Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

We recently spent a few days in Wyoming to take advantage of the last week of Kate’s maternity leave. Sinks and Wild Iris are among our favorite crags.  I can’t ever recall having a bad day at Wild Iris.  Even when I get bouted by a project there (which happens often enough), the warmup climbs are so fun and the setting so magnificent its hard to leave the crag without a smile.

The weather on our trip turned out to be a bit schizophrenic, varying from highs in the 80’s to snow and a high of 40 only a few days later.  This kept us bouncing from crag to crag in search of bearable conditions, but we were able to spend a gorgeous day at Wild Iris and a few at Sinks Canyon. This was our first serious climbing trip with two kids, so we weren’t sure how things would go.

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

We started at the Killer Cave, and I managed to climb a number of great routes, including a pair of classic 5.13s.  I attempted an onsight of The Urchin, a short, gymnastic roof climb right at the top of the approach trail.  I fumbled the roof sequence, which was probably a blessing because I doubt I could have kept it together on the tricky finishing slab.  I also sent Virga, a super fun, super reachy .13c or d (d in my experience, at 5’7″).  Quite a fine effort back in the day by the frequently underestimated Paul Piana.  Virga climbs some of the best limestone I’ve seen in America, but it only lasts for about 20 feet, and the winch start is literally as long as the route itself.  Still, the climbing is super fun and definitely worth doing if you like dynamic pulls between sinker two-finger pockets. Pretty much every move on the route is burly, but the moves are so big that its over in a flash. 

One of the big moves on Virga, locking-off a sidepull almost to my knee!
One of the big moves on Virga, locking-off a sidepull nearly to my knee!

After a couple of days dragging 60 pounds of Logan-plus-climbing-gear up the steep slog to the Killer Cave, I wanted convenience.  I’ve climbed quite a bit at Wild Iris, but I had never been to the OK Corral, which is located almost on top of the car-camping area.  The cliff is about 100-feet from the road, making it the perfect choice for weary parents. 

I had heard that the rock at the OK Corral wasn’t as good as that at the rest of the Iris.  I couldn’t tell; it was way better than any other limestone I’ve climbed in the last year! I set out with two goals for the day, first to tick ten routes, a major challenge with kids in tow, and second, to try to send the elusive “White Buffalo”, an enourmous boulder with a 3-bolt mini-route on its Southeast face.  The route is given 5.13d/V11, which is a good indication of the way things are graded at Wild Iris.  At any given grade you should expect to have to crank much harder moves than you usually would.  This is presumably because the routes are often quite short, but I think it’s as much an indication of the quality of climbers that have graced the Lander community through the years. 

The Rock-over move

The Rock-over move

Based on the forecast it seemed unlikely I would get another day at Wild Iris, so I would have to give it my best shot to send the line that day.  I took my time getting warmed up, climbing a number of really fun but never trivial warmups.  White Buffalo gets sun most of the day, so I kept running between the main wall and the boulder to check the shade status.  It seemed like the sun was hardly moving at all, so I kept dragging out my warmup waiting for shade.  My final warmup climb was a brilliant “12a” buttress called “Give My Love to Rose”.  It had quite a burly mono crank on it, and to be honest it felt like about a 12c effort to get up the thing onsight…so its probably soft by Wild Iris standards!

At the slopy 1-pad edge

At the slopy 1-pad edge

Around 4pm White Buffalo finally went into the shade, so I jumped on it.  The route overhangs maybe 5 or 10 degrees, and follows tiny imperfections up an otherwise impeccable wall.  The stone is so smooth it looks more like the polished quartzite of Arapiles than Bighorn Dolomite.  The route starts out easily, but quickly gets down to business with a huge rock-over move to a diagonal, left-hand 1/4″ crimp. The crux is standing up with this left hand and moving to a pad-and-a-half-deep four-finger pocket. Its possible to reach this pocket with either hand, either with a huge windmill move with the right hand, or by using a half-pad mono sidepull for the right hand and then bumping the left hand to the pocket.  I experimented with both options for a while but couldn’t manage either.  After 15 minutes or so I moved on to the upper panel.  Relative to the crux, the finish is not too bad, but none of the holds are positive and the feet are small, so each move feels desparate and inscure.  From the 4-finger pocket, a slopy, 1-pad edge allows a clip, then a a pair of 3 finger pockets and a big high-step lead to a committing huck to the lip of the boulder.

