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.

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 I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Happy Climbing!


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:


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:

AM – Strength workout
PM – Bouldering for Volume

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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


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

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.

Weight and Climbing: Optimizing Body Composition for Climbing Performance

Josh Dreher had not climbed V11 since he was 19. He had written it off as something he would never do again.

In 2015 and 2016 he climbed thirty boulders V10 and harder, two of which were V12. He had never climbed this grade before. So how did he do it?

Josh attributes his success 40% to training and 60% to losing weight. Josh lost forty pounds over the course of a year and after this he was crushing.

to hear more about Josh’s Story, check out episode 70 of The TrainingBeta Podcast.

Body Composition Matters

The subject is taboo, but the truth is that your weight as a climber actually matters.

Have you ever climbed with a weight vest? I have. Strapping dead weight to your body makes climbing much more difficult. To illustrate this point: typically in an endurance session I can climb 45+ minutes on sustained 5.10. When I try to perform endurance workouts with a twelve pound weight vest on, at about 10 minutes I have to start backing off and climbing 5.9. After about 25 minutes of climbing routes I am completely pumped out of my mind. For reference twelves pounds is me climbing at roughly 109% of my body weight. It seems to cut my performance almost in half, especially in terms of endurance. Weight matters.

Whether you like it or not, your body composition has an effect on your climbing performance. There is a reason that The Rock Climber’s Training Manual has an entire chapter titled “Weight Management”.

Lauren Abernathy - Seattle
Me in the process of getting fit for a late summer trip to the Red River Gorge.

What is the strength to weight ratio?

In terms of athletics, the strength to weight ratio is the amount of power (total force exerted in a unit of time) vs. an individual’s body weight.

Let’s look at an example of two individuals performing a deadlift.

Obviously, Person B can lift much more than Person A. However, Person A has a strength (or power) to weight ratio that is 16% higher than that of Person B.
Proportionally, Person B can do more with less.

How does the strength to weight ratio relate to rock climbing?

Looking at elite gymnasts, fighters, runners, and rock climbers, there are not many that are storing excess amounts of useless tissue.

Sensibly, the following can be derived:

Whatever is making up a climber’s body composition, it had better be useful.

What factors should be considered when trying to determine optimal performance weight for climbing?

A Climber’s Body Composition:
Three Factors to Optimize

  1. Sport-Specific Muscle Mass
  2. Body Fat
  3. General Health and Well-being

It is easy to conceptualize the optimal weight for climbing performance. You need to have just enough of the right kind of muscle to be very strong. You need to have low enough body fat that you are not hauling unnecessary weight up the wall, but you need enough body fat that you are happy and healthy and you have the energy to train and climb and enjoy your life.

Easy to describe, difficult to execute.

Sport Specific Muscle Mass

Your muscles are the strength portion of the strength to weight ratio equation.

“If you put on sport-specific muscle, your percentage gain in strength and endurance way outweighs the weight gain.” – 5.14 climber, coach and yoga teacher, Alli Rainey speaking from experience on Episode 5 of the Power Company Podcast.

There was a time that I weighed 119 lbs and could not do a single pull-up. I was light and thin, but not very strong.

Today I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I am also climbing stronger than ever and lifting heavier as well. In the past year ,the number on the scale has been slowly crawling up. Weighing roughly 8-10 pounds more than what used to be my “normal” weight was a little jarring at first. However, I now consider it a bit of a triumph. Additionally, all of my clothes still fit just fine, so I know I am not headed in the wrong direction of weight gain.

Alli Rainey’s exuberant proclamation at the end of the aforementioned podcast sums it up nicely,

“I don’t really care what I weigh because I can do these moves that I couldn’t do last year. That’s all that I care about!”

So go ahead, pack on some useful muscle. Everyone’s body works differently so your rate of hypertrophy won’t be the same as your friends, or your girlfriend or your boyfriend. Gaining Sport Specific Muscle Mass is key.

What about legs?

Note that in general climbers do not require the same legs that a competitive Alpine Ski Racer might require. If you have really beefy thighs, you might want to see if your climbing improves if you can decrease the muscle mass in your legs.

