Tips for Effective Campusing Part 2: Going Big!

As implied here, I’m inspired by the climbing career of the legendary Jerry Moffatt.  During his prime, Moffatt was the best climber in the world, and he dominated on redpoints, onsights, boulders and competitions.  What inspires me most though, was his commitment to hard work and his dedication to training.  He was a phenom in his early years, but that didn’t stop him from putting in long hours in training rooms, on the Bachar Ladder, and the campus board.  He was near the top when 5.12+ was the world standard, and he managed to stay on the crest of the wave as the grades exploded all the way to 5.14c over the course of two decades.

Moffatt notes in Revelations that his best effort on the Campus board was 1-5-8.  Since I first read that, 1-5-8 has been in the back of my mind.  That is something I might be able to do someday. Furthermore, although I haven’t been able to find anything definitive, I’m pretty sure Moffatt is at least a few inches taller than me.  He looks to be within an inch or so of Ben Moon who is 5’11” (I’m 5’7″). Considering the obvious height dependence (or perhaps more precisely, arm-length dependence) of Max Ladders, I feel like it would be quite an accomplishment for me, to match Moffatt’s best.

[Historical aside: Moffatt also says in Revelations he did 1-5-8 statically, which begs the question, if he could 1-5-8 statically, why didn’t he do anything harder than 1-5-8?  Surely he could have.  Examining pictures of the original Campus Board and the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield, it looks like they didn’t have half-steps, so 1-5-8.5 was off the table.  Still, if Moffatt could do 1-5 statically, surely he could do 5-9 as well.  Perhaps the original Campus Board didn’t reach that high. The below pics shows at least 9 rungs, and this video appears to show Gullich campusing up at least 9 rungs on the original board (watch from 0:40 to the end). 

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

However, it’s quite possible that either or both of these boards evolved over time. Just because they have 9 rungs in these pics, doesn’t mean they had 9 rungs when Moffatt was using them in his prime.  The 9th rung of the Schoolroom board clearly looks “tacked on”; it’s not evenly spaced, and the material doesn’t match the other rungs.  The classic film The Real Thing shows footage of Moffatt and Ben Moon campusing together (beginning at about 5:00 in this clip ).  Moon does 1-5-“9” (the 9th rung is not at the proper height for a true 1-5-9; it looks to be at about 8.5).  Moffatt does many sick campus moves in this footage, but he doesn’t match Moon’s 1-5-“9”.]

Last year I did 1-8-15 on my Metolius-spaced board, which is pretty close to 1-4.25-7.5 in Moon Spacing.  So I was somewhat close, but as soon as I switched to Moon Spacing I discovered that 1-5 is extremely difficult for me.  I could do the move, but as soon as I latched rung 5, I felt a deep ache in my low shoulder.  The pain didn’t feel threatening, just quite unpleasant, like the burn you feel in your muscles when you have a deep pump.  It was impossible to sustain this position for more than an instant, let alone try to explode upwards from this position. This is where height dependence comes in to play on big campus moves.  The distance between rung 1 and rung five is about 34.6 inches.  The distance from my finger pads (when placed on an edge in a “half crimp” position) and the middle of my armpit is 27″. So even when locking my low hand all the way down to my armpit, I still have to eek another 7.5 inches of reach out of my body to span between 1 and 5, and I’ve discovered that to do so requires significant shoulder strength.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off :)  Here's me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5.  Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I've found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off 🙂 Here’s me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5. Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I’ve found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

I’ve tackled this weakness in two ways, and I would say each has contributed equally to my improvement.  First, several years ago I added some shoulder strength exercises to my Strength Phase.  For the 4-5 weeks preceding my Power Phase I will perform 3 sets of “Lateral-to-Front Raise” and “Shoulder Press” exercises after each hangboard workout (in addition to other exercises).  This has helped prepare my shoulders for campus exercises, and for doing big/reachy moves in general.  Furthermore, Explosive Pull-ups, Biceps Curls, and Hanging Leg Raises all strengthen muscle groups that are essential to limiting campus moves.  The pull and upper arm muscles are obviously pivotal to generating upward movement, but are also key for slowing decent, making it easier to deadpoint each move.  Not surprisingly, your abdominal muscles play a significant role, and you may notice your abs feel sore for a day or two following the first campus session of each season.  It’s tremendously helpful to prepare these muscle groups prior to beginning your Power Phase, so you have good strength to build off of when you hit the campus board. 

Second, I started trying 1-5 regularly.  About a year ago I started to introduce this move (or 1-10 on my old Metolius-spaced board) in my campus sessions (aka, “Max 1st Move”).  At first I just tried to stick the move, then drop off.  Eventually I start trying to match the high rung as my strength improved, or go to rung 5.5 or 6. 

As I was improving with 1-5, it became apparent that 1-5 is very hard to move out of, because you’re so extended the low hand can’t contribute much to the second move.   Improving your shoulder strength as described above will help a lot, but there are several other complimentary ways to improve at the second move:

1) Get ridiculously strong, such that you can do a 1-arm pull-up from a small campus rung 🙂  However, as discussed last week that kinda defeats the purpose, and there are much easier ways to do it.

2) Use momentum.  On the biggest moves, momentum becomes critical.  It’s much easier to pull up if you keep your hips moving and never stop pulling upwards.  Follow the methods described in Basic Tips, realizing their importance becomes magnified on bigger moves. 

Additionally, in the Basic Tips post I discussed aim and accuracy.  I find it’s much more difficult to accurately place my fingers at the correct depth than it is to deadpoint to the proper vertical height.  Failing to place your finger pads deep-enough on the rung can (and often does) ruin a set.  If you don’t get deep enough, you will either fail to latch the rung, or need to bounce your hand into position before proceeding, thus killing any momentum.  For this reason, I find it helps on difficult moves to aim “through the board”.  Assume you are trying to latch a rung that is a quarter-pad deeper than your rung really is.  This will often result in smacking your tips into the plywood, so don’t over-do it–try to aim for a 1/4″ or so deeper than you need.  Your tips may get slightly bruised and sensitive, so go easy at first.  With practice, you should be able to hit the correct depth on most moves without this technique, but on the most challenging sets, this can really help ensure you can keep your momentum flowing upward to the top.

3) Push with your low hand.  This is critical, and probably the biggest difference between medium and large moves.  For shorter folks in particular, once you are in the 1-5 position, your low hand will not be able to maintain a normal position for pulling for long (with your palm facing the board).  Once you’ve pulled up off Rung 5 a few inches, your low forearm will be more horizontal than vertical, and your palm will be more or less facing the ground.  Get in the habit of pushing down from this position (another reason I like the Shoulder Press is that it trains the Triceps for this motion).  Push for as long as you can maintain contact with Rung 1, before stabbing upward for the high rung (Ben Moon exemplifies this at 6:55 here.  His low hand pushes until his low elbow is nearly locked and his low arm is pointing straight down).  

