A Comprehensive Guide to Tracking Your Climbing and Training

lauren abernathy gravity vault hoboken

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

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

Ground Rules

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

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

Bouldering

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

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

How to Track your Limit Boulders

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

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

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

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

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

Volume Bouldering Session

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

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

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

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

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

Routes

Endurance Days

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

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

Indoor Projecting Days

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

Outside

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

Redpointing: Mapping Your Beta

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

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

Other Training Activities

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

photo by Teagan Maddux

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

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

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

What is a hangboard?

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

Lauren Abernathy Hangboarding
Me hanging with some extra weight added.

6 Questions to answer before you start hangboarding

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

What grades are you climbing comfortably outside?

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

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

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


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

What is your home crag like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you hang on the holds with your body weight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Ferriss Show: Episode 160

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

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

Are you at a Plateau?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Reasons Why You Should Track Your Climbing Training

senderella story - track your training

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

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

Oh God.

I pull out my headphones and brace for impact.

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

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

The answers to them are described below.

What’s in a notebook?

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

climbing notebook
My handy dandy notebook

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

Examples of Past Data Used to Improve the Future

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

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

EXAMPLE A: The week before a trip

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

EXAMPLE B: The day of a send

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

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

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

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

Reason 1: Staying Motivated

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

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

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

Example: Finger Strength Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring Progress is Motivating

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

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

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

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

Reason 2: Knowing What’s Working

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

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

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

Example: Prepping for Wild Iris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Horst – Training for Climbing Podcast

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

Keeping Track to Be Consistent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Climbing,

Senderella

Please note that this blog post contains Amazon Afiliate 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!

Four Strength Training Myths Debunked: Lifting for Climbers

Lauren Abernathy overhead press

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

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

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

MYTH #1: Lifting Heavy will Make you HUGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myofibrillar Hypertrophy

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

Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathyryn Sall – Rock and Ice Magazine, February 2018

For the beginner climbers

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

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

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

Steve Bechtel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smal but Mighty

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

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

The Four Hour Body, Tim Ferriss, Pg. 408

Deadlifting and Squatting as Climbing Movements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources, Further Reading & Listening

Research on differences in muscle mass between men and women.

The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

Power Company Podcast – Kettlebell Episode

Myofibrillar vs. sarcoplasmic hypertropy

Strength Training for Rock Climbing Series from Steve Bechtel

Power Company Climbing: 4 Strength Movements you should be Doing

Lifting Guidelines with Steve Bechtel

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

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

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Happy Climbing!

Senderella

Sending your First 5.12: Movement Drills for Climbing

Lauren abernathy climbing moonboard
Lauren new river gorge climbing

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

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

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

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

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

Mindful Practice vs. Going through the Motions

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

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

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

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

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

Resources for Movement Drills

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

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

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

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

JUST FOR LAUGHS

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

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

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

Practical Applications when Redpointing

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

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

Heavy Feet

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

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

One Touch to Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice?

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

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

Fitting it All In

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

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

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

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

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

The Month Before the Send

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

Like this content? For more exclusive tips and tricks, sign up for my monthly newsletter. It’s five bullets of my favorite things I’ve been reading, learning and doing straight to your inbox once a month to help make you a better climber. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and give my page a like on Facebook!

*Please note tjhat after my last post I became and affiliate for the Power Company Climbing ebooks. I do receive a small commission for ebooks sold through the links provided in this post. If you are interested in purchasing this movement drills ebook, please consider doing so through one of my links. It help keeps my content free and accessible to all!

5 Tips for Two-a-Day Climbing Training

Lauren Gravity Vault Hoboken

There ar e few things that will get my sleepy boyfriend out of bed before 7 a.m. Unless it’s a flight, a powder day, or we have to go to Costco on a Sunday, he is NOT getting up.

So when he told me that he wanted to get up at 5:30 to climb before work, I was skeptical. However when Tuesday morning rolled around, by about 6:05 we were both strapped into an auto-belay at our local gym and ready to do our first two-a-day.

lauren and mike hoboken
Actual image of Mike and I getting ready to head to the gym at 5:50 a.m.

Why Train twice a day?

