Several times a year I force myself to take a scheduled two week break from climbing, 1 week of no activity (other than walking and stretching) and 1 week of general strength and conditioning (heavy on the strength).
Most climbers (and CrossFitters) periodize by accident. It looks like - Hard, Hard, Hard, Injury, Rest, Easy. I choose this periodization instead - Rest, Easy, Medium, Hard, Easy, Hard, Rest.
Your body needs rest, and it will take it if you don't give it.
You need to continuously break meaningful records if you want to reach your next climbing level. Let's explore each element of that statement.
Continuously You should be able to break your records at will. If this is not possible or happening, it is an indicator of suboptimal training. You need to change what you are doing if you are currently at a plateau but want to get better.
Breaking Your should be setting new personal records in training. Even before I enter the gym, I have the goal to set a new specific record. Here are my campus and hangboard logs from a previous cycle. I have the dates when I broke my previous records, in addition to recording each session.
Meaningful The records should be personally relevant to your limiters and goals. My goal is to send everyday, so I focus on refining my tactics and maintaining stamina. Your meaningful records might be different. It might be maximum number of pull-ups in a set (most likely your definition of "meaningful" should have nothing to do with pull-ups). Records You should have specific, objective benchmarks. One of my favorites benchmarks is the number of climbs I can send in a session at 3 grades easier than my current onsight level. That is my preferred indicator for stamina. Another one of my benchmarks is the number of tries to send a climb 3 grades harder than my current onsight level. That tells me how my sharp my redpoint tactics are relative to my onsight ability.
Here are my new standards for claiming a first ascent:
Video Any quality but the complete climb. HD is nice but not necessary. You can edit however you like but also provide the uncut version.
Pictures Any quality. Color is required. There is no reason for black & white beta photos. Drawings are unacceptable.
GPS A majority of the time there is no specific information about the location of a climb. It would add value to the climbing community if the location of climb was expected when discussing a new climb. In addition, I don't want your vague directions. I demand the unequivocal accuracy of GPS.
These standards apply to all media (i.e., books, websites, and blogs). I won't waste my time and attention on anything less.
This is the third and final segment in the "A Practical Guide to Training Plan Construction" series. Part I and II can be found here. The next steps in the "Natural Planning Model" are organizing and identifying next actions.
What is the best way to organize?
Since my collected ideas are physical, I organize on the floor by topic. Each column in the picture is a topic. My current topics are: warm-up, strength training, footwork improvement, and bouldering tactics. I'm missing a column for over-gripping with my whole body and small hesitations.
How do I identifying my next actions?
This is an important step since we want a change in the world and actions are vital to changes in the world. My first next action is filling in the missing columns. I can do one of two ways: Research (e.g., online or training book) or brainstorm. Another next action is incorporating my collected ideas into an ideal warm-up for my winter training plan. I do the same for my strength ideas. My footwork improvements ideas need to be refined so I plan to video my next training session to better understand precisely how my footwork changes when I'm pumped. My tendency to hesitate will be addressed in the same way. I realize that I have many ideas but lack a coherent plan. I will resolve that issue by contacting someone to help me create a plan.
All I need is a clear goal and a script for the first steps. I don't need to completely plan all the steps. I'll repeat the natural planning model if I need to reassess my goal or if a next action is not clear.
This is the second segment in the "A Practical Guide to Training Plan Construction" series. Part I can be found here. The next steps in the "Natural Planning Model" are outcome visioning and brainstorming.
What will the conclusion of a successful training program look like the physical world?
Outcome visioning creates your best-case scenario goal. Personally, I don't focus on long-term projects. I enjoy climbing things quickly (e.g., onsight or in-a-day) to maximize my limited time outdoor climbing time. A successful training program for me will increase my ability to quickly send a wide-variety of climbs in a wide-variety of contexts.
Your outcome might be focused on a specific climb or competence at a specific grade.
What are important questions to ask?
Brainstorming is what your mind intuitively does to connect the dots between your current state and your envisioned outcome. These are best phrased as questions. Here is a selection of my brainstorming questions: "What is the path of least resistance to my outcome?" "Do I want to try a different training program?" "Should I get someone else's input?" "Do I need access to additional training tools?"
Writing down these questions will unlock your mind's creativity.
By this point you should have the raw materials to construct a training plan. The final segment cover the nitty-gritty of transforming the raw materials into a plan by organizing and identifying next actions.
"It's not the plan that is important, it's the planning."
Dr. Graeme Edwards
Winter is encircling the North Hemisphere in its icy talons, thus for many people is time to create a winter training plan. My step zero for creating a training plan is the collection of limiters. I have a written laundry list of reasons of why I didn't send (e.g., over gripping with my whole body, poor footwork when pumped, small hesitations, suboptimal redpoint bouldering tactics, ...). My goal for the winter training cycle to eliminate those specific limiters. I use "The Natural Planning Model" as a general framework for constructing my training plan:
1. Defining purpose and principles 2. Outcome visioning 3. Brainstorming 4. Organizing 5. Identifying next actions
What is my purpose for training?
Primarily, I enjoy the process of improvement. I like to improve my climbing for the intrinsic benefit of seeing progress. In addition, physical activity makes me happier. I especially enjoy being active with a positive purpose. Lastly, I can complete more climbs on performance days and choose from a wider selection of climbs because of my training.
Everyone has their own reasons. You need to find yours.
What are my principles?
Principles are the boundaries of the plan. It is important to write down your principles to have an objective inventory. Here are a selection of my training principles: I have the ability to make to a plan and follow it. I'm willing to train, instead of defaulting to performance-oriented climbing or doing what other climbers are doing. I have the desire and opportunity to train 4 days a week for 2-3 hours each day.
Currently, I have easy access to a commercial climbing gym with about ~35 quality problems that range from V0-V9, a system board, and a hangboard. I have access to a commercial weightroom with a lifting platform, limited free weights, light dumbbells/kettlebells, treadmills, and indoor rowers. I have a video camera.
I don't list the things I don't have unless I plan to do something about them.
Grading climbs appears to be a fundamentally contentious issue. However it doesn't have to be, science already has an elegant solution to this problem. Measurement Theory is a branch of science that has developed specific strategies to assign labels to real-world attributes. An introduction can be found here.
