Training- specific for climbing-

Training- specific for climbing-

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Trad Climbing


Work in progress-(may take a week or so to complete due to work responsibilities hope to have it complete by May 1, 2007)
Note: This is a bit longer then I anticipated when I first started this

Once in a while, you look at a route thinking,"What does it take to climb that" or maybe you think that the climber who does that 5.X route (or that X(y) route must be immortal (fill in what ever number or letter for x or y you wish depending on what grading system you use). Or you look at that perfect corner or crack that transects a face, in awe and maybe in envy of those that can do it. Or is it that picture of that frozen waterfall, pick any of Dows photo's. It doesn't take someone immortal to do them but a little hard work and some faith.

You may also think, I'm into long moderately easy climbs, so why should I worry about it. Think about a route such as NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire (10-11 pitches up to 5.8). In the process of schelping all your gear up and over the route, the second will be carrying a pack. The stronger you are, a) the less fatigued you will become and hence have more fun and b) the faster you'll be able to climb so less likely become benighted on the route, and be able to enjoy that warm sleeping back instead of a cold bivi.

Schlepping that pack up and over Bugaboo SpireSchlepping a Load up and Over

Also with a bit of training, injuries can be prevented by creating a balance between the agonist and antagonist muscles. Without this balance injuries become probable. And how many of our friends, brag about how much they enjoy their latest injury. Think about how many of our friends complain about rotator cuff injury, which could be easily avoided by strengthening the antagonist muscle groups.

The most important attributes is a) the mental game, b) technique, c) strength and flexibility. Also not to be underestimated is diet. Even though diet can destroy a perfectly developed training regime, I will only recommend that you consult with a registered dietation, as opposed to the "information" which is found on the web or other unreliable sources.

Training on the rock is important. It is here you will make your greatest gain. Climbing (rock, ice, or mixed) is a complex game involving technique, mental aspects and strength. I've seen climbers who get into training to climb to the point of forgetting about climbing. Its far better to get experience all all types of media

The mental game and technique

The mental game is probably the most important and least appreciated aspect of climbing. Most of us (myself included) leave far to much on the table and short change ourselves. While I won't discuss this at large (since I have so much more to learn about this) I will touch upon a few topics that I have learned from those I have been fortunate enough to learn from. To begin with I will also recommend a few resources, the first and most important is "The Rock Warriors Way" by Arno Ilnger, and a nonclimbing related book, "Tao of Starwars" by Dr. John Porter (Chief of Surgery in Tuscon but also holds a black belt). Starting with Tao of Starwars, there are two important concepts which are imported from Eastern Philosophy, the beginners mind, and letting go.

The beginners mind is the belief that at any stage of the game, that you have much to learn, no matter if you've been at it for 1 year or 40 years. In believing that you are far from a master, you are open to new experiences and learnings. It is the belief that in believing that you are master at something, your mind will be limited in what it will learn.

Also in these books the genre of living a life where you concentrate on the journey and not the destination is strongly stressed. In Ilnger's book, he stresses letting go of the Ego, and concentrate on the action. He stresses using the experience for the love of the action and learning.

In letting go, you are not a slave to expectations, and preconcieved notions. Too often we build something up in our heads, believing that only our heros can do it, instead of poking our head around the corner ourself and giving it a go. For a complete explaination, I would strongly recommend the two books.

Also important is the idea that you should be able to do specific routes and you are not limited by their difficulty. Just believing that you should be able to do a route, won't get you up it, without ability or determination or work. But believing you should is the first step, because without it, you'll never try. And without trying, you'll never understand the possibility.
Technique will also not be discussed here since its a subject that has filled countless books. It becomes important since with good technique you will minimize your energy expenditure and minimize the strength required to do a series of moves

Training- on the rock

First, always make climbing fun. If its not fun, your desire will diminish. But if you approach it a bit systematically, you will see your abilities improve dramatically.

