My First Climbing Competition

Winter is training season for climbers in the northeast. For me, training season involves time spent climbing inside, trying hard on plastic and doing a lot of climbing practice. Pushing myself to the absolute limit mentally and physically usually does not happen until the first outdoor trip of the spring.

As any climber knows, training indoors for months on end can leave one with the desire for a change of pace. Craving a challenge and a bit of pressure, I signed up for the competition at my local gym. I enlisted my boyfriend Michael as belayer and coach and set out to do what I had not done before.

Me and my rockstar coach and belayer post-competition.

Competition Format

The competition format was not announced until minutes before the competition actually started. The overall vibe was very casual. This was ideal considering I had never competed before.

Competitors had three hours to climb and the objective was to send as many routes/boulders as you could in order to maximize your score. You could elect to compete in either the bouldering or ropes category. If you were so daring you could also compete in both categories, although there was no competitive distinction for competing in both disciplines.

For bouldering, the objective was to complete five boulders worth as many points as possible. The more difficult the routes, the more points you earned.

For the ropes portion, the objective was the same; however, only your top three routes counted for scoring.

Additionally, the format of the rope competition was a strange combination of sport and top rope. For each category (novice, intermediate, advanced) the highest scoring and most difficult route was a lead only route. Therefore, unless it was the category “lead route” there was really no point in sport climbing.

The number of attempts per route or boulder were tracked for use in the case of a tie. If two people had the same score, but one acquired the points in less attempts, they would be deemed the winner.

Non-Strategic Overachieving

Driven to really test my capacity to climb as hard as possible for three hours, I decided that I wanted to try to place top three in both bouldering and ropes. With this election, I risked spreading myself too thin to place in either category. Despite this, non-strategic overachieving is the way I chose to go.

How I Spent my Time

Before the comp I did a pretty easy warmup that did not involve any climbing–I figured I had three hours of climbing ahead of me and that the climbing specific warmup would happen during the comp.

I did 5 minutes of rowing, 10 minutes of a dynamic warmup, and I warmed up some small, potentially tweaky holds on the hangboard just before the start time.

The Boulders

During the competition I spent the first 45 minutes racking up flashable V4s and V5s on the vertical wall. After this, I headed to another section overhanging boulders and spent a few attempts on some higher-scoring V5s–with little success. The most frustrating point of the competition was almost sending this boulder, and falling while I reach my second hand to the finish hold. This was on attempt number 8.

Lauren Abernathy Gravity Vault Bouldering
Me getting started on problem #37. My almost, top-scoring route.

I wore myself out and racked up somewhat dismal resume of “top 5” boulders for the intermediate category. I decided it was time to pack it in and head to the ropes.

The Ropes

After bouldering at my limit for an hour, the routes felt nice and sustained; however fatigue set in more quickly than I had hoped.

The nerves were evident on the ropes. After 2-3 almost ascents on each of the highest scoring intermediate routes, I actually failed to qualify as a competitor in the ropes competition.

Essentially, I flashed two routes in the category and proceeded to fall off of the last moves of three different high-scoring routes for the last hour of the comp.

The risk of spreading myself too thin had materialized in full.


At 4:00 p.m., I still felt the effects of my morning cup of coffee. I then mixed myself some Gnarly Nutrition BCAAs to drink during the comp–not considering that these also contain caffeine.

Coffee typos
Here’s a picture of an inspiring mug from a diner in PA. Unrelated to the comp, but I love a good spelling error.

By the time I started the ropes section, I was completely overstoked on caffeine and adrenaline. My hands shook, I climbed spastically, and I became more and more frustrated as I popped off the top moves of every route I tried for an hour.

My boyfriend, belayer, and coach du Jour, Michael, begged me to slow down and take deep breaths before each attempt. It was pretty hilarious actually. He literally tried to hold me still, but I could hardly close my eyes for more than 15 seconds before I got bored an started looking at the routes again. Between the nerves and the caffeine I was suffering from caffeine-induced ADHD.

Under Pressure

Frankly, after getting so close to topping a high-scoring V5 and falling, my attitude shifted from confidence to concern and then down-right panic. My ability to keep it cool and climb smoothly for the last hour completely crumbled.

The negative self-talk was rampant. My internal emotional state was way to over-stressed for someone competing in a casual local gym comp.

I placed a lot of pressure on myself to do well and I was not living up to my personal expectations.

The big question in the back of my head was “if you train this much, then why are you sucking so bad?” –Not the most encouraging thing to say to yourself.

I did not focus well and I felt pretty shut down after failing repeatedly on the ropes and the boulders.

Overall, my mental state in high-stress situations could use some work.

But was it fun?

Of course! I love a day of thrashing myself and the setting was a total blast on the boulders. Having a performance-based day of climbing was also really nice since the past few months have been “training, training, training.”

Additionally, it was pretty fun to climb with people I have never met before and to cheer everyone on. I also did the comp with a few friends and despite my distressed internals, they kept me laughing and joking for the whole competition–even though I was a little stressed out.

The Results

Before results were announced, my friend Mel and I decided that we were really tired, sick of falling, and we needed to drink some beer after all of this.

We planned to leave before the awards ceremony, but we were advised to stick around. I am definitely glad we did.

Me and my pal Mel celebrating our wins by showing off the comp swag.

Despite spending literally half of the competition on ropes (and subsequently not qualifying) I still somehow got 2nd place overall for women’s bouldering. It felt pretty good to claim a title.

Mel ended up getting first place in intermediate ropes. In short, our pity party of two actually came away with some prizes.

Of course, we headed over to the bar next door to do what climbers do after a long day of climbing: have a beer and rehash the day’s glories and failures.

The competition was a test, an architecture to bring out some “try hard”, and a good way to facilitate a high-pressure climbing situation–or at least higher pressure than the usual gym session.

Did I do as well as I wanted to? No! But I am more than ready to try again–with more strategy and less caffeine next time.

Thanks to the staff and community at the Gravity Vault in Hoboken for putting on a fun event. I am very glad I participated!

Winning the Head Games: Climbing with Anxiety

“You’re an adrenaline junkie.” I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. Your aunt says it to you when you bring up your latest adventure. It is often said and, I believe, seldom true.

Deep water solo Mallorca Lauren Abernathy

Me downclimbing to the start of a route on my deep water solo trip to Mallorca, Spain.
Photo by Adam Pernikar.
Lauren Abernathy Backflip skiing

Me backflipping a rock booter after getting heartily amped up by friends and onlookers in Lake Louise, BC. Photo by Tim Spanagel.

I am not an Adrenaline Junkie

For me this label of “adrenaline junkie” is not quite right. Personally, I do not seek out an adrenaline rush, but it happens to be the byproduct of the activities I find most enjoyable. The truth is, for me at least, the fear and anxiety are not desirable at all. These are emotions that I deal with fairly regularly—on an almost daily basis, actually–and in situations that do not traditionally merit panic at all.

Lauren Abernathy Deep Water Solo Mallorca

Me fighting the head games as I progressed upwards on a deep water solo route in Mallorca, Spain. Photo by Adam Pernikar.

Like many individuals, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. Things that are categorized as mundane for others have sent me into panic attacks and have left me near-catatonic states. A particularly interesting incident of this occurred the night before a job interview a few years back.