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing).  The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5.  The center frame is a point midway through the second move.  The right frame shows the right hand's last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing). The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5. The center frame is a point midway through the second move. The right frame shows the right hand’s last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This will help with smaller moves as well, not just 1-5-9, but it takes practice.  Dedicate a few sets each session to practicing this movement.  Do the first move of your Max Ladder, but rather than focusing on latching the second move, focus on pushing with your low hand.  Don’t even try to latch the high rung, just try to improve your ability to generate upward movement by pushing with your low hand.  Once you start to get the hang of it, then try to focus on latching the high rung.  Note that this will be easier to do on steeper boards and vice versa.  If your campus board is less than 10-degrees overhanging or so it will be difficult to push properly.

This is another aspect of campusing that translates directly to rock climbing (and something that even beginners can benefit from improving immediately).  If you watch me climb, you will notice that I’m almost always pushing down with my low hand until the last possible moment, particularly on big moves.  Many climbers ignore their low hand once the shoulder passes it.  This is a mistake, and it puts unnecessary strain on the opposing arm’s fingers and pull muscles.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

There are other factors that can affect your campus training besides strength and movement:

Body Weight – As in all aspects of climbing, body weight is a significant factor.  If you’re strictly training, and not trying to perform on the campus board, there is no need to be at your fighting weight.  However, in the interest of minimizing injury risk, it’s a good idea to be within 10 lbs or so of your fighting weight.  As discussed, campusing with added weight can increase the risk of injury, and it doesn’t really matter that much to your elbows if the added weight is iron or fat 🙂

If you are trying to perform on the campus board (for whatever reason, such as to set a personal best), dropping to at, or near, your fighting weight will definitely help.  As with any weight loss, don’t overdo it, lose weight intelligently, and incorporate it into your Seasonal Training Plan to ensure you can sustain it through your performance phase.  For me, I struggle to stay at my fighting weight for more than about 4 weeks, so if I get to that weight in time for my Power Phase, I’m likely to struggle mid-way through my Performance Phase.  Most climbers are concerned with their performance on the campus board, and so would be better off timing their diet to peak later in the season.

Arousal – As with any power-oriented exercise, your mental state of arousal can play a big part.  In other types of climbing, excessive arousal can be a hindrance (like a technical route where precise footwork is required).  There is certainly a technical aspect to campusing, as discussed at length.  It’s important to work on the technique, but it’s also important to just go for it at times and see what you can do.  If you are stilling learning the technique, spend the first half of the workout going slow, working on individual aspects of your Max Ladder, and using your conscious mind to control your actions.  Then get aggro for the rest of the workout.  This is the time to get fired up and go for it.  Don’t worry about doing the movements perfectly; focus on giving each attempt your most intense effort.

Different people have their own triggers, so experiment with different methods and see what works best for you.  I like to listen to  upbeat music, usually Hip Hop or something with a strong beat.  Occasionally I’ll grit my teeth and make a “GRRR!” sound just before I start a set.  I’m not much of a screamer, but I will occasionally let out a brief ‘yelp’ as I begin the second move of a Max Ladder.  Some folks have tried external stimulants like caffeine (and who knows what else in the ’80s), but I generally avoid that kind of thing.
 
Record Keeping – One could argue you aren’t training if you aren’t keeping track.  I went many years without documenting my campus work, and it was a huge mistake.  I had no idea what my plan was, or any way of telling if I was getting better.  As soon as I started documenting my workouts I started making significant progress.   Use a log sheet like the one shown here to document each set of your workouts.  Make not of your personal bests, and strive to match, and then surpass them, each season.  Also, use the log to desribe your campus board’s specifications in case you ever change venues.

At my ever-advancing age, I’m constantly tempted to think I’ve peaked as an athlete, and my best years are behind me.  Three years ago, at the spry age of 33, my personal best was 1-7-13 (in Metolius Spacing,  which equates to roughly 1-3.75-6.5 in Moon Spacing).  I couldn’t do 1-5 at all, let alone pull off of it.  Three weeks ago, I put all these tips into action, and sent 1-5-8, Moon spacing (admittedly, with some slight dabs against the wall):

Perhaps 1-5-9 isn’t out of the question for me after all?

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 1: The Basics

Campusing is one of the best training activities for climbers who are looking to improve explosive power and contact strength (detailed rundown on these terms here).  However, campusing is one of the most difficult training activities to perform well. Many would-be campusers struggle during the initial stages of learning to use this tool, they become frustrated, and so they move onto to other tools never realizing any of the benefits of this type of training.  This post will provide a few tips on how to campus well, which will make sessions more enjoyable, reduce the risk of injury, and ensure that you maximize transference of this training to the rock.  …And it will help you ‘burn off your mates’ on the campus board 😉  While I’m at it, I hope to explain to any remaining skeptics some of the reasons campusing will help you improve your rock climbing.

Campusing well is composed of at least the following three elements.  As such, all of these elements can be improved through dedicated campus training, and once honed, will improve your outdoor climbing. 

Contact Strength – As discussed here, this is the ability to quickly latch small, distant holds.  This is essential for grabbing and securing a distant campus rung, but more so it is critical to executing any dynamic move on the rock.  Contact strength requires both strong fingers, and the ability to contract them quickly.  The first trait is best achieved through dedicated hangboard training, the latter is best developed on the campus board.  By attempting to execute increasingly more difficult moves (usually, latching more distant rungs) your fingers will be required to generate larger force, and to generate it more quickly (so the rung can be latched before you fall away). 

To improve your contact strength, you need to dyno.  These can be done on the rock, on a plastic bouldering wall, or on the campus board.  The campus board is ideal because the rungs are not sharp or abrasive, so you can attempt dynamic moves many times in a single session without thrashing your skin.  I prefer a campus board to plastic bouldering because the movement is much more simplified, allowing you to focus completely on producing power during the latch.  Establish a baseline of campus moves you can perform, and then incrementally increase the difficulty from your baseline as you progress.  If you can’t perform basic or matching ladders, ask a partner for a power spot until you get the hang of it.  Another option if matching ladders are too difficult, is to try a simple match: start with one hand on Rung 1 and the other on Rung 2, lift your feet off the ground, then match the low hand from Rung 1 to Rung 2. 

Putting my contact strength to the test on Breakin the Law, 5.14b, St George, Utah.  Dan Brayack Photo.

Putting my contact strength to the test in St. George, UT. Dan Brayack Photo.

Moving with Momentum – For the wickedly strong, campusing can be done statically.  However, that misses the point  (or at least, it’s beside the point).  Momentum is a critical element of difficult climbing, and if you are striving to climb near your limit, you must learn how to utilize momentum. Many of the best climbers in the world utilize momentum constantly.  That is, they use momentum even when they don’t “need” to, because when used well, it makes climbing easier, saving lock-off power for where it is truly needed. (Furthermore, campusing slowly or statically eliminates the need for good contact strength to latch rungs, drastically reducing any potential for improvement to your contact strength.)

The campus board is the best tool we have for developing and practicing the use of momentum in climbing, because momentum is almost always required on the campus board, and the holds are smooth to the touch, so they don’t punish dynamic movement like abrasive rock does.  If a campus move can be done statically, then the climber could certainly do a more difficult move.  A well-performed campus move at your limit will DEMAND the flawless use of momentum. 