So what is at the root of training morning and evening? In simple terms, you get the same amount of training done, but with optimized recovery.

Let’s say you want to get 4 sessions of training done in a week: a strength workout, an endurance session, a volume boulder session and a limit boulder session. Instead of needing 4 days to do these four sessions, and whatever rest days you need in between, you could structure them into two days, and have more rest between big training days – which is much more optimal for recovery than climbing multiple days on.

Benefits of Chunking

Another benefit of two a day training is that chunking your training into shorter, more-specified blocks helps your body adapt better to the stimulus of training. E.g. doing a purely strength focused session in the morning and then an endurance session 10 hours later is way better than doing an endurance workout and trying to eek out your lifting session immediately after in a single 2-3 hour block. (Source: Eric Horst’s Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 32)

Sample Schedule

So what does this look like in a real world scenario? For me, it looks something like this:

Monday:
AM – Strength workout
PM – Bouldering for Volume

Rest Tuesday (and maybe Wednesday too if you need it)

Thursday:
AM – endurance session
PM – limit bouldering

And so boom, you just got 4 days of climbing done in two, you’re taking more complete rest days, AND you have time to do a little more training during the rest of the week. Alternatively, you can rest really well on Thursday and Friday before heading outside for the weekend to climb on Saturday. Sweet!

For me, this is a way better structure than climbing multiple days on, so I do two a days twice a week now (as well as an additional third day of training/outdoor climbing). Here are my tips for fitting this training structure into your life.

TIP 1: Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t

It took some experimenting to figure out which types of sessions fit well together in a day of training. I am aware that I am NOT Adam Ondra so my capacity to do two super hard sessions in a day just isn’t there. There was one day that I did an intense hangboard and lifting session in the AM and tried to do a session of limit bouldering in the evening. My bouldering session sucked and I was RIDICULOUSLY sore the next two days. I learned that these were not two sessions that I could group into a day. My rule of thumb now is that I do not slot two highly intense types of training into one day. But YOU have to experiment with what works for you to figure this out.

TIP 2: With new found time, try something new

My two a day climbing started when our gym announced they were opening at 6 a.m. I planned to keep all of the usual training sessions that I did, but I wanted to add two sessions that were solely dedicated to practicing climbing technique and increasing my endurance. This was perfect because low-end endurance training (climbing many routes 1-3 letter grades below your max) pairs super well with movement drills – something I had never really considered until listening to Episode 123 of the TrainingBeta Podcast – how John Kettle went from 5.11 to 5.13 by practicing movement drills.

Lauren Gravity Vault Hoboken
Me cranking out some movement drills and endurance training before work at approximately 6:15 a.m.

Movement Drills and Endurance

I only have an hour to train in the morning sessions. At least one of these two AM sessions is dedicated to climbing lots of routes while performing 15-20 minutes of 3-4 movement drills. I really like Power Company Movement Skills ebook. Typically I do 15-20 minutes of the “Heavy Feet Drill”, 10-15 minutes of the “One Touch Drill” and then I mess around with the “Matching” Drill and the “Hover” Drill as well, to round out my hour. Videos below for reference – but get the book, because the detailed explanations are really good and The Power Company did a great job on this e-book.

TIP 3: Warming Up

Waking up in the morning is hard. Waking your body up in the morning to the point of practicing climbing is harder. You should never skip warming up before you climb, but you especially shouldn’t go from your bed to bouldering without a proper warm-up. My morning timing is tight too, but invest the 5 minutes it takes to get warm before getting on the wall. Here are some of my favorite things to do in the AM before a session, in some combination:

TIP 4: Consider the logistics

One of the reasons I love mornings is because my climbing gym isn’t crowded and I can go in and get it done without having to wait for auto-belays, gym equipment, hangboards, etc. My time in the gym is definitely optimized when I don’t have to navigate around other people to complete my session. Think about your time in the gym and figure out which sessions might work best in the mornings (assuming AM is less crowded than PM).

I know that for many, actually getting to a climbing gym before work isn’t possible. In my last job, there was no way that climbing before and after work would ever, ever happen. However, I made a home gym in the basement complete with my hangboard, free weights, and squat rack. It took some motivation, but I was at least able to complete strength workouts before work if I wanted to.

