It’s a normal day in my local climbing gym. Between each boulder problem, I’m resting making notes, rinse repeat.
Then a teenage kid makes eye contact with me. He starts wondering over.
I pull out my headphones and brace for impact.
“Excuse me. Can you tell me what you’re writing in your notebook?” He ingests some air and proceeds. “Do you write something about every route you do? Why are you doing that? Does it even help?”
I stared down at his rental shoes.
He had a lot of questions.
The answers to them are described below.
What’s in a notebook?
I have been training for a while now, but it wasn’t until August 2018 that I started religiously writing everything down. I now have a stack of two notebooks full of training data, and I’m about to start in on my third notebook.
So what on earth is filling up these pages? A lot of useful information, that’s what.
Examples of Past Data Used to Improve the Future
Before I tell you how to track your training and days of climbing, I want to give you some examples of how I use the past data that I’ve recorded to impact my training and days at the crag.
Everything went perfectly when I sent my first 5.12 on a short trip to the New River Gorge. And I wrote down tons of notes about the week leading up to the send, day of the send, etc. We aren’t talking pages and pages here, but I am now taking those notes and applying them to my next trips.
EXAMPLE A: The week before a trip
Leading up to my trip to the New, I went ahead and got a massage the day before we left. It felt amazing and the usual sore spots under my shoulder blades (my left Rhomboid in particular) disappeared completely. I know I’m going to be tight from lots of power endurance training when I leave for the Red in September and guess what – I scheduled a massage a couple of days before that trip too! The massage obviously didn’t send the route for me, but it felt great and it sure didn’t hurt anything.
EXAMPLE B: The day of a send
Again, the day of send at the New went super well. I wasn’t hungry, but I had energy and felt like really good. So when I went to tackle Groovin’ (5.11d in Birdsboro, PA) I knew I needed to be feeling just as good. The day of, I took cues from my recent send at the New. Half a PB&J right after my warmup routes. Stretched the exact same way I had at the New. Went up after my warmup and sent the thing. Went down almost the same as my first 5.12.
Maybe it’s all just a placebo effect. Maybe it’s not what I’m doing that matters, perhaps it’s just that I’m creating constants in variable situations. Placebo or not, I’m happy I that I have recorded what is working well for me.
These examples aside, why else should we track our training and climbing? You can’t just transcribe your sour patch kid consumption the day of a good performance and expect to send all the time. So let’s dig into the top three reasons why you should track your training and climbing.
Reason 1: Staying Motivated
Sometimes in our training we think we are not getting better. This can be very demotivating.
But how good is your memory? Do you remember how many V3s you could do in a 45 minute session at this time last year? Do you have any idea how many tries it would typically take you to climb V6 five months ago? Or better yet, what did you eat for breakfast six days ago? Do you remember any of this exactly? I don’t. You probably don’t either.
So this year you might be thinking “wow, I haven’t gotten any better.” And maybe you’re right, maybe you haven’t. But maybe you have gotten better, but you don’t have the data to back it up. Your memory is not a trustworthy resource. Get a notebook.
Example: Finger Strength Data
I was curious about how much stronger my fingers have become since starting to train back in May of 2017. Unfortunately, my training log from then is not great, but this is a screenshot of what I recorded. I was doing 10:5 repeaters a la the beginner hangboard workout in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual. My method of measuring resistance was which color theraband I had strapped onto my hilariously sketchy door frame pull-up bar hangboard setup (college apartments don’t allow holes drilled into the wall – Or beer spilled on the carpet…. But I digress).
In those days, I had to remove weight from my body to use the hangboard and I hadn’t climbed anything harder than 5.10c (probably didn’t need to be using a hangboard yet, but you can’t change the past).
Fast forward to July 2019. Two 5.12 ascents under my belt, four 5.11+ ascents, and plenty of 5.11a/b. My fingers have changed quite a bit since then. I’m actually shocked and amazed. This is what my repeater workout looks like now.
Please note that I was originally using the edges on the Rock Prodigy Board, so I don’t have exact measurements of edge depth. I now use a Tension hangboard at my gym that labels the hold depths.
Where I could barely hang on my bodyweight on a large edge two years ago, I can now add 18 pounds on a smaller edge and perform a higher volume of training. In 2017 I could not do repeaters on a sloper with my full weight. Two years later, I can add 25lbs to my frame and do a higher volume of training on the same hold.