Don’t Panic, it’s just a Parking Garage

The company had paid for a rental car and a nice hotel for me to stay in for my travels to the on site interview. I was so overcome with anxiety that I could not park the car. Sitting in the middle of the garage at midnight, I was bawling my eyes out and hyperventilating. I was too afraid to park the Jeep Grand Cherokee in one of the tiny parking spots available to me. Eventually, I was able to squeeze the car in somewhere, but between the interview anxiety and coming down from the panic attack, I barely slept at all that night.

For some people parking a rental car in a parking garage is hardly memorable. For me, it can mean an evening destroyed and a good night’s sleep ruined. It can be a terrible, shameful memory for years to come. This might sound pretty crazy, especially to someone without anxiety. I feel pretty nuts even describing this situation, but it is what it is.

Crazy Enough to Keep Climbing

So imagine this same individual who can barely handle parking a nice car in a parking garage and put them 10 feet above the bolt on the sharp end. Let’s put them one hundred feet up a rock face and see how they manage.

If a parking garage can cause me to have a panic attack, then it seems like I’ve picked a pretty ridiculous pastime, don’t you think?

I agree. It’s crazy, but climbing is a sport I’ve fallen in love with and I do not plan to let a bit of generalized anxiety disorder keep me from a good time. I want everyone to know that any fears of heights, falling, whatever it is, can be resolved. If you are afraid now, you can fix it. I have come a long way since I started climbing and you certainly can too.

Lauren Abernathy Rumney NH

Me getting introspective on a break from working a project in Rumney, NH. The crowds were really getting in my head that day.

The “Personal Cry Line”

Alpine environments have what is referred to as a tree line. This is a height at which trees are no longer able to grow. I used to have what I referred to as a “personal cry line” a height at which the tears would start flowing. No matter the style–top rope or sport or whatever, at about 80 feet off the deck you could almost guarantee that I was on the wall crying. It did not matter how hard the route, what the weather was like, or how safe I truly was. Once I was too high up, I was in a silent, tearful, private hell.

Why would you keep doing that to yourself? Do you enjoy emotional turmoil? Isn’t this supposed to be for fun?

Well yeah. But like I said before, I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I just like a challenge. I think I kept climbing and pushing myself because this fear was something to concur. Also, I could see tons of people around me having a normal, fun time on the wall—taking whips and everything!

Me enjoying an upward whipper on a project in the Red this past season. Photo by Tim Spanagel.

It gets better

I wish I could say that now because of some intense meditation program I’m 100% better and I’m basically a monk now and climbing never gets scary anymore (see my face above), but that isn’t true. Climbing is fun, but it is still a scary sport.

I think I had a major breakthrough when I spent two weeks straight sport climbing in Rodellar, Spain. What really did it was just continually getting back on the horse. I had a few freak outs on that trip, but taking falls every day and continually being exposed to the kind of heights that I found so scary was critical to diminishing my fears.

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.

It is definitely not easy, but I think any time you want to shy away from a route, or “just top rope it”, you actually need to go ahead and lead it. You have to face your fears and maybe some day the fears will go away, or at least become way more manageable.

Practical Tips to Help your Head Game

Here are a few specific things that I have done to help me get over my mental hump in climbing.

  1. Take warmup falls on lead in the gym. I take super small falls to get used to the sensation. Somtimes I make myself whip. I also made it a point to climb until failure in the gym sometimes—this isn’t really training advice as constantly redlining isn’t helpful, but the idea still stands. You need to get good at “going for it” in the gym and falling so that you can take this comfort outside with you.
  2. Practicing clipping on the ground. I noticed that whenever I didn’t quickly get the clip in, it would escalate my nervousness when climbing. If this is something you suffer with as well, practice clipping smoothly while hanging out at the crag (on the ground, of course). Being more efficient at clipping will help your climbing and your mental game too.
  3. Pre-climb mantras. Sometimes I pick a phase to repeat in my head to clear my thoughts before I start climbing. I’ll repeat phrases like “I trained for this and I can do it.” Or “You know what to do.” Or even simple things like “being above bolt is fun”. I’ve learned to consciously choose to relax and focus to avoid letting my head get carried away.
  4. If you can top rope it, you can lead it. So hop on the sharp end and start clipping.

Me enjoying my day out in Rumney, NH.
I took whips all day on my project this fall and didn’t panic or cry once.

You Can Win the Head Games Too

Over my time as a climber I have progressed from top rope panic attacks to taking surprise whips and laughing it off. Climbing with anxiety may take a little extra effort. Some people with anxiety may have an added challenge when taking the sharp end of the rope. But the confidence that comes with conquering fears on a cliff face are impactful. Now, when I’m faced with a parking garage I can remind myself “hey, you can do this. If you can whip 20 feet on lead and laugh about it, you can park this car too.”

A Better Way to Train your Abs

I see a lot of climbers in the gym doing long, horrible looking ab workouts. I saw a guy the other day do flutter kicks for what seemed like five minutes straight. As for me, I train strength specifically once a week and I do one ab-specific exercise during that session. Three sets, that’s itThe result: since August of last year I have gone from being able to barely get my feet to 45 degrees to being able to do a legitimate hanging leg raise. Also, I’ve noticed that my feet are cutting way less while I’m climbing. Skill practice helps, but I bet having strong abs isn’t hurting.
The best part though? No flutter kicks or crunches required.

Lauren Abernathy Hanging Leg Raise
Took a long time, but finally progressed to being able to do a legit hanging leg raise.

High Reps Are Not Helping You

After hearing the name tossed around in different arenas-from weightlifting to climbing, I decided it was high time I launch my own research of Pavel Tsatsouline.

Pavel Tsatsouline is famous for being the “Father of the Kettlebell”. However, he has done much more than just introduce the kettle bell to the West. He is a former Soviet Special Forces, and has implemented strength programs for high end Military teams ranging from the U.S. Marine Corps., Navy Seals and even the Secret Service. He holds a Sports Science degree and has authored many books including Hardstyle Abs on which this post is mainly based.

The mission statement of Hardstyle Abs is quite simple: “an extraordinarily strong and developed ‘six pack'”. It is no coincidence that the first substantive chapter of the book is titled “Why High Reps Have Failed You”. High rep, high variety exercises do not produce the kind of strong abs you are after.

“The burn you feel from high reps is from lactate build up and does absolutely nothing for toning up your muscles.” – Pavel Tsatsouline, Hardstyle Abs

3-5 Sets of 3-5 Reps

“As for training your abdomen, there are many different ways…. you have to keep the repetitions to 5 reps and under. Any more than 5 reps is bodybuilding. You need to make a focus on tension/contraction instead of on repetitions.”  
– Pavel Tsatsouline, Tim Ferris Episode 55

Research and practical experience shows that training in low repetitions generally increases muscle strength without causing hypertrophy (muscle growth). This is why Pavel says “anything more than 5 reps is bodybuilding.”

Without getting too far into the weeds of physiology/sports science , you can make strength gains neurologically without actually increasing muscle mass. As many trainers explain this phenomenon–it is like having a four cylinder engine and learning to fire all four instead of just two (this analogy was used by Pavel earlier on in his interview with Tim Ferriss).

For climbing, UFC fighting, power lifting, etc. the athlete’s power to weight ratio is of interest–so if you can gain strength without gaining mass, this is hugely advantageous. Here are the top two reasons to train your abs this way.