If you can’t make it to the climbing gym in the morning, consider if a home gym could help you slip in some extra strength training in the morning. It’s a lot better to do strength training when you are fresh in the morning than after you’ve worked all day and climbed for two hours and you need to go to bed.

TIP 5: YOU HAVE TO EAT AND SLEEP

Speaking of bed, optimizing recovery is extremely important when you train twice a day. Even though you are properly structuring your sessions so that you aren’t killing yourself, you still have to take extra care that you are giving your body the resources to recover. Here are two rules I live by when it comes to recovering from a two a day.

Protein Intake

The day of and the day after a two-a-day, I make sure to get plenty of protein. I eat 20-30 grams a few times a day so that I get a total of around 120+ g. I weigh around 123-125 these days. So this is about enough. The consumption of small amounts every few hours is optimal for recovery, so I pack lots of protein snacks for during work and eat a snack before climbing in the evening. I may even have a protein shake while I make dinner after climbing. Either way, I make sure to ensure I’m getting a decent amount of protein. (Resource: Climbing Nutrition – Clarifying Protein Intake)

8 Hours of Sleep at Least

I know, I know. There aren’t enough hours in the day to sleep. But if you can’t sleep to recover from your twice in a a day training – then it doesn’t matter and you’d be better off sleeping more and skipping the AM training session. If you’re training twice a day, make sure you sleep for at least 8 hours after this. If you can swing it, 9 or 10 would be even better.

I make 8 hours of sleep happen with a full time job and an hour commute each way. I don’t have a personal chef, I just make sure to plan my life accordingly and cut out ALL the BS if I have to. It’s tough but it’s possible!

BONUS TIP 1: The path of least resistance

Getting up super early is definitely not easy. But you can make it easier. I remove as many road blocks as I possibly can from my mornings to make the two a day happen. I lay out my work clothes AND my climbing clothes, pack my lunch for work, get out the non-perishable smoothie stuff for breakfast, and make sure my work bag is ready to go. Whatever I can remove from my morning to-do list, I do it the night before.

senderella story
Work Lauren and climbing Lauren all on one section of my desk.

BONUS TIP 2: Dirtbag stuff

In the mornings I don’t always wash my hair after I climb. I take a two minute shower with my hair in a bun and subsequently give my hair what it needs to be “presentable enough for work”: Dry Shampoo. Dry shampoo is my forever savior.

The real secret to two a day climbing training is dry shampoo and a quality stick of deodorant.

Do you do two-a-days? Have you ever tried? Have any questions about structuring your training with two-a-days? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’d love to discuss!

Like this content? For more exclusive tips and tricks, sign up for my monthly newsletter. It’s five bullets of my favorite things I’ve been reading, learning and doing straight to your inbox once a month to help make you a better climber. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and give my page a like on Facebook!

I Sent My First 5.12: A Weekend at the New River Gorge

New River Gorge - meadow bridge

It isn’t often you meet up with old friends, make new friends, and accomplish a multi-year goal in the span of three short days. It is my great fortune that all of this happened Memorial Day Weekend of 2019. Despite the humidity, the time crunch, the sopping wet crags, and the holiday weekend crowds, in my three Days at the New I was able to finally take down my first 5.12 – and have a a great time doing it.

In a later post, I’m going to get into the nuts and bolts that went into my successful send that weekend, but for now I want to take you on a little journey through the New River Gorge. If you haven’t visited, I would highly recommend it.

CAMPING

In natural dirtbag fashion, my friends and I opted for the subtle joys of waking up to the crow of the rooster at 5:30 every morning, and going to sleep only went the campfire burns out. We really enjoyed our stay at Cantrell’s Ultimate Rafting. And let me tell you, I wish the shower head at my house was as nice as theirs. Overall, the accommodations were the level of glamping that I prefer during a weekend of climbing. Fire ring and picnic tables are a major plus. And at $10/person per night, it’s not a bad deal, either.

friends bonfire
A snapshot my dear friend Kyle caught of all of us being ourselves on Friday Night.
Mike Cantrells Camping
Setting up camp on Friday.

