Feb 21, 2011

Sample Training Session With Analysis, Part II


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.

Sample Training Session With Analysis, Part I


This is the next installment in an ongoing series exploring training for climbing. Now that you have the rules, let’s make sure you are a law-biding citizen in you daily life, i.e., the training session. The work done during the training session is the walking of the path to your goal. There is plethora of sample training sessions on the internet or in books. However, most of them lack data and logic. I define the relevant data as the results derived from adhering to the training. I define logic as the coherent rational or mechanism that connects the method to the data. I, too, am a scientific sinner and will only allude to data. I have consistently improved over my climbing career. However, it is hard to quantify that improvement because of the qualitatively different venues I have expressed my "climbing as art." I have followed my bliss in climbing from indoor to alpine to traditional to sport to bouldering to developing. The only constant has been outdoor bouldering. That will be my benchmark. I have improved (but only modestly) every year for the last 5 years. I have increased by redpoint bouldering level by one V grade per year, from V5 to V10. I have enjoyed that run, but no trend is linear forever. I don’t (and shouldn’t) expect to climb V15 in 5 years. However, that modest improvement is better than many climbers who do don’t measurably improve after using up the novice effect. What I lack in actual data, I hopefully will make up in logic and reason. It is common to supply workouts without logic. It is the evaluate of dealing drugs without telling the addict the wholesaler’s phone number. This post will provide a sample training session with supporting logic.

Any logical treatise has givens. I have already alluded to one given - You want to improve at climbing. If don’t want to improve in climbing, then stop reading. Your time would be better spent at an internet Crank Bank. If you want to improve (at anything), model someone that is successful. If you think I’m successful, then model me. If not, model someone else. Another given - You have to train to improve. At some point, just climbing (or just performance) will yield diminishing returns. From my observations, that happens ~5 the year mark. You can “just climb” for 5 years and see beautiful linear improvements. After that most people will have to train to continue to see linear improvements. One way to view training is separating outcome from process. In training, I’m process-oriented. In performance, I’m outcome-oriented. All climbers (including me) perform too much. I made this rule to simply my life - In the gym, I’m training. Outside, I’m performing. Other people play by different rules. Ask yourself, “Are the rules you choose to follow moving you closer to your goals”?

Sample Training Session

Date: 02/17/11

Objective: Increase maximal finger strength
Increase technique
Maintain stamina

Theme: Thumbless

Blocks: 1) Technique

2) Threshold

3) Hang

rest 3 hours

4) Flash

5) Technique

6) Prehab & Core

Location: Home gym - #1, #2, #3
Commercial gym - #4, #5, #6

Part II (The Analysis) will be posted tomorrow.

Feb 14, 2011

Guide to "Ouzel" of Poudre Canyon, CO

Take Highway 287 to Highway 14 West (Ted's Place), then travel 12 miles on Hwy 14 West. Park in the large pull-out on the right marked with "Ouzel" sign. The boulder pictured below is located IN the river, ~200ft upstream. The approach time is less than 5 minutes.

GPS Coordinates:
N 40 34.339
W 105 03.078

#1, (VB/V0) Start standing and climb low angle arete. There might be holds under the lichen. video evidence
#2, (V0/V1) Start standing and climb dirty face with actual holds. video evidence
#3, (V1/V2) Start standing on rock in river and follow path of least resistance up and to the right. video evidence
#4, (V2/V3) Start sitting down and ascend using rounded but positive holds. Awkward climbing. video evidence

Feb 7, 2011

The Climbing Lab’s Training Rules

Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
Dalai Lama

1. Don’t Injure Yourself

If you injured yourself, either acutely or chronically, you can’t train effectively or efficiently. The easiest way is stop doing stupid stuff. You don’t have to try every arbitrary move in the gym. That double gaston move might be a routesetter's wet dream but it is your shoulder’s nightmare. Most importantly - DON'T DO INDOOR DYNOS! No matter how rad they are or how sexy the climbing nugget is. Don’t campus when tired, either at the end of a hard day or a hard cycle. Drink some water. Stretch a little (but not too much). Occasionally do a push exercise. Get a spotter. Get a good spotter. Throw a rope down that highball. Some people might not sign your scorecard (Who cares?). Make sure you are playing by your own rules not someone else’s rules.

3. Have A Climbing Goal

A goal focuses and compels training. Have something you are striving for. People frequently pick a grade goal. That is dumbing down climbing. Climbing can be much more than that. Pick a goal that makes you grow as a climber and a person. How about an experience goal? My favorite goal is travel to a new climbing area and attempt all the 5 star climbs. It means have to get better and very specifically better. If I’m going to Hueco, I throw more crimp and roofs into the training mix. If I’m going to Indian Creek, I run laps on greasy indoor splitters and try not to get MRSA (not linking that one). S.M.A.R.T. is a good starting point.

4. Create Your Own Benchmarks
Benchmarks are signposts on the path of progress towards your goal. 1-arm pull-ups are rad. But is that really your benchmark? Running a 5k in 16 minutes is rad. But is that really your benchmark? An arbitrary wieghtroom movement at an arbitrary weight could be rad. But is that really your benchmark? Grades are finicky but better than the above stuff. Test-piece climbs, preferable outside, make for great benchmarks.

5. Always Progress
Are you better, the same, or worse that yesterday, last week, or last year? Are you closer or father from your goal? If the answer is better and closer, than what you are doing is working. Keep doing what you're doing or as the kids say today, "KFTC." If the answer is not better, stop KFTC. You can't improve all things all the time, unless you are a rank novice, but something should be improving. Good things to be improving are technique and strength.

6. Improve Technique
Technique is the successful application of strength. Technique is the magically pixie dust that instantly makes you a better climber. It is free money on the table. Take it. Get a Flip Camera, video tape your training, and examine your faults frame-by-frame (if you are sadistic bastard like me). A wise man said, "If it is important, do it everyday." I don't warm-up anymore. I work "technique" for 30-45 minute at the beginning of every session.

7. Improve Strength
Strength is the successful application of technique. Strength is like salt. It makes everything better. Always remember, it is hard to acquire unless you focus on it. Additionally, strength is specific. What does that mean for climbing? Your fingers are primary. Everything else is a distant second. Dust off the hangboard today.

Feb 1, 2011

Guide to Mile 6.3 of Poudre Canyon, CO

Take Highway 287 to Highway 14 West (Ted's Place), then travel 6.3 miles on Hwy 14 West. Park in the large pull-out on the right. The boulder pictured below is located on the opposite bank, ~100ft upstream. The approach time is less than 1 minute but includes a river crossing.

GPS Coordinates:
N 40 41.579
W 105 15.610

1. (V4/5) Start sitting on the ground and follow steep arete. video evidence
2. (V5/6) Start sitting on the rock in the cave and traverse right to join #1. video evidence
3. (V9/10) Start sitting on the ground in the cave and join #2. video evidence

Update: I was fortune to witness another ascent of #3. That ascensionist suggested V8/9 if a "cheater" sweater is used for the first move (^_~).