Gunning for the lip of the boulder
Gunning for the lip of the boulder

I was a bit demoralized, having failed to do the crux move at all on my first go, but with the sun beginning to set conditions were improving rapidly.  I rested for 45-minutes, trying to cool off my skin, and debating which hand sequence I should use at the crux. Heading up a route without a clear plan leads to hesitation, and on routes like this, hesitation almost always results in failure. Certain routes, like White Buffalo, are best climbed with momentum, barreling onward, leaving the climber no time to contemplate his unlikely position, clinging spider-like to a sheet of glass. The windmill beta was less tenuous, but low percentage.  I commited to trying the mono beta and tied on for my second go.  The natives were getting restless for dinner, so it was doubtful I would get a third try.

I climbed smoothly up to the rock-over move, and latched the left-hand crimp. The rock was much cooler and the tiny edge now felt much better. I carefully stood up, shifted my hips slightly to the left, and delicately placed my finger into the mono sidepull. I popped my left hand to the four-finger pocket and exhaled. After a quick dab of chalk, I reached the sloping edge, clipped, and clawed my way to the high pockets.  I brought up my feet, gunned for the lip, and mantled over the top of the boulder.

Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0, in the Tetons

Rest Day in the Tetons with Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0

Campus Board Refurbishment- What’s Your Angle?

When I built my gym in the Lazy H, I never really put much thought into the angles of the walls.  I mocked it up with the joists and basically just eye-balled it.  Almost immediately it became clear that my campus board wasn’t quite as steep as it should be, and this has been an itch in the back of my mind for a long time.  During my fall campus phase I started doing some research on the “standard” angle for a campus board.  This research revealed that there is no standard, although one could make a really strong argument for 15 degrees overhanging, as a compromise if nothing else.  This is what Metolious advocates in their brochure, and some sources indicate this is the angle of the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield (although others say 12.5), a board that many others are modeled after.  Looking at photos of Gullich on the original Campus board, it appears that was around 11 degrees, so one might make an argument for that angle as well.  It appears to me that the board on Moon Climbing is about 17 degrees.  Some other sources advocate for 20 degrees (which happens to be the angle of the Foundry board; Jerry Moffatt’s climbing gym).

This is the campus board shown on Moon Climbing

This is the campus board shown on Moon Climbing

The angle of the board can be important for several reasons.  First, it affects how incut the rungs feel.  Obviously the rungs will feel less positive on a steeper board, and should be slightly harder to grip.  But they should also be less painful to latch.  Second, a steeper board will keep your hips and lower legs further from the board.  In addition to keeping you from kicking the board as you get higher, this gives more room for the low hand to continue pushing down when you make really big moves (moves in which your low hand is below shoulder height).  Finally, the steeper the board, the less vertical distance one must travel to move from rung to rung. 

Campus Board Before Angle

My board *before*.

My board was installed at the same angle as the south side wall, about 8 degrees overhanging.  At that angle, a move between two rungs spaced 12″ apart requires 11.88″ of vertical travel.  At 15 degrees, the same move requires 11.59″ of vertical travel.  Probably not a big deal, but consider the mythical 1-5-9 Max Ladder (Moon spacing, 22cm between rungs).  The lagging hand must travel 176 centimeters (almost 4 cubits!) across the board when going from 1 to 9.  For such a big move the difference in vertical travel between an 8 degree and 15 degree board is 1 and 11/16 inches (a little over 4 and a quarter centimeters for those keeping track).  That is the sort of thing that goes through my head when I’m sitting in staff meetings, and that is what is slowly making me insane.

But I digress.  I wanted to know how perceptible such a difference would be, and what impact it might have on my campus performance.  Is it all a wash, with the improved incut of a less-steep board compensating for the greater span?  Or would I suddenly burst through and set new personal bests on a slightly steeper board (heaven forbid I actually get worse).  I resolved to correct the error of my original construction, but to do so would required tearing up half the gym, so I had to wait for the off season.