"The map is not the territory" is the most fundamental assumption. Measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured; the grade (measurement) of a climb is not the same as the difficulty (attribute) of a climb.
Given that assumption, there are 2 steps to establish a functional grading system:
2. Construct and assign scale values (i.e., grades) based on those rank-orderings.
The first step requires a fundamental shift in the way climbers record difficulty. Instead of arbitrarily assigning a grade to a climb, a climber would compare the difficulty of the current climb to the difficulty of other climbs the climber has completed. For example, I feel "Dragon Fly" is more difficult than "The Madien" but less difficult than "Baby Face." More subtle distinctions can be made - "Dragon Fly" feels more difficult than "Lobsterclaw" but less difficult than "Hobbit in a Bender." A climb could also be rated as the most relatively difficult. An internet database (e.g., Mountain Project, Rockclimbing.com, 8a.nu, 27 crags ...) would be the logical place to aggregate these comparisons.
The second step uses these comparative rankings to construct scale values and assign value (i.e, grades) to the climbs. This is a technical but straight-forward process, it could be handled by anyone who has taken a basic Measurement Theory course. I'll leave the in-depth discussion of that process to a future post.
The current debate on difficulty and grades is pointless until a better connection to the ground truth is established. Above are straightfoward steps in that direction.
Recently, I relocated to the Mid-Atlantic region. Everyone offered their condolences, "Sorry, there ain't much climbing around here. It ain't no __________."
So far I have been climbing great problems in great settings, as much as my fingers and other interests will allow. The problem above is just one example. It is a fun romp, 15+ moves on immaculate rock.
Even though the book is over 200 pages long, there needs to be a more complete treatment of all the topics. Almost every line of text begs more questions than it answers. He suggests using a "trucker's hitch" to tie two pads together, thus making the approach easier. He never elaborates how to tie a trucker's hitch. A nice tutorial can be found here. The "Staying there:" sections lack practical information (i.e., facts) for a traveling climber. Here is the Bishop section: "Overnight accommodations range from The Pit, a cheap campground in an old gravel quarry on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land, to motels in town. Will Young's guide has the specifics." It doesn't list the name of the guide, Bishop Bouldering, and Mick Ryan is also an author. Better Bishop camping information can be found here.
There are interesting guest appearances from bouldering elites, including Dave Graham. However, some of the sidebars are odd choices. There is advice from Daniel Woods about training for World Cup bouldering success. He wouldn't be my first choice because Woods has so far only limited World Cup success. Wouldn't 5-time overall champion Kilian Fischhuber have a better perspective on training for World Cup bouldering? Choosing Daniel Woods is one example of the entire book's Colorado and Boulder bias.
The book is hard to read in many places. There are lengthy written descriptions which could be better handled by short video tutorials. There are no sequence pictures which would illustrate the written points. In fact, most of the pictures are not correlated with the content of the text. They appear to serve an atheistic function, compared to a pragmatic function; however, they are not in color.
It might be an acceptable gift for a newly minted boulder who just feel in the love with climbing and is hungry for any information. Otherwise, it can be skipped.
My inner geek wants my training to be linear. For example, I want a step-by-step training program that I flawless execute with predictable sends as a result. My linear seeking behavior extends to my training facilities. I want a constant slab wall adjacent to a constant vertical wall followed by a constant off vertical, ... etc. The training area would stop short of a constant roof because that is just stupid. There would be none of those tricky transitions. I could perfectly train my movements and tactics in isolation. Later, I would bring those separate elements together.
I haven't (yet) built the full scale "Climbing Lab." I'm forced to train in the current real-world which includes transitions. Those nonlinear elements are either a crux or a rest, despite the best routesetting. My inner geek recoils at the "non-optimality" of the situation. My inner realist realizes there is an opportunity to train the real-world climbing elements of pacing, recovery, and jessery (Yes, jessery is a real-world climbing skill that should be trained). In the end, those elements will contribute more to sending than the perfect training facility.
I recently had the honor of hanging out with the Strength Villain crew, sharing a love of training and tattoos. They are "subject matter experts" on powerbuilding. Powerbuilding, a mix of power lifting and body building, is a program to perform and look like you actually train. Through cigar smoke and Lil' Wayne, I learned our underlying similarities vastly outweigh the surface differences. Here are a couple of training and life lessons:
Bring both heart and head to what you do. Pick the right goals and walk your path towards them. Help as many people as possible along the way. Realize the power and limitations of the digital medium. Value your crew and community.
My training philosophy is "limiter driven improvement." I constantly seek out my current climbing limiters and design drills and progressions to improve them. The easiest way to find a limiter is ask, "Why did I fall?" I ask that question not just when I fall off a limit-level climb. If I fall off a warm-up, that is an equally valid data point. Maybe I'm rushing my warm-up and that lack of "being in the moment" is limiting my climbing. This fundamental deposition towards limiter driven improvement makes climbing intrinsically motivating. My primary focus is increasing climbing competence, sending more and harder climbs is a welcomed by-product.
I collect personal climbing limiters and design my next training session or cycle around improving them. Currently, one of my biggest limiters is not pushing enough with my feet when I'm pumped. I don't automatically jump to "I need to be stronger" to improve this limiter. Limiters could be technical, mental, or psychical. I approach this limiter from technical and mental perspectives. I have a deposition towards over-powering moves at my limits. I need to readjust this strategy towards finding technical solutions. Mentally, I like being in control. When I'm pumped I'm start to lose control. I try to regain control through my strength. I'm working on being okay with losing control.
By using this method, my climbing is still improving. My gains are not in leaps and bounds but a little each time I climb. That improvement keeps me engaged with climbing even after 10+ consistent years.
James at CATS Climbing has an interesting take on grip positions. I agree with most of his conjectures. However, there is room for subtly in this statement - "There is no advantage to climbing without the thumb pinching the bottom of the hold (Grip B)"
If you are climbing in a performance-orientated environment, then there is a role for Grip B. On the other hand, if your inside climbing is training targeted towards outside performance, there is less need for Grip B. It is uncommon to pinch the bottom of edge holds outside. I would advocate spending a portion of training time on thumbless climbing. Yes, it is contrived. Yes, you can't climb as hard. But it transfers better to outside climbing than the the ubiquitous pinch grip found in indoor climbing.