For further reading about “the benefits skinny legs” check out this article by the Anderson Brothers, the authors of the Rock Climber’s Training Manual.

Decreasing body fat

Body fat is another factor that you can optimize for climbing performance. As stated before, the perfect amount of body fat is the lowest amount at which you are still energetic, comfortable, and you are not overly sluggish.

If you are lean to the point of chronic exhaustion, you will not be climbing at your best. Our bodies need fat to survive, so advisably we do not want to decrease body fat to the point of risking health–mentally, emotionally, and physically.

This is a sport. Don’t lose your mind over getting to a specific send weight.

What the Data Says

Thankfully for us, the Tom Randall and Ollie Torr over at lattice training have collected some and analyzed some interesting data from 183 female climbers and 124 male climbers. All of the climbers whose data were collected ranked in the top 100 of routes/boulders in the world. The results? The average body mass index (BMI) for female elite climbers was 19.3 and that of men was 21.1. The healthy BMI range for both men and women is 18.5-24.9. Between 25-30 on the BMI index you are considered overweight. Over 30 you are considered obese.

As you can see the world’s most elite climbers lie at the low end of the healthy BMI range. This information is interesting but should be taken with a grain of salt. BMI is a useful indicator, but it is not a complete view of one’s body composition and should be treated as such.

Although this is a relatively small data set and I am only drawing correlations, it does say something to me that the best of the best are very lean. With this, I deduct that being very lean is helpful when climbing at a high level.

3 ways to gauge your body composition

While on the road to optimizing weight for climbing performance, it is important to determine where you stand. Here are three common ways to measure your body composition. I will go in ascending order of crudeness: the least helpful way being a scale and the most helpful being a formal body composition measurement.

Hop on the scale

The most simple metric one can use to measure their body is to hop on the scale. If you have measured your weight in the past, you can check your weight now and mentally compare where you are now vs. the past.

Your weight is easy to track and it can give you an idea about whether or not any changes to diet and exercise are working, but there are a few reasons the scale can be misleading.

  1. Weight can fluctuate exceptionally throughout the day. I am a 5’4″ female typically weighing in between 120lbs and 130lbs and I have seen my weight fluctuate up to 8 lbs in a day depending on activity, water consumption, etc.
  2. Muscle is more dense than fat. Therefore, if you are attempting to change your body composition and you are participating in any sort of resistance training program, you may be simultaneously losing inches off of thighs, arms, etc. while maintaining or even gaining weight.

The scale just doesn’t tell the whole story, so it is not a preferable measurement device for determing exactly where you are on the path to your optimal climbing performance weight.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Apart from weight, the next best indicator of body composition is Body Mass Index (or BMI). BMI is a ratio of height to weight and is does not account for muscle mass vs. body fat. However, BMI does offer a rough architecture for determining an amount of weight you can safely lose, if you need to lose any at all.

Example: Alex Puccio’s Optimal Performance BMI

If you are not familiar with professional climber and decorated competitor Alex Puccio, give her a google. She is 5’2″ and beyond jacked. In her interview on The TrainingBeta Podcast, she describes her ideal competitive weight as being 114. At this weight, Alex has a BMI of 20.8. This is within the range that is considered healthy. However, this weight is hard for her to achieve and requires mindful changes to diet. Based on the this, it appears Puccio has determined her ideal performance weight.

Body Fat Percentage

The best way to determine where you are in terms of your body composition for climbing performance is pay for a service to determine this data. The main options for services are the Dexa Scan, the BodPod scan and the Underwater method. Calipers are also an option although they are not as accurate.

For more information best-selling author, Tim Ferriss, has a wonderful list of resources on his website outlining the different methods of acquiring body fat composition measurements.

Analyzing Body Composition Readings

Getting an actual reading of your body fat percentage is very helpful. Let’s take a look a scan I had taken in June of 2017 right before heading on a climbing trip to Spain.

Fat: 16.9 %
Fat Free Mass: 83.1%
Fat Mass: 20.4 Lbs.
Fat Free Mass: 99.9 Lbs.
Body Mass: 120.4 Lbs.
BMI: 20.7

I would say this is decent send shape, but not perfect. I could have lost five more pounds of fat, been in better shape, and stayed within the healthy BMI range at a 19.8.