THE PROJECT

About a month before our trip, I went ahead and picked out this route in the New. Between the rave reviews on Mountain Project and promises of a short-person friendly crux – I was ready to give this route my best.

Starrry New River Gorge 12a
A shot from the bottom of Starry, a 4-star 12a in the New River Gorge. This route is in The Third Buttress.

DAY 1: Beta Pirates

On our way into the crag we coincidentally met the only two other people that were at the parking lot at that time. We started talking to them and sure enough we were all piling in to work on the same route. These fine chaps from PA had already sussed a lot of beta the day prior and we were all pretty stoked to get to work together on the route. Unfortunately, Mike got a little more out of them than I did, since the two guys were a bit taller than me, but boy was it good fun.

Day one was totally dedicated to learning the beta – I didn’t try to redpoint on Day 1. All I wanted to do was get the moves dialed and wired into my brain (and scribbled in my notebook).

New River Gorge Beta
Mike scribbling down the beta after a good burn on Starry – advised by our two new friends whose feet you can see in the background.

PSYCHED TO HIKE

The approach to the buttresses were SOAKED. So there was a lot of splashing and puddle avoidance going on. However, once you were out of the soggy woods, there was a lovely view of this bridge that you could take in before hiking up a moderately awful hill. The views and the climbs were well worth it.

New River Gorge - meadow bridge
After Day one, we hiked out to catch a lovely sunset before marching up a very sucky hill to get back to the car.
Mike and Lauren new River Gorge
Michael and I being very sweaty, happy, and hungry.
New River Gorge Hiking
More lovely scenery as you hike around in the New River Gorge

DAY 2: Critical Rest Day

On Saturday I woke up totally sore and completely worked from the day prior. My body felt like garbage. I knew that if I wanted to send Starry, I was going to need to be fresh. The only climbing I did on Saturday consisted of me saving a girl’s gear from a surprisingly stout 5.10. The New definitely has a reason for it reputation for run-out bolts and height-dependent moves.

hammock new river gorge
My portable relaxation setup.

DAY 3: Riding the Send Train

Sunday was our final day and my last change to do this thing. I woke up nauseous. It was time to do my first 5.12 – at long last. I felt the way you might get the morning of opening night for your high school’s musical. Tingling, excited, tenuous nausea. I was so amped up that the morning is a bit of a blur. By the time I was at the wall, I was ready to go.

After I took my warm-up burn and hung the draws on Starry it was go time. Mike got into the zone and absolutely smashed it. Then it was my turn. Before I went up I literally said “I’m so happy you sent, it doesn’t even matter if I do.” The pressure was on, but I knew I’d be happy with how the weekend went even if I went home empty handed. Fortunately, unlike all of my other 5.12 projects, this one came together smoothly and swiftly. On try #4, I did the damn thing! And I’ll be honest I was sobbing happy tears when I clipped the anchors. When I got down I’d attracted some onlookers and they were pretty psyched for me too! And then this other guy that had been working on it, went ahead and sent right after me! The send train was in full force and the stoke was palpable.

Sorry for the low quality audio and picture – doing our best with our smart phones out here!

Climbing is great but good friends are better

I am extremely happy for the send that weekend, but send or no send, a weekend messing around with your friends in the mud is worth the drive.

Hiking New River Gorge
My buddy Sam completely bit it and fell into the mud on the hike out. Here is the aftermath
New River Gorge Hiking
This is my cool friend Jenny from the Block.
new river gorge
Hiking out with the gang after a great day at the crag.

Overall, it was a solid weekend out and I couldn’t be more grateful for my supportive friends, the good times, and I am so unbelievably stoked to have gotten to send my first 5.12.

What was your first 5.12 like? Did it take a while or did you do it quickly? What route did you do? If you aren’t there yet – what routes are you eyeing up this season? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I would love to support you in sending your goal routes!

Training for Climbing: the rule of 75/25

Lauren Abernathy - Gunks Bouldering

We’ve all seen it. A beefy dude walks into a climbing gym for the first time. He’s got biceps twice the size of Alex Honold’s head and and he’s ready to slay some plastic rocks. You watch him boulder in his rental shoes and notice that the although the guy can yank his way up a juggy V2, all bets are off when he tries to do this on anything harder. You really want to tell him that campusing up routes is not a long-term strategy for becoming a well-rounded climber.
But you don’t because you’re not a jerk… on the outside at least.

