladder protocol is fairly simple. In my training using this protocol (per the advice contained in Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression) I perform the ladders on an edge (typically a 15mm or 20mm based on my current training data and hangboard available), in the open hand, half crimp, and full crimp positions.

How to execute a 3-6-9 Ladder Workout

A hangboard ladder workout looks like this.

To complete one 3-6-9 ladder, you rest between the mini-sets for as long as you need. E.g. after the 3 second hang, you rest until you feel ready for a 6 second hang–same for the rest between the 6s hang and the 9s hang.

Personally I rest 5-20 seconds between executing each hang. e.g. Hang 3s, rest 5-10s, hang 6s, rest 10-15s, then once really rested after 15-20s, I execute the 9s hold. One set of 3-6-9 is one set. You rest 5 minutes between each set. You repeat three “3-6-9” ladder sets per hold for a total of 54s of hanging time per hold.

Pros: Because of the volume, you are not likely to overload the fingers with added resitance. Additionally the protocol offers a decent amount of hangboard volume without the exhaustion of a full-length repeater workout.

Cons: It can be difficult and to understand what rest periods you need within a 3-6-9 ladder set (5s, 10s?). Additionally, it is similarly time consuming to the Anderson Brothers workout.

Resources: Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel

Webb Parsons

If you are looking to balance out your strength on each side as well as work on your lock off positioning, this is the protocol for you. This is a more advanced protocol and is a progression to the very advanced practice of one-armed hangs.

The protocol calls for assisted one arm hanging by placing one hand on the hangboard while the other holds onto a rope. Additionally, while finger position is held constant at a half crimp, arm position is varied. The climber will perform the assisted one arm half crimp position with 1. arms fully extended 2. partially bent (~45 degree angle) and completely locked off.

Check out the video below for an explanation of the Webb Parsons Protocol

Pros: Does not require added weight and helps with an muscular imbalances. Additionally trains lock off strength which is not present immediately present in the aforementioned protocols.

Cons: Depending on your gym/setup it might be difficult to find a way to hang a rope. Additionally, it is difficult to measure resistance–though this is not entirely necessary. Takes extra time since you do both sides separately.

Targeted result: balanced strength on both sides of the body, lockoff strength

Resources: Review of the Webb Parsons Program at Climbingstrong.com,
Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel

Hangboarding is a Long Term Investment

These are the four main protocols that I have experienced/experimented with in my time on the hangboard. All of them improved my finger strength without injuring me and all of my data during these sessions was recorded.

All one can do is being consistent with hangboard training and change stimuli when needed. However, it is important to remember that hangboarding is a long-term investment. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Bechtel goes something like this: “The work you do in the gym on Tuesday isn’t going to help you send on Saturday.”

Travel Friendly Training: 2 workouts you can do today with minimal or no equipment

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

lauren abernathy pull up
Santa hat added for festive effect.

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!
  • Hanging leg raises can be modified by doing hanging knee raises instead.
  • 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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVzrLDIRqnE

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!

mini leg blaster
Breakdown of the mini leg blaster.

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.

Happy training!

Senderella

How to train with a Moonboard

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. 

What is a Moonboard?

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.

What the app looks like on your phone.

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.

Climbing Magazine has a sweet article about how to train with a Moonboard and I agree with just about 100% of it. Give it a read. A lot of that article is echoed in what I have laid out here as well.

This is how I limit boulder on the Moonboard:

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.

Learn more about the Rock Prodigy hangboard and its inventors on the Anderson Brother’s Website.

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.

Lauren Abernathy Moonboarding fall
Me falling off the first move of a “benchmark V3”–repeatedly, I might add.

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. 

If the moonboard doesn’t bring out your ugliest try-hard face then I don’t know what will.

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). 

Cheers,

Senderella

How to train for skiing and climbing at the same time (and be a badass at both)

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!”

Jackson Hole, WY

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).

Beer, skiing, and climbing were cornerstones of my college existence.

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.

Click here for Backcountry’s Preseason Conditioning Program

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.

Me slashing the fluffy stuff in Lake Louise. You can tell I wasn’t have any fun at all.

There are myriad ways to prep for ski season. For my purposes, I adhere to a training plan that is simple, requires minimal time commitment, and is effective. Let’s go into some more details regarding the pre-season conditioning program described by backcountry.

What is a leg blaster?

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

Moonboarding is hard. Moonboarding after leg blasters would be extremely difficult.

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.

Hypertrophy concerns

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:

At the 4-week mark, chances are good that you’ll gradually lose muscle until you start lifting weights again. Once you start working out, though, you’ll likely regain muscle faster than when you first started training.”

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.

Me enjoying the deep stuff in Revelstoke last winter.

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.

Smiling even though hiking uphill in ski boots is the least enjoyable part of skiing.

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.

8 week HIIT Program from BodyBuilding.com

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!