One method is to periodize your training calender, concentrating on endurance, power endurance, power and rest. Periodization as a training technique while being used by the climbing community for a decade or so, has been utilized by other sports such as cometitive distance running for many decades. In periodizing your training you will decease your bodies probability of injury by allowing it to prepare for each level of stress that you will place upon it.
End of the slime No one move is hard but taken together

Endurance: Endurance is important for two reasons. Its important for those routes where no one specific move is difficult but when taken together, the route becomse difficult. The routes at Indian Creek are a good example. Endurance training will also let your boy adjust to stresses to prevent injuries as you start to work on more difficult problems

I will take chapter from the program that Vadim Vinukor used to progress to where he did. For those who do not know him he is an emmigrant to the US from Eastern Europe who is the King of climbing endurance and has become a 5.14d climber. When he started out years ago (at the time I was friends with guys who helped train him, Les and Misha)he would start out his workout by picking a section at the local climbing wall, and he would climb up , and then down climb, and then climb up, and then down climb, and back up, for ad-nauseum (ok, for 30-45 minutes) without resting. He would then go do his climbing for the day, and then warm down in a similar manner. When you begin this workout adjust the difficulty of the route so you can continue climbing, but so that after 15-20 minutes, you are quite fatigued. For most of us, this will between 5.6 to 5.11ish whereas for Vadim, its 5.13. This type of training is most easily integrated into a program at a climbing gym but can be integrated outside also.There are other techniques to improve endurance such as a bouldering 4x4, traverses and multiple pitches.

Outside, it is often just easier to attempt as many pitches in a day as possible. To start out with try to attempt 15 pitches with a few testpieces near the beginning and adjust the level as you become fatigued. If you are an intermediate or advanced climber and do this on lead, you will work your endurance a bit more, since you will spend more time on your arms. As you become fatigued your risk of accidents increases, so adjust your routes accordingly. As it becomes easier, increase the number of pitches you do in a day, with 30-35 pitch days offering an strenuous workout.

If you are without a partner, there are several things you can do bouldering. Long traverses can be utilized to work endurance. Many climbing gyms with bouldering caves and annoying as they are, they can be used to your benefit. My local gym in Flagstaff often sets three traverse route, the first around the bouldering wall, usually consisting of 50-60 moves, and the second and third (varying in difficulty) starting where the first one finishes) adding another 30-35 moves. Bouldering the entire length results in 80-90 move problems. Once you finish a lap, rest a few minutes and do a second lap. When this becomes easy, as you finish one lap, reverse directions and continue back. You don't like climbing gyms, no problem. Do this along the base of your favorite cliff. Even buildings and road embankments will do. Ron Kauk in "Fifty Favorite Climbs" states that he has a traverse problem at the base of Middle Cathedral (in Yosemite) that he does countless laps on. An old friend of mine used an embankment of cobblestones along (actually below) the West Side Highway in the Harlem section of New York City. The idea is to spend as much time climbing in a single period of time.

Towards the end of the endurance phase you can also do 4x4's. Find a bouldering area which has several problems that you can do but may be slightly difficult for you and is long, and not your usual 5 move problem. Boulder the first problem ( and hopefully its in the 10-5 move range), but instead of just jumping off, boulder down and easier route to the base of a second problem. Without resting, start up the next problem. Continue this until you have completed 4 boulder problems. Rest and then repeat.

Endurance training has two benefits, endurance to work out specfic moves and adaptation to stress. Watching Vadim climb, what you will see is that he would often make mistakes in technique when he first started out, but given his tremendous endurance, he would be able to reverse what he done and correct his mistakes, without becoming fatigued. The second allows your body to adapt to a level of stress.

Doug on Red Zinger (II)Way too many moves are getting hard

Power Endurance: Power endurance is important for those routes that have long extended cruxes.
User Profile Imageok, a few of the moves are hard now

Power For someone looking to climb, long moderate routes, power doesn't seem that important. But with it, you have the ability to move on the same terrain faster, tiring more slowly and moving more cconfidently. Someone once said, you can never have too much power.There are many ways of developing power though.