So why does someone like this who is clearly exceptionally strong suck so bad at climbing? Because he has no skills.

To climb at your highest possible limit you need to be strong, but more importantly you need to be a well-practiced climber with GREAT SKILLS.

How should your training reflect this distinction? Easy. Just use the 75/25 rule.

What is the rule of 75/25?

I learned this rule from Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression and it is pretty simple. 75% of your training should be completed with your climbing shoes on, the other 25% should be completed with your shoes off.

I love this rule because it helps with the confusion that comes with trying to determine the priority of different activities in your climbing training.

Should you strength train? Yes. Should you hangboard or use a campus board? Maybe depending on who you are and what you need. Should any of these take complete priority over time spent climbing? No.

When you are practicing you’re trying to get better, when you’re training you’re trying to build the fitness qualities that support better practice.

Steve Bechtel Logical Progression pg. 7

The basis of the 75/25 rule is that climbing is a skill sport. You want to spend most of your time climbing so you can become better at the practice of climbing. Then you want to spend 25% of your time making yourself an iron-fingered, bullet-proof instrument of athleticism. The 25% piece of your time can be spent stretching, resistance training, and using various finger strength tools such as the hangboard or campus board.

What this looks like for me

My own training looks like this, on an ideal week:

Monday – Rest
Tuesday – 1 hour of integrated strength: Hangboarding, lifting, stretching.
30 minutes of ARCing on autobelays
Wednesday – 40 minutes of ARCing on autobelays
Thursday – 75 Minutes of bouldering and limit bouldering
Friday – Rest
Saturday – Power Endurance Bouldering or Routes – 90 minutes
Sunday – Rest

Time spent without climbing shoes: 60 minutes (25.5%)
Time spent with climbing shoes on: 235 minutes (74.5%)

Lauren Abernathy - Moonboard
Me working on limit bouldering using the moonboard at my local gym.

Periodized Training vs. Nonlinear Periodization

The above example is what I am doing now, which is non-linear periodization. However, there are many programs that are linearly periodized. The Rock Prodigy Program has a full strength phase – lasting about 4 weeks and then a couple of weeks of campusing. While there is still climbing during these phases of intense hangboarding and campusing, these phase only make up about 25% of the program.

Phases of training

At the beginning of the training season (i.e. winter) I placed more of a focus on getting stronger and I violated this rule. My weekly training time probably looked more like 33:66 instead of 25:75.

However, as sport climbing season is opening up, I have added in low-end endurance, skill-focused sessions which gets me back to more of a 25:75 sort of ratio.


Thanks again to Steve Bechtel for simplifying this question into a palatable rule of thumb!

How do you allocate your training time? Would you say you follow this rule? Do you need to add in some off the wall training?
Leave a comment or shoot me an email!

Climbing in Thacher State Park: What to Know Before You Go

Sometimes moving forward can make you pretty sad about what you’ve left behind. Since moving to the Northeast I have found myself becoming a bit nostalgic about my old home crag.

Previously my two-hour away weekend crag was the beautiful Red River Gorge. Replete with sturdy sandstone, excellent and plentiful camping, and more memories than I could possibly replay when I go to sleep at night. The Red River Gorge is my favorite place on earth.

I moved away from Cincinnati in 2018 and today I live in Hoboken, NJ. It’s a short bus ride away from Manhattan. My sport climbing options have changed drastically since moving. Instead of the Red, I can now go about two hours to Birdsboro, PA, 6 hours to Rumney, NH, 8 Hours to the New River Gorge, and as of 2018 – 3 hours to Thacher State Park in upstate New York.

Days outside are limited in the Northeast in the Spring – between rain and work and increasing temperatures, if a day out is possible, you need to go.

With a high of 70 and no rain in sight, my boyfriend, Michael, and I headed to Thacher State Park in upstate New York for the weekend. Between the glowing reviews in the Climbing Magazine article, local recommendations that “It’s better than Birdsboro”, and clear communication from social media that glorious views were guaranteed, we booked an Air Bnb and set out on our quest to wrassle some Limestone.