  1. Having strong abs without actually gaining muscle is a useful climbing adaptation.
  2. Saving time on your ab workout means less time doing crunches and more time climbing.

Three Exercises to Train Your Abs

According to Pavel, the method of obtaining as Pavel puts it “an extraordinarily strong and developed six pack” is essentially broken up into three parts. They are breathing, sit ups, and the hanging leg raise. Pavel has also mentioned doing very short, intense planks so I will discuss those as well.

The first step, perhaps to the chagrin of the eager exerciser is a breathing technique derived from Martial Arts. I am not going to begin to try to explain it so watch this video. The breathing technique is integrated into both sit ups, hanging leg raises, and might help you keep your midsection tight on the crux of your project.

Breathing techniques for engaged abdominals:

Check out Pavel’s video below.

1. “Hard Style” Sit Ups

So after you’ve mastered breathing, pelvic alignment, etc. (seriously watch the video) you can move on to what Pavel calls Hardstyle Sit-ups. Ideally, you either have a partner or you have a specialized piece of equipment for just this application. Personally, I do not want to count on having a partner available and I my climbing gym does not have a “Pavelizer”. So I am going to demonstrate option #3 which is to tie a resistance band to a raised surface or a door knob like so.

Lauren Abernathy - Hard Style Sit Up
Me using a resistance band to do some of the most torturous sit ups of my life.

Hard Style Sit-Ups: Procedure

I have tried these. In my first attempts, I found doing two reps correctly to be pretty difficult.

Lauren Abernathy Hard Style situp
Me laughing at how just two of these “perfect situps” are extremely tough!
  1. Set up your form of resistance (person with towel, or resistance band) at a 90 degree angle from your calves
  2. Start at the top of a sit up. Two small hisses and a final, larger one to fully engage your abs.
  3. Lean back slowly, sipping in air as you go. Keep your back straight and pelvis tilted forward and engaged.
  4. Come back up to start, maintaining a straight back.
  5. Repeat 3-5 times (or two times). Rest 3-5 minutes between sets.

This “hard style sit up” is the basis for the mother of all ab exercises, the Hanging Leg Raise.

2. A Proper Hanging Leg Raise

Doing a hanging leg raise is a BIG topic and a big goal. Mine is definitely getting there but it sure isn’t perfect.

I would definitely check out the above video, but in short, here are the guidelines to a perfect hanging leg raise:

  • Arms are straight
  • Legs are straight
  • Starts from a dead hang, does not involve momentum
  • Shins/feet touch the bar.
  • Use narrow grip on the bar–thumbs almost touching
  • Triceps should be engaged.
  • Do not let your lower back arch

Here are examples of all of my faults/ common mistakes. It’s a work in progress!

Here is a picture of the top of one rep. Legs could be a little straighter, but good form is mostly evident here.

Lauren Abernathy Hanging Leg Raise
Looking forward, straight arms, feet are at the bar, back is not arched.

If you are already a practicer of the hanging leg raise. Pavel recommends doing–you guessed it, 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with 3-5 minutes of rest in between. For maximum speed of results he recommends doing this 3 times per week. He also notes that you should not go to failure on these. Do as many as you can intensely and well and then stop.

3. Intense Planking 

No. Not this kind.

I love the internet.

Another recommendation Pavel gives in his interview with Tim Ferriss is instead of performing a plank for an extended period of time (e.g. the typical 60s-120s) you should squeeze everything so intensely that you cannot go on after about 10 seconds. of plank is commonly referred to as the RKC plank.

Pavel presents some impressive data showing that doing planks in this manor is significantly more effective in activating your core than planks done in the traditional manor. Data was collected at a kettle bell instructor course by physiologist Bret Contreras with electromyography (EMG) measurements. He compared the peak activation of the lower rectus abdominus (RA), internal oblique, and external oblique in the traditional plank and the “Pavulized” RKC version. Results summarized below.

  • Lower RA contracted more than three times more intensely in the RKC plank than the traditional plank.
  • Internal obliques contracted more than two times more intensely than the traditional version.
  • External obliques contracted almost four times as intensely in the RKC plank than the traditional plank.

The RKC plank is an elegant time-saving solution. You get at least twice the intensity in your abs for less than half the time. And the exercise is gloriously portable as well–all you need is yourself!

Program Design Tips

Depending on how much ab training you do already, this may seem like you’re either about to save time or you’re about to spend a lot more time on your abs. I know it can be super tough to fit it all in.

Recommendations from Pavel in Hardstyle Abs:

  • Train your abs 3x per week
  • Do not train your abs before heavy lifting or when tired
  • “Treat your training session as ‘practice’ not a ‘workout’. ” Pavel means to say that you should not be totally exhausting yourself, you should be practicing to improve at the movements.
  • “Alternate two weeks of Hardstyle sit-ups and two weeks of leg raises (block training).”
  • Do not train to failure.
  • For whatever exercises you do, make sure to do a “total of 10-25 reps per session”.
  • CLIMBER RECOMMENDATION: Personally, I hangboard and stretch during the 3-5 minute rest periods. Pavel recommends that during rest periods, you can stretch or do “unrelated exercises like calf raises.”
  • Yearly planning: Pavel recommends following this regimen twice a year for 8-12 weeks and “in the interim: heavy lifting”.
    • It seems like the ideal time to train your abs might be as part of a twice-yearly strength phase. This seems like it might be aggressive and hard to maintain during projecting season. but to each their own!
Lauren Abernathy Hangboarding
Hangboarding (half-crimp on a 15mm edge) immediately after a stretch and a set of hanging leg raises.

Personal Takeaways

Pesonally, I train strength once per week. During thing, I lift heavy and during the rest periods of intense exercise (such as deadlifts or hanging leg raises) I hangboard and stretch a la Logical Progression by Steve Bechtel.

After diving deep into Pavul’s precription for strong abs, I am considering adding a session of ab work/stretching after endurance days as well. There is potential to do some abs in the morning before heading off to work. It may be possible to do core in separate session (AM vs. evening) from climbing, this is also recommended.

In the big picture I am more focused on being a good climber than having insanely strong abs (although these are not mutually exclusive).

Lauren Abernathy deep water solo cala barques Mallorca
Doing tough exercises is the price you pay to be able send gorgeous routes on stunning cliff faces. This is the real reason for training.

My one ab exercise per week in conjunction with deadlifting has yielded great results. I may add more ab workouts as my training goes away from more limit boulder/strength and gears toward endurance. I will certainly keep you posted. Pavel does have me stoked on getting me some world-class “abbies”.

In any case, I hope that if you are a crunch-doing, bicycling, 5-minute plank kind of person that you now know that there’s a better way to go. It is my greatest wish that you stop doing high reps and start getting your “extraordinarily strong and developed six pack”.

So, may you get yourself some strong abs so that you can truly climb whatever inspires you.

*please note that this post contains affiliate links for Hardstyle abs. If you purchase this book through my links it helps keep my site ad-free and in existence!

Route Pyramids: Practical Application and the Quest to Climb Harder Grades

When I picked up a copy of How to Climb 5.12, I  found an extraordinarily fun worksheet in the back of the book. Its a pyramid shaped chart you fill out with all the routes you have done at certain grades. It is also a good place to give yourself a gold star for your latest redpoint. See below for a representation of a route pyramid as someone works up to their first 5.11a (applies to all other grades as well).

