Training Efficiently

Forunately there's no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me :)

Forunately there’s no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me ūüôā

I think if people realized how little I train (and climb) they would be shocked.¬† I often joke with my wife that I should be quarranteened in a plastic bubble and studied by teams of cruel government scientists (ala E.T.). There is certainly a trend among top climbers to perform massive quantities of training (like, 6+ hours per day, 5 or 6 days per week).¬† That’s not me. ¬†First of all, I don’t have that much time, between work and my family. Second (and foremost), I truly believe “less is more” when it comes to climbing training. Even if I had more time to train, I would probably spend much of that time resting anyway.

Considering those factors, my overarching strategy is to train as efficiently as possible.¬† That is, I strive to maximize my improvement relative to the training time (and energy) invested.¬† Doesn’t everybody do that you ask?¬† No, frankly.¬† Many people figure ‘the way to improve is to pile on more and more training.¬† Anyway, it couldn’t hurt, could it?’ This philosophy is popular among runners, cyclists, swimmers and other ultra-endura athletes.

The problem is, it actually can, and does hurt.  Low efficiency activities sap energy, thus undermining high efficiency activities.  In the best case scenario, the added volume forces longer recovery periods between workouts, but far more often, the needed additional rest is omitted, and the athlete simply goes into the next workout under-recovered, thus further limiting the intensity of the next workout.  As a result, every workout starts to become an endurance workout, and pretty soon the athlete is no longer progressing, but rather struggling to maintain the fitness he had when he started.

My strategy for maximizing training efficiency dovetails nicely wtih a complimentary training objective¬†— favoring strength and power training¬†over endurance.¬† This allows me to emphasize high intensity training, which is short in duration, almost by definition (there are brief periods during each season that I focus on endurance training, but even then I favor higher intensity endurance training followed by plenty of rest).¬† Furthermore, I only perform activities that I strongly believe provide a direct benifit to my performance; I don’t do any filler or “crosstraining”. [More on Training Intensity here]

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season.  The Strength & Power Training Phases  are very typical of a normal season.  However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is atypical; I'm rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of actual climbing.  I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate's Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season. The Strength & Power Training Phases are very typical of a normal season. However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is rather unusual; I’m rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of outdoor climbing in a season. I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate’s Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

This is perhaps easier to visualize on a macro-scale, but it also applies on a micro-scale.  For example, Strength Training revolves around my fingers, because they are the single most important factor in climbing performance.  I work my fingers first, but not for long.  When the intensity is right (really high), my fingers can only handle about an hour of work (or, about 18 ~60 second sets of deadhang repetitions, with 3 minutes rest between sets).  Once my fingers are worked, I perform a modest amount of pull muscle, upper arm, and shoulder exercises. 

During my Limit Bouldering routine, I don’t do “fun” boulder problems.¬† I only do boulder problems that will make me a better rock climber (as opposed to a better plastic climber).¬† In other words, the Lazy H has very few pinches or slopers, and the walls aren’t super steep. ¬†It has a lot of sharp crimps, tweaky pockets, and small, greasy footholds.¬† Very few of these holds are oriented horizontally–my problems require core tension and attention to footwork.¬† It’s often hard to breath while climbing these problems, and my skin takes a fair bit of abuse, but the skill and strength developed translates directly to the rock.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn't "fun", but its good for my footwork.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn’t “fun”, but its good for my footwork.

That said, it’s only fair to note that I have pretty good technique, and that took many years to cultivate.¬† Now that I have it, it doesn’t take much to maintain.¬† However, my training terrain is deliberately designed to maintain my technique (in other words, it isn’t “fun” terrain).¬† My warmup time is split between a dead vertical wall, and one that overhangs a modest 8 degrees.¬† The holds on these walls are tiny, and precise movement is required to stay on the wall. Those with performance-limiting technique can apply these same concepts to skill develipment by training on realistic terrain, and emphasizing focused, quality skill practice over zombie-like monotonous quantity.

RPTC Install and First Impressions

I permanently installed my Rock Prodigy Training Center last week, and I’ve done my first few hangboard workouts of the new season.¬† To install the RPTC, I took a bunch of measurements of my old, sprawling setup, and used those figures to optimize the spacing of the RPTC.¬† In the end I settled on 4.5″ between the interior edges of the two halves (YMMV!).¬† I have the halves oriented horizontally, and so far this is working well for me.

Measuring the spacing between halves of the RPTC.

Measuring the spacing between halves of the RPTC.

So far the RPTC has worked out even better than I’d hoped.¬† One thing I really like about it though, is that before I was using four different “stations” to complete my workout.¬† This required a ton of space, but moreso it required a lot of moving from place to place throughout each workout.¬† It made the rest periods stressful as I raced to get in position in time to start the next set (not to mention all the time I spent taping various fingers to protect my skin from overly-sharp holds).

My old hangboard setup.  A ridiculous amalgamation of modified hangboards, holds, rock rings and system tiles

My old hangboard setup. A ridiculous amalgamation of modified hangboards, holds, rock rings and system tiles.  Switching grips meant moving my stopwatch, chalkbag, toothbrush, pulleys and platform from one set of holds to the next. 

All the other nonsense replaced by a single, streamlined unit

All the other nonsense replaced by a single, streamlined unit.  Now what to do with all the extra space?

That is all a distant, unpleasant memory now.¬† I can do my entire workout in one place, I don’t need to move weights and platforms all around between sets, and best of all NO MORE TAPE!¬† I haven’t had to use a single piece of tape since I switched to the RPTC.¬† I used to end each workout with a massive pile of used tape.¬† I would regularly go through 1-2 rolls of athletic tape each season, just for hangboard workouts!¬† Good riddance.

