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!

Q&A With Brian Suntay: 5.14 crusher and weekday engineer

I first found out about Brian Suntay when his tag line on the TrainingBeta blog caught my eye–“Ohio-based engineer crushing 5.14 at the Red River Gorge and Rifle”. As an Ohio Native (and a fellow engineer) I was very psyched to find a kindred spirit in the climbing community who is climbing at such a high level.

Brian is a very accomplished climber and has an extremely impressive resume. He has completed routes up through 5.14 in the Red and many 5.13+ routes in Rifle. He started climbing in college and predominantly trains out of his basement to cut down on the commute to the gym. If you haven’t read his post on Trainingbeta, I would recommend it–it will be especially helpful to read in the context of this interview.

Brian taking down Transworld Depravity, 5.14a at the Red River Gorge. Photo by Andy Wickstrom.

Check out Brian’s article here. 

I had the pleasure of picking Brian’s brain on some topics I had been wondering about and I got to discuss my project at the Red with him as well. Brian has some awesome insights and I hope you all get a lot out of this. I know I did.

S:  Can you take me through a brief history of your climbing and training? How long did it take you to progress through the grades? When did you start training?

B: I’ve been climbing for about 12 years so it’s hard for me to remember how long it took to break through the grades.  I started when I was in college and I didn’t really train for it the first few years other than climbing in the gym and climbing outside.  Fortunately for me, climbing came pretty naturally.  I pretty much worked my way up the grades up to 5.13a by climbing outside, I think.  I remember training for a route in the Madness cave that I really wanted to do, so I think that’s when I really started training.  I followed a typical periodized training plan for quite a while.  I didn’t really know any better and it worked for the most part.  Probably over the last few years I switched it up a bit based on new knowledge I gained from kettlebell training and because I wanted to train a little less due to the amount of free time I had and to allow for other activities.  And, since I’ve been training for a little while now, I kinda know what works and doesn’t work for me.  So now I pretty much just make my own training programs.

Brian’s Thoughts on Deadlifting for Climbing

Quick tips for Climbing Overhang

Happy Technique Tip Tuesday, everybody!

I hope this article finds you well. As a former Red River Gorge native, I am thrilled to discuss some tips for my favorite style of climbing: steep, overhanging.

I used to hate overhanging routes. They made me feel weak, uncoordinated, and a V0 on a 45 degree angle usually left me feeling pretty pathetic. However, with some targeted training and an attitude adjustment, this is usually the kind of route that makes me smile the most:

Personally, when I first started climbing (and before I knew anything about training) what I did to get better at steep routes was climbing more steep routes and doing pull-ups. When I first started climbing I literally could not do a single pull-up. To accommodate for this I modified with resistance bands and/or putting one foot on a chair. I also started doing a lot of easy, steep boulders over and over. I found this to be pretty impactful, generally.

Of course, there are always a few quick things that you can think about as you start pondering problems in the cave in your local gym, or the steep route at the crag you’ve been dying to try. You definitely do not have to be able to do even one pull-up to climb steep routes, but it does help!

Check out these tips and instructional videos to see how you can take your overhang game from V0 to hero:

  1. Twist your body to climb overhanging routes more efficiently
  2. In a similar vane (and you’ve probably heard this one before) you can conserve energy by climbing with straight arms, only bending them when it is absolutely necessary–same goes for overhangs. Keep that in mind the next time you’re three moves in and you’re pumping out. If you think you need to lock off to do a move, think again!
  3. Keep your hips into the wall! Check out the video below to get a more detailed overview of why this is so critical.
  4. Drive with your feet! Even though the route is steep, you can and you must continue to drive with your lower half. Make sure you place your feet such that you can push/pull yourself through your next move.Think about how many pull-ups you can do vs. how many flights of stairs you can climb. The more weight that you can take off your arms, the better!

New to climbing? Do overhangs bum you out? Can you barely hang on for one route?

If upper body strength and steep routes are a challenge for you, try adding 3 sets of pull-ups (5-10 reps) a twice a week and make it a point to climb a little overhang every time you hit the gym! Climbing more overhang is going to be the key to improve, but spending a small amount of time improving your strength can help too!

Good luck and happy climbing!

