These days, it seems anything anyone does is just for the Instgram. But I urge you to think twice the next time your friend asks you to film them while they climb. Before you roll your eyes, consider this: you might be helping them become a better climber.
Visual feedback in the form of film review is a useful tool for learning and improving. Reviewing video was common practice when I was a figure skater. Film study is also utilized in mainstream sports like basketball, soccer and American football.
“Proper film study is vital for any NFL team to win. Players that can take what they see on the screen and transfer that knowledge to the field will always have their “eyes on the prize.”
Though there is not a ton that a climber can lean from how football players train, film review is certainly a tactic we can steal from the coach’s playbook. In the age of smart phones, you are carrying a powerful tool everywhere you go. Here is how you can wield it wisely.
Observing Yourself “Like a Scientist”
Trevor Ragan, founder of TrainUgly.com, has devoted his career to educating people on how to learn better. He writes about the process of “observing yourself like a scientist”. This is the idea that we should be taking an objective look at our practice and performance and take our results “seriously, not personally”.
“The outcome is a reflection of the process, NOT of me as a person. I am not a failure, the failure was in the process.“
Scientists have tools that they use to collect data, so why not use your smart phone to gather some data for yourself?
Cringe Your Way Through It
Do you hate watching video of yourself? Do you cringe watching an instant replay of you failing on something? If you do, it’s pretty normal. However, as Trevor says, part of learning like a scientist is not take the outcomes personally. So take the video, get feedback and improve what you can.
A Little Help from Your Friends: Getting Useful Feedback
On a November trip to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, I worked on Ale-8-One, a 5.12b in the Motherlode area. Before my first redpoint attempt on the the route, I tossed my friend Justin my phone and asked him to take a video.
I one-hung the route and had the whole thing on film. Honestly, I felt strong and smooth, but when I watched the footage, I seemed to be shaking like a leaf and my clipping was as smooth as sand paper (video below for reference. Pardon the quality). Upon reviewing it, it was
Note that on this attempt, it was my first time trying to emulate the no hands rest at the beginning, hence some of the sloppiness there.
That evening I passed the videos around to climbers who were stronger than me and asked for feedback on what they thought I could improve. I had my own ideas about what needed to be fixed, but hearing the perspective of others was really helpful. They noticed inefficiencies that I would not have picked out were I left to my own devices.
Taking Feedback and Getting Better
Though I didn’t send the route on that trip, my next redpoint go was night and day compared to my first attempt. I made it to the second to last hold before the chains and I felt way stronger. My loyal belayer told me that I looked like a completely different climber than my attempt two days ago.
Reviewing film and getting feedback from others made a huge difference.
A Bit of Research on Feedback and Learning
In a study of 60 male novice swimmers, researchers explored four different teaching methods for improving speed and swimming technique. Which method proved to be the most effective for technique improvement? A combination of film review and verbal feedback from coaches. Compared to verbal feedback alone and watching the expert swimmers, getting a combination of visual and verbal feedback, was superior to the other methods studied.
When to Get Footage
Obviously, getting video can be a cumbersome, especially if you are alone, or if you don’t want the distractions that your smart phone can cause. However, if there is a move or route you are struggling with indoors or outdoors, getting video of yourself is exceptionally helpful. If you are in a scenario where you think seeing yourself doing the move would benefit you, be brave, advocate for yourself and ask for a favor from a friend or a climbing partner.
Other Benefits of Film
We all take rest days. If I am in the middle of working on an outdoor project, I sometimes review the beta in my head as I fall asleep at night. This process can be augmented by having video to review as well. If you can review film and make notes on what you are going to tackle in the next climbing day, you help yourself become more intentional on the wall when your rest day is over.
Film review is a common practice in high-end sports. We can also apply this tactic to our climbing.
Objectively observing ourselves “like a scientist” is vital to the learning process.
Visual feedback through film is a useful way to aid in the learning process of climbing.
Having trusted climbing partners objectively review your film can give you fresh perspective when working on improving your climbing skills.