Thacher state park climbing
Views from The East End area of Thacher State Park

Getting There

It took us about three hours to get there from Hoboken – the drive was scenic and there was hardly any traffic.

For Directions, check out the Thacher Climbing Coalition website.

As we drove into the park the location of the Visitor’s Center was apparent and well marked with signs along the road. The buildings were new and the bathrooms were clean and very nice.

Note that May 1 – November 1 you must pay $6 for parking per day.

We had to sign a permit to climb there which didn’t take much time and then we were off.

Where to Stay

The most convenient option is to stay at Thompson’s lake Campground. I personally did not get to stay there since it does not open until May 1 and Closes October 13. It is about two miles from Thacher State Park and it looks like a nice place to camp.

There were plenty of affordable Air Bnbs to stay in around Albany – about 25 minutes away. Stay in one of these if you aren’t interested in camping or if you are climbing before Thompson opens. The one bedroom my boyfriend and I booked looked nice enough and only cost $50. Pretty affordable weekend trip, overall.

Enter Through the Squeeze

One of the many quirks of Thacher State Park is that to get into the climbing area you have to enter through The Squeeze. There is no other way to get to the crag.

The Squeeze Thacher State Park
The Simulator for The Squeeze at Thacher.
Warning before entering the Squeeze.
Warning before entering the Squeeze. A little size-ist, in my opinion.

Similar to Fat Man’s Misery in Hocking Hills State Park (for all you Ohio Folks out there), it’s a tight fit. In order to enter the crag you have to take your backpack off and slither sideways through 30 foot long seam in the rock. Here’s a video of someone else’s descent since I don’t have a video of mine.

PRO TIP!
As you go down, once you’re a few steps in, take your pack off and slide it along the top of the shelf, then bring it down. Don’t worry about your pack fitting. Between the rope, my helmet and my many snacks, my pack fit just fine.

Navigating the Crags

There is an app you can purchase for $10 that is comprehensive and it is a bit more helpful than navigating the crag using Mountain Project. However, Mountain Project has plenty of helpful details as well. An added benefit of the app is that your purchase supports funding for the Thacher Climbing Coalition.

The Approach

Coming out of the squeeze, to your left you will see a waterfall and the crag called The Cave. Turn Right and you continue down what is essentially a single path below the cliffs that takes from Mahican all the way to the East End. Traversing the entirety of climbable cliff face takes approximately 15 minutes.

The Crowds

My visit was on the opening day in the spring of 2019. The weather was nice. It had rained a little bit overnight, but nothing exceptional. Conditions were ripe for a very crowded climbing area.

Overall there were people on many of the routes and in most of the dry areas, it was not overly crowded. However, due to the nature of the crags, there isn’t much space to move around or sit near the bases of routes. If this place became overly crowded, I could see it being a frustrating and potentially dangerous situation.

The Choss

I’m just going to put it out there: I ripped a football off of the wall and it beat me in the chest. Unpleasant. This was on top of knocking off smaller bits of limestone and yelling “ROCK!” all day.

Mike and Lauren Thacher
This is how much we love ripping holds off the wall.

I would like to note that it was the first day of the season. I imagine that in the winter, as ice forms in and on the rock, freezes, and subsequently thaws more unstable rock forms. What was once a clean route in the fall probably gets a little hairier once the spring rolls around. I am sure it will get better and better as the seasons go on.

While I truly appreciate the work that has been done to establish the area and I completely understand that cleaning up a climbing area takes time and traffic, visitors should expect to climb on choss and should be prepared for holds to break off at fairly regular intervals.

In comparison to Birdsboro, PA – a rock quarry turned climbing area, I would say that that Thacher is much more chossy. However, my sample size of time spent at each area is somewhat limited – so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

In short, helmets are highly recommended.

Mud

Everything is covered in a thin layer of dry mud. This makes foot placement a bit more precocious. I am not sure if this will clean up with more rain, more traffic, etc. A comment on mountain project clarifies that this usually happens after a spring rain which in consistent with my experience that day.

Sandbagged?

I only have a couple of comparison data points to work with: myself and my boyfriend Michael. However, at the time this is being written I would say that typically Michael can easily onsight 11c/11d. And personally, I regularly onsight 10d.