Lastly, I simply don't understand the statement - "None of this applies to route climbers."
People say interesting things when someone is post-crux on the send go of their project. There are shouts of French (Allez!) and Spanish (Venga!), when neither person speaks enough of the language to get out of de Gaulle or Barajas. From my experience, the shout of "Strong" is on the rise. Yes, the a post-crux climber is fatigued and needs to keep it together to get to the top. However, the climber needs more than strength at that point. The climber needs to climb well. The best term for this concept is pretty climbing (handsome, if your uncomfortable with pretty). "Pretty" needs to the new "Strong."
The next time you see me post-crux, please remind to me to climb "Pretty."
I hear climbers at the gym and crag having in-depth theoretical discussions about the path of least resistance up a particular climb. Climber #1 proposes a complex undercling-pogo-drive-by sequence. Climber #2 proposes a simple, but elegant, jump move. Their discussion lacks context since neither climber has touched the problem. There is nothing wrong with generating multiple sequences for a solid flash attempt. However, these conversations frequently last longer than it would take to try every permutation of climb.
Shut-up & Climb!
Humans have the magical gift of language. There are times when that gift doesn't serve us. Much of climbing is implicit and can only be learned through direct experience. Words can inhibit this procedural learning. For example, the moment you try to describe riding a bicycle you fall off.
I have stumbled upon another batch of my favorite type of rock - river-polished granite. So perfect but so slick. Boulder after boulder of wavy, bullet-hard goodness. The rock in this particular area has least amount of friction I have ever encountered. It feels slicker than glass. I lack the vocabulary to adequately describe it to other interested parties.
Mohs scale of mineral hardness is convenient shorthand for geologists to talk each other. Climbers need a similar scale for rock friction. I propose additional systems of letters to describe friction (or lack thereof). The rock described above would be type "A." Yosemite granite would be type "C." Southern sandstone would be type "F". Limestone with little spikes (name?) would be type "M."
Cheerleading, at its core, is unconditional support. Whereas, coaching is pragmatic advice aimed at improvement. In a performance-driven environment, cheerleading typically drowns out coaching. The problem comes when an athlete spends a majority of his or her time in a performance-driven environment. There needs to be time and space for subtlety of coaching to take place, when improvement in movement is more important than getting to the top of a climb. Everyone in climbing would benefit from a little less cheerleading and little more coaching.
I had high expectations for Redpoint: The Self-Coached Climber's Guide to Redpoint and On-Site Climbing. My copy of their first offering, Self-Coached Climber, is falling apart from constant use. "Redpoint" did not disappoint. It covers all aspects of redpoint and onsight climbing. It is primarily focused on sport climbing with the occasional references to traditional climbing and bouldering. In additional to their extensive personal experience, their history of instruction enriches the book. The book is more than a collection of tactics. It a complete, systematic approach to performance oriented climbing. There are a range of insights, large and small, that can be gleamed from a close reading. Even experienced climbers will learn something.
The book really shines when it covers the mental game, an under-appreciated aspect of climbing. One important element they address is the fear of failure. That is the primary fear I see at the crag, especially for performance-orientated climbers. They give pragmatic advice to mitigate that fear.
They are proponents of video accelerated learning. They discuss the value of video taping climbs and subsequent movement analysis. The included dvd provides another perspective on the issues in the book.
There is a bonus section in the book on "The physics of falling." A fascinating read for the geeky climber.
There are couple of specific places where the offering falls short. The books drags when they describe in words what a short video clip could cover far better and quicker. On page 126, a picture caption states, "A climber properly outfitted for a redpoint attempt." The pictured climber has several quickdraws attached to the harness. The text on page 124 states, "The route is already equipped with draws, so a harness, shoes, and chalk bag with small hold brush are all you really need; leave everything else on the ground." The picture and text body don't agree. Additionally, the dvd didn't work on my computer (a macbook pro). I downloaded the assessment pdfs from here.
On a personal note, the book and dvd are full of references to New River Gorge, WV. I recently made my first pilgrimage there. It was fun to use many of the references (including play-by-play video sequences).
I would recommend picking up a copy after picking up The Self-Coached Climber first.
Currently, the internet is a massive catalyst for this process. A climber no longer has to be present to watch someone else climb. He or she can watch a video of a climb and learn. He or she still has to work out the particulars, but the learning process for that climb is accelerated. The open sharing of climbing videos (of any quality) will help push climbing forward.
Continuous Intensity Repetitions (CIR) bouldering, from The Self-Coached Climber, is one of the most best methods I have found for improving my climbing. CIR is climbing a set of problems at particular, sub-maximal grade with near complete rest between problems. Lately, my CIR sessions are ~12 problems at V6/7 and last ~45 minutes.
Why bouldering? Distilled, focused movement. I can visualize and perfectly execute short sections of climbing. Why 12 problems? It gives me a breath of movement opportunities while maintaining precise execution. If I climb more problems, I get sloppy. I don't want to practice, thereby ingraining, sloppy climbing. Why that grade? It is the grade I can consistently send 1st try. Why near complete rest? When I get pumped I flop around like mackerel in the hull of fishing boat. I want the movement to be brilliant, but balanced with the entire session not taking too long.
When I convince other boulders try CIR there is an immediate improvement in their climbing (and their enjoyment of climbing). That could be the Novice Effect, aka something new eliciting an improvement. I think it goes deeper. CIR provides a platform to increase your movement repertoire. It tricks you into climbing more than a typical bouldering session of projecting limit-level problems for far too long.
I use the following variations of CIR to accomplish different goals:
Onsight Only: Usually done at visiting gyms or crags. A great way to sample an area while getting a training dose.
All Different, But Repeats: Exposes subtle movement limiters.
Circuits: I pick a set of 4-6 problems. Climb each one, and repeat the entire set of problems 2-3 times.
Efficiency Grinders: I pick a problem and climb it 3-4 times in a row. I repeat that process for 4-6 different problems. I refine each repetition either by experimenting with different sequences or becoming more efficient with the same sequence.