Be brave and advocate for yourself if you want help getting video of a boulder or route you are working on.
Reviewing film is a productive activity on rest days from climbing.
Have you ever used film review to work out a move or sequence? Have you found it helpful? Were you ever surprised at what you saw? Leave a comment or shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org – I would be thrilled to hear from you.
This summer I took a trip to Lander, Wyoming to climb in Wild Iris. This locale is approximately 9,000 feet higher my typical existence in which I can literally see the Atlantic Ocean from my office.
For the first few days in Lander I could definitely feel the altitude. The hikes seemed more exhausting than they should have been and I needed tons of water just to avoid getting a headache.
What was the cause? Elevation of course! According to the literature, it takes multiple weeks to adapt to living and performing athletically at elevation. Which sucks if you have a limited amount of vacation time and you are only at altitude for a few days at a time.
How Quickly Do you Adapt to Altitude?
The consensus among experts is that an athlete becomes fully adapted to high altitude (2,000m – 3,000m) within 2-3 weeks of arrival from sea level. Places like Lander, Wyoming, climbing areas in the Front Range of Colorado, Ceuse in France and many more boast altitudes many thousands of feet above sea level.
So if you’re like me and you only get a week or two to climb somewhere up high, expect that you will need to take special care when adapting to the altitude.
Part of me hates bringing this up since we climbers are so talented at creating excuses already, but facts are facts. It takes time to adapt to elevation. Which begs the question, is there a way to prepare for a high altitude trip if you are a flat-lander? And even more than that? Or what if you aren’t at a high elevation but your climbing destination has a famously heinous approach?
Long, Nasty Approaches
Some approaches really suck – high elevation or not. Personally, I am not accustomed to exceptionally brutal approaches. However, I am aware that places like Ceuse and Rocky Mountain National Park, can be physically demanding before you even get on the rock. Based on Steve Bechtel’s What to Train to Send your Project flow chart (pictured below), if you are completely wasted by the approach, you may benefit from adding a touch of cardio endurance training to your routine.
Example: preparing for a long approach in the Alpine
To illustrate the point, here is an extreme example of someone who might benefit from some general endurance training (e.g. running). Let’s say you are a boulderer who lives at sea level. You do not have any experience with general aerobic fitness training – no high school sports, no random 5Ks, no spin classes, nothing. You then choose a boulder project in the alpine that you want to send on a one week trip to Colorado. You must hike for two hours before working on your boulder problem (I’m looking at you, James Lucas).
If this is you – you have two factors working against you. Firstly, the hike is probably going to be very exhausting for you. The second, your aerobic energy system’s rate of recovery in between your attempts on the boulder problem is going to be compromised by the altitude. In this case, if you have the time, you can see how it might be helpful to add some general cardio to your training prior to your trip. It would be a shame to have strong enough fingers for your project with a pair of lungs that aren’t ready for the hike.
Though this example may seem extreme, you see the point. If you are headed into an environment that is going to tax your cardiovascular system in terms of a long approach or high altitude, it might be helpful to add some general cardio to your training in preparation for your trip. Again, maybe it won’t be so helpful if you already feel fit enough for a long hike, but if you don’t, a marginal amount of running may help.
Can running help with faster altitude adaptation?
To my own chagrin (though I am not surprised), there is no specific research covering the effects of running for rock climbers that are training for a high altitude climbing trip. However, when reviewing the running literature on this topic, a bit of insight can be gained.
For runners training at sea level and racing at altitude, the literature advises that it is ideal to show up 2-3 weeks before the race to acclimate to the elevation. However, if this is not possible some runners advise trying to show up just 18-48 hours before the race start time in an effort to race before the effects of the altitude set in. Whether you show up twelve hours before start time or two days seems to be a matter of preference. Unfortunately for climbers, we are planning on trying to perform for presumably many days – not just the few hours of a race.