Having this type of data is very useful. It prevents you from making incorrect assumptions such as, “The weight I gained over this training season is all muscle.” If you have two readings from the beginning and end of a three month period, you will be able to tell if this is true or not.

Additionally, specifically tracking muscle mass–even on an annual basis, is very interesting. Have you gained muscle in the past year? Have you gained strength without gaining muscle? These are all interesting and useful metrics to know.

Weight Optimization throughout the Training Season

I love sweets. I have a terrible sweet tooth. I literally could not upkeep the dietary habits that I would need to in order to stay at my optimal send weight year round. It would suck way too much and be a total waste of my mental energy. Additionally, Toblerone is delicious and so is beer.

lauren abernathy toblerone
Me about to eat basically all of this toblerone bar before hitting the climbing gym. Do I do this all the time? No. Am I gross? yeah maybe.

In the winter time during ski season when I can’t really climb outside and I am trying to gain strength, I am a little more relaxed on the diet front. Then as Spring approaches I start becoming more mindful of my diet. Additionally, no matter what the summer months throw at me (AKA casual poolside drinking if I’m being totally honest), I do my best to have slimmed down by the fall for the second season of decent climbing.

Relaxing your diet is to your advantage for many reasons, apart from the fact that most of us enjoy eating some junk from time to time. Gaining muscle mass is difficult when you are in a caloric deficit. In a season of relaxing your diet you train at a heavier weight which will inherently make your fingers stronger as well. When you cut weight for a performance period your power to weight ratio increases and your odds of pushing your limits certainly increase as well.

It takes experimentation, but it is useful to determine your general training weight and optimal performance weight. With this knowledge, you can swiftly cycle through these biological markers as needed for your climbing objectives: training or performance.

You Can’t Ignore Your Weight

Like it or not, weight is a factor or climbing performance. If you are trying to send your hardest route to date this season and you somehow packed on 15lbs of fat in the last year, this will impact your performance.

Controlling your bodyweight is a tool that you can use to improve your climbing. Accept it, experiment with it, and be mindful of its power. 

What about you?

Have you ever experienced gains in your climbing from losing weight? Do you know what your ideal “fighting weight is”? Have you noticed your weight increasing from gaining muscle? I’d love you to hear your experience. Drop a comment below or shoot me an email. I am interested to hear your experience with observing body composition and climbing performance!

My Story: When I decided to Get Good at Climbing

In 2017, I graduated from Ohio State University. I left Columbus Ohio with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, many great friends that would soon scatter throughout the U.S., and the mission to never become a boring grown-up.

Most of what I learned in college, I don’t really use anymore. There is one skill that I learned in college that I use just about every other day. I learned this skill outside of the classroom. That skill is rock climbing.

It all started with Skiing

My life as a climber ironically started when I joined the Ohio State Ski and Snowboard Team. Ohio is an abysmal place to be a skier. Many members of the team found another outdoor sport to stave off the blues in the off-season. Between longboarding around campus, partying, and rock climbing, we kept ourselves plenty amused.

Me and my fellow well-decorated officers taking home the hardware at Midwestern Regionals my senior year.
Lauren Abernathy Longboard
My favorite graduation photo, taken as an homage to how much longboarding I did around Ohio State’s campus.

Fortunately for me, I had plenty of senior ski team members who were much better climbers than I was. They were well-equipped to teach me how to climb. They quite literally showed me the ropes.

The First Two Years

My first two years of climbing consisted of me having practically no upper body strength, hurting both of my shoulders, and climbing inconsistently because of the demands of an engineering degree.

About a year into my foray into vertical adventures, my friends started taking me on trips outside to the Red River Gorge and the New River Gorge. Those weekends spent camping and climbing sparked a deep and passionate love of the sport.

Red River Gorge Climbers

At the beginning of my senior year, unencumbered by the rigor of a junior year class scheduled, I was at the gym a lot more often. In the winter I began pondering what I would do with myself in the two months between graduation and starting my job in Cincinnati. The decision was easy: I was going climbing.

Preparing for Spain

By the time graduation came around in the Spring of 2017, my friend Eileen and I had firmly etched the details of our 2 week post-grad climbing trip into a google sheet.