 The concept of the route pyramid is simple. Build up a good base of routes at one grade before moving onto the next. Explicitly, a base of eight routes at the a/b level (or 5.8 in the case of your first 10a), 4 routes at the c level, and two routes at the d level before reaching whatever X.a you are looking to send.

This is great advice and in 2018 I didn’t follow it at all. The route pyramid is not law, but based on my experience this season, my lacking adherence to it has been strongly associated to the predicted outcome from Eric Horst.

Eric, if you’re for some reason reading this, you can say “I told you so.”

Let’s break down a couple of situations in which I learned about the value of the route pyramid. I’m going to elaborate on my mistakes, because dear god, don’t repeat them if you can avoid it.  

Example 1: Time well spent or time well wasted?

Eager and confident that I could bag my first 12a in the fall, I went full force into projecting Orangahang in Rumney, New Hampshire. During that time, I clung to this line written in How to Climb 5.12.

Avoid getting involved in projects more than one number grade above your onsight level – Eric Horst

For reference, this is what my route pyramid looked like prior to working on Orangahang:

I had a lot of two-try 11a sends, and an 11a flash under my belt. Not quite an 11a onsight. So per the advice of Eric Horst I was an extremely borderline case of having any business trying to redpoint Orangahang–a full number grade harder than my almost 11a onsight.

Results: Over three weekends and more than 15 total attempts, I did not send this route. I whittled it down to a couple moderately satisfying one hangs, sorted out the beta, but still no send. The pyramid prevailed.

Lauren Abernathy - Rumney NH
The first weekend I spent on Orangahang.

I did learn quite a bit about the process of projecting, but I can’t help but think I would have gained more from climbing some high 5.11s and saving myself the frustration and discouragement that came from failing on this route so many times. Fall in Rumney doesn’t last long, and I spent essentially all of it working one route.

Lauren Abernathy Orange Crush Rumney NH
Staying positive despite epic amounts of failure and lots of bloody fingers.

Verdict: My route pyramid showed I was 
 not really ready to start working a 5.12a. 
My results were as such. 

Example 2: Close enough?

Having headed home without a send from the last reasonable weekend in Rumney, I was off to Mallorca where I bagged another 11b and my first 11d. So then my route pyramid looked like this. Still no 11c on the roster though.

Lauren Abernathy Rich Bitch Mallorca
Me on my send-go of Rich Bitch in Mallorca. This was, my first 5.11d.

I had three days for a Red River Gorge trip and a tick list that involved some high 11s and a couple “this route will really suit me” 12as, I barged into my former home crag ready for more action.

It comes to no surprise that with a solid 5.11a/b foundation, Banshee 5.11c went down easily in two attempts.

Lauren Abernathy Banshee Red River Gorge
Me on my first attempt on Banshee. I one-hung it right from the start.

On the second day of our trip, I spent an entire day on Beattyville Pipeline, 12a. This route was selected because it suits me and it is a style I prefer.

Results: I racked up seven attempts in one day. The first few burns were mostly for working beta, then I moved into redpoint attempts. My final attempt that day left me at an ascent involving one fall, reaching the finish hold and falling before clipping the anchors. Close, but no cigar. Maybe if I had another day I could have done it. Maybe not.

Lauren Abernathy - Red River Gorge KY
Quintessential crux whip on Beattyville Pipeline. This move always got me.

Verdict: Closer, better prepared, but still no 12a. Projects started with an incomplete base 
of routes were still out of my reach.

The state of the route pyramid directly correlated to my rate of success on whatever route I was working on. Solid base of 11a/b lead to an easy send of 11c and 11d. Minimal base of 11c/11d–still no 12a.

Key Points

So what can we learn from my personal experimentation this year? Here are a few key takeaways.

You don’t have to follow the pyramid exactly. You can skip from 11a to 11c because you feel moved to try it.
Climbing is fun, it is not calculus. 

Trying to skip grades or move too fast through the grades is potentially very unproductive.

Your ego has the potential to get in the way of you getting better at climbing. Doing three 10cs really well in 1-2 tries is better (and feels better) than slapping around for eternity on an 11b that you are not yet ready for.

Future Applications

So now what? This is what my route pyramid looks like at the end of 2018.

Using myself as a case study, it is prudent for me to add more 11c and 11d routes to my resume. My strategy at the beginning of next season is to fill out the rest of this chart. Then, I plan to continue on to tackling my first 5.12a.

In summary, I believe following the route pyramid as a guideline is a wise, and time efficient decision to make as a climber.

I think it’s wise to ask yourself every now and again: “What does my route pyramid look like and where do I think I can take it from here?”

Further Reading on Route Pyramids

Climbing Goals for 2019 from around the U.S.

I asked climbers from all over everywhere USA to submit your climbing goals for 2019 and received fifteen submissions from climbers of different ages and skill levels. I am very excited to share what these fifteen climbers have cooking up in 2019.

Mel and Ella Gravity Vault
This is mother-daughter power duo Mel and Ella from my local gym. The both kick some major butt!
Some couples goals from my buddies Nick and Kira out of Colorado!
Nick demonstrating that he really is ready to sink his teeth into training really hard next year.
The 2019 goals of Scott Gilroy–fellow Jersey boy, goofball and all-around crusher.
Scott Gilroy. This is the man who eats 5.13 for breakfast and also thinks he should wear more spandex doing it. Pictured above with his trusty sidekick, Reilly.
Mike Goals
This is my boyfriend Mike who takes nothing seriously except for maybe the routes he wants to take down next year. I am excited to head back to the Red and keep training with him, even though he won’t smile for a damn picture.
Lauren Abernathy 2019 Climbing Goals
I’m going for hardest redpoint this year, taking it from 11d to 12a and beyond. I want to do a lot of 12s too to get a solid foundation .With trips planned to Wyoming, Kentucky, Spain and the home crag of Rumney, NH, I’m psyched on climbing a diversity of 5.12 routes!
This is Jess from NJ. She and Scott are a power climbing couple. Jess has got her eye on some 5.12 volume and a pretty nasty tall V7 in the Gunks!
Adams Goals
Adam is an ambitious climber. His first climbing experience outside was deep water soloing in Mallorca–which is a pretty rowdy thing to do. Raddest panda I know.
This is Mike from California and here are the 2019 goals he submitted to me via email!
– Finish climbing all of the 5.12s in Malibu Creek (He’s done 18/25!)
– Do two 5.13s
– Boulder V9 or harder
This is Alisha from CA. I met her on a trip to Mallorca and she’s a super graceful climber! Wishing her well as she takes on knee surgery, but I know she will come back super strong and bag that 12c!
Mel Goals
Mel is headed to South Africa this year and he’s got an eye on a pretty sick boulder!
Nicole Goals
This is Nicole. She’s an Ohio buddy and a pretty rad lady looking to smash some V5 outdoors this year.
Mickey Goals
Mickey coaches the kids team at the Gravity Vault. When he isn’t teaching the little guys & gals to smash boulders, he’s doing it himself.
Steph Goals
Steph’s doing some life reorganization so she can go climbing more in 2019. Loving that measurable goal of an average of 3x per week. Steph crushes by the way, psyched to see her at the gym more often.
Mike D Goals
Mike is another valiant Gravity Vault kids team parent putting in time at the gym. His goal is to be injury free, which is probably the most practical goal on this list.