What this means for Sea-Level Climbers
What I deduce from this is that runners have not figured out a way to completely train at sea level for maximal running performance at high altitudes. According to research on running, the best way to be prepared is to give yourself plenty of time to acclimate. Again, not super helpful for those with limited time in the Alpine. So what does this mean for climbers headed on a high altitude trip? If you are a climber at sea level trying to perform at altitude, are you screwed? Of course not!
Although we can learn a lot from the running community, climbing and running are not created equal. While a distance runner will depend almost entirely on their aerobic energy system, climbers are more diverse in the energy systems used doing a route or boulder problem. A climber typically is not climbing continuously for the same amount of time that a runner is running (unless you are on some insanely long multi-pitch routes). So while you might be huffing and puffing on the hike, your finger strength didn’t decrease by 50% because you went up a few thousand meters. You didn’t forget how to heel hook just because you’re in an alpine environment. The change in altitude matters, but it isn’t everything.
My Own Experience
When I went to Wild Iris this summer, I was able to do my second ever 5.12, Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump. I did it in a couple of sessions and I never felt that being out of breath was the reason I was falling. I didn’t feel that I was any more pumped than I would have been if the route were at sea level. My training for my trip to Wild Iris did not incorporate any running or generalized cardiovascular training and I managed to accomplish my goals for the trip.
However, I will say that I may add a bit of running to my training for climbing at altitude in the future. If only because I f*ing hate hiking and it would be nice for the hikes to suck a bit less.
To Run or Not to Run
There are many lenses to view the debate on running and climbing. Make sure to read the entire series on this subject. There will be one more installment after this where I will gather expert opinions on the most optimal way to add running to your training if you choose to do so.
There are myriad angles from which to examine the debate on running and whether or not it benefits your climbing. One of the arguments for supplementing your climbing with running is the argument that it helps with weight loss. Before we get into it, let’s recall what was covered in parts 1 and 2 of this series on running and climbing.
Recap of Parts 1 and 2:
Based on the research, sport-specific endurance training is more effective for climbers than general endurance training
Climbers do require aerobic endurance in order to perform in both sport climbing and bouldering
If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, make sure you do before reading on.
Now, let’s address the topic at hand: weight loss.
Weight Management for Climbers
As you are aware, climbing is a sport that is impacted by your power to weight ratio (see Weight and Climbing). So it would make sense that climbers would be interested in ways to manage body composition. Let’s quickly review how weight loss happens, keeping in mind that your weight is perhaps a less important metric than your overall body composition. For example, I have gained 5 lbs of muscle over the past 3 years. Though my overall body weight is higher, my percent body fat is lower and I am climbing harder than I ever have. Click here if you want to read more about optimizing body composition as a climber.
What about resistance training?
If reducing body fat, becoming stronger, and increasing your aerobic endurance is the goal, I would encourage you to consider resistance training. Here is an interesting excerpt written by Doug McGuff M.D, expert in fitness medicine, taken from The Four Hour Body.
“If you are intent on improving your aerobic capacity, it’s important to understand that your aerobic system performs at its highest when recovering from lactic acidosis. After your high-intensity [resistance-based] workout, when your metabolism is attempting to reduce the level of pyruvate in the system, it does so through the aerobic subjugation of metabolism… since muscles is the basic mechanical system being served by the aerobic energy system, as muscle strength improves the necessary support systems (which includes the aerobic system) must follow suit.”
Translation: Intense workouts like heavy weight lifting cause your body to utilize the aerobic energy system during recovery periods. Therefore heavy resistance training improves your aerobic energy system. This means that cardio is not the only way to improve your aerobic energy system.
If you don’t already, you might consider adding some strength training to your climbing training program to both aid in body re-composition, also to help improve your aerobic capacity, and make you a stronger, more resilient athlete.
With that, let’s talk about a relative downside of all exercise.