In accordance with our plan, we purchased round trip tickets to Spain. I decided that if I was going all the way to Europe, I had better be in good shape.

This is when I followed my first ever training program. I chose a program that I had heard of from friends and other climbers: The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. It was a rigorous program and the book was as thick as a textbook. It did not intimidate me, however. I was ready to do whatever it took to become a better climber.

Starting in the winter of my senior year, I set to work. I plodded through the training program. I made a crazy hangboard setup in my college apartment—much to the confusion of non-climbing roommates and I would regularly be late to various – ahem – social outings to make sure that I got my scheduled training in.

It took commitment—and it was sometimes hard to balance job interviews, studying, climbing and competing with the ski team, but I did it.

I went through about two cycles of the Rock Prodigy Program between December and my in June. The trip was wildly successful. I accomplished my trip goal by sending not one but two 5.11a, exceeding my expectations. Before that trip I hadn’t even managed to send 5.10c.

Lauren Abernathy Rodellar Climbing
Me working my project on the last day of my trip to Spain. I fell so many times, but I bagged the send before I left. It was my second 11a ever.

While I attribute much of this success to The Rock Prodigy program, I also made great strides in my fear of falling. Climbing regularly and falling regularly for two weeks outside helped my mental game significantly. Much to the credit of our Rockbusters climbing guide, Jan. With the support of Eileen and Jan and the other group members, I went from literally crying on top rope to becoming a confident sport climber. Before the trip I was perilously afraid to lead. When I left it was my favorite way to climb.

Rock Climber’s Training Manual and Beyond

Since then, I have gone on to more successful ascents, climbing further up the grades. In 2018, I changed my training strategy from the Rock Prodigy Program to Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression . (you can find a comparison of these here)

In 2018 I increased my hardest redpoint from 5.11a to 5.11d. I bagged quite a few ascents I was very proud of including Hercules, a 5.11b deep water solo in Mallorca, Banshee 5.11c which I accomplished in just two tries at the Red River Gorge, as well as Rich Bitch 5.11d in Mallorca.

Lauren Abernathy Banshee Red River Gorge
Me on my first attempt on Banshee in the Red River Gorge.
Lauren Abernathy Hercules Mallorca
A shot of me projecting Hercules in Mallorca.
Lauren Abernathy Rich Bitch Mallorca
Me on my send-go of Rich Bitch, my first 5.11d.

The satisfaction of sending when you try hard on a rock face is why I started this blog. When I topped out on Hercules in Mallorca, I was alone at the top of a cliff face looking out a Mediterranean sunset crying tears of joy. It was pure ecstasy. All that time spent in the gym training was all for moments like that. My hope is that with the information I share in this blog, I can help someone else have the same experiences that I have had. Behind the minutiae of hangboard protocols and linked boulder circuits is a bigger goal that has nothing to do with looking cool on Instagram. These training details are important because if you train properly you can climb more and climb harder. I want to help people climb more, climb harder, and climb longer.

Why start a blog?

My hope for this blog is to grow a community of motivated climbers working to support each other in improving their climbing. Additionally, I would eventually like to provide online training programs for those looking for more specific support (and possibly in-person consultations for those in the area).

I plan to continuously provide well-researched information on a variety of topics in climbing to help you and inspire you to become the best climber you can be. I want this blog to help you improve your climbing and enable you to have as much fun on rock as you possible can.

Your Story

I would love to get in touch with you. Feel free to leave a bit of your story in the comments or reach out to me via email at You can also find me one facebook and instagram.

Four Hangboard Protocols to Increase Finger Strength

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

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

Me on the hangboard at my local climbing gym

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Targeted Result: Structural changes. Power Endurance.

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

Examining Structural vs. Neurological Adaptations

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

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

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

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

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

Max Hangs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Targeted Result: Neurological adaptations leading to increased finger strength.

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

Example: Jimmy starts hangboarding

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

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

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

3-6-9 Ladders

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

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

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

How to execute a 3-6-9 Ladder Workout

A hangboard ladder workout looks like this.

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

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

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

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

Resources: Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel

Webb Parsons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hangboarding is a Long Term Investment

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

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