Thanks everyone for your submissions and for sharing what you are trying to accomplish this year. I am inspired by all of the motivated peolple I have the pleasure of interacting with.

If you have a goal and you would like to be featured in this post as well, please send me a picture of you holding up a legible sign with your 2019 goals. I am more than happy to add you!

Please send all photos to

5 Reasons You Should Start Climbing in 2019

Why not make trying something new your goal for 2019? If you’re looking for a new hobby that will be amazing for nearly every facet of your existence, look no further than the great sport of rock climbing. Here are five reasons that climbing should be your new lifestyle choice in 2019.

1. Climbing is a fun way to get fit!

If you’ve had trouble in the past getting yourself into physical activity, it might be because a lot of physical activities suck. Running can be boring, lifting can be hard to do (especially if your local crunch fitness gets crowded in the evenings) and let’s be real, Hot Power Vinyasa Yoga in a 90 degree studio might make you want to puke.

Figuring out how to climb on a roof life a spider monkey is more interesting than running.

Climbing is an awesome workout. It helps you to build muscle, it is goal-oriented, and it is mentally involved so you don’t get bored while you do it. When you climb, you are trying to finish the route—which is a little more interesting than a bunch of push-ups.

2. You will meet new people

This year I moved from Ohio to New Jersey. Upon my arrival I had a handful of friends at my company, one buddy from college, and that’s about it. Want to know where I made friends first? The climbing gym. The climbing community at large is friendly, diverse, and in most cases extravagantly welcoming. If you want to make new friends, a climbing gym is a great place to start.

Me and my new friend Mel out on a day of bouldering at the Gunks a few weeks after we met at the local climbing gym in Hoboken. (My boyfriend Mike came adventuring too, but he’s behind the lens.)
Me on a trip where I didn’t know anyone except the head guide and my friend that came with me. We met so many new people and they were all so cool.

3. Getting out of your comfort zone is really important

Afraid of heights? Don’t like exercise? Scared to try something new? If you answered yes to any of those then you should make 2019 the year you conquer that limitation!

I was very afraid of heights when I started climbing. I have been seen crying on top rope on a thirty foot tall gym wall. CRYING. I’ve had to work on my fear of heights and I have mostly gotten over it. Now I take big whips and climb ropeless above the sea! You have to start somewhere and you have to get out of your comfort zone–or you’re going to miss out on the best things in life. Seriously.

Lauren Abernathy - Red River Gorge KY
Me taking a big fall at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky.
Lauren Abernathy Porto Colom
Me reaching for my next hold a good bit above the water in Mallorca, Spain.

4. You might be motivated to eat better

I used to make nutritional resolutions all the time before I started climbing. I have a horrible sweet tooth so I would make goals like “try to only eat one sweet thing a day”, “no processed sugars on weekdays” and on and on. I was never really motivated to keep up with this because honestly feeling like I look good in a bikini isn’t really enough motivation for me to eat better. The desire to climb hard is way more motivating. If you fuel your body well, you climb better. My eating resolutions stuck a lot better once I got a real source of motivation. Eat better, climb harder. Simple as that.

5. You will explore new places outside and have fun with your friends!

Becoming a climber is a great way to get yourself outside with your friends. Instead of hitting the bar on the weekends, you’ll spend Saturday night sitting around a campfire after an awesome day out with your buddies. It doesn’t get much better than that. Quality time spent outdoors with friends and loved ones is priceless. Here are some of the cool places that climbing has taken me in just the past year and a half.

Red River Gorge Climbers
Red River Gorge, KY
Lauren Abernathy Rumney NH
Rumney, NH
Cala Barques Mallorca
Mallorca, Spain
Miller Fork Recreational Preserve
I used to basically live at the Red River Gorge with these guys on weekends.
Senderella story CO
Evergreen, CO with friends from college.
Red Rock Nevada
Red Rock, Nevada

Climbing changed my life in so many ways. I cannot recommend it enough and it is never too late to start. So what are you waiting for!? 2019 is the year you start climbing, so grab a friend or two and get out there!

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

According to U.S. News, a record-breaking 112 million Americans are expected to travel for the Holidays. If you are like me, Christmas means piling presents, a suitcase, and maybe some local drafts in the car and hitting the road to head back to wherever family is.

It also means trying to figure out how to squeeze a workout in between the family functions and the consumption of one or two or ten of Aunt Jenny’s cookies.

If I am driving to whatever family/friends I am visiting and I know they don’t have any home gym options, nothing beats a portable, door frame pull-up bar. So if you have access to that, great! If not, no worries there are other ways to get strong without it. I love to get a good workout in before the holiday family mayhem starts, so if you are like me, take a look some of these workout options!

Workout #1: requires pull-up bar

lauren abernathy pull up
Santa hat added for festive effect.

I like doing what is known as a superset. You pair two exercises together, do them immediately after each other and then rest for a period after you have done both exercises. The workout below has three supersets of exercises and a bonus round.

Additionally, before getting into it any physical activity, I always to a 5 minute dynamic warmup of some sort. (jumping jacks, high knees, shoulder swings, etc. After that, you are good to get into the workout. See circuit below.

Explanations and Modifications

  • If you can’t quite do a pull-up/chin up (which is totally fine, you will get there!), I used to modify by either putting a foot on the back of a chair or tying resistance bands to the pull-up bar and put one or more feet in the band.
  • If normal pull-ups are too easy, you can always go the extra mile by bringing weights, a weight pin, a carrabiner and your climbing harness with you (I managed to squeeze in some very hungover weighted pull-ups when I was a music festival this past May. My friends on the trip were amazed at the motivation.)
  • Side plank can be done either on your hand or on you elbow–whatever works for you!
  • Hanging leg raises can be modified by doing hanging knee raises instead.
  • Yes. a Burpee pull-up is actually jumping up, doing a pull-up, coming back down, jumping your feet back into a plank, doing a push-up and jumping back up to the pull-up bar. If it sounds awful it’s because it is. Here’s a video of it

Workout #2: No equipment

Part 1: Upper body (follow the fitness blender video)

Part 2: Legs (mini leg blasters)

If you want to hit the legs as well, do some mini leg blasters.
I still hold fast to my love of leg blasters as a useful way to spend 15 minutes and DESTROY YOUR LEGS without any equipment. (Especially if you are interested in ways to train for skiing.)

Try to do 10 mini leg blasters (see the circuit below) with 30 seconds of rest in-between. Credit to for their article on this leg workout that always has me ready to go for ski season!

mini leg blaster
Breakdown of the mini leg blaster.

So there you have it. Two workouts requiring minimal or no equipment that can help you break a sweat and feel like you’re still contributing to your overall fitness, even if you aren’t at home training on your usual wall.

Happy training!


Deep Water Solo Mallorca

In January of 2018 I found an attractively inexpensive flight: roundtrip to the island of Mallorca, Spain for $450. Without much thought, much of a plan, or anyone to go with, I booked a flight.

Ten months later I found myself waking up to the cuck-a-doodle doo of a rooster in a Mallorcan hostel. Accompanied by a familiar tour guide, some strangers, and an old friend from Ohio–I was off to my first day of deep water soloing.

What is deep water soloing?