Exercise Doesn’t Burn Many Calories
Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t out-train a bad diet.” Well it’s true. You can’t. A pound of fat contains roughly 4,000 calories. Running a marathon burns around 2,600 calories (probably less if you’re a small female) – and that’s before we subtract out your basal metabolic rate. Running yourself lean would be an extremely time-consuming feat. A friend of mine was telling me about an old teammate on his collegiate rowing team. They were at a two week training camp, performing brutal two-a-day workouts, but his friend ate so much Dairy Queen that he gained weight over this two week period, despite the exceptional amount of physical activity. You cannot out-train a poor diet. If you want to lose weight, you need to change how you eat. Let’s look at another example.
Fred Eats Girl Scout Cookies
Fred is 30 years old, 5’10” and weighs about 170lbs. Fred treats himself to three thin mints after work since it is girl scout cookie season and girl scout cookies are objectively delicious. He cannot go climbing on Tuesdays, but he has time to run on the treadmill in his apartment after work. Fred runs four miles in about 35 minutes. Here’s the question – did Fred burn off the Girl Scout Cookies? Let’s take a look.
Three Thin Mints: 160 calories 4 Miles of Running: 400 calories Fred’s Basal Metabolic Rate:50 calories (AKA what Fred would have burned in the 40 minutes anyway if he were in a coma instead of running) Caloric Deficit Achieved by Running: 190 calories
Yes. In 35 minutes Fred burned off just over three thin mints. I love cookies, but that’s a lot of work for three thin mints. Don’t forget that after running for 35 minutes, Fred is really hungry and overeats at dinner, which likely negates the meager caloric deficit he earned from his 35 minute run anyway.
Save Time, Skip the Peanut Butter
Can running help you achieve a caloric deficit? Sure. Can it help you lose weight? Certainly. But for the amount of time it takes to run, you might as well just skip out on a spoonful of peanut butter and get a half an hour of your life back.
If your objective is to lose weight, just adding a run or two to your weekly routine is not going to completely do the trick. You likely need to make some dietary changes as well. Now let’s look at another angle of the running for weight loss equation.
Excessive Exercise Prevents Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight and your inclination is to add a run on your rest days to help do that, you might want to think again. Neely Quinn lays this out in her article on weight loss for climbers:
Part of it is that when you’re running or cycling a ton, your body wants to eat, eat, eat. So you end up eating all your calorie deficit away anyway, and then you’re exhausted on top of it. …If you want to climb well, then climb. There’s no need for all that running if you’re trying to be a good climber. If you want to grow muscles, maintain your lean body mass, and improve as a climber, you need adequate rest.
Neely Quinn, Nutrition Therapist and founder of TrainingBeta.com
In Tim Ferriss’s Book, The Four-Hour Body he lists excessive exercise as a top reason that people cannot lose weight.
“Doing too much will not only not help, it will reverse your progress and it also leads to overeating, sports drinks, and other assorted self-sabotage… Less is more.”
I know as climbers we love to do more, but for the sake of improving as climbers, don’t just add more to your training to get better – especially if you’re adding it to lose weight. If you are climbing with 3-4 quality sessions per week, this is likely plenty of exercise.
Running and Weight Loss: What Works
Although running may not be the most optimal way to lose weight, it does work. I cannot argue that. Even esteemed climbing trainer, Eric Hörst, recommends it in his podcast episode on climbing and running. There is science to prove that running can help you lose weight. However, there are multiple different ways to run for weight loss, so if you’re going to do it, do it as well as you can.
Research on Running and Weight Loss: Sustained vs. Interval Training
In an analysis combining 41 studies and 1115 participants, the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed the effects of three different modalities of running for weight loss: Moderate intensity (MOD), High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and Sprint Interval Training (SIT). MOD is defined as exercising at 55%-70% of your maximal heart rate. HIIT is performed by doing intervals greater than 80% of max heart rate. Sprint Interval training takes this one step further, prescribing intervals of “all out effort” or 100% of maximum heart rate. The table below summarizes heart rate and average duration for these protocols as examined in the meta-analysis.