Bouldering is the easiest way in concentrating on power, for which has been well written about in the climbing magazines for some of us, we'd rather sit in a dentists chair undergoing tooth extractions without Novocaine. If you are like me, you may want to try soemthing else. Pick a route, traditional or sport route, doesn't matter, which you know is more difficult then you have climbed before. If your hardest route to date is 5.10, try a 5.11 route. Set a tope rope on it. As you try the moves, intially they may be too difficult. As you repeat the move, your body will develop an engram of them . After you are sufficiently frustrated, but before you have trashed yourself to the point you risk injury,yard yourself up the rope and work a different section. Before you are too tired allow yourself to have some success on routes that you have done and enjoy as a treat. The next time climbing, try the same route again. As you have developed engrams for specific moves, these will become easier (having them wired) and you will be able to start to link sections that you have failed at previously. This will have many benefits, developing new techniques, developing musclar recruitment, which is discussed later).

Another technique that can be to develop power is lockoff training which was developed by a french sports climber in the 1980'-90's. Choose a climb that is difficult for you but still possible (helps being on a top rope for this one). What you will do is before each time you grab a hold on a climb, allow your hand to hover over the hold before you grab it for 10-20 seconds. This requires you to maintain a lockoff position on every move.

Rest: The most under appreciated phase but as critical as any other. As your body develops engrams (neuromuscular memory which allows the muscles to contract efficiently for specific techniques), your body must also un-learn engrams that are inefficient. Some evidence has indicated this occurs most efficiently during the rest phase. My own personal experience sort of confirms this in a nonscientific manner. Recently while recovering from a non-climbing related injury (more of a injury resulting ffom tripping and landing on my hand), I had to take 3 months off. The first day on the rocks I warmed up on a 5.11c/d crack that I would often get pumped out on, and then fall, almost as often as I could get it cleanly. While my fitness was no where near as I normally would be, my technique was much cleaner.

Training-off the rock

While the greatest gains in training s made on the rock, training off the rock offers two benefits, increased strength and a reduction in the probability of injury.

Injury and overtraining are the two biggest roadblocks in development and definately is not as fun as being healthy. While climbing stresses predominately the "pulling" muscles and the core, without strengthing the antagonists to these actions (ie: those muscles responsible for pushing), and inbalance and possibility of injury results.

What we will focus here on is strength and muscular recruitment. As you develop muscular bulk, hyperatrophy training, your strength gain will be at 60% of your mass gain. Because of this in sports like American Football or Rugby where you are moving someone elses mass around, mass is beneficial. Whereas in climbing where you are moving your own mass around, it rapidly becomes a loosing proposition. In climbing it is most beneficial to maintain your genetically determined ideal weight, being to light you quickly loose power and set yourself up for a weakened immune system and being prone to injuries, too much mass, a decrease in your strength to mass ratio.

Working those antagonist: When we think of strength training, too often we think of the muscles that we use while climbing and ignore those that oppose the motion, the antagonists. The antagonists are important for stability. Ignore them and you can become injuried, the most common being rotator cuff injuries in the shoulder.

Those responsible for shoulder stability: Two strength training exercizes that al climbers should do are responsible for stablizing the shoulder. Rock and ice climbing puts extreme demands on the muscles of the back, and these forces are transfered through the shoulder. Any instability will be accentuated. The two execizes are the external and internal shoulder rotations.

Internal Shoulder Rotation: Strengthens the subscapularis. To do this exercize, take a therapy band (a glorified inner tube which comes in different resistences) to a solid pole (a bed post will also work). With the elbow positioned at your side against the body with the forearm perpendicular to the bicep (see photo) grab the therapy band with the band attached to the support to the outside of the body. Now pull the band across the body while maintaining the perpendicular position. When the range of motion is completed, slowly allow the band to contract. Repeat

Attach photo for internal shoulder rotation.