Cheers,

Senderella

How to Heel Hook Correctly – Technique Tips for Climbing

Everyone with useful beta and better technique than me: Lauren, just heel hook.
Me: Nope. No thanks, I’d rather inefficiently stab my toe into the wall with my knee in my face instead.

It’s been a hard fought battle with my peers, but I have finally conceded: heel hooks are extremely useful, especially if done correctly. For this Technique Tip Tuesday,  let’s take a second to watch this shaggy man with a fun accent tell us how to do it right!

The difference between active and passive heel hooks is something I had never considered before, but I am very happy to have learned. Here is another video that underscores the effectiveness of actively heel hooking with some more XTREME examples (also some super rad tunes in the background.)

Here’s my buddy being really dramatic about the SICK actively engaged heel hook he’s about to pull off:

Do you like heel hooks? Do you hate them? Are you a convert like me?!

Comment or shoot me an email and let me know. I’d love to chat.

Cheers,

Senderella
senderellastory@gmail.com

Review of Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression: Halfway there

Logical Progression refers to the simple progression we make in a nonlinear plan. By training strength, then power, and then endurance in sequence, you’ll see that you truly can develop all of these facets of your fitness at the same time, and perform better year-round.

With this book as your guide, I hope that you’ll embrace a different way of looking at training, and performing, in climbing.

– Steve Bechtel, Logical Progression

At the time this is being published I am halfway through Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression Program. I was a little scared to try a new program for the ever-important Fall Climbing Season, but so far I am very glad I did. In seven weeks I’ve seen a noticeable impact to my climbing. Read on to see if you think this program would be helpful for you!

General Overview

To summarize the book and program, Steve Bechtel has designed a program around concurrently training strength, power/strength endurance, endurance,  and power. For an explanation of non-linear periodization, click here. You rotate through training days, working a different facet of training each day (e.g. in 5-7 day time frame you would have done a strength, endurance, power endurance, and limit bouldering workouts).

A problem from a limit bouldering session at the Triangle Rock Club  when I was visiting family in North Carolina.

Steve offers a few different options for the program orientation. I went with the “Level 1” program as it is the most entry-level option and geared toward climbers that are new (or new-ish) to training. The Level 1 program also has the most simplistic setup, which sounded good to me.

Below is a general overview of the training sessions I’ve completed over the course of 7 weeks.

  • 6 Endurance Workouts
  • 7  integrated strength workouts
  • 6 Limit bouldering sessions
  • 6 power endurance sessions

Although there were some hiccups here and there, I think I did a good job of not skipping certain training days in favor of others–something Steve warns about in the book.

Overall impression of Logical Progression Program

So far I am really enjoying the variety that the program has to offer. Training all facets of climbing concurrently has been really amusing and it’s been pretty easy to stay psyched on training.

I still have six-seven more weeks to go, so we’ll see if it gets harder to stay stoked, but I’m thinking it won’t.

The structure/flexibility of the program is great. In the past month I have moved to a new city, moved apartments twice (long story), started a new job, started this blog, and have still managed to train and avoid stressing about making training work with my schedule. So from a strategic standpoint, this program is ideal for the average weekend warrior.

Adventures of moving into a new apartment!

I was pretty nervous to switch from the Rock Prodigy program, but Steve Bechtel is the man and I decided to give it a shot. So far, the results have been noticeable and I’m pretty psyched about it.

Hangboard Results

First of all, I like that Steve recommends that you switch up the hangboard protocol halfway through the program. I feel like there are so many protocols claiming to be “the best”, so it’s refreshing to have a trainer claim that threre is more than one way to hangboard.

So far, I have only completed the 3-6-9 ladder portion of the hangboard program, so I will speak to the results of this.

When I first read through the first part of the hangboard program, my first thought was “how the hell are my fingers going to get stronger if I’m spending only 3 minutes PER WEEK hanging on them.”

The proof is in the pudding. My finger strength improved measurably. See beginning, middle and end below.