For those unfamiliar with this genre of climbing, it is ropeless route climbing above water. Water deep enough, that is, that you are in no danger of striking the ocean floor when you eventually fall off the wall. Routes are like those you find at your typical outdoor sport crag, without bolts. The routes range in height from 30 feet (10 meters) to as high as you’d ever want to consider, really.

Lauren Abernathy deep water solo cala barques Mallorca
Warming up in Cala Barques.

The Value of a Guide Service

If you’ve ever been anywhere new, the propensity to waste time getting lost, pick a restaurant that sucks, or be generally confused about how to prioritze your time can be pretty high. 

Google all you want, it helps to have a savvy guide point your trip in the right direction. 

That’s why, when I take international climbing trips I go with Rockbusters. Rockbusters ia a tour group headed by human guidebook, Jan Novotny. The first trip I took with them was in June 2017 to Rodellar, Spain. The climbing, the guiding, and the trip were all excellent.

Jan (head guide) and Erin (camp chef/guide) hanging out after a day of guiding and climbing.

Rockbusters makes planning an international trip easy. You show up to the airport with minimal gear, they pick you up, show you around, and offers some pretty stellar coaching in the process. Jan and his team have certainly earned my status as a repeat customer. 

Accommodations & Food

I am accustomed to primitive camping when going on climbing trips, so I was pleasantly surprised. There were three bunk beds piled into one room Myself and the four other women on the trip fit very nicely into the room. These were simple, no-fuss accommodations where you could pay little money and rest your head after a long day of climbing. The pool was pretty nice too, although usually I was too tired and soggy to go for a dip after climbing. 

A typical girl’s bunk room–a little messy, but not gross!
Hippocampo Mallorca
pool hippocampo mallorca

Since it was the off-season for tourists in Mallorca the camp site dining area was completely empty. The ten or so of us in our tour group had free reign to enjoy this perk. One of the trip guides, Erin, owns a restaurant in DC called Mola where she cooks Spanish inspired foods. She has somehow found a way to spend a lot of her time in Europe with Rockbusters cooking delicious (and exceptionally nutritious meals) with a couple of camp stoves and some big pans.

I asked her if she had a bunch of written recipes that she used for her camp cooking. She politely responded “No, I usually just think of it and cook it as I go. I come up with new things to make all the time, otherwise I would get bored. I don’t like to repeat things too often.”

Erin making magical meals happen, no matter how humble the setting.

Needless to say, the food was exceptional every night and there was always plenty of wine to go around.

I had trouble sleeping every night and not because of the accommodations. I mainly enjoyed my fellow trip mates so much that I didn’t want to go to bed. When I finally did try to hit the hay, I was genuinely so excited to climb the next day that I stayed awake thinking about it.

Every morning in Mallorca felt like Christmas.

The Approaches

The good news is that most of the hikes into Mallorca are absolutely stunning. At least the ones that I did. Most of them are also on the beach. Even better–some of these beaches have bars.

A beach bar near Porto Colom Lighthouse. 
Photo by Adam Pernik. 

The Daily Grind

I had never deep water soloed before and leading up to the trip I was pretty nervous that I was going to be so scared to do it that I would hardly get any climbing done.

Fortunately, I did get some climbing done–a LOT actually. Jan is an awesome coach and his high standards and hilariously excessive scrutiny are pretty effective for me. Jan is an exceptional climber and has coached me to achieve some of my best ascents. My first 11a and my first 11d, both of which occurred on separate travels to Spain.

Here’s a little run-down of how we spent each day.

Day 1

We spend our time beautiful and low consequence crag to “get our feet wet”. Followed by dinner, beer and sleeping. 

Jan pointing out where to climb and how to exit the water if we fall. 
Me getting my sea legs under me, working through this low to the “ground” traverse.
5.7 climbing hadn’t scared me in a long time. This first topout was a little heady! By the end of the day I took a couple falls and was good to go though. 

Day 2 

My and a fellow trip buddy (and fellow engineer!) found a project for the short trip–Hercules 11b. We worked it until sunset and kept getting bucked off the crux. 

Cala Barques Mallorca
The project of the week, Hercules, was in the second cave over.
Hercules Mallorca
Mike working the crux sequence on Hercules
Downclimbing with my sandals on my back. I liked to have them with me since hanging out in wet climbing shoes at the base of the route isn’t the most comfortable. 
 Me working my way up to the crux sequence on Hercules, 11b. 
What it looks like when you fail to send.

Day 3

We took a break from DWS on day 3 to do some sport climbing. It was extremely hot. I love ropes, but wow, I could have used a little more shade and water that day–not exactly ideal conditions for pulling on vertical crimps. Still had a great time and got on some fun stuff!

Lauren Abernathy Sport Climbing mallorca
Me having some wholesome family fun in the heat on this stellar 5.9.
A fellow trip mate hanging out in the talus between burns.
The main wall at the crag.

Day 4

Porto Colom Lighthouse.

Porto Colom Lighthouse
The Crag: Porto Colom Lighthouse. There are routes all over this thing–just depends on how far you want to traverse (or swim).
Lauren Abernathy Deep Water Solo porto Colom Lighthouse
Getting up there on the surpisingly heady warmup. one of my finer moments of the trip was topping this one out first out of everyone. It had a lot of ledges and could get pretty scary! This was also the highest route I did–the finish was about 50 feet up and you had to jump back to the water once you finished the route. 
Lauren Abernathy Porto Colom Lighthouse
Me executing the required dismount from the top of the route we all worked that day. I stood around for a good 15 minutes on the ledge before taking the plunge. I am not a huge fan of cliff jumping!

Day 5

Returned to Cala Barques and bagged the send on Hercules (11b). I laid at the top of the cliff and cried after I topped out. Sending a project as the sun sets in Mallorca was a moving experience. 

Lauren Abernathy Hercules Mallorca
Another shot of me on Hercules from Day 2. No images from the actual send, but I’ll remember it forever.

Day 6

Everyone split up on the last day to do what they really wanted. Some people were psyched on doing more sport climbing and the rest were on for more deep water solo. I was in the latter half of the group and I am very happy I chose how I did. Somehow, on my 6th day on, I sent my first 11d in three short tries. The route is not ridiculously long, but the moves were big and tough. Here’s some pictures of it.

Lauren Abernathy Rich Bitch Mallorca
Me getting started on Rich Bitch, 7a (11d).
Rich Bitch Mallorca
Mike demonstrating the dyno on Rich Bitch. Mike definitely thrived on the big, dynamic climbing style that Mallorca demands.
Lauren Abernathy Rich Bitch Mallorca
Every move on this route took 100% effort.

The Gang

Jan’s Rockbusters trips always attract really awesome people, and this trip was no exception. The gang I went with was supportive, fun, diverse in age and background and truly a remarkable group of people to go cragging with for the week. Everyone came from different backgrounds, careers, and locations. We were all different ages and from different places, but we got along famously. I don’t think that happens very often, so I definitely cherish that.

Classic goofball team selfie as we got ready to get on the wall.
Soggy, tired, and happy after a long day at the crag. 
Me and the two Mikes!
Don’t know what we’re watching, but I know some rad things were doing down that day.

I think climbing with new people is really important. Sometimes you put yourself in a sortof mental hierarchy in your usual climbing gang and I think this can be oddly limiting. It was liberating to climb with people that had no expectations of me at all. It allowed me to throw off my usual hang-ups, and just go climbing. The unwavering support and stoke from everyone was palpable–I think that’s what made this such a successful trip.