Removing the interior panels to access the lower joist joints.

Removing the interior panels to access the lower joist joints.

The board is mounted primarily to two 2×6 joists that connect to the main structure of the barn at the floor and ceiling.  The plan was to install a temporary hinge of sorts to the cieling joint, then disconnect the floor joint and “swing” the entire campus board structure up to the desired 15 degree angle.  Easier said than done.

The top of the board was relatively easy to get to, as I never finished installing the interior panel on the east side of the board.  I started by installing  3/8″ bolts in the joists and adjoining rafters at the top of the board to create the “hinge”.  The next step was to remove a seemingly endless series of interior panels to get access to the lower joist joints.  Apparently the entire interior is one long daisy chain, where Panel A can’t be removed without removing Panel B, Panel B can’t be removed without removing Panel C, and so on.  In the end I had to remove 10 interior panels, two exterior panels and miscellaneous trim pieces.  Each Panel averaged around 16 screws, not counting screw-on jibs which I thoughtfully installed right on the studs (meaning they had to be removed to free the panels).

"Hinge" Bolts installed at the top end of the joists.

“Hinge” Bolts installed at the top end of the joists.

Long story short, it was a huge pain, literally and figuratively as I tweaked my back trying to remove one particularly pesky stripped screw.  Eventually I got them all out and was able to swing the board into position with the help of several crow bars and three hammers.  I cut the joists to their new, much shorter length, bolted everything in place, and voila, “installation is the reverse of removal.”

Campus Board Angle After:  I'm sure it was totally worth it!

Campus Board Angle After: I’m sure it was totally worth it!

The final step of this experiment was to test the new board and determine if the steeper angle had any effect on my campus ability.  This project was completed in late November, and as I described in this post, I set a new personal best on this board in January.  I’m not quite ready to give all the credit to the steeper board, but even after my first session on the steeper board it felt like things were a bit easier; I could latch my baseline max ladder more consistently than usual, and seemed like I was getting an extra inch or so of height on the biggest moves.  I also noticed it was a lot easier to press down with the lagging hand. I haven’t noticed any ill-effect of the steeper angle (such as the less-positive rungs making increasing the difficulty).  Long story short, I’m happy with the results and would recommend at least a 15 degree angle to anyone building a board from scratch.  I’m not sure its worth the effort to change the angle of an existing board, unless you’re close to doing 1-5-9 or something and need a bit of extra help 🙂

Campus board installed at the new and improved angle.

Campus board installed at the new and improved angle.

Flight of the Phoenix

In late 2009, my friend Ben Schmitt bolted a typical-looking Shelf Road face climb at Cactus Cliff.  The line climbs a beautiful white wall of limestone, featuring a brutally hard 5-or-so-move crux right in the middle of the wall.  When Ben put the hardware in, I was just finishing off the last of Shelf’s (existing) hardest routes.  I wasn’t really much into establishing routes at that time, and besides that, I didn’t really see any potential.  About a year earlier there was a thread on Mountain Project titled “No Hard Climbing at Shelf Road”, and (ironically) I actually defended that position, noting that (at that time) there were only 9 routes at Shelf harder than 5.13a.  The truth was, the visionaries who kept Shelf relevant through the 80’s and early 90’s had all moved on to greener pastures, and with the discovery of Rifle, few arrived to take their place, so development stalled for 15 years or so, until Ben arrived.

Carnage, my first Shelf Road First Ascent.

Carnage, my first Shelf Road First Ascent.

Ben is probably the most magnanimous and genuine climber I’ve ever met.  He showed me that the question of new-route-potential was simply a matter of perception.  I had to learn to look at these cliffs a little differently.  The following spring I worked and sent what was to become “Carnage”, at the time Shelf’s hardest free route, and the next route right of Ben’s line.  We spent a lot of time hanging out during this process, and he taught me to see Shelf in a new light. 

Ben’s route is a bit of an outlier for hard Shelf lines, in that its not tweaky, thin, or sharp, and doesn’t require especially skilled footwork.  This thing is burly and in your face.  Its something you would expect to find at Rifle’s Winchester Cave, not at Cactus Cliff.  