There is a limited amount of attention and money in our sport. How do we want to spend it? Lately, it has been spent on a push for Olympic inclusion. The hope is to increase both by being picked for the Olympics. I disagree, the return on investment isn't worth it.
The Olympic label doesn't help fringe sports. Since climbing is a fringe sport, let's compare it to the other fringe sports of Olympic Weightlifting and CrossFit. Olympic Weightlifting is an Olympic sport (arguably the most icon one) and CrossFit is not. Olympic Weightlifting is orders of magnitude less popular than CrossFit in the USA. You would hard pressed to find somewhere to Olympic lift, and on the other hand, you can't swing a kettlebell with hitting a CrossFit affiliate. Olympic Weightlifting has been picked by the Olympic committee, but dutifully following the committee's rules doesn't help its popularity. CrossFit makes no overtures to being picked. It is widely successful by building a community and creating its own infrastructure.
One of the first drills inflected on novice climbers is "silent feet." The objective of the drill is to place the foot quietly on each and every foot hold. It focuses attention on those strange objects on the end of the legs which are neglected in the novice climber's effort to ascend via a series of pull-ups. This drill can lead to rapid improvement because it provides immediate feedback (a super secret trick that can used to get better at anything). I have found it is slightly more effective when done in a climbing gym, rather than outside, because climbing on "plastic" is inherently louder than rock.
However, it can be have unintended consequences. In an effort to be silent, novices can put too little weight on their feet. This ingrains a different set of poor climbing habits. How can this be avoided? The best yin to the silent feet yang is "over-pressing" with the feet. After you place a foot, press it down with too much force. It often surprises how little force climbers were using in the first place. Later, you find the right temperature for the pressure porridge.
There should be a progression of two drills: First, drills done separately on different days. Then, both drills done on the same day. Finally, both drills at the same time.
“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it." Seneca
I propose substituting climbing gym wall space for space of time in the quote above. I have visited more gyms than I care to admit, and that is true for 99.99% of them. It is a combination of incorrect vision and improper execution. Their vision does not serve the needs of the community, which could range from a sedentary person's 1st climb to the local "rockstar" trying to break into the 5.14s. Instead, gyms focus on getting people in the door with "that looks cool" factor. These travesties include belay ledges, roofs, inverted staircases, and anything that can be labeled "natural." These climbing features are carnival toys, played with hard for a day and forgotten about. From my experience, the worst set 5.4 gets more traffic than the best indoor crack.
The lack of vision is compounded in the execution phase. This includes not enough t-nuts to texture that rips your shoe rubber off. The last step in the execution phase is routesetting. The biggest sin I have seen lately is "hold blocking." Hold blocking is setting a later climb with large marcos in the flight path of an previous (frequently harder) climb. Again this is taking the easier path over serving the needs of everyone in the community.
The list of particular gyms guilty of not serving their community is too long to call out for this post. However, one gym I can highlight as a shining positive beacon is Movement for both its vision and execution. It is physically a small gym but NONE of its wall space is wasted. That is one of the reasons they are hosting a World Cup on American soil.
Hangobarding, when done properly, will make you stronger. That macro-question has an unequivocal answer. That leaves many micro-questions remaining. Which board? What is the proper work to rest ratios? What is the best length for a training cycle? This article tackles one of those micro-questions. Should you hangboard with 1 or 2 arms?
The jury is out. Peter Beal advocates a mix. On the other hand, Mike Anderson suggests two armed. He points out the difference between the two methods in transferability. Hangboarding is specific physical preparedness (SPP), the specific physical skills needed to advance in a sport. Hangboarding is the best method to create strong fingers with minimal risk. Once you have the strong fingers you have to do something with them. Therefore I'm not looking for direct transferability. I'm training to get a bigger engine that I will tune later. Additionally, I prefer empirical results over theoretical musing, praxis over theoria.
Your body doesn't "know" where you are hanging on 1 or 2 arm. Your body only "knows" there is a stress. If the stress is the appropriate intensity and duration, your body will adapt. Therefore it shouldn't matter which why you hang. The secret sauce is systematic, progressive overload.
I have instructed the basics of top rope belaying a lot. I view it (like many of my interests) as a craft. I'm consistently finding ways to make my teaching more effective and efficient. One key breakthrough I made is reframing the "Climbing Commands" as a dialogue between the climber and the belayer. The word command implies an order and does not necessarily imply successful understanding on the receiver's end. The word dialogue implies an exchange where each party is a participate. I prefer to think of (and teach) it as a series of questions and answers. The climber asks a question and the belayer answers. Example:
Climber: On Belay? Belayer: Belay on.
Climber: Climbing? Belayer: Climb on.
Climber: Take? Belayer: Gotcha.
Climber: Ready to Lower? Belayer: Lowering.
This subtle shift inherently improves the relationship between the climber and belayer. It encourages a better system that is less prone to miscommunication and the subsequent mistakes.
The Approach: PMA crag is listed in the Poudre Canyon Guidebook and on Mountain Project. It is the second set of bolts from the left.
The Story: The name is an inside (of my head) joke. The route is fun and overhanging, aka your feet get freedom, but there is a crux to pay, not cheap for the grade. Horrible junk rock, so bad that I "cleaned" with a soft bristle brush a jug into the wall when I bolted it (Baby Jesus please forgive me). It is the second warm-up of PMA crag, preparing you for the harder routes and makes their marginally better rock seem very solid.
There are two separate, but equal, methods to solve the crux at the 3rd bolt. A static method involving a sharp, thin pinch and the much more fun dynamic method demonstrated in the video. For full value, mantle the top of the cliff
Footnote: I repeated it on my birthday. However, I couldn't send my adjacent project. No cake for me!
The entire video is brilliant. The section starting at 11:10 is most relevant for the rest of the post.
This is video does a great job addressing why 1st ascents are special. Not 1st ascents in the absolute sense (the first person to climb something), but 1st ascents in the relative sense (the first widely available to the public).
One prime example is the grade of 15a. "Realization" (or whatever it is called this week), sent in 2001, was very public. That grade had been climbed much earlier, "Open Air" was sent in 1996. Which one had a bigger impact on the climbing community?