The “Max Ladder” is the best campus exercise, consisting of three moves.  The first move is an explosive pull-up from the first rung, with one hand reaching high to latch a distant rung.  During the second move the low hand reaches through, without matching, to latch an even higher rung.  The third move is a match to the rung reached during the second move. During this exercise, many climbers explode off the first rung, latch the center rung, and then pause, adjust the high hand, etc, before launching into the second move.  This is a mistake. Try to make your max ladder a continuous, flowing movement.  Try to keep your hips in constant motion.  Theoretically, it would be nice if you could keep your hips moving continuously upward. In reality, there will probably be a very brief pause in upward motion once you latch the first move, however, your hips should keep moving, swaying noticeably to the side (the side that latched the center rung) to build momentum for the next move.  Think of your hips as tracing an upside-down “J” on each move, with the two moves flowing seamlessly into each other.

Your hips should trace an upside-down "J" pattern on each campus move.

Your hips should trace an upside-down “J” pattern on each campus move.

Of course, achieving momentum in campusing (and climbing) is easier said than done.  Often the first move is latched poorly, making it impossible to proceed without adjusting or bouncing on the rung.  That is why it is essential to campus accurately.

Accuracy – Of the three elements of campusing well, accuracy holds the most promise for beginners.  It may take years of training and climbing before the need for substantial contact strength becomes apparent in a novice’s outdoor climbing.  But climbers at every level can benefit from teaching their body to precisely locate holds in space.  Campusing will train you to aim precisely for every rung.  Usually in only a few sessions you can learn to deadpoint most moves, making rungs much easier to latch.  Furthermore, by deadpointing, the strain on your shoulders, elbows, and fingers is minimized, vastly reducing the risk of injury.  This is true while campusing and while climbing in general.

During a perfect deadpoint, your arm will be at its furthest (safe) extension, and you will just barely be able to reach the hold when your hips are at their apex.  This is an ideal worth striving for.  Practically, this will be difficult to perform initially, so as you are improving your deadpoint skills, focus on preventing your hips from falling away as you latch each rung.  Attempt to latch the hold when your hips are at their apex, and then bend your arm as necessary to take up any “slack” before your hips begin to fall.  This too will take practice and focus, so break up your efforts into individual moves that you can learn to perform well before moving onto more complex sets.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of heigt to latch the high rung.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of height to latch the high rung.  Focus on the trajectory of your hips, not your hand.  Ideally your hips will rise, then pause, but never descend.

From a purely mechanical perspective, there are three linear dimensions or axes to consider when aiming for a distant hold (there is also rotation about each of the three axes, but that usually isn’t a huge factor in climbing).  In simple terms, you need to aim for and hit the correct vertical position, horizontal position, and depth.  The campus rung simplifies matters by vastly reducing the need for horizontal accuracy (for advanced climbers, campusing to pockets can provide an all-encompassing challenge).

The first step in achieving accurate hand placement is to keep your eyes on the prize.  Many climbers unwittingly blink or close their eyes during dynos.  Don’t do that!  Notice how good free-throw shooters (or golfers attempting a putt) pause and stare at the basket for a moment before shooting.  During this period the subconscious is making numerous calculations in preparation for the ensuing movement.  When you step up to the board, grasp the first rung with both hands, then pause and stare up at the target hold for a moment before lifting your feet off the ground.  Keep your eyes open and fixed on the target throughout the movement. Have a partner verify that you are keeping your eyes open and locked on target (or film yourself). 

When performing two back-to-back moves, as for a Max Ladder, moving with momentum will prevent you from staring down the target rung before the second move, so take a moment to locate both rungs before your feet leave the ground.  With practice, you will keep both rungs in view as you complete the set.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

For improving vertical and depth accuracy, practice the following exercise (which we will call “Touch and Release” to distinguish it from “Touches”, which are used to improve lock-off strength).  From a matched position on Rung 1, lunge upward, release one hand and attempt to touch a pre-determined distant rung.  Do not attempt to latch the rung. After you touch it (or try to touch it), release your low hand and drop to the ground. Repeat this exercise, attempting to improve your hand placement on the distant rung, ultimately striving to place it perfectly on the rung at the deadpoint, with no wasted movement and all four finger pads engaged on the top surface of the rung.  Once you can routinely touch the rung well, put pressure on the rung for an instant before dropping off the board.  Repeat as necessary until you are confident you could latch the rung.  Then try to latch the rung.  Consider using a power spot when first attempting this exercise, but eventually strive to do it solo.

The below video shows the whole process of a well-executed Max Ladder:

    • Staring down the rung before starting,
    • Latching each rung with speed
    • Moving with momentum,
    • Striving to deadpoint (I overshot the first move slightly, but the second move is a pretty good deadpoint).

Another important consideration for campus training is rest between sets.  This is a power exercise, meaning the Time Under Tension should be short and the rest should be(relatively) long.  I’ve experimented with rest periods of 45, 60, 90 and 120 seconds between sets.  In my experience, longer is better.  Bring a stopwatch, and rest as long as you feel you need, but at least 90 seconds.  Currently I rest for 60 seconds between warmup sets, and 120 seconds between every other set (that is, I start my stopwatch, and begin a set every even minute).  Two minutes feels like a long time, but it definitely makes a difference (compared to 90 seconds rest).  If I feel it will help, I will rest for three or four minutes occasionally.  Usually these longer rests are taken later in the workout as the sets get more difficult.

Finally, a few tips on injury prevention.  First, keep your shoulders “tight” (slightly flexed) and elbows slightly bent when latching distant rungs.  It can be very tempting to lock your elbows or relax your shoulders to get an extra bit of reach, or to over shoot a rung, and strain to latch it on the way down, forcing your elbows and shoulders to suddenly snap eccentrically into a locked position.  This is really dangerous!  The bottom line is, DON’T BE A HERO!!!  If you fail to hit a rung well, just let go, rest up, and try to do better on the next set.  Any campus move can be done with good form.  There is no need to lose control and risk catastrophic injury.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

This goes for the fingers too.  Most campusing injuries result from folks hitting a rung poorly, then attempting to desperately latch the rung with only a few fingers in play.  If you do not land well on the rung LET GO!!!  This includes having all four finger pads (or three if using an open grip with the pinky dangling) in contact with the rung, and all aligned ergonomically (with respect to  the grip position you are trying to use).  If your fingers get tangled or contorted in some manner, just let go and live to fight another day. 

Many folks have asked about campusing with weight added.  I would not recommend it.  The forces on your shoulders, elbows and fingers are high-enough without adding weight to the equation, not to mention the risk of falling to the ground with extra weight added.  If you don’t take my word for it, listen to the words of Sonnie Trotter:

“the aches in my elbows started the morning after I strapped on the weight vest.  I campused up the wall and back down again, 5 times, on top of some other stuff.  Super bad idea, I know, but I couldn’t help it, I felt invincible.  I wasn’t.  I never will be.  Stop fooling yourself fool.  But I did it anyway and I paid the price.  The shock load one puts on their elbows coming down (without footholds and an extra 20 pounds on your body) is extremely severe.  It’s never, ever a good idea to do this…” 

It is also possible to suffer skin injuries on the campus board.  In my experience, these are usually chronic skin injuries caused by trying to perform too many sets in a single session (or too-frequent sessions).  Use smooth, large-radius rungs, and limit your sessions to a reasonable number of sets.  For me that means no more than about 15 total sets per leading hand (including warmup sets).  If you choose to campus on pockets, I strongly suggest taping your fingers to protect your skin.