Ben put in a valiant effort to send the line, but eventually became burnt out by the low-percentage crux, and graciously encouraged me to try it.  I first tried it in 2010 with Ben, but I had other things on my plate, so I didn’t give it a serious effort.  I tried it again at the end of 2011 with my friend Sheldon, but I decided it was too late in the season for such a powerful climb, so I decided to come back early the following season.   In 2012, fresh off 3 weeks of good campusing, I spent three days on it, and made really good progress.  On the third day I tweaked my left ring A2 pulley while warming up on a nearby climb (never crimp a 2-finger pocket!).  The injury didn’t seem like much at the time, and I climbed through it that day, and for another few weeks before I realized I had a major problem on my hands (pun intended!).  I spent the rest of the Spring season, and the entire summer season, rehabbing this injury.

IMG_5389_lo

The line begins up the obvious crack, but then moves slightly right before heading straight up the bulge along the subtle, slightly right-angling seam.

With winter (and therefore, crisp temps at Shelf) rolling around once again, I decided in November to plan my following season around a few leftover projects at Shelf.  Eventually I got back to Cactus in late January.  Honestly, I was quite hesitant to try it, because I was never really sure which route was the primary cause of my finger injury, and I didn’t want to aggravate it.  But its hard for me to resist facing a climb that has shut me down.  All the climbs I’ve failed to master keep me up at night.  I knew I wouldn’t ever be satisfied until I proved to myself that I could climb this route.

The crux bulge is about 15 feet above a sit-down ledge, so there is no pump element to deal with.  The business boils down to executing a huge dyno after completing a succession of committing moves (at least, that’s how my sequence went).  Just by itself, the final dyno is a very low percentage move, but with just enough fatigue to get my hips sagging and sap what little contact strength I have, the move was downright frustrating.  After a few days of work I got to a point where I could hit the dyno 75% of the time off the dog, but climbing into it was another story.  The target hold is actually pretty good; a 2″ deep flat ledge.  But the holds setting up for the dyno are terrible and the feet are basically non-existant.  A quarter inch horizontal foothold anywhere on the wall would make the move trivial, but your feet are right in the bulge where everything is sloping down and into the wall, making it very difficult to generate any momentum from the legs.  Ultimately its a balancing act; trying to push just hard enough with the feet (and in the right direction–into the wall) that they don’t pop off before they’ve generated sufficient velocity.  I probably fell on this move alone a good 40 times off the dog and on redpoint.

Friday was forecast to be 42degF and mostly sunny in Canon City.  Pretty much ideal in my book, as long as we could get there through the snow in Denver.  Perhaps the best part of this process was re-visiting many of the great 5.11 and .12 lines at Cactus.  I got to polish off a number of awesome face climbs I had missed out on the first few times around, especially 14 Carats at The Vault, which climbs an amazing wall with continuous cruxy moves.  With the chilly morning temps, we headed to the far east end of Cactus to warmup and I did a rad little 11a on flawless stone, then Cro-Magnum, a brilliant prow of sinker pockets with a stopper dyno near the top.

Mid-flight on the crux dyno.

Mid-flight on the crux dyno.

Honestly I felt kinda flat, but I’ve noticed through the years that there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the way I “feel” during the warmup and how I perform on my project.  Many times I’ve felt awful or bumbled sequences only to end up sending a long-term project.  For example, the day I sent Scarface I fell on (Lower) Heinous Cling, a 5.12a that I had competely dialed and had sent probably 15 times before (Palo knows what I’m talking about; he was belaying IIRC).  My point being, you should always try, because you never know what might happen.  If you don’t try, you will definitely not succeed.

But I wasn’t very optimistic.  I climbed easily up to the crux, but fell on the second dyno, a short slap to a slippery, sloping sidepull.  Not real inspiring.  I hadn’t fallen that low on the route in my last 8 or so attempts.  For various reasons, this season had stretched out longer than I wanted, and it was starting to seem like my improving familiarity with the route was barely keeping pace with my fading fitness.  After a brief moment of self-pity, I pulled back on and sent through the crux.  Aha!  That was the most linkage I had ever had through the crux boulder problem.  Now I had something I could really believe in.  I brushed the key holds and lowered.  The burn only took about 10 minutes, so I just popped the heels off my shoes and maintained my concentration.  After a relatively short 10 minutes, I headed back up.