Workout #1*:
Open hand, 20mm, Bodyweight (BW)
Half crimp, 20mm edge, BW
Full crimp, 30mm edge, BW
*note that I was taking it a easy on this day because it was my first time back on a hangboard in a while

Workout #3:
Open hand, 25mm, BW +15lbs
Half crimp on 25mm edge, BW+15 lbs
Full crimp, 20mm, BW

Workout #6:
Open hand, 15mm, BW +13lbs
Half crimp on 15mm edge, BW+13 lbs
Full crimp, 15mm, BW

If you want to attribute this to “newbie gains”–you really can’t, because I’ve done 30+ hangboard workouts in the past year and a half (a la the Rock Prodigy program).

Integrated Strength Gains

Bechtel incorporates some climbing specific strength training into his program. He actually has an interesting structure for strength training called Integrated Strength. I don’t want to get too in the weeds about it, so read more about it here. Essentially you end up doing a hangboard exercise, a lift, and a mobility exercise right in a row. It is a very interesting approach.

Below I review some personal records from the integrated strength workouts:

Deadlift: 165lbs – 5 reps
Hanging leg raise: 6 reps
Weighted push-ups: 25lb plate, 5 reps
(I could NOT come even remotely close to doing the one arm, one leg push-up as recommended, so putting a plate on my back to up the intensity was my best option).

My deadlift increased by about 20lbs throughout the 6 workouts, push-ups didn’t go up by too much, but the hanging leg raises definitely got easier and improved in quality as I kept going. (Note that the try-hard face you see below is completely required, these BREAK ME.)

Power/Strength Endurance Results

Essentially, the power endurance workouts are 3 sets of 6 boulder problems that are right around your limit–leaving only 2 minutes or so between problems for recovery.

Bechtel recommends an interesting method of quantifying these workouts. Basically, you add up the grade of all the routes and take the average of these. He calls this your v-score or v-average.

Below I compare my average v-score from my best strength endurance circuit in my first workout to that of my final workout. Note that the rest between problems from the first workout was about 2 minutes. In my most recent PE workout I’ve reduced the rest to 1 minute.

Session 1:  Average V-score = 3
Session 3: Average V-score = 3.9
Session 6: Average V-score = 4.2

Essentially, I’ve gone from doing  6 boulder problems with V3 and V4 problems, to doing sets with V4 and V5 problems with less rest in between.

Noteable Ascents – Indoors and Outdoors

Putting in my first attempt on Orangahang, 5.12a

  • First 5.12 indoors – flashed it
  • Regularly Flashing 11+ (in the gym)
  • First V6 indoors
  • Able to work the moves/complete the crux on Orangahang, 5.12a in Rumney (new project–very psyched about it)
  • Flashed Waimea, 5.10d in Rumney–I’ve onsighted 10d before, but if feels good to do it in a new crag with a style different from the Red. It also felt pretty easy which was cool.

Flashing Waimea, 5.10d (also peep the guy a couple routes over about to send his project, graded 14c!)

These halfway point results are substantial from my perspective. I look forward to continue putting in work on Orangahang and other project and am very excited to see where this program takes me.

More to come, overall I’d highly recommend the program based on my half-way-there results.

Cheers,

Senderella

Two classic, effective ways to improve footwork for climbing

The worst whip I’ve ever taken resulted in two staples in the back of my head. Why did I fall? My foot blew!

Footwork is very important in climbing–debatably the most important aspect of your technique. Practicing good footwork can make or break your ascents (and maybe even your head).

So what can be done to specifically target footwork improvement? Let’s find out!

I went scouring the internet and my climbing reference books to find some groundbreaking drill that is fun, exciting, convenient, and will cure inefficient footwork for life. I found no such thing.

What I did find (and have my own experience with) are the two drills below. They are widely recommended because they are simple and effective. If you haven’t heard of them, try them out this week and see what you think!

  1. Silent feet – When climbing practice silent foot placement. Ensure that the feet are placed carefully and quietly. When feet are placed silently, they are placed accurately. If the toe gently lands on the chip, and sticks, that one movement is all you need and then you move on. It is meticulous. It is efficient.
  2. Downclimbing – most of climbing is done looking up,  leading with your hands. When you downclimb, your feet lead and the weight is on the toes. Make sure that when you do it, you climb as carefully down as you do up. It can be strange at first, but you get used to it.

The best way to practice these drills is to do so when you warm up. Hop on some easy boulders to warm up for your day of climbing, climb carefully with silent feet and climb down the routes as well.