Lastly, campusing demands repeated falls to the ground.  Use a good crash pad (or several), ensure the fall zone is safe, and use a spotter if possible.  Occasionally you may fall in weird positions, so clear the area in all directions around the board.  Get in the practice of landing safely, with knees bent, and practice absorbing the fall force slowly as you hit the ground.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

My hope was to fit everything I had to say on this topic into one post, but as usually I’ve failed 🙂  Check back in a week or two for Part II, advanced tips for going BIG.

Comparing Campus Board Configurations

Last year I discussed at length the benefits of Campus Training, how to perform a Campus workout, and how to fit such workouts into your training schedule.  Next week I plan to describe how to get the most out of your campus sessions.  Campusing “well”, will reduce the risk of injury, improve your performance on the campus board so you can show up your friends :), and most importantly, ensure that your workouts translate effectively to actual rock climbing.  As a prologue to next week’s discussion, I’d like to describe some of the modifications I’ve made to the Lazy H Campus Board over the last year, and the reasons for making those changes.

First off, you may recall that last January I “topped out” on Version 3.0 of my board, so the most pressing task was to make my board taller.  The Lazy H was originally built along the contour of the sloping hillside, so it’s not “square”; the west, uphill side of the ceiling is a couple feet higher in elevation than the east, downhill side.  So this means the west edge of my campus board (right edge when facing the board) is about 4.5″ taller than the east edge (since the bottom edge of the board is horizontal).  So the easiest way to gain more height was to move my smallest rungs from the center of the board to the far right side.  This earned me an extra 1″ of height.  Next, I decided I would lower the bottom edge (and therefore the first row of rungs) approximately 2.75″ to eek out a bit more height.  The tradeoff here is a lower clearance height when walking under the board, and I have to start campus moves from a slightly lower position, which can be annoying.

These two changes only got me about one extra rung (with 4″ ‘Metolius’ spacing), which I’m hoping will not be enough.  So I decided to cut out a hole in my ceiling between two roof joists to accomodate another rung.  The distance between joists was only about 15″, so I had to trim the top rung to fit. Not the prettiest solution, but better than nothing.

My ghetto ceiling cutout and slightly shortened rung.  I haven't actually tried campusing to this rung yet.  I suspect it will punish poor accuracy.

My ghetto ceiling cutout and slightly shortened rung. I haven’t actually tried campusing to this rung yet. I suspect it will punish poor accuracy.

Additionally, over the past year or so I’ve been contemplating the two competing standards for rung spacing.  These are ‘Metolius spacing’, with small rungs placed every 4″ from top edge to top edge, and ‘Moon Spacing’, with rungs spaced every 22-cm (approximately 8.66 inches).  In my estimation, Moon spacing is far more prolific.  Metolius spacing is only used in America as far as I can tell, and even here it’s much less popular than Moon spacing.  For the last few seasons I found myself constantly “translating” my Metolius-spaced board into Moon units for the sake of comparison.  I got tired of my head hurting during all these workouts, so I decided to make the switch since I was re-building my board anyway.

Comparison of Metolius and Moon Spacing

Comparison of Metolius and Moon Spacing

The expression “1-5-9” is based on Moon spacing.  I’m highly motivated to strive for these feats and compare my campus performance to other people’s around the globe.  I think 1-5-9 may be beyond my reach, but I would be very psyched to match Jerry Moffatt’s best of 1-5-8, which I think is within the realm of possibility for me.  In many other sports (such as running, swimming, cycling, and weightlifting), training activities and performances are easily quantified and compared.  Making comparisons in climbing is very difficult, except when two climbers have climbed the same exact route (which is not very common, compared to the likelihood of two runners sprinting around two separate tracks built to the same specifications).  Just about any runner in the world can find a 400m track to train on, allowing easy comparison with any other runner in the world.  

Campus training is just about the only more-or-less-standardized activity that climbers perform*, so it provides a significant opportunity for quantification and comparison, assuming common standards are used.  It’s amazing to me that I can build a campus board to the same dimensions as Jerry Moffatt’s or Wolfgang Gullich’s** and try to match feats they performed nearly 30 years ago.  Even on the rock–which seems to be relatively unchanging–holds break, footholds become polished, and the proliferation of chalk, rubber marks and video reduce the challenge over time, making comparisons in-exact.  If you can ignore these variations, you still may have to travel accross oceans for the chance to try your hero’s test-piece, and then you will have a brief moment in time to give it your best shot.  Anyone can build a standardized campus board in their own house, and train on it year after year.

[*The Moon Board is a brilliant concept that provides the possibility for worldwide comparison, but the idea hasn’t really caught on, and so Moon Boards are few and far between.

**If you know the exact specifications of the original Campus Board in Nurnberg, please post up in a comment!]

The Moon spacing standard is probably the best choice since its the most prolific, however, as discussed here, 22-cm is way too far between rungs to facilitate steady progression.  The solution is to add half-steps, such that rungs are spaced evenly at 11-cm intervals.  This equates to about 4.33″, which is just a smidgen further than the 4″ Metolius gap.  Close enough to facilitate progression while still allowing quick worldwide comparison.  The final result was a board that goes from 1 to 8.5, with half-steps between each rung.  If I ever send 1-5-8.5, I’ll add a “rung 0.5” to the bottom of my board to work 1-5-9. 

Lazy H Campus Board Version 4.0.  Small rungs, incut side up, on the right, spaced at 11 cm.  Medium rungs, flat-side-up on the left, spaced at 22-cm.  Three small rungs, flat side up, laid over the medium rungs (at positions 1.5, 4.5 and 7.5).

Lazy H Campus Board Version 4.0. Small rungs, incut side up, on the right, spaced at 11 cm. Medium rungs, flat-side-up on the left, spaced at 22-cm. Three small rungs, flat side up, laid over the medium rungs (at positions 1.5, 4.5 and 7.5).

[Side note: Those who live in the Denver area are well-aware that a new, world-class Earth Treks climbing gym opened in nearby Golden.  For those keeping track, the Earth Treks board is 16.7 degrees overhanging with rungs spaced approximately (though somewhat inconsistently) 10.5-cm apart, according to my independent measurements.  This may not seem like a big difference (from 11-cm spacing) but it means rung #9 is 8cm lower than on a Moon-spaced board.  That’s almost a half-rung.]

Finally, Ben asked here if there was a reason I had oriented my small rungs with the “incut” side up.  Ever since then I’ve been wondering what the difference in apparent difficulty is between the two orientations.  On the surface, it would seem obvious that incut rungs would be easier to use.  However, the incut edge (of a small Metolius rung) includes a relatively massive 5/16″ edge radius, while the flat edge has a relatively small 3/16″ radius.  The effect is that while the flat side is less positive, it provides a deeper surface for pulling (9/16″ depth of flat surface compared to 1/16″ depth of essentially flat surface plus 3/8″ depth of positive surface on the incut side).  

Approximate dimensions of a small Metolius campus rung, based on my measurements.  The 'flat' side is on the left, the 'incut' side is on the right.  Of note, these rungs are supposedly 3/4" deep, but I found them to be a bit less than that.