Big Takeaways

  • Effective climbing trip lifestyle strategy: Be the last one on the wall, the last one at the bar. I heeded this advice from Jan and I think it was crucial. No one likes being hungover climbing overhangs. 
  • The motivation to not fall when deep water soloing is more than the fear and failure. The motivation to keep your shoes dry and to not have to pull yourself up a godawful rope swing is almost equally powerful as the aforementioned.
  • Deep water soloing is horrifying and beautiful all at the same time. It makes you fight all your instincts and sending makes you feel like a superhero.
Lauren Abernathy deep water solo mallorca

Photo Creds

Photography credit goes out to Adam Pernikar (follow him @pernikphoto). He was our professional trip photographer for the week and boy did he do a great job. He literally sacrificed his skin to make sure we left Spain with some rad photos (he was very sunburnt after hanging out on this line all day in Porto Colom). Jan also did a great job taking photos throughout the week. Even though he sometimes got distracted started taking pictures of sexy tourist ladies. 

Adam Pernik Photography
Adam dangling from the cliffs at Porto Colom–prepared to capture the action.

In any case–having people around with awesome cameras taking pictures of you while you climb is a pretty cool perk and I’m super grateful to Jan and Adam for the photos they took.  

Going in for round two

Needless to say it was an incredible experience. I’m psyched about my tics on this trip but boy am I motivated to go back for more.

It was also kindof a bummer to not have my main man on the trip, so he will be aventuring with me when we head back again next fall.

There’s a few routes I want to take down and these gorgeous cliffs are more than enough to keep me inspired through training this season. 

How to train with a Moonboard

I have climbed twice since Thanksgiving. Apart from a couple of training sessions the last week in November, I haven’t climbed at all in about three weeks.

Scary, huh? I assumed that when I went back to training that I’d feel weak, and fat and that I’d regret taking a break. Turns out the break was worth it–and so was tossing my generally healthy eating habits aside for a couple of weeks. You bet I slammed some pie over Thanksgiving, and I just got back from Hawaii. Lots of hiking and swimming—and drinking to celebrate our conquests. Life is to be lived. You can’t be light all the time.

But between some nagging finger twangs and life in general, a break was much needed. However, I am here to tell you that taking a big break was GREAT IDEA and very useful. I am fine, and climbing just as well as I was before. Sweet!

I hit the Moonboard today and had my best session ever—without any funny feelings in my wrist or fingers. These joints were getting to be painful after my trip to the Red and I could tell that I was on a one way street to really injuring myself if I didn’t give it a rest.

After some time for rest and reflection, I have decided to integrate the Moonboard into my training for the winter. Mostly for limit bouldering purposes since the benchmark V3 and V4 problems on it kick my butt. More on that later. Let’s start with the basics. 

What is a Moonboard?

A Moonboard is a training tool for climbers, first and foremost. It was invented by UK-based climber Ben Moon.  It is a wooden board with a bunch of holds in pre-prescribed positions, set at a 40 degree angle. The grades are stiff and the holds are mostly bad. There is an LED light above each hold and you can connect your phone to the board using the Moonboard App.

The app allows you to light your chosen problem up on the board. You can choose from thousands of problems grades V3-V-Insane that cimbers from all over the world are working and setting. Pretty sweet.

What the app looks like on your phone.

Why use a Moonboard?

I love my home gym, don’t get me wrong. However, I sense some grading inconsistencies in the gym—mostly dependent on the setter. I get it, if you’re 6’4” and climb V13 outside, your version of V4 and my version of what I think is V4 might be different. Understandable. One of the many benefits of the Moonboard is that it offers the ability to go back to the same problem session after session, year after year. As long as the board remains, the route is available. Instead of hiking out to your old project, to check your progress as a climber, you can benchmark your progress with a route inside—pretty cool.

In addition to the consistency, there are so many problems to choose from. You can tweak exactly how hard you want your limit problems to be, with the swipe of your finger on the app. This is great since finding the right limit problem from your gym’s set can really be a pain sometimes.

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

This is how I limit boulder on the Moonboard:

Warmup: (5 minutes of running, 10 minutes of dynamic stretching)

Climbing warmup: Do about 15 problems. A pyramid of 6-8 V1s, 3-5 V2s, a few V3s.

Hard climbing warmup: Spend 30-45 minutes projecting two or three V4 or V5 routes. At least one of these is on a steep overhang to prepare for the angle. I rest for 3-5 minutes between attempts on these “doable if I try it a few times” routes.

Hangboard warmup:  I am terrible at pinches and slopers. These are my greatest weakness. The Moonboard has a lot of these holds which is AWESOME for training. I spend a few minutes warming up these two grips on the hangboard before embarking onto the Moonboard session since I am not so great at these types of holds. This is optional but I think it helps. 

7-10s hangs, 3 reps on each hold (wide pinch and sloper). My gym has the rock prodigy hangboard, so I do bodyweight hangs on this. Note that for the pinches I alternate between hanging on my right hand and my left hand—one hand on the pinch, the other on the jug. See below.  

I am not yet strong enough to bodyweight hang on the pinches on this board—I will be someday though! I also warmup briefly on the slopers.

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

Limit Bouldering: Two “benchmark” V3s.
*Note that the hardest project I’ve sent in my gym is V6 and I can only really work V3 on the benchmark Moonboard problems. Often these V3s leave me getting chucked off the first move for a few tries. It is not easy. If you cannot climb V5-V6 in the gym, I would not recommend spending too much time on the Moonboard just yet.

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

I do 5-6 attempts per problem.

I rest at minimum 3 minutes between attempts. If I fell off the first move, I rest 3 minutes. If I fell after almost sending, I increase the rest to 5 minutes, sometimes I even rest for 6-7 minutes. Note that most of these routes I am not even close to sending until I have worked them for a few sessions. This makes them “limit” problems. 

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

Once I am falling of the first or second move, even with a long recovery, I call it quits. Once my power is dissipated, the session is complete.

Is the Moonboard tough on your skin?

In short–YES. The Moonboard is definitely rough on the skin. My hands are usually in some skin-related pain by the end of the session. I am working on alleviating this, however. Sanding down your calluses is always a good idea, but here is another option/additive to your climbing skincare routine. 

Today I experimented with exfoliating my hands mid-session, after warming up and before hitting the board. Sounds crazy, but it felt awesome. I went into the bathroom in the gym and used a gritty, exfoliating face scrub.

I like to use L’Oreal Paris’s Pure Sugar Scrub (FYI L’Oreal is my employer so I get to try a lot of L’Oreal products at a minimized cost to me. I like this stuff a lot, but please take my opinion with a grain of salt.)  Just find something gritty and try it out. I thought it felt great and it prevented some potential flappers. The coffee smell is also pretty nice!

Rest after Moonboarding

I need at least 24 hours for my skin to recover after moonboarding. 1-2 days of rest, depending on who you are is probably a good idea if you really dissipated yourself during a moonboarding session. 

Have you ever used a Moonboard? Does your gym have one? What problems have you worked on?! Leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts on this awesome (and sometimes frustrating training tool). 



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

A couple of years back when I was still in school, a good friend who had just moved to Jackson Hole sent me a frantic text. Ahead of my upcoming trip to the world-renowned (and famously steep) resort, she warned me  “Start working out your legs or you won’t be ready!”