Here’s a video that I think illustrates this super well (skip about a minute in if you don’t care about what literature pro climbers are reading–feel free to watch if you do!)

I hope you enjoyed your weekly dose of climbing technique. For the betterment of myself and others I’ll be bringing you a technique tip every Tuesday for Technique Tip Tuesday! I’m a sucker for alliterations.

See you next time!

Senderella

How to Make a Training Plan Part 3: Block vs. Nonlinear Periodization

To quicly re-cap:

The first part of making a training program is to set attainable, inspiring, goals.
The second is to know what components of your climbing need to be improved in order achieve your goals. 

In part three we review two types of training structures. There are different ways to set up your training on a day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month basis. These are block and non-linear periodization. They both have their pros and cons and either training structure is only as good as the climber’s adherence to the program.

What is periodization?

Generically speaking, periodization is the idea that training is more effective if you train certain attributes in a time-specific way. Periodization is an idea that is employed in many athletic fields, climbing included. See scholarly definition below.

Periodization is an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time.

(Frankel, C.C. & Kravitz, L. (2000). Periodization: Latest Studies and Practical Applications. IDEA Personal Trainer, 11(1), 15-16)

Comparison of Block and. Non-Linear Periodization

I have personal experience with both styles. I have completed multiple macrocycles of what is essentially a block periodization program and it was very effective. This is what made up the first year or so of my training.

Currently, I am in the middle of my first non-linear program and I am really enjoying the change—the results are not yet in in terms of improvement in my climbing as I have not yet completed it, but at minimum certain measurable aspects of my climbing have definitely improved (finger strength, completion/improvement on some indoor boulders, etc.).

I could explain each style of program with some lengthy post, but the comparison of the two can be nicely summed up using the table below.


Block

Non-Linear
Structure
Breaks up your training into 3-4 distinct phases where you focus on one attribute of climbing at a time for 4-6 weeks.*

  • Endurance
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Power Endurance
  • Performance

*Note that although the focus is on one attribute per phase—there are other attributes being worked on simultaneously in the background. No block training program is purely one component at a time.

 Rotation throughout the program, working on all critical attributes concurrently over the course of 7-10 days (depending on how much rest you need).

The schedule would look some thing like this:

Mon – Strength
Weds – Power
Thurs – Endurance
Saturday – Power Endurance

Performance &
Outdoor Climbing
Reach a performance peak at the end of the training plan. During some periods of the training, outdoor climbing may need to be ommitted for adherence to the program . Outdoor climbing can be de-coupled with training. You can go climb outside and project on the weekends—no specific performance “peak”.
Specific Literature
Rock Prodigy Program
How to Climb 5.12
Logical Progression
Pros
Strong performance peak, effective. You can, in theory, be performing all throughout the program. Flexible and engaging because you rotate through different workouts (strength, limit bouldering, etc.) in addition to working different aspects in one single training session.
Cons
Training must be planned around trip outside to work on goal route. Potential omission of outdoor climbing to focus on training. Can be daunting to focus on one attribute for a month at a time. Certain aspects decline while focusing on other aspects. No specific performance peak. May develop certain aspects (finger strength, power) more slowly than if you focused on one aspect at a time.

After evaluating my own goals for the season and my schedule, I have chosen a nonlinear periodization program for this training season. I am currently following the Logical Progression program laid out by Steve Bechtel and I am really enjoying it so far. I chose this program because I think it works well for the time frame in which I need to be in tip top shape. I will be trying to hit some personal bests on a couple of trips in October and November, so a very targeted performance peak does not work for me this year in terms of timing. I also thought it might be time to change it up a bit, which has been really fun so far!

UPCOMING TRIPS

I am headed to Mallorca, Spain for a week in October (1 month out!). I am also headed to the Red River Gorge for a long weekend as well. I will have just three days to try and take down my first 12b (ahh!).

My first go at Super Best Friends (5.12b). I got rained out of working on it more on my last trip to the Red. This route is the goal for my next trip down there in November!

Once you have your own goals and your time frame nailed down, you can choose which will work best for you too!

Which style of training appeals to you and your goals? If you’ve tried both, which do you like better?

Leave a comment or shoot me and email, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Happy climbing,

Senderella