Approximate dimensions of a small Metolius campus rung, based on my measurements. The ‘flat’ side is on the left, the ‘incut’ side is on the right. Of note, these rungs are supposedly 3/4″ deep, but I found them to be a bit less than that.

Deeper holds are easier to use because the point at which force is applied to your finger pad is nearer to your DIP/PIP joints, reducing the leverage (or “moment”) on those joints.  Theoretically one could measure the coefficient of friction of these rungs and attempt to calcuate the torque required to hang on them (statically) in each orientation , but such calculations would almost certainly need to neglect all the critical dynamic aspects of a campus move.  The most practical way I could think of to determine the apparent difference between these orientations was to mount a set of each side-by-side and try them out. 

Comparing the flat & incut edges side-by-side, you can hardly notice the "incut".  Just from appearances, the Flat-Side-Up edge looks easier to grab to me.

Comparing the flat & incut edges side-by-side, you can hardly notice the “incut”. Just from appearances, the Flat-Side-Up edge looks easier to grab to me.

Qualitatively, here is what I found:

  • Flat-Side-Up feels noticeably “sharper” (un-skin-friendly).  I could easily see getting a flapper using the relatively small-radius flat side.
  • Long moves to distant rungs are easier to latch on Flat-Side-Up rungs.  I think this is because when latching a distant rung, the arm is oriented near-vertical, so the ‘slopey’ nature of the gripping surface is not much of a factor, while the extra depth, and sharper lip make the rung easier to latch.
  • When attempting long moves, its more difficult to keep the low hand in-play on Flat-Side-Up rungs.  I think this is because with larger moves you really need to push down with your lagging hand (more on this next week), while that forearm is nearly horizontal to the ground.  An incut edge allows you to pull out slightly, which really helps keep that hand in contact with the rung until you’re ready to remove it.  I think with practice I would get better at pushing the low hand in the “right” direction (parallel to the angle of the board) and this would be less problematic.
  • Overall, for smaller moves, the flat-side-up configuration was noticeably easier for me.  This held true up to a 1-4-7 Max Ladder. 
  • Overall, for moves at my limit, the two orientations seemed equal in difficulty.  When I tried 1-4.5-7.5 or 1-4.5-8 on Flat-Side-Up rungs, I noticed my lagging hand occasionally slipped off Rung 1 (and even Rung 4.5) when I tried to push off (to go from 1 to 7.5 or 8), which made up for the relative ease of latching distant rungs.

In conclusion, I plan to stick with Incut-Side-Up rungs (pun intended).  The difficulty seems about the same, but the smooth radius on the incut side of the rung makes them much less threatening to my skin.  The last thing I need is a skin injury from campusing.

Next week, I will get into the details of how to campus effectively.  Campusing is perhaps the most difficult training activity to do well.  If not done properly, campusing is a waste of time, but even worse, it can cause serious injury. Proper form will help you minimize the risk of injury while ensuring you get the most value out of this training.

What I Got for Christmas

Christmas came a week early for me this year.  While driving Logan home from downtown Denver to see the impressive light display at City Hall, I received a call from my friend and publisher Jason Haas.  The “Proof” of the Rock Climber’s Training Manual had arrived from the printer!  The proof is a collection of various test-printings of the completed book.  In our case, it included:

  • The finished, laminated cover,
  • Two large sheets of glossy paper each showing 8 “representative” printed pages (printed with the actual ink that will be used, on the actual paper that will be used)
  • The entire 304 page book (printed with inexpensive paper & ink)
  • The entire 1-season Logbook (printed with inexpensive paper & ink)
  • The entire 1-year Logbook (printed with inexpensive paper & ink)
The two large sheets showing the finished look of 16 representative pages.

The two large sheets showing the finished look of 16 representative pages.

The purpose of the 8-page sheets is to verify that the printed colors look “true” (that is, they look they way we want them to look).  It’s actually not that easy to get printed material to look exactly the way it does on a computer screen, and its more art than science that often takes some trial and error to get dialed-in correctly.  One reason for this is that computers use “RGB” format (literally Red-Green-Blue) to represent colors, and printers use CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Key (black)).  That, and every computer monitor is slightly different, is adjusted differently, and displays the same image slightly differently.

All 304 pages of the book.  These are printed in 16-page "Signatures", which are then bound together to form the book.  The RCTM has 19 signatures.  As you can see by the color marks at the top and bottom of each page, these haven't been cropped to actual size.

All 304 pages of the book. These are printed in 16-page “Signatures”, which are then bound together to form the book. The RCTM has 19 signatures. As you can see by the color marks at the top and bottom of each page, these haven’t been cropped to actual size.

The low-fidelity printed books are used to verify that all the columns of text, figures, pictures, numbering, etc, are properly aligned and ordered.  Apparently it’s not uncommon for a page to appear multiple times, out of order, or in some other whacky configuration. 

I went over to Jason’s house Thursday night to check out the proof.  It was really exciting to see the entire book printed in actual size.  It’s one thing to scan through a PDF; it’s quite another to hold it in your hand.  The first thing I noticed is how visually stunning it is–there’s something interesting to look at on virtually every page.  We put a lot of effort into the figures and they look excellent.  There are also many, many stunning images from some outstanding pro photographers, and the photos look great.  There was one slight problem with some of the trasparent blue colors in our figures appearing lavendar.  We will bring this up with the printer to see if it can be improved, but its probably not a showstopper.  Our primary concern is that the photos look good and they do.

The Fixed Pin brain trust examining each page of the book for errors.  Ben on the left, Jason on the right.

The Fixed Pin team examining each page of the book for errors. Ben on the left, Jason on the right.

We found various nit-picky errors like text boxes that weren’t properly “justified”, but nothing major.  We made notes of all these and Jason has already corrected them and uploaded a new master file to the printer.  The covers we received were printed in “matte” rather than laminated, so we will ask for them to re-send laminated covers.  Aside from that the covers looked sharp.

The cover proof.

The next step is to discuss our feedback with the printer, then they can start pringing actual books.  They will overnight the first copy off the press to us so we can make one last check that everything looks good.  At that point we should have a good estimate of a release date for the book.  With the holidays in full swing we probably won’t hear much for at least another week, but I’m excited for the press to start churning out books in the near future.

Hangboard Resistance Data Analysis

As promised, here is some hangboard resistance data from my recently concluded Strength Phase.  This was my first full phase using the Rock Prodigy Training Center.  I thought it would take a while to get the loads dialed in correctly but I was able to get pretty close to the right resistance during the first workout.

RPTC Grip Identification

I trained the following grips, in the order listed below, performing 3 sets of reps (7 reps for the first set of each grip, then 6 reps, then 5), except where noted.

Grip Order Table

The below chart shows the resistance added to body weight during the final set of each grip (the Large VDER is omitted since this is a warmup grip and the resistance rarely changes). 

This chart shows the resistance added (to body weight) for the third set of each grip, for each workout.

This chart shows the resistance added (to body weight) for the third set of each grip, for each workout.

If I complete every rep of all 3 sets for a given grip, I add 5 lbs (to each set) during the next workout.  For example, during the first workout, MR 2-finger resistance was:

 -10 lb. for the 1st set,
    0 for the 2nd set and
+10 for the 3rd set.