Michael tried putting up an 11c in Mahican and after about 30 minutes of hangdogging, we packed it in and headed to a new area. Perhaps many key holds have broken off since it was graded. However, it has been a very long time since I have seen Mike abandon something. I am not fully convinced that the route was 11c.

We headed over to the East End where we put up a slabby 5.10a. I did not enjoy it much since I am not a huge fan of slab; however I would say the grading on this one felt accurate.

Overall, the grading is a bit inconsistent and I plan to send some formal feedback to the Thacher Climbing Coalition – for whatever my opinion is worth.

“Save our Gear”

I then hopped onto the 11c next door: Pearlvana. The guidebook touted an 80 foot route, but in reality the route was really 35 feet up from a large ledge that has a bolt in which a belayer can secure herself.

I was extremely intimidated by a fairly blank section of rock on slab above the third bolt. However another group who had somehow been told that this route was a 5.10d had started the route, clipped three out of four bolts, and was looking for a gear rescue if possible.

I slapped around on the face of this wall for a pretty long time, putting in probably 15 burns in total. I wanted to save their gear, but I was unsuccessful. Considering that my hardest redpoint was 11d at the time and I had sent a couple of other 11cs, this route may not be sangbagged, it might just be tough. However, comparing to the other 11cs through 12as that I have worked – this crux seems like the hardest thing I’ve ever tried.

Lauren Abernathy Thacher Climbing
Me letting the other crew know that I would NOT be the one rescuing their gear.

“This is 5.10d?!”

Determined to get some fluid, continuous climbing in, Mike and I headed over to a 5.10d we had seen earlier in the day. My objective was to finish out the day by doing some outdoor endurance training by getting some laps in on this 5.10.

This notion is hilarious because after working the crux of this 10d for a pretty frustrating amount of time, I went ahead and had my boyfriend bale me out. Lame. I know, but it was getting dark and we were both ready for a beer.

Mike too, was stopped by this crux and did not bag the onsight. I looked at him and said “I think that’s the first time you haven’t onsighted 5.10 in three years.”

Comparing this to Tweaked Unit – a somewhat similar route at the Red River Gorge I would say this one is a bit harder. Truthfully I would give this “5.10d” more like 5.11b or maybe 5.11c. However, I am 5’4″ and there were some very height-dependent moves on the route.

Overall, the grading is somewhat misleading and inconsistent.

The Bolting and Anchors

The bolting is generous and thoughtful and for all the choss, the bolts are very solid. From what I could see, most of the bolts were glue-ins.

Additionally, cleaning is made extremely easy due to the many pig tails at the anchors. Bolts and anchors are shiny, new, and intelligently placed from what I experienced.

The Views

The Climbing here isn’t world class, so don’t come in expecting to be in Oliana. However, the views and aesthetics of the environment were lovely. It really is an awesome area to hang out outside.

Thacher State Park

THE EATS

We ended our day in Thacher by headingover to a little restaurant in Albany. Shout out to the Methodist Church in town – we definitely changed clothes in the car in their parking lot. It was date night, after all. We needed to dress up! But onto the food.

The fried chicken was amazing, so was my Reuben, and the ramp pesto we had as an appetizer was delicious.

Cap City Gastro Pub Ramps
Ramp Pesto with grilled ramps at Cap City Gastro Pub
Fried chicken at cap city gastro pub
Fried chicken, pickles, and cheddar grits that even my family in Kentucky would approve of.
Cap City Gastro Pub Reuben
Food so good I forgot to take a picture before I started chowing down.

On top of that, the beer selection was local and had plenty of variety. For my second drink, I had an “Albany Sour” which is basically a whisky sour topped with a wine – a red blend if I recall. With that amount of alcohol, I was doing a fabulous job at forgetting that I had yanked five pounds of limestone pebbles into my shirt that day.

Albany Sour
My Albany Sour – a typical whisky sout topped off with a nice, red blend.

Despite the somewhat underwelming climbing experience, Capital City Gastro Pub was a true delight.

Would I recommend Thacher to a friend?