MOD vs. HIIT vs. SIT had comparable results for reduction of overall body fat percentage.
HIIT and SIT were better protocols for fat mass reduction than MOD.
You can get similar results from all of these modalities.
With interval training, you can get the same results as MOD and spend less time doing it.
Running and Your Legs
For some running does almost nothing to their legs, for others running causes hypertrophy of the leg muscles. In any case, if you are running significant amounts, especially if you are running hills, etc. you may be putting on unnecessary weight in your legs. This is another variable to consider when examining the effect of running on your progress as a climber.
The Verdict on Running and Weight Loss
Maintaining your weight and optimizing your body composition are important to climbing your best.
Strength training is a good way to increase aerobic capacity while increasing one’s overall strength.
Excessive exercise can hinder weight loss and even cause you to overeat.
You cannot out-train a poor diet.
The caloric deficit from moderate running is smaller than you think.
Interval-based running workouts are a more time-efficient way to run for weight loss than running at a moderate pace for 40+ minutes.
Running may cause your legs to hypertrophy, which is not ideal for climbers; however this phenomenon varies from person to person and may not impact you at all.
I know that people love to run and that for certain people, it has proven to be an effective way to lose weight. However, I challenge you to think critically and strategically about the time you have to train and how you are going about losing weight, if that is something you have decided you need to do.
There may be a better way than what you have been doing, so I urge you to open your mind, experiment, and figure out how to become a better climber.
What do you think? Have you had great success with running for weight loss? How did you do it? Have you lost weight without running at all? Tell me about it! Leave a comment or shoot me an email at email@example.com, I would love to hear from you.
In Part 1 of this series of we determined that aerobic endurance is important to our climbing ability – especially for route climbers. Make sure to go back and read part 1 before moving on to this discussion on sport specific vs. general endurance training.
Comparing Sport – Specific and General Endurance Training
When you ask “can running help my climbing?” you are drawing on the broader question of which is more beneficial: sport specific or general endurance training? Should your endurance training be completely sport specific? Or can general endurance training help your climbing as well? Let’s draw on research to answer this question.
A Study on Cross Training: Running and Swimming
In a study on the effects of cross training for runners, 30 highly trained individuals (20 men, 10 women) were randomly selected to add 10% volume to their training regimen for endurance running for 8 weeks . Half the group added swimming workouts to their training, the other half, additional running.
Summarily, those that ran more to get better at running, got better at running. Whereas those that swam and ran to get better at running, did not improve as much.
Let’s look at another similar study on running and cycling.
Cross Training for Running with Cycling
In another interesting study, eleven female distrance runners in a 5 week off-season period were given low-intensity training protocols. One group participated in a running-only training plan while the other group performed 50% of their training volume on a bike and the other 50% running. The objective was to determine the effects of the differing protocols on maintaining 3,000 meter run times as well as VO2 max.
The result? Upon returning to in-season practice, the running-only group was 14s faster in the 3,000M run than the running and cycling group. Though changes in cardiovascular indicators (VO2 max) were not significantly different between the two groups. However, the cycling group was substantially slower than the running group when returning to in-season training.
Now let’s examine a case study on the one and only, cardio God, Lance Armstrong.
Lance Armstrong is pretty OK at Running (for being Lance Armstrong)
World class cyclist, Lance Armstrong, is not above going places on foot. Though frankly, he had better not quit his day job. Despite having a VO2 Max that most long-distance runners only dream of, Lance in his prime would not have been able to hop off the bike and onto a marathon circuit without some sport-specific training. Lance’s cycling was clearly world-class, but his marathon times put him only at the cusp of being a professional athlete in the distance running world.
Lance’s New York City Marathon Time was 2:46:43 in 2006. By comparison, the fastest time in the 2018 New York City Marathon was much faster at 2:05:59. Lance is a world class cyclist, certainly. But Lance’s cardiovascular system wasn’t sufficient for him to be a celebrated international phenomena in the running circuit as well.