During the first workout, I completed all reps of each set of that grip, so for the next workout the goal resistance was:

   -5 lb for the 1st set,
  +5 lb for the 2nd set and
+15 for the 3rd set. 

So you can infer from the above chart that if the 3rd-set-resistance increased between workouts n and n+1, then I succeeded in completing the prescribed sets (at the prescribed resistance) during workout n.  If the 3rd-set-resistance did not increase, you can infer that I failed to complete all reps during workout n.  I almost always complete the first two sets of each grip, so one can further infer that if I failed to progress, I failed on the third set.

Some interesting “conclusions” can be drawn from this data. 

  • You can see where I started to plateau, between the 6th and 7th workout.  After the 7th workout I struggled to make progress between workouts on most grips.  I’ve experimented with trying to burst through this plateau by performing more and more workouts, but it never seems to work.  Usually by the 10th workout or so I won’t see any more improvement (I’ve done as many as 12 workouts in a phase)                          
  • The earlier grips in the workout progressed much more than the later grips.  The most improvement over the course of the phase was seen in the Mono, Thin Crimp, and MR 2 Finger (the first 3 grips completed).  The least improvement was seen in the Pinch, IM 2 Finger and Small VDER (the last 3 grips).  This is typical in my experience, and this is why I suggest working the most “important” grips early in your hangboard workouts.  Here is another way to look at this phenomenon:
This chart shows the total improvement in Third-Set-Resistance over the course of my Strength Phase.  The grips are shown in the order performed.  As you can see, for the most part the grips performed early in the workout improved the most, and the grips performed at the end improved the least.

This chart shows the total improvement in Third-Set-Resistance over the course of my Strength Phase. The grips are shown in the order performed. As you can see, for the most part the grips performed early in the workout improved the most, and the grips performed at the end improved the least.

  • The Pinch grip was a disaster!  After the second workout I flatlined, then after the 6th workout I actually got worse! This is somewhat exaggerated because after the 6th workout (and several straight workouts of failing on the third set), I purposely reduced the resistance in the hopes of jump starting this grip.  That worked once (workout 7), but then I plateaued at a lower level.  Part of this is because this is the last grip of the workout.  However, you might expect that I would at least get better at managing fatigue, and thus would show some improvement.  You certainly would not expect that I would regress.  So what is going on here?  Each workout is a little bit harder (overall) than the preceding workout.  This is because initially the loads applied are conservative, so early in the Strength Phase many sets are completed with relative ease, leaving more energy for the later grips in the workout.  Later in the Phase, the loads applied are much closer to my limit, and I really have to scratch and claw to complete each set of every grip.  Thus I’m much more tired when I arrive at the last few grips of a given workout.  The amplitude of this effect increases each workout within a phase.  So while the loads applied in this example are more or less constant, the apparent difficulty of completing three sets at those loads is increasing each workout.  A question worth asking is, does training this grip improve my pinch strength, or would I be better off ending my workout after 5 grips?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think it does make me stronger (or at least better at managing fatigue), even though the accumulating fatigue prevents me from capturing that improvement “on paper”.

Moving on, the first chart I posted illustrates only the load applied during the third set of each grip.  There are many other ways to slice the data.  During each set, I strive to perform a certain number of 7-second dead hang repetitions (7 for the first set, 6 for the second set, 5 for the third set).  Often I reach the end of the third set, having completed each rep without failing.  In these situations I usually try to perform a 6th rep at the end of the third set (in rare instances I will add extra reps to the second set, but only if it feels really easy).  On the other hand, often I fail to complete all of the prescribed reps.  For example, I might complete the first 4 reps of the third set of a given grip, but my fingers fail 5 seconds in to the 5th rep.  Capturing these variations and plotting them provides slightly more fidelity into apparent plateaus:

This chart shows the total "Time Under Tension" (TUT) for the 2nd and 3rd sets of the Pinch grip for workouts 2-6 (I omitted the 1st set TUT because it was a constant 49 seconds for each workout).  The load applied (-5 lbs for the 2nd set, +5 lbs for the 3rd set) was constant for these five workouts.

This chart shows the total “Time Under Tension” (TUT) for the 2nd and 3rd sets of the Pinch grip for workouts 2-6 (I omitted the 1st set TUT because it was a constant 49 seconds for each workout). The load applied (-5 lbs for the 2nd set, +5 lbs for the 3rd set) was constant for these five workouts.

The TUT for each workout in the above chart “should be” 42 seconds for the 2nd set (6 reps times 7 seconds per rep) and 35 seconds for the third set.  As you can see, there was a good deal of variation between workouts despite a constant applied load.  The problem with looking at the data in this manner is that it only works when the load applied is constant.  Another option is to look at the “Volume” of a given set.  Qualitatively, Volume = Intensity x Duration.  However, coming up with a practical quantitative Volume formula can be challenging. 

The most simplistic method is to simply multiple the hang duration (TUT) for a given set by the load applied.  However, the load applied is only a fraction of the load on your fingers.  It makes sense to add body weight into the formula (so Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration.  The below chart shows this data for the 3rd sets of the IM 2 Finger grip.

This chart shows Volume, defined as Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration, for the 3rd set of the IM 2 Finger grip for the entire Strength Phase.

This chart shows Volume, defined as Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration, for the 3rd set of the IM 2 Finger grip for the entire Strength Phase.

The problem with the above metric is that it “values” duration much more than load.  It’s easy to achieve a high Volume figure by using lower loads and performing extra reps.  For example, during the first 5 workouts of this phase, I managed to complete all 5 reps of each 3rd set, and then at least attempted a 6th rep.  During the last five workouts I only completed the 5th rep once and never attempted a 6th rep.  As a result, the “Volume” on the left side of the chart (the first five workouts) is greater than the Volume on the right half.  This is not what we want to strive for as athletes.  We want to strive for higher loads, more so than extra reps, so it would be nice to use a Volume formula that “rewards” higher loads.  Another option is to consider the Volume of the entire grip, not just the Volume of the 3rd set.  This method gives you “credit” for the extra load used later in the phase in the first two sets of each grip.

This chart shows the sum of the Volume for each set of the IM 2 Finger grip.  The formula for this chart is Total Grip Volume = [(Body Weight + Set 1 Load Applied) x Set 1 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration].

This chart shows the sum of the Volume for each set of the IM 2 Finger grip. The formula for this chart is Total Grip Volume = [(Body Weight + Set 1 Load Applied) x Set 1 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration].

The Total Grip Volume method of calculation is an improvement.  The Volume for workouts 7-10 is greater than that of workouts 1-3, but it still implies that my workout 5 performance of 5 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 6 seconds at +30 lbs. is “superior” to my workout 10 performance of 4 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 4 seconds at +40 lbs.  Maybe it is, but I can tell you the latter seems much more difficult to do, and it would be nice if the “Volume” calculation captured that.  So there is room for an improved Volume formula.

Finally, for the “fun” of it, below is the Total Workout Volume (the sum of the above volume calculation for each grip):

This chart shows Total Workout Volume = [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 1 + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 2 + ... + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip n.

This chart shows Total Workout Volume = [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 1 + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 2 + … + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip n.