This concept extends to cryptic ascent information. It has inherently less value for the community than open information about ascents. Is a first ascent about the climber, the climb, or the community? How about including approach directions in the spray as the minimal standards for the public acceptance of a first ascent?
I'm an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) of climbing. I find value and enjoyment in pebbling wrestling, clipping bolts, and playing with widgets. I can partake in all those styles in one afternoon on the coarse granite of Vedauwoo, WY. Throw in easy access, free camping, and relative cool temps, it is an ideal summer destination. Last weekend my girlfriend and I decided to escape the oppressive heat, thunderstorms, and flood warnings of Boulder, CO for the wonderland of rocks called Vedauwoo. I picked up THE VOO: Rock Climbing in Vedauwoo, the new guidebook, on the way out of town. The following is my take on it.
The guidebook is gorgeous, stacked with pictures, both historical and contemporary, that jump off the page. The guidebook is rich with first ascent information, including drama and gossip.
One aspect of guidebooks that I highly value is helping me get to the best climbs quickly. This book does a mediocre job of that. There are plenty of clear and detailed overview maps. However, there are no written descriptions of the approaches. You have to guesstimate approach times from the map scale alone. Several of the cliffs had multiple approach trails, again you have to choose by map scale alone. In addition, there are no descriptions of sun exposure. Being the middle of summer, my girlfriend and I were desperately chasing shade. Again, we had to guesstimate it from the overview maps. Once you get to a cliff, it is easy find the routes via the color photos.
There is a lack of written descriptions for individual climbs. Cracks are described by colloquial terms (e.g., "hand", "fist", or "squeeze"). Given the range of physiology in the human species, this is a vague and arbitrary method for describing size. Imagine a company selling pants by listing size as "adult male" or "child." It would have been better if the guide listed crack size in inches. There was little (or more frequently no) information about gear. I had to bring more gear than necessary on every climb. There is an occasional crypt remark regarding wide gear. Most sport routes do not include bolt counts, and bolt density ranges widely in The Voo. I climbed one pitch that had 3 bolts within 15ft. I climbed another pitch with more than 15ft between the bolts. You get very different experiences in attempting "sport" routes listed in the book.
Overall the guidebook is like Vedauwoo, great but not world class.
The men's 1st problem of the 2011 Arco bouldering final. Three climbers use three radically different methods to accomplish the same goal. I unable to discern the routesetter's intention. Does the routesetter's intention matter?
Routesetters, from novice to expert, obsess over "forcing the move." They have platonic ideal of a particular climbing move. It could be mundane, a two crimper dyno to a jug, or esoteric, double bat hang. Routesetters hallucinate that people care. People don't care. People care about other qualities of a problem. Primarily, they want challenging and fun problems to solve. If problems can be solved multiple ways, it doesn't diminish the quality of the experience. In fact, alternative sequences can enrich the quality of the experience. I argue it is more interesting to encourage the richness of climbing. Otherwise, it is the same people climbing the same problems in the same way (sounds eerily like the climbing scene on Front Range).
I view routesetting as installation art. I create a context that only matters once people interact with it. I can't control how people climb "my" climbs (or what they say about them). Additionally, I'm usually working 3 climbs ahead. I would have to stop creating to address criticisms.
Stop focusing on forcing the move. Start focusing on creating art.
Lately, I have been trudging through the Westside Book of Methods. It is written by Louie Simmons, the bastard son of Jack Kerouac and Jack Lalanne. I don't apply the methods (e.g., reps, sets, and rests) to climbing. I do apply the principles (e.g., role of technique, mental attitude, and importance of maximal strength). In particular, I use the concept of pendulum wave loading to improve my threshold bouldering.
Threshold climbing is a concept I picked up from the Self-Coached Climber *. Threshold climbing focuses on successfully climbing your personal hardest moves. Mentally, it accustoms you to trying hard and succeeding. Technically, it can facilitate the identification and treatment of limiters. Physically, it strengths your entire body for harder climbing. The goal of threshold climbing is climbing few moves, as opposed to completing entire problems or routes. Threshold sessions are short, under 45 minutes, and intense, complete rest between attempts. I have successfully been using it to improve my climbing for several years. With anything you consistently do, you'll plateau. Applying pendulum wave loading has helped me break my personal plateaus. I'm excited to share it with you.
To use pendulum wave loading in training, you systematically manipulate some variables while holding all others constant. The two variables I manipulate for threshold climbing are number of tries and number of moves. For the first wave of a cycle, I set number of tries at 1. During the first session, I set the number of moves to 3. This is relative easiest combination on my joints which lays a healthy foundation for the rest of the cycle. I create mini-problems that should take me ~1 try to complete 3 moves, no more or no less. I stay at the 1.3 (tries.moves) level until I plateau (i.e., I stop seeing improvement. I'm no longer sending all my 1.3 projects). Then I progress to 2.3 and stay there until I reach the same criterion. Then 3.3. Then I start the second try wave. I aim to send a new set of 3 move problems on my second try. Sometimes they are too hard, sometimes they are too easy. I adjust and move on. During this process, I gain valuable insight into my climbing which helps me select the appropriate outdoor climbs. I continue through 2.2, 2.1, 3.3, and 3.2 threshold bouldering levels. Finally, I reach my mini-peak with 3.1. These are very hard movements. They would have felt impossible at the beginning of the cycle. Through systematic progression, I have improved my mental, technical, and physical capacities to succeed on them. At this point, I start entire process over again.
One of the prerequisites for this training is objective benchmarks. That is only possible if the training holds don't change during a cycle. It is possible to systematically progress with holds that change but not optional. For that reason, I choose to train at CATS or my home gym.
* The long awaited follow-up is scheduled to be published in October. Very Skyed!
I couldn't find this climb in the 2011 Guidebook. It is quintessential bouldering on a rope. My best guess for the grade is 11c. The crux revolves around a long pull off a good mono (Brilliant!). Bring a brush! It is dirty but should clean up to be a nice addition to the area. Share your knowledge.
Here is the official Climbing Lab position on eccentric-centric training- Never (Ever). There is no good reason. Concentric and eccentric muscle contractions are the Yin & Yang of strength training. However, people get suckered into focusing on eccentric loading because it feels subjectively harder and will leave you sore (especially the loaded, "as fast as possible" variety). I don't see much data, anecdotal or otherwise, that it improves athletic performance. If want you to "feel" like you worked out, that is fine but do not kid yourself that you are chasing performance improvements.