Perhaps if Lance had trained specifically for running he would have been out there winning long distance running events in the Olympics. However, this example is given to show that just because Lance had impeccable general endurance, it was not enough to propel him into the highest echelons of long-distance cycling and running. General endurance is not the only factor contributing to success in endurance sports.
Thanks to the Kris Hampton at the Power Company and Steve Bechtel for pointing out Lance’s running career that I was wholly unaware until listening to their podcast episode.
Conclusions from the Research
The moral of the story is that sport specificity is very important. From these studies and our discussion of Mr. Armstrong, we can conclude that having exceptional general cardiovascular capability is not sufficient to excel at specific sports. General endurance training does not translate extremely well between running and cycling (and these sports are somewhat mechanically similar – more so than running and climbing). The idea that running endurance translates well to climbing doesn’t hold much weight when you look at the research. But don’t just take it from me, the authors of the Rock Climber’s Training Manual agree as well.
“The training must be climbing specific in order to develop muscular endurance that is relevant to climbing.”
Think about the last time you climbed something hard enough where your forearms were so pumped that you fell off the wall? Were you panting like you would be in an all out sprint? My guess is no. But your forearms gave out, did they not?
Although general endurance is important to climbing, certainly, the weakest link in you climbing endurance is going to be found in your forearms.
“All climbing activites will benefit from improved capacity for aerobic respiration within the muscle fibers. However, this characteristic must be specific to the muscles used (mostly the forearms) for it to be relevant to cllimbing. The whole body’s systematic capacity for aerobic respiration is largely irrelevant in rock climbing, while the aerobic capacity of the muscle cells within the forearm is of utmost importance.”
But this is not to say that running can’t help, right? If you have a little bit of time to run, you enjoy it, and you simply can’t tax your fingers any more, then perhaps a little running can’t hurt.
Stay tuned for part 3 of this series where I go into detail on how to effectively implement running in your training routine. I’ll also address some miscellaneous topics such as running for weight loss and cardio adaptations to Alpine environments.
Make sure to subscribe to my email list so you don’t miss out on Part 3 of this series on running. And give me a follow on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date on when new posts are out!
Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know your thoughts on running and climbing. I would love to hear from you!
Please note that this post contains affiliate links to the Rock Climber’s Training Manual – which I refer back to regularly. Commissions earned from purchases through my links keep this website in existence and keep it ad-free!
My friend Shannon stumbled into the apartment dripping in sweat and red in the face. She had just finished watching Brave Heart. But unlike most people who sweat while watching television, Shannon was perspiring from running her way through a three hour Mel Gibson classic. You see, Shannon likes to run. This emotion is a complete mystery to me, though I understand that many would find my enjoyment of hanging by my fingertips on small bits of plastic equally as mystifying.
Despite my displeasure with running, I know there are many of you who find it very enjoyable. So the question I want to dig into here is how running and climbing do or do not cooperate in the pursuit of making you a better climber. I have gathered a variety of research, opinions, and angles to answer the big question: can running really help your climbing?
There is a lot to cover, so this post will be broken up into at least two parts. With that, let’s start with our first conundrum: the limitations of time.
24 Hours in a Day
The first consideration to make is that there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, and weeks in a year. So if you are going to spend time running, but you only have a few hours per week to train, think carefully about how you spend your time. It is likely that spending more time climbing is going to make you better at climbing. (See the rule of 75/25). As Steve Bechtel so famously said:
“Running for climbing is as important as climbing is for running. You can see how ludicrous that sounds. If you want to get better at the Boston Marathon you should hit the rock gym? No.”
We’ll get into that a bit more later, but this is certainly a point of view worth considering.
You can’t be good at everything all the time
Do you ever notice that in your life, when you try to be good at your job, be a good friend, train really hard for climbing, eat healthy, manage your money responsibly, raise your kids, make regular dentist appointments, take showers – you end up with a mediocre performance in one of these areas? ( For reference, I’m super shitty at the dentist appointments and the showers – oh well). Apply the same concept to climbing. If you are trying to send your absolute hardest and do your first marathon in the same couple of months, both pursuits will end in sub-maximal performance.