At least it seems the Volume is more or less increasing each workout, and this shows some indication of a plateau appearing around the 9th workout.

I know I’m not the only spreadsheet nerd out there, so if you have a novel way of analyzing your training data, please share in a comment below!

Bouldering for Power

Power is an essential element of climbing performance.  One could argue (and many have) it is the most critical physical aspect of climbing performance.  As Tony Yaniro famously said, “if you have no power, there is nothing to endure”.  If you cannot execute the hardest individual moves on your goal route, everything else is moot.  It’s certainly true that every performance-oriented climber can benefit from improved power. 

Last year, I discussed at length how to use a Campus Board to improve power.  While highly-effective at developing pure power, Campus Training is only moderately specific to climbing.  Bouldering can provide ultra-specific and effective  power training, provided it is done “properly”. 

Gratuitous bouldering pic: Starting up the classic Bishop highball High Plains Drifter, V7

Gratuitous bouldering pic: Starting up the classic Bishop highball High Plains Drifter, V7

Bouldering can be great fun, and that can present a problem for climbers-in-training.  The casual nature of the activity makes it easy to get side-tracked on problems that are unique and challenging, but perhaps not ideal for facilitating improvement.  As discussed here power training must be extremely intense and brief to be effective.  Many boulder problems have far too many moves to provide effective power training.  The challenge of such problems is not in executing a single powerful move, but in linking several moderately-difficult-yet-pumpy moves.  This is Power Endurance training at its finest–it has its place, just not in your Power Phase!

This is where Limit Bouldering comes in.  Limit Bouldering is climbing short boulder problems that feature one or two realistic moves right at the climber’s physical limit.  Effective Limit Boulder problems are characterized by:

  • One or Two crux moves
  • Dynamic cruxes (such as a long move to latch a small edge, where core tension is required to keep your feet on small footholds)
  • Cruxes close to the ground, so pump and fear are not factors

Above I hinted at the other major pitfall of bouldering, when I wrote that Limit Bouldering should feature realistic moves.  It is well-known that training must be “specific” to be effective.  That is, if you are training for a route whose crux involves half-pad crimps up a 10-degree overhang, you would be best served training on half-pad crimps, and Limit Bouldering on a 10-degree overhang (if you climb routes in North America, it is quite rare that you ever climb anything steeper than 30-degrees overhanging, even at crags like the Red, Maple, and Rifle).

However,  many indoor bouldering venues devote only a tiny fraction of their terrain to walls that overhang 30-degrees or less.  Instead they favor terrain that is just plain too steep to be realistic.  Steep terrain is really fun, and everyone wants to be the hero swinging monkey-like across the horizontal roof.  There is no doubt such problems are enjoyable, and many are quite challenging; it’s easy to see why they are so popular.  The problem is, in order for us mortals to climb these too-steep features, we require enormous holds that are too big to properly stress the finger flexors (instead emphasizing shoulder, upper arm, and back strength).

Holds like this are skin-friendly, fun to climb on, and minimize the risk of finger injury.  Unfortunately they don't exist in the real world, so they offer little training value.

Holds like this are skin-friendly, fun to climb on, and minimize the risk of finger injury. Unfortunately they don’t exist in the real world, so they offer little training value.

This situation would be dire enough, but often the lack of realism is further compounded by exotic hold shapes (massive volumes, slopers, jugs, and other protruding features that are easily pinched).  The third strike comes in the shape of relatively enormous, incut footholds that encourage huge moves and minimal core tension.  Put these factors together and the result is a smorgasbord of problems that are a whole of fun to climb but provide little training benefit to actual rock climbers.  Hard rock climbing in America is about pulling on small edges and pockets, while standing on tiny footholds on near-vertical terrain.  The ability to campus from one lightbulb-shaped protrusion to the next has no relevance.

The North American sector of the Real World is mostly covered in small edges and pockets.  Train accordingly!  Fred Gomez crushing the Hueco classic Baby Face, V7

The North American sector of the Real World is mostly covered in small edges and pockets. Train accordingly! Fred Gomez crimping up the Hueco classic Baby Face, V7

Fortunately these bouldering pitfalls are easily avoided.  To maximize the specificity of your Limit Bouldering terrain, set or select problems that include these elements:

  • Realistic steepness (rarely steeper than 30 degrees for climbers in the US)
  • Realistic hold spacing (smaller holds, spaced relatively close together)
  • Realistic hold sizes (small handholds AND tiny footholds)
  • Realistic hold shapes (rounded edges, sharp edges, pockets, and intricate footholds that demand precise foot placements)
  • Holds that cannot be pinched
  • Holds that do not inadvertently result in large footholds when used as sidepulls/underclings/pockets (or mark such holds “off” for feet)

If you train at a public facility where you are unable to set your own problems, talk to your routesetters &/or gym management and encourage them to set problems that facilitate effective training.   Gyms want to make their customers happy, so tell them what you want.  They may even allow you to set some of your own problems.  If that fails, make up your own problems linking in situ holds, or use the gym’s System Board to create your own problems (often System Boards are covered in a variety of realistic holds).

For those that set their own problems, below are a few recommendations of some of my favorite hold sets.  If your local gym is lacking, consider recommending some of these sets to the routesetters.  One general piece of advice: invest in high quality holds, especially if you have a small climbing wall.  Good holds will keep you psyched much longer, and allow you to make the most of your training time.  You’ll get far more mileage out of 10 good holds than you will out of 20 low-quality holds. 

All of the sets described below feature realistic shapes that will be challenging on wall angles of 0 to 30 degrees overhanging.  For each hold type, these are listed more or less in order of preference.  The grade ranges are rough approximations and will vary greatly depending on orientation and spacing:

This pic of one of my "Comfy Crimps" says it all.  You know a hold is good when you see 12 pieces of tape next to it!

This pic of one of my “Comfy Crimps” says it all. You know a hold is good when you see 12 pieces of tape next to it!

Moderate Edges:

1. e-Grips “Comfy Crimps”   These were my first set of holds, and they’re still one of my favorites.  These edges are easy on the skin and rather incut.  These are great for 5.12-ish climbers on a steep (~30 degree) wall.

2. e-Grips “Midnight Desert Crimps”   This set includes a variety of sizes and shapes, that are generally a number-grade or so more challenging than the Comfy Crimps.  Most of these holds are ideal on vertical-to-slightly-overhanging terrain, though some of the larger holds can be used on the steeps.

3. Entre Prises “Super Tweaks”   These holds were the secret to my speedy ascent of To Bolt Or Not To Be. The north wall of the Lazy H is dead vertical and plastered with these irregular, sloping edges.  These are nearly impossible to pull out on, so they require great balance and footwork.  Perfect for improving technique on a vertical wall.  These will challenge climbers form 5.11-5.14 depending on how they’re used. 

Super Tweaks: These make challenging hand and footholds, depending on how they're oriented.

Super Tweaks: These make challenging hand and footholds, depending on how they’re oriented.

 
Heinously Difficult Edges:

1. e-Grips “Ian’s Tribal”    These guys are brutal–the most challending set in this list–they will transform you into a crimping fiend, assuming you can pull off the ground.  These are 5.14 holds when mounted on a 30 degree overhang.  Nearly all of my hardest Limit Boulder problems feature one or more of these.  The pocket that comes with this set is also my favorite two-finger pocket (when oriented horizontally) and my favorite mono (oriented vertically).