Sometimes when you send, everything just flows, and the route suddenly feels easy.  I knew that wouldn’t be the case on this route, ever.  This would be a struggle, no matter how many times I tried it.  The difference would have to be effort and perseverence despite the struggle.  Nothing felt different this time around.  The only difference was that when I arrived below the pivotal move I really believed for the first time that it was possible to stick on redpoint.  Rather than a split-second thought of “prepare to fall”, my mind said “this is possible”.  I wasn’t any less pumped, but when I hit the ledge I refused to let go.  The move is almost a double dyno; the trailing hand is on a miserable sloper, so you have to match very quickly to control the swing.  As I threw my low hand up to match, my right foot popped off, but I was able to get my right hand up before I came off. 

Sticking the crux dyno.

Sticking the crux dyno.

There is one more really iffy move just above the ledge, so I didn’t do any celebrating.  I had never had a chance to really climb into this, so I expected it would feel much harder with a pump.  Surprisingly, I wasn’t pumped at all, so after a brief shake I rocked up onto the ledge a breathed a huge sigh of relief.  20-more feet of relatively trivial face climbing brought me to the chains and the first free ascent of Flight of the Phoenix.  Flight for the big dyno (and my countless wingers there), and Phoenix for my recovery from injury.  Sending this route is like coming full-circle.  The finger is now stronger than it was before the injury, and there is one less route out there to interrupt my sleep!

Now to everyone’s favorite topic: the grade.  This is hands-down the hardest route at Shelf for me, but I really suck at this type of climbing, so I don’t have much confidence in my ability to grade such a route.  Compared to other short 5.14ish climbs I’ve done (like Busload of Faith, Come Home Curly, or Smoke Shapes, all at Sinks), this is much harder.  But those climbs all suit my physical strengths, length notwithstanding (and I think they’re all on the easy side of ‘a).  I’ve heard others suggest the crux of Flight might be V11, but again, I’m really not qualified to grade a boulder problem of this style.  With that in mind, I prefer to be conservative.  I’m certainly open to the opinions of past and future suitors.  It would be awesome to have a harder-than-14a route at Shelf to attract some of Boulder’s superstars down to our humble little limestone cliffs, but I’m certain that will happen eventually regardless.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ben for bolting and invisioning the route, and for showing me what Shelf still has left to offer.  I also want to give a shout out to the various partners that have held the other end of the rope at one time or another on this campaign: Ben, Sheldon, Wes, Logan, Nate and of course Kate, who put up with 30-degree temps and intermittent snow flurries over the last few weeks.  Thanks to all of you!

Campus Training Part 3: Basic Routine

This is part 3 in a three-part series on Campus Training.  If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, please do.   This training is for the thoroughly healthy.  If you have any nagging injuries, particularly finger, elbow or shoulder injuries, DO NOT DO THIS!  There are many different ways to use a campus board; this is just one way, and it happens to work.  Remember that the frequency and rest associated with these workouts is critical to avoiding injury (see Part 2 for details).  Avoid consecutive Campus workouts and take extra rest following each Campus workout.

Now on to the basic routine:

Like any training activity, begin with a thorough warmup.  I like to start with 15 minutes of low intensity ARC-style traversing.  Treat this period like any ARC set, focusing on using good technique and smooth, relaxed movement.  Near the end of this period do some active stretching while still on the wall.

Next do what we will call a “Boulder Ladder” for lack of a better term.  Begin with easy bouldering (starting at V0 or whatever the easiest available problems are).  Complete one to three boulder problems at each V-grade before progressing to the next grade (the number of problems completed at each grade should depend on how many grades you need to step through, with the goal of completing the Ladder in 20 minutes or so).  Continue stepping up the Ladder until you reach your typical boulder flash level.  The goal is to do each problem first try, but if you fall off, feel free to repeat the problem or move to another problem of the same grade.  The goal is NOT to get entrenched in an epic project.  Take typical rest periods between problems, which varies between climbers.  If you rest a lot between problems, the set may take more than 20 minutes.  That is ok, this is not a race.  By the end you should have completed between 10 – 15 problems of increasing difficulty.