External Shoulder Rotation: This exercize strengthens the Infraspinatus and teres minor (but do you really care). In this case the band attached to the pole again at the same hieght as in the Internal Shulder Rotation, but the band crosses the body before you grab it with your hand with the forearm perpendicular to the bicep. In this case you will rotate stretching the band across your body until the band is expended with the arm located about 2 from the center of the body. Allow the band to slowly contract and repeat, see photo.

Attach photo for external shoulder rotation

Climbing Related Motions: The most basic climbing related training are variations on Pullups. Eric Horst's, "How to Climb 5.12" is a good reference on these. They can be grouped as pullups, frenchies and typewriters. The absolute benefit has been much debated, some of the best climbers continue to do them and continue to improve. It is very possible to climb significantly hard without being able to do a single pullup (Lisa shown on Davidsons Dihedral on the Paradise Forks page being an example where she leads 5.12a trad but can barely do a single pullup, but she will tell you when it comes to a powerful route, she will be shut down). Some examples of climbers who have infamous pullup routines are the late Alex Lowe, Bill Ramsey (the first ascentionist of Omaha Beach in Red River Gorge and is climbing 5.14 at 47 years old)

For the pullup, you will aim to do between 5 to 20 in a set. Many fitness centers have a weight assisted pullup machine where you can stand on a bar, and the machine will remove a specfic amount of weight to allow you to achieve the desired number of repatitions. What you would like to do is to grab the bar so when you biceps are perpendicular from your chest, the forarm is perpendicular to the bicep

attach photo

as you probably remember from grade school what you are aiming at doing is to bring your nose to chin even with the bar. But unlike grade school where you would drop like a stone between each pullup, your aim is to lower in a moderately slow and controlled manner. Your elbows and shoulders will thank you and in doing so you are approximating a "neg" (which will be described later) which will only make you stronger. As each set of repetition becomes easier, allow the machine to remove less weight until its unassisted. Allow your body to adjust for a significant period before you start adding weight which will place significant stress to both the shoulders and elbows.

attach photo

once this becomes easy either increase the diameter of the bar that you are doing pullups on (where a bar can be fashioned by placing a 4" diameter over an inner axle)
User Profile Image Large bar for pullups

This works the forearms, back and core (required to stablize yourself from rotating off the bar)

You can also work endurance by:

Take a stopwatch and once the timer starts, at every 1 minute interval do 4-10 pullups, where the minute interval is from a start of one set to the start of the next set. Continue this for as long as you can, aiming at 60 minutes which would result in between 240 to 600 pullups completed in a routine).

Frenchies: Frenchies are just a modification of a pullup, where lockoffi strength is being accentuated.


Other training techniques

one training technique works for everyone. Even though the basic principals of training are universal, everyones body is different with different genetic predispositions, different fast-slow twitch muscles. Because of this no single program works for everyone. Other programs which I won't describe that you may also want to use to supplement your training are:

Pilates: Properly done, you will work both the agonist and antagonist muscles along with your core. I would recommend finding a qualified instructor in working with you, and remember not all instructors are equal.

Modern Dance: Now don't laugh. Modern dance will develop your active stretch while developing or improving you understanding of body position. The climber with the best technique I have ever seen, and a damn good climber all around had studied modern dance as a college student

Yoga: Obviously improves you flexability. Find a good qualified instructor for this one also.

Parting Thoughts

A friend of mine who teaches business in San Francisco, teaches that as businesses grow, they usually have periods of difficulty. They believe that techniques and strategies that worked well for them well in the past will continue to serve them well in the future. What they forget is that as the environment, their size and abilities change, they have to change also. Training is like business in this regards. All to often we find a routine that works well for us, but what is important is to know when you need to change what you are doing when you need to.

Other reading

Arno Ilnger: " Warriors Way"
Dale Goddard and Uno Neumann "Performance Rock Climbing"


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