Three of my favorites: 2Tex Pure Crimp in red, Ian's Tribal in green, and Supertweak in blue.

Three of my favorites: 2Tex Pure Crimp in red, Ian’s Tribal in green, and Supertweak in blue.

2. e-Grips “2Tex Pure Crimps”   These edges are awesome.  They feature glassy-smooth texture on the backside so they are impossible to use as footholds.  These are ideal when you want a sidepull or undercling that won’t produce a huge foothold.  Most of these aren’t very incut, so they’re 5.13/14 holds on steeper walls, but 5.11/12 on less-steep walls.

3. e-Grips “Buttons”  These are generally small, but very incut edges.  Some of these can be used as footholds, some as handholds, but they work best overhanging terrain.  These can be in the 5.12 range when used on a 10-degree overhang, up to 5.14 on a 30 degree overhang.

4. e-Grips “Hueco Patina Flakes”  These are small but very incut edges.  They’re much more irregular than most edges, which can provide a nice change of pace.  Often you can get your fingertips “behind” the incuts on these, making them ideal for steeper terrain.  These are generally a bit bigger/easier to use than the buttons.

Pockets:
1. e-Grips “Fossil Pockets”  These pockets are smooth, deep, incut, and ergonomic.  They’re on the large side, making for 5.12/13 terrain on steeper walls and 5.11/12 terrain on less steep walls.
 
2. e-Grips “Limestone Pockets”   These are much more challenging than the Fossil Pockets, and the set includes a couple of mono pockets.  When oriented slopey-side-down on a steep wall, these are 5.14 holds.  When used right-side-up on vertical to 10-degree overhangs these are in the 5.11/12 range.

Drop Art Footholds: Many options for orientation, and some can be used as wicked hard crimps.

Drop Art Footholds: Many options for orientation, and some can be used as wicked hard crimps.

Footholds:
1. e-Grips “Double Disks”   These are highly intricate footholds that require very precise placement and good core tension.  Some of these holds can be used as hand holds too.

2. e-Grips “Drop Art Footholds”  These are intricate footholds that aren’t quite as hard to use as the Double Disks, but they each offer many foothold surfaces so you can rotate them as they wear out.  A few of the larger holds in this set can be used as vicious crimps.
 
3. Screw on Jibs.  These are available from various manufacturers, including Revolution and Metolius.  They’re cheap, easy to install and offer some very challenging shapes. Unfortunately they’re beginning to vanish from the market as gyms adopt elaborate wall surfaces that won’t accept wood screws.

Screw on "Jibs" are always a great choice too.  They're cheap, easy to install and offer som very challenging shapes.  Unfortunately they're beginning to vanish from the market as gyms adopt elaborate wall surfaces that won;t accept wood screws.

Small, sloping jibs like this one from Revolution are great for vertical walls and “kick plates” below steeper walls.

4. Atomik “Bolt-On Feet”  These holds are a bargain, but still offer some really interesting and challenging shapes.  They all require accurate foot placements, and a few of them can pass for handholds on vertical walls.

Atomik Bolt-on Feet offer a lot of variety at a low price.

Atomik Bolt-on Feet offer a lot of variety at a low price.

Recommended Reading – Revelations by Jerry Moffatt

The holidays are upon us, which means friends and relatives will soon be pestering you for your wish list.  If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend asking Santa for a copy of Jerry Moffatt’s outstanding autobiography Revelations.

RevelationsJerry Moffatt was probably the best climber in the world for most of the 1980s, and he continued to push standards throughout the 90’s.  He was integral to the explosion in free climbing standards that occurred during the 1980s.  He was also a highly accomplished trad, headpoint, and solo climber and perhaps the best on sight climber of his generation.

While Moffatt’s story is a fascinating and entertaining read in itself, I mention it here because the book also offers countless insights for the performance-oriented climber.  Moffatt was among the first climbers to really embrace training, and he goes into considerable detail explaining how he trained for different objectives.  He also recounts the legendary characters (like Bachar and Gullich) that influenced his ideas on training, while discussing his thought process when developing training plans for different goals.

Moffatt possessed legendary focus and determination.  He dreamt big, but he backed up his dreams with hard work and tremendous effort in the moment of each ascent.  His book describes in detail how he approached stressful performance situations (like the first On Sight ascent of the Gunks’ Supercrack and World Championship competitions).  Any climber, of any ability, can benefit from these lessons.

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt's considerable wisdom!  Photo: Nick Clement

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt’s considerable wisdom! Photo: Nick Clement

While Moffatt was often head and shoulders above his peers, he was not superman.  He provides a glimpse into an elite world that most of us will never experience, yet his story is very relatable.  He frankly describes his various injuries and accidents, humanizing himself while tackling the frustration and despair that comes with any setback.  He confronts many of the same challenges we all face on our own paths to continuous improvement, giving us real hope that we can overcome them too.

I’ve read the book cover-to-cover three times now, and I will surely read it again.  Its hands-down my favorite climbing book.  His trials and eventual triumphs never fail to motivate me, and should give you the extra boost you need to fire up your winter training sessions.

For those who’ve already enjoyed Revelations, here are some other recommendations.  None of these are technical manuals; they are entertaining reads that also impart random snippets of climbing wisdom:

Wolfgang Gullich: Life in the Vertical by Tillmann Hepp.  This biography of the world’s most beloved climber is now out of english print and therefore correspondingly rare and expensive.  However, if you can get your hands on a copy you won’t be disappointed (check your library or ask around–the AAC Library in Golden has a copy).  In addition to recounting Gullich’s countless ground-breaking ascents, the book also discusses his training methods, tactics, and attitudes, including several interviews and short pieces penned by Gullich himself.

Beyond the Summit by Todd Skinner.  This book describes Todd’s quest to free Trango Tower, but also details his development as a climber and other groundbreaking ascents like the Free Salathe Wall.  As a training tool, this book will help you with goal-setting and motivation.

Full of Myself by Johnny Dawes.  To put it simply, Dawes was a rock genius, in the sense that he was an artist of completely unique ability and vision.  He was never the strongest climber, but his talent for movement was incomparable.  His book goes neck-deep into what it takes to become a technical climbing master.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, consider viewing his legendary film Stone Monkey to get an idea of his abilities (in fact, if you can find the DVD, you might just ask for that instead of the book!):

A History of Freeclimbing in North America: Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament.  This tome is an encyclopedic catalogue of noteworthy ascents from 1869 to 2001.  It’s not the kind of book you would normally read cover-to-cover, but many of the entries include long, first-person accounts from the players themselves.  It’s absolutely essential for any lover of climbing history, but it also has some good insights for the performance-oriented climber, such as interesting training and tactical tidbits from legends like John Bachar, Tony Yaniro, and Alan Watts.  Ament’s occassionally editorializing on style comes off as petty at times, but it’s generally easy to ignore.

If you have any other recommendations for books that offer a bit more than an entertaining read to get us through the long winter, please post them in a comment below.

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 🙂

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:

-Sloper
-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.

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 🙂