A typical tape job for my old hangboard workouts (!)

A typical tape job for my old hangboard workouts (!)

That said, the texture on the RPTC is not one-size-fits all.¬† Most of the folks I’ve talked to really like it as is, but more advanced climbers (those using smaller holds, with more resistance) will probably benefit from sanding some texture down in certain areas.¬† It only takes a few light passes to make a difference, so take it easy and check your work frequently.¬† I used 150-grit sandpaper on the following surfaces:

-All pinch surfaces
-The radius of the thin crimp
-The radius of the shallowest Index-Middle pocket
-The radius of the shallowest Middle-Ring pocket.

Usually 3 or 4 light passes with the sandpaper is enough, so don’t over do it!¬† Its much harder to add texture than it is to remove it.

So far I’ve been using these grips, in this order:

-Large Variable Depth Edge Rail (VDER), with outside Position Index Bump (PIB) between my Middle and Ring fingers.
-Shallowest Middle-Ring pocket
-Thin Crimp
-Mono, using outside part of shallowest Index-Middle pocket (#4 below)
-Shallow VDER, with outside PIB between Middle and Ring Fingers
-Shallowest Index-Middle pocket
-Medium Pinch

RPTC Grip Identification

When I finish my Strength Phase in a few weeks I’ll post some charts showing the resistance I used from workout to workout so we can compare notes.¬†

One more note, Trango is now offering a pulley kit which you can install under your hangboard to facilitate removing weight.¬† If you aren’t using pulleys, you probably should be.¬† As explained here, you should train on hold sizes that are typical of your goal routes.¬† For most climbers, that will mean at least a few small holds, with weight removed.

Shelf Anchor Replacement Wrap Up

The inaugural Shelf Road Anchor Replacement Weekend was a big hit.  We had a lot of volunteers and a lot of fun.  We replaced tons of mank hardware at The Bank and Cactus Cliff, and built a fence at the Bank Campground for the BLM. Anything we can do to maintain positive relations with landmanagers like the BLM is time well spent, but the main objective was hardware replacement. 

Much of the hardware at Shelf is getting to be 30 years old, so I think its really important that we take a pro-active approach to upgrading hardware whenever we can.¬† Fortunately there are guys like Bob D’Antonio and the American Safe Climbing Association working to make that happen.¬† In addition to Bob, Bruno Hanche and Derek Lawrence were instrumental in pulling off the event, providing hardware, and upgrading anchors.¬† Bruno in particular has spent several consecutive weekends at Shelf with Bob, working their way around the area, replacing hardware.

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present a slideshow on Saturday night.¬† “Untapped: The New Wave of Shelf Road Free Climbing” detailed my efforts over the last few years to push the upper end of difficulty at Shelf Road.¬† It was an interesting logistical challenge, since the show was at the Bank Campground, where there is no power and basically no facilities of any kind.¬† Trango lent me their projector, which I was able to run using a beefy Black and Decker 500 Watt inverter hot-wired directly to my car battery.¬† I built a movie screen by stapling a white bedsheet from Goodwill to a rectangle constructed from four 2×4’s.¬† It gets really windy at Shelf, so I was worried about the screen.¬† I brought a pile of rope and stakes to rig up the screen, but we found we could mount it quite nicely with a few screws to the new fence we constructed that morning ūüôā

Once we got all the construction completed the show went off without a hitch. There was a great crowd, and I got a lot of good questions and compliments after.  Unfortunately I was too distracted to get any pictures of the show.  If anyone has any, please let me know!

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

The next morning the heads of state were already planning next year’s event.¬† I’d love to see this turn into an annual affair, and considering the massive number of routes at Shelf, it will realistically take many years to completely upgrade all the sketchy hardware.

Off To The Printer

The Rock Climber’s Training Manual has been sent to the printer!¬† That means as far as my contributions are concerned, the book is “done”.¬† According to the guys at Fixed Pin, it normally takes about 3 months from the time the book is submitted to the printer until it arrives on bookshelves.¬†

The cover spread.  Mike took the cover photo of me on To Bolt Or Not To Be at Smith Rock.  The back cover includes some awesome feedback from our early reviewers.

The cover spread. Mike took the cover photo of me on To Bolt Or Not To Be at Smith Rock. Click on the photo to read the awesome praise on the Back Cover from our early reviewers.

Once the printer has the electronic file, they scan all the pages to ensure everything is of sufficient resolution for printing.¬† Then they will select 16 “representative” pages and print these all (in color) on one giant sheet of paper, which they will air-mail to Fixed Pin.¬† This will give us one last chance to review the colors and make sure everything looks “right”.¬† If we see any problems, we highlight them and send the sheet back to the printer.¬† Once they get the green light, they’ll configure the press to begin printing books.¬† Once the presses start running, the first book off the press is over-nighted to the publisher, and we have one last chance to “stop the presses” before the full run is completed.¬†

Once the books are printed, they’ll air-mail a small quantity of books (which are mostly used for promotional purposes), and the rest are boxed and put on a ship.¬† A large portion of the “3-month” process is consumed by the cargo ship crossing the Pacific Ocean.¬† If we’re lucky, the books clear customs without any snags and then they will be ready for distribution.

If all goes well,¬†hopefully we will see it in stores/online by Valentine’s Day; tell your sweetheart: nothing says I love you like a climbing training book ūüôā