The final warmup activity is 15-30 minutes of limit bouldering (again, the duration will depend on how long you rest and your level of fatigue.  For me, if I spend more than 50 minutes from the beginning of my ARC traverse to the end of my limit bouldering, my Campus workout will suffer, YMMV).  Pick 2-3 problems that you cannot flash and work them for 5-10 minutes each.  These problems should be right at your limit (in other words, avoid problems you can do 2nd or 3rd try), and they should be powerful, with one or two REALLY hard moves that you can’t do (as opposed to 10 consecutive pretty hard moves that result in a pump-managment challenge).  Its easy to get side-tracked during this activity, so keep your eye on the clock and stay focused on the big picture.  Once completed, take a good 5-10 minute break, get some water, then get ready to rage.

Record all of your Campus sets in a logsheet like the one shown here.  Note that I’ve also included details on my warmup activites.

Begin with a few sets of “easy” campusing (an oxymoron, I know).  Starting with the largest set of rungs, do a “Warmup Ladder” up the board at a comfortable interval (12″ for me), then jump down.  Repeat leading with the opposite hand.  Do the same set of ladders on the medium rungs, then the small rungs, with 1-2 minutes rest between sets.  If you aren’t strong enough yet for the small (or medium) rungs, skip those sets, but do the remainder of the workout on the smallest set of rungs you are strong-enough to use.

Next do 8-16 sets of “Max Ladders” on the smallest rungs you can, alternating your leading hand, resting ~1-2 minutes between sets.  As I mentioned in Part 2, I only recommend really pursuing 1 or 2 Campus Exercises, and this is my favorite.  This is the most basic movement, the most specific to rock climbing and the best for isolating individual hands.  My first two sets usually entail a ladder I can reliably do every time (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12, leading with each hand) , then the rest of the sets are spent pushing the envelope to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13).  If I succeed and still have training budget available, I try to push to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 or B1-L8-R14-B14) and/or work a variation that will set me up for the next increment (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L8-R13-B13, which is slightly harder for me than B1-L7-R13-B-13). 

Once I feel I’ve stopped making progress on Max Ladders (stagnating or regressing after 2-3 tries on a given movement.), I move to Double Dynos.  Double Dynos should take less than half the time as Max Ladders since you don’t need to alternate leading hands.  Considering they are far less specific, I further skew my effort in favor of max ladders.  I like these for several reasons.  First, they really accentuate the eccentric/concentric contractions required of plyometric training.  Also since you loose contact with the board I think they are great for developing spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination at high speeds.  Additionally, any movement involving a stationary hand will benefit from whatever lock-off strength the stationary hand can contribute, while also increasing the time available to latch the high hold.  Doubles eliminate that lock-off component while also keeping the latch period nice and short, thus encouraging the cultivation of good contact strength.  Finally, I think they require higher arousel and commitment than max ladders, making them good for developing the type of aggressive attitude that is helpful for powerful climbing.  Note that with Doubles, one could argue the second movement is somewhat redundant.  However, if the first and second moves are done in a continuous movement the mid-point requires the ideal plyometric movement of catching the rung and immediately springing back upwards.

The rest intervals are really important.  You need to be able to move explosively for Campus Training to be effective.  There really is no such thing as too much rest for this type of activity, so rest as long as you need to be at your very best when executing each set.  I find that 90 seconds is about perfect for me.  Once you start to feel fatigued, end the workout.  At that point you are only courting injury and no longer improving your power.

The entire workout by set:

Key: B=Both Hands, L = Left hand, R = Right Hand, number indicates Rung Number
Note that my Small Rungs are spaced 4″ on center, as prescribed here  These ladders are what I am capable of, but your ladders will differ based on your ability and body size.  These are only meant to be an example.