Eccentric-centric training does build muscle. I don't see a reason for ANY climber to build muscle. Get stronger! Yes (and more please)! Hypertrophy and strength are two different beasts. I know which one I can ride to Sendtown.
People also equate eccentric loading with slow movements. Those two do not need to be found together. Training the eccentric portion of a movement "greases the groove" but that should be done at regular speed. There is no reason to train to be slower. The best "greasing the groove" for a particular climbing movement is heaps (and heaps) of that movement. There is no reason to train the reverse engrams. One basic Climbing Lab training tenet is - You perform how you train. If your feet cut during training, your feet will cut on your project. If you primarily send during training, you're more likely send your project. If during practice, you climb 1 move, fall, and rest on the mat for 5 minutes talking to a climbing nugget, you are getting better at that (not sending your project).
Here are the practical aspects:
Don't down climb. Lower.
You should only down climb if you are training for onsights, especially of the traditional flavor. Some people claim that down climbing improves footwork. From my experience that is only true in novice climbers, but everything (and anything) improves a novice climber's footwork. Down climbing will just make you tired. Stealing time and energy from up climbing, which is the best use of your limited training time.
Don't down campus. Drop.
One of the best reasons to campus is to become more explosive and aggressive, both mentally and physically. Down campusing introduces an element of unnecessary control. It subtlety trains you to believe that you need to be in control. That is counterproductive to developing "pitbull on acid" mentally sometimes necessary in climbing.
One final note, climbing is about moving your corporeal body up. Why you want to get better at moving down?
I just love climbing, everything from digging through poop to get a "first ascent" to gym climbing. Lately, I have been climbing in every style from HOT (& heavy) sessions on leftover spring projects to onsight attempts (aka get gripped) on trad lines. There are no words or images that can capture the richness of the climbing experience. This video gets close.
Ah yes, the 1-arm start. Is it a party trick to impress the Tuesday night shirtless crowd or a fundamental stepping stone on the path to Crankdom? Sometimes mandatory. Sometimes mandated. Always impressive. The following is my take on that dark art.
I break my training into three components - mental, technical, and physical. From a mental training perspective, 1-arm starts feel impossible until you do it (a micro-pattern for the macro-pattern of projects). You pull and pull and pull, then one time you float. I can stack little 1-arm start victories to build the mental fortitude for my big project victory, constantly setting new barriers and breaking them. From a technical training perspective, it forces me to move my body in new, productive ways. Each one is an unique puzzle to solve (again with the micro/macro pattern), building me into ATV climber. From a physical training perspective, it is the repetition method for 1-arm pull-ups. Following the Westside Barbell paradigm, you never use repetition method in the classical lifts (1-arm pull-ups), but rather with special exercises (1-arm starts). If you start every problem of an indoor session (~20 problems) with a 1-arm start, it will build strength, endurance, and work capacity to reach the next level for 1-arm pull-ups.
This is very interesting from a hyper-geeky training perspective. But will 1-arm starts help me to crush the outside gnar-gnar? It depends (possibly). In my experience, 1-arm starts have limited but vital transfer. You might never see a pure 1-arm start in the wild but often both hands of a start won't be prefect. I rather have the confidence from 1000 1-arm starts, then the shock of encountering it for the first time at a crux (I apply the same logic to monos). This effect is often times indirect, thus overlooked.
I suggest that it be folded into the training mix for the Advanced trainee, not to the exclusive of "bimanual" starts but just enough to impress the Tuesday nighters.
It is raining for the second day in a row. I'm dreaming of lichen covered granite, digging into the crank bank, and thinking about training. One of the most important aspects of training for climbing is "practicing." That isn't the same as "doing." Here are Dr. K. Anders Ericsson's four conditions for deliberate practice:
1. Well-defined task 2. Appropriately difficult task 3. Immediate feedback 4. Opportunity for repetition & correction of errors.
Applying those guidelines, here is the "on the wall" portion of today's training session:
1. Super Slow Climbing - I climb as slow as possible for 5-10 minutes. I felt every movement. Where I'm holding unnecessary tension? Where I'm wasting movement and energy?
2. Perfect Repeats - I climb a series of problems three times each with complete rest between every repetition. The problems range from very easy to difficult (but completable in less than 3 attempts). I strive for each repetition to feel easier.
3. N's - I climb up a problem, down a problem, and up a different problem without leaving the wall. I rest completely and repeat the same circuit until failure. The up problems should be very difficult. This closely mimics a day on my current project, a short, brutal route. I should be dialed in by the 3rd set and maintain until the 8th set. Everything past the 9th set is pure training bliss.
The "Technique, Intensity, & Volume" paradigm is fundamental to effective long-term improvement in climbing. Most climbers start chasing intensity and never stop. As a result most climbers do not improve past the novice stage (i.e., getting better by just doing a sport). Chasing intensity over technique creates a big engine that goes nowhere because the tires do not have traction. Primarily chasing intensity results in short, finite gains. Emphasizing technique is a slower and longer road but leads to higher peaks. Intensity is seductive in climbing because ease of measurement. Every climb has a grade, a reasonable proxy for intensity. Technique is more subtle. Just because something is less measurable does not lower its value. Do not ignore intensity, just put intensity in its proper place. Frequently as people progress from novice to advance climbers, they start chasing volume. You see this in 3+ hour sessions 4+ days a week. They are just ingraining their poor climbing movement. I consider volume the icing on the training cake. I only increase volume after my technique and intensity have started to plateau for the current cycle.