We have a limited amount of adaptation potential and how hard you push in all of these different directions limits how much you can push in other directions.
Bottom Line If you want to be the best climber you can be, you can’t be the best runner you can be at the same time.
The Deal with Endurance
If you are an avid runner and you have not left this blog post yet, I have good news. There is a perspective among trainers that supports the claim that running can help improve your climbing. But before we get into that, let’s define a few terms: aerobic energy system, Adenosine triphosphate, and VO2 Max.
Aerobic Energy System
Here’s a quick and dirty definition of the aerobic energy system if you are not familiar. Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”. The aerobic energy system is the body’s energy production pathway that uses oxygen. This system is characterized by long-term energy output at relatively low intensities e.g. efforts lasting longer than 5 minutes like rowing, cycling, running over long distances. (see TeachPE.Com)
Check out the video below if you want a 2 minute explanation of the aerobic energy system.
Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP)
For the purposes of this article, all you need to know is that Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the fuel your muscles need to contract in order to produce movement. ATP is to our muscles as diesel is to a semi truck. If you want to read more about this complex organic molecule, see here.
What is VO2 Max?
VO2 Max, or Maximal Volume of oxygen is a measure of the amount of oxygen and individual can use during intense exercise. It is measured in volume of oxygen that can be consumed per mass of body weight over time. It is a general measurement used to determine aerobic fitness – or the capacity of your aerobic energy system.
Average Range of VO2 Max: 30-40 mL of oxygen per kg per minute Lance Armstrong’s VO2 Max: 85mL of oxygen per kg per minute Advanced Climbers(5.12 and Beyond): 45-50mL of oxygen per kg per minute
Phil Watts, an original gangster of climbing research, did a study to investigate the oxygen consumption of climbers.
The method: Subjects were set to climb moderate terrain (80 degree slab and 102 degree slightly overhanging). A critique of the study, as pointed out by Eric Horst in his podcast, was that the climbers were not very experienced and the routes were not very challenging.
The result: Climbers showed a VO2 max consumption of 30 mL/kg per minute – the average VO2 Max for the American Couch Potato. Form this, Watts determined that climbing is not an exceptional cardiovascular challenge. (See Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 20 )
But no so fast, Phil. We can’t toss out our running shoes yet. In a later 2003 paper, Watts provided an update. In his 2003 paper, the maximal oxygen consumption of climbers was studied again. This time, VO2 Max during difficult efforts was reported to be much higher, with climbers demonstrating maximal oxygen consumption at upwards of 43-50 ml/kg-min during efforts on difficult and steep terrain. This is a far cry from the results of the original study.
From this we can determine that during our hardest ascents, our aerobic energy system is certainly put to the test. In Eric Horst’s review of the subject, he posits that upwards of 50% of our energy production (ATP production) comes from the aerobic energy pathway. Heretofore, a well-trained aerobic energy system is critical to climbing hard. (See Phil’s 2003 research paper)
The Verdict A well-trained aerobic energy system is critical to climbing hard.
Where Everyone Agrees on Aerobic Fitness
Although the methods of how best to train the aerobic energy system as a climber are somewhat controversial, most trainers generally agree on the benefits of being an aerobically fit athlete.
“More aerobically fit climbers via generalized aerobic training recovered faster at rests on routes and between boulder problems.”
There is an accord that aerobic fitness is important to climbing and the research agrees too. Practically speaking, if the thirty minute hike to the crag with the rope on your back saps your energy for the day, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than the sub-optimal rest hold on your project. The controversy comes in when we discuss how to obtain aerobic fitness: in a specific or generalized way.
Do you enjoy running? Do you hate it? Are you thinking about incorporating it into your training? Leave a note or shoot me an email at email@example.com, I would love to hear from you and discuss.