Personally, I will not be back. I would prefer to drive two hours to Birdsboro or drive 6 hours to Rumney, or go to two hours the Gunks (no sport there, but the bouldering is fun and hopefully I’ll learn to place gear soon).

However, there are a few situations where my risk reward analysis would lead me to recommend this place.

  1. If you don’t have much outdoor experience and you just need to go learn to to sport climb and belay.
  2. You live close by, it is a convenient day trip and you can get some time climbing outdoors here very easily.
  3. You’re in the area for some other reason and you have some time to kill. E.g. my parents live in Albany and I was going to be up there anyway.

I am pretty hardcore about getting outside however and wherever you can. However for me, the effort, money, and time it takes to get to Thacher could be spent in other ways.

With Respect and Gratitude

Although Thacher is not my cup of tea, I saw countless groups enjoying the outdoors and I witnessed a couple of young ladies put up their first routes on the sharp end. They were so stoked and I was so stoked for them and that was really cool to watch.

Sure, I don’t love the climbing there, but it will clean up eventually. Either way, all the hard work that volunteers have put into the place is certainly appreciated. Those two girls will remember the feeling of clipping their first anchors forever and that is priceless.

I want to thank all the volunteers that have put time and effort into developing the area and fighting for the right to do so. Many people will get to test their limits and enjoy the great outdoors because of their efforts.

What do you think? Have you been to Thacher? What was your experience? Was there a route you enjoyed that I may have missed? Leave a comment or shoot me a note – and please feel free to share this post with anyone who is planning a trip there!

Happy Earth Day! 5 Things to Listen to and Watch to Get Stoked on Making a Difference

Happy Earth Day Hawaii

It’s Earth Day! And if you’re like me and you’re trying to have a job, go climbing, do other adult stuff, it can seem totally overwhelming to also be environmentally conscious.

While I agree, I think there are small tweaks we can all make to cut down on some of the BS we’re doing to our Mother Earth.

But taking action takes education and inspiration, so here are five pieces of content that make me want to be better and even teach me how to do it.

1. Sufferfest 2 with Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright

Sufferfest 2 with Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright – while most of this film is Alex and Cedar having a soul-crushing time climbing dessert towers and biking around forever, the movie ends with Honnold and Cedar outfitting Navajo homes and schools with solar energy. Debatably as rad as Free Soloing El Cap.

2. Choose FI Episode 121:
Tread Lightly on the Path to FI

This one is coming at ya from another genre of content that I really enjoy – the personal finance space. If that sounds a little off topic, it is. But if you are interested in hearing a cool story about a Park Ranger turned Sustainable Housing Expert – check out this podcast episode. You will ways to save money and make your home more sustainable in many more ways than I ever would have thought. Here’s a Youtube Link, but you can also find these guys for free wherever your get your podcasts. If you want learn to more about Angela and her sustainability tips – check out her space on the web at
https://treadlightlyretireearly.com/tag/environment/

3. Netflix’s Our Planet

David Attenborough of Planet Earth is at it again. Between the stunning footage and the raw, uncaring depiction of how nature really works, you’ll get pretty stirred up with how amazing and messed up this crazy planet really is. Be warned, I won’t spoil it, but the first episode made me cry.

4. Chef’s Table Season 1 Episode 2: Dan Barber

I’ve always been extremely into food, but hearing of a Chef dead set on combining Michelin Stars with sustainable farming sounded pretty far fetched. However, after seeing this episode of Chef’s table I became very interested in our relationship with the environment through food. So whether or not you’re into day dreaming about 5-star dining experiences, it’s always a good idea to get psyched on sustainable foods and farming.

5. The Hummingbird Story

In full transparency this is a mandatory video you have to watch when starting to work at my company. I wanted to roll my eyes when someone said we were going to be watching what looked like a reading of a children’s story, but truth be told it was pretty good and it makes me feel hopeful that even the small stuff we do to make the world a little cleaner is powerful in its own right.

I hope you enjoyed my little list. It isn’t super climbing related, but these are a few pieces of content that make me feel like we can do something instead of moping around apathetically about the state of the environment.

What gets you psyched to save the earth? Anything I should watch? Any little life hacks to be a more sustainable person? Leave a comment or email me a link – I can’t wait to hear about it.