The "Technique, Intensity, & Volume" paradigm is often thwarted by climbing gyms. Indoor gyms put a premium on intensity. There is often a culture that rewards people for sending without regard for technique. It doesn't help the hardest climbs in gyms often do not require the best technique. They are usually "paste & jump" (repeat). Additionally, all climbers, including indoor setters, have a limited technique vocabulary. Indoor climbs are limited to the particular setter's vernacular. Indoor climbs do not encourage a variety of solutions. Routsetting "success" is often arbitrarily defined as forcing a move. Typical gyms, by their very nature, have many problems. Frequently it is too many for training purposes. Instead of creating an environment where you are encouraged to learn what problems can teach you, you can always find another problem that suits your own meager technique vocabulary. Rarely, do you see climbers taking time to expand or rebuild their technique on easier climbs. I see the average gym climbers as a small dog trying to jump over a high brick wall. No matter much or how hard it jumps, it just cannot get over the wall. The problem is not effort but tactics. It is standing too close! It could easy jump over the wall, if it took a couple of steps back to gain the necessary momentum.
I challenge you to try the "Technique, Intensity, & Volume" paradigm for one training cycle. It just might help you jump over your brick wall.
The King-Dino has posted the complete anthology of Allez for the world to enjoy. Allez was well before my brief tenure in Santa Barbara, but it was the inspiration for this website, a forum to share my passion and knowledge of local climbing and training. I could always use a reminder about the joy of sharing and the need to revisit training fundamentals.
P.S. This has been my most productive cycle for development. I have a large publication project in preparation.
It is a crisp fall morning, and I open my guidebook. The table of contents is a rendering of the Earth, similar to Google Earth. I spin the model and zoom in to the crag I wish to climb at today. It syncs with several weather websites and suggests the best time to climb is mid-afternoon. I see the street crag view with the climbs superimposed on color photos of the rock. Since guidebook space is unlimited, all variations (with grades) are shown. Today I feel like reenacting an old John Gill circuit. I first sort by stars and style. Then by grade and a couple of other personal preferences I have set. Meanwhile, another part of the guidebook web-crawls for all old guidebooks (that have been digitized), blog posts, and videos that relate to today’s climbing. Just in case I want a little more beta. I create a glossy, bound, individualized guidebook for today’s adventure with my personal print-on-depend printer
However, when I get to the crag I change my mind. I am not in the mood for the circuit. I press the Concierge button. My electronic Sherpa remembers I like to onsight 10a off-widths and suggests several that are nearby. Since the guidebook is synced via GPS with my phone, it suggests the most efficient path from where I am to the base of the climbs.
I update the guidebook after I'm done climbing, it is a wiki after all. I add my interpretation of the rock, via text and video with suggestions for grades. It recalculates the mean, median, and mode grade for each climb with standard error. That information is instantly synced in everyone’s guidebook. I have no evidence that a couple of the climbs have been done before so I suggest they might be new. The guidebooks notes this. It highlights those climbs as unconfirmed and sends an alert to other people who are interested in second ascents in that area. I decide to end the day with the best local Mexican food. The guidebook dials the number so I can confirm they are still open. I close the guidebook and continue into a brilliant fall night.
Take Highway 287 to Highway 14 West (Ted's Place), then travel 19.5 on Hwy 14 West. Park in a small pull-out on the right, below the "East of Eden" climb. The cave pictured below is located directly across the river. The approach time is less than 1 minute and includes a river crossing.
#1, (V4/5) Stand sitting incut horn and climb overhanging arete. Exit via a lichen, chossy groove. Video Evidence
#2, (V-weird/fun) Start sitting on opposing slopers, make your way through the roof notch via a variety of techniques.Video Evidence
#3, (V?) Rumored to be V14/15 and all the moves have been done.
#4, (V?) Traverse out of corner. Arbitrary start with poor rock quality.
I'm a fan of optimal methods. The "paelo diet" (Will someone rebrand it already?) is an optimal baseline in my experience. It maximizes how I look, feel, and perform with minimal inputs (I'm lazy). I focus on high quality, low processed foods. I don't sweat the details and don't care for historical reenactments (That encompasses my philosophy towards life and climbing, too). I won't be stalking albino raccoons through the wilds of Isla Vista or enjoying a tall cold glass of Cambodian breast milk. I mainly eat steak and yam.
Paleo is just a baseline. I tweak from there and track changes. I supplement smartly and enjoy a good Gin & Tonic. In addition to my laziness baseline, I'm busy. Therefore it is time for the world debut of the "Official Climbing Lab Shake." It is simple, tastes good, and gets the protein, healthy fats, and carbs in my belly.
Ingredients: 1/2 can of coconut milk Handful of blueberries 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil 2 scoops of protein powder 3 ice cubes Raw milk (Optional: Gin & Tonic)
Steps (Really?): 1. Put them in Blender 2. Press the button 3. Enjoy!
Take Highway 287 to Highway 14 West (Ted's Place), then travel ~2 miles on Hwy 14 West. Park in the large parking lot on the left marked with "Picnic Rock" sign. The boulder pictured below is located .5 mile downstream. The approach time is ~10 minutes and includes a river crossing. The rock is partly in the river. Plan according.
GPS Coordinates: N 40 40.127 W 105 13.644
The river polished "wave" feature
#1, (V1/2) Start standing with quality slopers to technical top-out. (V3/4) Start sitting with a low right-hand side-pull and a high left-hand crimp, move to small crimp then hidden jug to join stand version.Video Evidence
#2, (V2/3) Start standing on flat jugs to incut jug top-out. (V3/4) Start sitting in horizontal crack join stand version. Video Evidence
#3, (V0/1) Start standing. Climb lichen and chossy dihedral. An unappealing warm-up.
#4, (V3/4) Start standing with small starting holds, move to slopers, and exit via jugs. Video Evidence
#5, (V1/2) Start standing. Grab side-pull, move to lip, and mantle. Video Evidence
I break my training intro macro-blocks (4-6 weeks), micro-blocks (1-2 weeks), and session-blocks (15-30 minutes). My macro-blocks are related to the season. Right now, it is end of winter on the Front Range. That means I can climb outside but not often (and not consistently). Micro-blocks are dependent on weather and other life responsibilities. A workout session is made of several session-blocks. The sample workout has 4 30-minute session-blocks (#1, #2, #4, & #5) and 2 15-minute session-blocks( #3 & #6).