Jackson Hole, WY

Aware that Jackson Hole was a gnarly place and that my Ohio-based cardiovascular system was not yet prepared for the upcoming trip, I set to work finding a preseason ski training plan that would work with a climbing schedule (and still leave me free time to do my engineering homework and go to the bar with my friends).

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

Although this sounds pretty far-fetched, there is an effective preseason ski training plan presented by that provides exactly what I describe above. Enter the leg blaster.

Click here for Backcountry’s Preseason Conditioning Program

However if you’ve read anything about climbing training and you enjoy skiing, you can spot a pretty obvious issue. These sports demand your body to be conditioned for diverse physical outputs. The only things that overlap in these two sports are the necessity of some cardiovascular stamina, really intense core strength, and a healthy command of your mental game.

Fear not, though. For all you two sport enthusiasts, there are ways to optimize for both. I’ve been following this program for two ski seasons now. I have showed up to resorts from Jackson Hole to Revelstoke to Snowbird ready to slay without noticing significant impact to my climbing.

Geographically speaking, climbing season and ski season are not really concurrent for me. The outdoor climbing areas in the Northeast become mostly too cold, and ski season starts in Mid-November to December. After the end of the fall climbing season, I transition to indoor training for climbing and prepping my legs to hit the powder in the coming winter months.

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

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

What is a leg blaster?

Certainly refer to Backcountry for more details, but a leg blaster is essentially a series of eccentric body weight leg movements targeting the lower half. Below is an explanation of concentric vs. eccentric strength for skiing from Rob Shaul, who runs the Mountain Tactical Institute in Jackson, Wyoming (he is also the author of the Backcountry Article/the mastermind behind the leg blasting training protocol).

Alpine skiing demands eccentric leg strength. Think of concentric strength as “positive’ strength. This is the strength you use to stand up from the bottom of a squat, or hike up a steep hill. Eccentric strength is “negative’ strength. You use eccentric strength to lower yourself into the bottom of the squat, and hike down a steep hill. Eccentric strength absorbs force. Alpine skiing primarily demands eccentric strength.

So there you have it. Train your ability to absorb impact and get better at skiing. See below for an explanation of both “mini” and a “full” leg blaster.

Mini Leg Blaster

10 bodyweight squats

5 lunges each side (10 total)

5 jump lunges each side (10 total)

5 jump squats

Full Leg Blaster

20 bodyweight squats

10 lunges each side (20 total)

10 jump lunges each side (20 total)

10 jump squats

As you work through the program, you improve from 10 mini leg blasters to 5 full ones. The exercises should be done as quickly as possible without compromising form, 30s rest in between. I recommend keeping a stop watch on your phone and tallying on a piece of paper as you go.

Train for Skiing After Climbing

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

So how do you work in leg blasters on a daily/weekly basis?

It’s pretty simple actually. It takes about 15 minutes to complete your leg blasting workout and no equipment is required. I tack it onto the end of a climbing session 2-3 times a week with 1-2 days of rest in between.

Note that I don’t do leg blasters before training/climbing. I only do them at the end of a session. I love both sports, but I’m not compromising a limit bouldering session because I just wrecked myself doing 50 jump squats.

Hypertrophy concerns

For obvious reasons, excess leg muscle is sub-optimal for high performance climbing. According to the Anderson Brothers in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual,

“[Leg] Muscles ‘in training’ can store up to 5 lbs of useless (to climbing) glucose and water alone.”

Doing the volume of low weight high rep leg exercise as prescribed for pre-season ski conditioning (and skiing itself) is likely going to lead to some hypertrophy; however, I like to think this is advantageous in the outdoor climbing off-season.

Think of this additional leg muscle is “training weight”. As you train for climbing you’ll be training with the weight of your beefy, shred-ready thighs, preparing your upper body and your fingers to climb at a heavier weight (and then you will presumably drop this excess weight at the start of climbing season.

According to the Anderson Brothers, “At the end of each season’s peak, it is acceptable (and even desirable), to relax dietary restrictions and bulk up five to ten pounds…It is very difficult to add muscle and effectively build strength with restricted caloric intake.”

So eat well, get comfortable with putting on some training weight. It takes time to completely lose muscle gained during the ski season, so don’t expect your legs to shrink overnight. Muscle will begin receding after about one month. Once three months of not skiing in the summer have passed, your legs should be nice and scrawny for fall send season. If you want to read all about the effects of detraining on your muscle, I found an extremely well-researched article on Check out an excerpt from the article below:

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

Sure, in a perfect world you never have to climb with excess leg muscle weighing you down. But to be a two sport athlete, sacrifices must be made. Personally, I love skiing waist-deep powder. So let the gains begin.

Me enjoying the deep stuff in Revelstoke last winter.

Training Cardio for Ski Season

Another physical adaptation that may need to be increased for ski season is your cardiovascular capacity. As someone that does not live at a high altitude, I am not naturally prepared to be hiking uphill with skis on my back at 10,000 ft.

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

So cardio for ski season is necessary, for me at least.

Last year was the first year I included cardio training in my pre-season program. I am pretty cardio averse so I had to enlist the help of the good people of Orange Theory to get myself to do it. I personally do not enjoy cardio so going to a class where I was forced to run and row (all out sprints included) was a good choice for me.

This year, in order to save my sweet sweet moola for a new pair of skis, I’m forgoing the Orange Theory membership and trading it in for some quality time on the rower and the treadmill.

Although it would be nice to have the time for a long run a few times a week, I am opting to train my cardio systems with High Intensity Interval Training twice per week instead. This is a less time consuming cardio regimen and has been proven to be very effective as well.

8 week HIIT Program from

This article on HIIT from explains the concept pretty simply. I will either do my HIIT training on the rower or the treadmill and I won’t do HIIT more than twice a week. Leg blasters are pretty intense cardio anyway, and honestly I don’t have the time to do more than two HIIT sessions per week in addition to climbing training.

Weekly Training Overview

So what does this look like on a weekly basis?

See sample schedule below (for an explanation of the climbing portion of this training schedule, click here and here):

Monday: Limit bouldering

Tuesday: Strength, HIIT

Wednesday: Rest day

Thursday: Power Endurance, leg blasters

Friday: Endurance, HIIT

Saturday: Climb indoors/ski outside/rest (depends on the weather/life obligations)

Sunday: Leg blasters

Things to keep in mind

1. Intense cardio can wreck your climbing recovery. If possible, it’s best to give yourself full and complete rest days instead of doing some sort of training everyday.

2. Leg blasters can and will destroy your legs, especially if you haven’t worked out the old gams in a while. When I get back to doing them each season I take it easy, starting with 7-8 mini leg blasters and working my way up (although 10 minis is the recommended starting point). As soon as my thighs start feeling “pumped” I call it quits and cool down. Being sore and walking like you have a stick up your ass for 3 days straight sucks (and it will make climbing suck too). Don’t overdo it.

3. Make sure you have good form for these exercises! Don’t hurt your knees before ski season even starts.

4. Warm up before leg blasting. You probably will be warmed up from climbing, but make sure you at least do some walking/dynamic warmups before you start your leg blasting/HIIT workouts.

With that, happy skiing and happy climbing. Shoot me an email if you have any questions!