Warmup (Basic Ladders, alternate leading with each hand):
Set 1: Large rungs, B1-L2-R3-L4-R5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Left Hand)
Set 2: Large rungs, B1-R2-L3-R4-L5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Right Hand)
Set 3: Medium Rungs, B1-L3-R5-L7-R9-B9
Set 4: Medium Rungs, B1-R3-L5-R7-L9-B9
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-L4-R7-L10-R13-B13
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-R4-L7-R10-L13-B13

Max Ladders:
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L12-B12
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13 (attempt) 
Set 4: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L13-B13 (attempt)
Set 5-10: Repeat Sets 3&4 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand
Set 11: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 3 Ladder; may also try B1-L8-R14-B14, etc)
Set 12: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 4 Ladder)
Set 13-16: Repeat Sets 11&12 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand, or until progress stops

Double Dynos:
(mini-warmup)
Set 1: Large Rungs, B1-B2-B3-B4-B5
Set 2: Medium Rungs, B1-B3-B5-B7-B9
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B4-B7-B10-B13
(max Double Dynos)
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-B6-B11
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-B7-B13 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B8-B13 or 14 or 15 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-B9
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-B10 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)

End each exercise when performance begins to regress, then complete your core exercise of choice.  The campus portion of my workout typically last no more than 40 minutes (with sets performed on 90-second intervals).

Campus Training Part 2: Frequency & Exercise Overview

This is part 2 in a three-part series on Campus Training.  If you haven’t read Part 1, please do.

Frequency & Rest

The next order of business is to discuss frequency.  Of all training activities, this one has the highest Gab-to-Grab ratio of them all.  That is, far more time is spent talking about Campusing than actually doing it, and that is how it should be.  This training is used sparingly because it is extremely high intensity, and has very limited specificity to rock climbing compared to other mutually exclusive activities like limit bouldering.  In other words, limit bouldering offers a lot more upside than Campusing, and its not safe to do large amounts of both, so err on the side of too much limit bouldering.  Personally, I dedicate about 5 minutes of training time to bouldering for every minute of Campusing (and that doesn’t even account for the fact that every minute of “campusing” really only entails about 5 seconds of contact with the Campus board).  My typical Max R phase will last 3-4 weeks, and entail alternating workouts focused on Campusing and Limit Bouldering.  An outdoor, power-focused climbing day would usually count as a “limit bouldering” day.  Every campus workout is followed by two full rest days (i.e. 70 hours of rest). 

I will pretty much never do more than 5 Campus workouts in a given training cycle.  In my experience, absolute campus power will begin to wane around the 4th-5th workout, although actual bouldering ability should continue to improve as other factors (like movement skills & core strength) improve.  Once I stop improving on the Campus Board I move on to other things.  The schedule will inevitably vary somewhat based on specific climbing goals, targets of opportunity (three-day weekends), etc.

Campus Exercises

There are many different ways to use a Campus Board, and its likely new exercises are invented all the time.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but I included every exercise I’ve tried.  If you know of something worthwhile that is missing, please describe the exercise in a comment.  Campusing should only be done in an open-hand or half crimp (Index and Pinkie straight, Middle & Ring bent ~90degress at the big knuckle) grip position.  Do not campus with a closed crimp grip.

Just about any of the Campus exercises described below can theoretically be done in both directions, that is, going up the board and going down.  Theoretically going down will produce more dramatic results, but also increases injury risk significantly.  Its also possible to do both in a single continuous movement (as described in the discussion about  plyometrics).  Personally, I’m not a big fan of going down, as it completely eliminates what little specificity exists in Campus training, and it just feels really dangerous.  But if you find yourself unreasonably healthy and you need that last little bit of power to complete an extremely valued goal, you might consider adding some limited down-campusing.

Note all of these exercises are shown in the video if you just want to cut to the chase….

-“Basic Ladders”: Go up the board one rung at a time, alternating hands, hitting every rung until you reach the top.  This can also be donw with a match between movements if the basica ladder is too strenuous.

-“Max Ladders”: Go up the board alternating hands, skipping as many rungs as possible.  The ultimate goal is to increase the distance between the first and last rung. 

-“Max 1st Move”: Start matched on the first rung and go as high as you can stick with one hand.

-“Go-Agains”: AKA “Bumps”, do the first Max Ladder move, then continue “bumping” the high hand one rung at a time until failure.

-“Touches”: As for the first move of a Max Ladder, but instead of latching the high rung, simply touch the rung, then ‘fall slowly’ back onto the starting rung. 