The stated objectives are related to the goals of the current macro-block. Right now, I’m only intrigued by bouldering and short routes. Those are contingent on maximal finger strength. At the same time, I don’t want to waste my strength. Therefore, I want to increase my technique. I’m not chasing the rabbit of stamina. That is for next macro-block. You can only chase so many rabbits. I found that strength and technique are the Gin & Tonic of climbing training, aka always classic. Following the basic physiology, you get stronger by resting from the proper dose , both inter-set and inter-session (stolen from Mark Rippetoe). During that inherit strength-building rest period, I analysis my technique via both video and introspection. Some climbing coaches train technique in power endurance or endurance sessions. Everyone’s technique degrades when pumped. So either you reinforce poor technique or don't properly train power endurance, chasing two rabbits running in different directions. Endurance session promotes mindless, junk mileage. Any climbing worth doing is deserves my attention and should be hard. Another constraint on choosing macro-block objectives is an acute knee injury I suffered falling on a jump move. It is healing, and I’m assisting the process via rest, ice, specific strengthening, and targeted mobility. Currently, it limits the number of climbing moves I can do in a day. Perfect excuse to focus on intensity over volume.
I like having themes. A theme is a thought intention I set which guides my training. The best ones I have found for me are: silent feet, glue feet, smooth, fast, straight arms, and belly breathing. I aspire to climb every problem in the theme. It doesn’t always happen. I have found that merely setting an intention puts my feet on the right path. Thumbless climbing is a perfect theme for me. Thumbless prevents two handgrip types: pinching and full crimping. Indoor climbing is pinchcentric which does not translate directly to outside climbing. Personally, I default to full crimping. That is a unsustainable habit. Thumbless tricks me into becoming a better outside climber. It serves has functional theme for especially within threshold bouldering. If a threshold problem is too hard, I can a thumb (or two).
I don't warm-up. I train technique for 30 minutes. I use "The Clock" throughout my training. It tricks me into proper behavior. Like fish oil, I don't like training technique, but know it is good for me. I set the timer for 30 minutes. During that 30 minutes, I'm only process-oriented and on restriction from climbing harder than 40% of my max. During this session, I repeated each problem in my home warm-up circuit 3 times in row. I strive to make each lap smoother, faster, and more efficient.
During threshold bouldering, I set new personal climbing records. I was trying to repeat problems in thumbless style during this session-block. I had previously climbed these problems using the optimal handgrip type. I have practical guidelines, kinder gentler rules, for threshold bouldering. My guidelines support my training mantra - “It doesn’t matter if I succeed, it matters what I learned.” I aim to have 4 successes out of 6 attempts. If I fail 3x on a move without improvement, I move onto a different move. Otherwise, I’m training to fail. I use "The Clock" during threshold bouldering to force rest. Here are my rest guidelines:
1-3 moves = rest 1 minute 3-6 moves = rest 2 minutes 6-10 moves = rest 3 minutes 10+ moves = you are not training for bouldering
I select movement and holds that directly transfer to my outside climbing limiters. I choose to do this mini-session at my homewall which is designed around Front Range climbing, i.e., crimpy and technical. Location affects my reality. I love my home wall. I've created a “DO WORK” vibe. I see inspiring quotes and posters. I play LOUD music. Lately, it has been Middle Class Rut, but Dr. Dre is always classic. I have all the appropriate torture/training devices. I pick holds and angles that mimic, but not replicate, local climbing. S.A.I.D. baby. I set simulators for projects. I rarely change holds so I have objective benchmark for each training cycle. I complete control of the environment. I love the commercial gym I have a membership to. There is a “Have Fun” vibe. There is pleasant music muzak. There is a wide selection of training toys. I climb on holds with movement that I would NEVER see outside. There is outstanding breath of problems that are constantly changing. Most importantly, I climb on other people’s problems. It forces me to adapt to an environment that I have no control over.
After the extended warm-up of technique and hard bouldering, I move to hangboarding. Campusing is sexier and very satisfying. But strength is the basis of power. Hangboard is simply the most optimal tool for improving climbing strength. The barbell squat improves EVERY activity that requires moving your legs. Similarly, the hangboard improves EVERY activity that requires hanging from fingers. It is simple, measurable, progressive, and repeatable. Hangboarding is so important it deserves its own post (in the hopper). This hangboarding session-block is based on addressing my personal limiters, open hand, in a progressive manner (i.e., I add weight every session).
I love flashing problems outside (performance) so I practice that inside (training). Flash climbing requires the alignment of both physical and mental properties that I seek out in climbing. Commercial gyms are the best venue for flash training.
Block #5 is the last climbing specific block. It echos the first Technique block. I repeat each problem 3 times striving for improvement on each lap. There is no difficulty restriction, but the goal is complete 3 laps on different 4 problems. It is built-in perfect practice and aims to maintain my stamina (i.e., the number of problems I complete in a day).
I finish the day with “Prehab & Core.” I superset (i.e., alternative the two activities without rest) to save time. Many people with much more knowledge about climbing training than me have stated that external rotation needs to be trained. It is important so I do it "everyday." Additionally, I train vertical and horizontal push. The details aren’t important. It important that I do it. My primary core excise is Torture Twist. I rotate core work when I plateau.
One last comment on “The Clock”. The total training time is a little over 2 hours, broken into two mini-sessions at 1 hour each. Two mini-sessions fit better with my lifestyle, since I work a full-time job and have other engaging hobbies. Additionally, I find better transfer to outside climbing from 2 high intensity mini-sessions vs. 1 marathon session.
What is omitted is often more important than what is included. In my current workout programming, it is rigorous free weights and pull-ups Both have a place in specific people’s training, typically older or female climbers who lack raw horsepower. I, like 99.999% climbers, need to climb more. Everything else takes away from climbing, either in an one-to-one time exchange from today’s session or stealing from future sessions via accumulated fatigue. Additionally, I have yet to see a climber whose biggest limiter his or her basic strength. If it not not your biggest limiter, your limited time is better spent elsewhere.
This post is a snapshot into how I approach training for climbing and reflects the best I have found to date. I pay attention to the details. I tweak. I steal from people who produce better results. My workout will be different the next day, next week, next year, and next decade. Every workout is different, but the logic is the same. However, my workout will not be different for the sake of different. It will be different for the sake of better. I ask myself will X [insert any program or exercise] transfer to better performance outside. Unlike other fitness enthusiasts and programs, I don’t train to impress people in the gym.