The massage therapist clapped her hands together and smiled wide. Her client had just handed her a lovely bit of information: that she warms up her shoulders with theraband exercises before she begins any strenuous physical activity.
Well, that client is me. I have a religious pre-climbing ritual and I follow it wherever I plan to climb. In the interest of continuing to climb injury-free for an extensive career, you may want to do the same.
With that, here are three mistakes you are probably making in your pre-climbing warmup.
Mistake #1: You do not warm up before you get on the wall
This is one that I see all the time. Someone walks into the gym, climbs three V0s and decides that this is sufficient to start working on their V5 project. Then they wonder why they aren’t very flexible and why their shoulders and elbows and fingers are tweaked. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture.
A warm-up and stretching protocol should be implemented prior to physical activity. The routine should allow the stretching protocol to occur within the 15 minutes immediately prior to the activity in order to receive the most benefit.
But you knew this already. You know you should warm up before you get on the wall. So don’t wait until you have your first real injury or first bad tweak.
You might think you don’t have time to warm-up. The truth is you don’t have time NOT to.
Mistake #2: You’re not Stretching Dynamically
Does it feel great to lean down, touch your toes, and hang out there for a while? For some, maybe. But for all, this modality of static stretching is not ideal for warming up to climb. Static stretching is defined as holding a challenging position for 30 seconds or more.
Similarly, ballistic stretching (“bouncing” in and out of a stretching position beyond normal range of motion) is not ideal either.
Here’s is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. Jared Vagy (the climbing doctor) on the subject.
“Static stretching is a poor choice: The research shows that statically stretching a muscle before activity impairs muscle strength and leads to decreased performance. There is also evidence that shows that it can actually increase injury rate.
Ballistic stretching is a poor choice: It has been shown in numerous research studies that ballistic stretching is hazardous when used as a warm-up. The rapid nature of the movement activates a reflex in the muscle causing it to contract to protect itself from harm. This can cause micro-tearing of the muscle.”
According to research, the stretching you want to be doing prior to physical activity is dynamic stretching. Vagy goes on to recommend the following:
Dynamic stretching is the best choice: Research supports that a sport specific dynamic warm-up is the best way to increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons in the body.
Dynamic stretching is defined as movements that take you “gently to the ends of your range of motion” in a controlled manor. They are usually performed in sets of 8-12 reps. ( source: mit.edu).
Summarily, dynamic stretching before you climb is the way to go.
Mistake #3: You do not take your warm-up outside
So you’ve figured out how to warm-up. You do it every time you hit the gym. Your sessions feel better and you have your routine down. Then the first time the weather breaks and you head outside, you throw the whole thing out the window. You pull onto one easy route then immediately start projecting.
Warming up is not only for your indoor training days, you need to take your off-the-wall warm-up outside as well (especially as a matter of fact). Here’s a word from Eric Horst in a section ofHow to Climb 5.12 regarding preparing for an onsight outdoors.
What’s the best way to warm up for a serious on-sight attempt? Some mild full-body stretching and sports massage of the fingers and forearms is a good start.
This is a simple concept but it’s very easy to mess up. Personally, my off-the-wall warm-up involves resistance bands (and some stuff with my hands on the ground). I bring my theraband to the crag with me every time I go outside to climb and I use it to get warm before hopping on the wall.
Resources and Further Reading
If you’re looking to get yourself a pre-climbing warm-up here are a few resources I would highly recommend.
So what about you? Do you warm-up before you get on the wall? What do you like to do to warm-up? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Please note that this blog post contains affiliate links for products that I have personally used and enjoyed. If you are interested in purchasing any of these products, kindly consider using the links in the post above. This helps keep SenderellaStory.com in existence and keeps it ad-free!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.” –
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 email@example.com. I would love to hear from you!
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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.
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.
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.
Always write down the date. Sounds simple, but it’s important.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org – I would love to hear your thoughts!
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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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
I had a limit boulder session each week for the twelve weeks leading up to the trip
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.
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.
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. “
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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to discuss!
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