Moral of the story: Two years of consistent hangboard training has been very successful and this is very motivating to me.
Measuring Progress is Motivating
From the data I have gathered on myself the past two years, I can now see that using a fingerboard regularly has significantly impacted my finger strength. Now, when training my fingers feels like a painful chore, I can latch onto this progress and stay motivated.
And the same goes for climbing. I can look back at a power endurance session from August 2018. I can see that in a session of 6×3 boulder problems (3 sets of 6 boulders near your limit. Similar to 4x4s.), I was able to do maybe 50% V3 and 50% V4.
Now, I look at my progress since then, I am doing 90% V4 and 10% V5. The progress was slow, but I can measure it and I’m motivated to keep going.
Staying motivated to stick with a training regime is half the battle. Help yourself to be consistent by tracking your progress.
Reason 2: Knowing What’s Working
What was your most recent accomplishment? If you had to describe the top three things that got you there, could you do it? Could you tell me what you did 3 months before, 6 weeks before, the night before? Do you have the details to help you perform well in the future? If you don’t that kindof sucks, doesn’t it?
What if life gets in the way and you can’t climb for a few years? What if you want to get back to where you were before but you have no idea what you did to improve because you don’t remember what you were doing in the gym?
Bottom line is that if you write down what you’re doing and it works really well, you might be able to use that knowledge to perform well in the future.
Example: Prepping for Wild Iris
In July 2019, I took my first trip to Wild Iris. I knew there would be pockets and I knew the routes were short and somewhat bouldery. With that, I made sure to do two things:
- I had a limit boulder session each week for the twelve weeks leading up to the trip
- I incorporated 2 finger pockets into my hangboard workout (which was miserable, by the way) 8 weeks prior to the trip for a total of 8 sessions.
The trip went super well. I was able to send a 5.12a out there, I topped my first 5.12b, and almost bagged a second 5.12a on the last day. Trip goals were accomplished and the training did it’s job. I’ll probably go back next year, and I will use this year as a guideline.
Having the details of what worked and what didn’t will help you produce quality performances in the future.
Reason 3: Knowing When to Change it Up (and when not to)
The best training program is the one you’re not doing.Eric Horst – Training for Climbing Podcast
Sometimes I feel like I have been doing a certain training protocol, be it on the hangboard, a movement drill, or whatever for a really long time. Then I look back and realize that I haven’t even done 5 sessions of it. But sometimes, I realize I’ve been doing the same lift or the same route difficulty/amount for 10 weeks and I know then that I need to change up the stimulus to keep getting better.
Keeping Track to Be Consistent
Let’s dive into some interesting research brought up by trainer Steve Bechtel on episode 110 of the TrainingBeta Podcast
Consistency is the thing. One of the really important factors in any training is being consistent with doing the training over the long period.
I’m going to quickly delve into a little bit of research which is really interesting…
They had a group of athletes doing 20 sessions of training and then they stopped training. It was about three days a week so this was maybe six weeks of training. They stopped training and after six months they were back to a total loss of strength. They went back to their baseline values. Makes sense. We train hard for six days a week then we stop training completely and have a total loss of strength.
But they had another group that did 40 sessions so we can assume that’s about 12 or 13 weeks. The total loss of strength didn’t occur for those people even after a year.
So yeah. Sticking with something for four weeks, getting bored and changing the stimulus mindlessly is going to destroy the progress you’re making.
You have to keep tracking of what you’re doing so that long-term improvement to be made. Don’t quit after three weeks and don’t be dumb enough to lose track of how long you’ve been doing something either.
Consistency is key. Don’t miscalculate your consistency because you don’t keep track of what you’re doing.
Logging your training is arguable as important as training itself. If you don’t keep track of what you’re doing, how can you see progress, figure out what’s working, and plan for the future? I think this quote sums this up nicely.
“…you’re going to refer back to your log frequently. This is not an optional aside to your training, but rather a guide. A few seasons into your training career, and it will be the most valuable piece of gear you own. “Steve Bechtel – Logical Progression pg. 15
This post is part one in a series. Stay tuned for part two where I’ll give a detailed how-to guide for tracking your training and climbing. If you want to know when it’s out, go ahead and subscribe to my monthly newsletter! In addition to keeping up with my most recent posts, you’ll get five quick tips, tricks and tidbits to help make you a better climber.
Do you keep track of your training? Any progress that you’ve looked at that you find surprising? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’d love to discuss!
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