-“Double-Dynos”: (AKA “Doubles”) Move both hands at the same time in matched fashion, so for each movement your body has no contact with the board. 

-“Up-Down-Up”: This is a more advanced plyometric version of the other exercises, and is usually done with a Double Dyno, but could also be done with one hand fixed if Doubles are too hard (as for Max Ladders).  Begin by Campusing up a set increment of rungs, then down a set increment (with the same hand or matched hands).  When you latch the lower rung explode back up (trying to make the down and up portion one continuous movement). 

-“Typewriters”:  Begin with hands matched on the left (or right) end of your campus board.  Bump your right (or left if starting on the right end of the board) hand as far right as you can, without going up the board.  Continue bumping your right hand right until you run out of real estate or are about to fall off, then match your left hand next to your right. 

Demonstration of Campus Exercises.  It may help to view thise several times.  Never do all of these in one workout (unless you’re filming a video for your Training Blog)

Now that I’ve described a plethora of exercises, let me contradict myself.  I think a big mistake lots of people make is that they try to do too many different types of movements on the campus board.  In my opinion there just isn’t enough training time available to properly work all of these areas.  If you try to fit all this stuff in you will consume your entire time allotment just doing each activity once (leading with each hand).  That doesn’t allow any time to actually repeat a movement.  How can one expect to get better at a movement if they only do it once?  I describe all these exercises because they might help you overcome a specific weakness, but I would not recommend that any one person do all of them.  Tune in next week to find out which ones I think are really worth investing serious time in….

Campus Training Part 1: History, Theory & Campus Board Construction

This is Part 1 of a 3 part mini-series on Campus Training.  Check back for the rest of the story in the near future.

Gullich going big on the original Campus Board. Note how low his left hand is!

The legend of the original Campus Board is well-known and often re-told, not unlike the Epic tales of the ancient Greeks.  The incomparable Wolfgang Gullich installed the first board at a Nurnberg gym known as “The Campus Centre” to help elevate his finger strength to levels that could only be described as “futuristic”.  The board consists of a ladder of finger edges, and the training method is to move dynamically between these edges with feet dangling.

The concept behind the Campus Board is to apply methods of “Plyometric Training” in a manner that is specific to rock climbers.  Plyometrics have been around for a while, originally developed by Soviet Track & Field coaches in the 1960s to help train explosive power in their athletes.  Early plyometrics involved activities like jumping off a high surface, landing on a lower surface and immediately springing back up to the original height.  Theoretically the landing causes an involuntary eccentric contraction in the leg muscles which must be immediately converted to a concentric contraction in a very short period of time.  This type of training is still widely regarded as the best method for improving explosive power.  Gullich’s visionary adaptation of these concepts proved to be the key to his ground-breaking ascent of Action Directe in 1991, amazingly still one of the hardest routes in the world.

Gullich mono-campusing on his opus, “Action Directe”

Considering that (simplistically speaking) Power equals Force divided by Time, there are two key reasons Plyometric Training is effective at developing explosive power.  While it helps increase muscle fiber recruitment (key to maximizing the force element of the equation), there are many ways to increase recruitment some of which are likely more effective.  What sets plyometrics apart is the dynamic aspect of the training, which helps train muscle fibers to contract more quickly, allowing us to generate high levels of force in short order.  The obvious application to climbers is to use plyometrics to improve “contact strength” (if you’re unclear on the definition, read this), the key to performing difficult dynamic climbing moves (and often the key to success on hard routes or boulder problems). 

As with classic Plyometric training, the act of latching a difficult dynamic move entails a short period of eccentric contraction in the forearm muscles followed by an immediate concentric contraction to achieve the desired isometric grip position.

In addition to the pure strength benefits of Campus Training, this method is very helpful for improving the inter-muscular coordination required for good “accuracy” in dynamic movements.  The more you practice dynoing or campusing, the better your brain gets at aiming for holds. In a few sessions I can pretty quickly get to a point where I’m basically deadpointing every campus move, which makes the moves much easier. This accuracy translates directly to the rock, although on rock, every move is different, so your accuracy on an onsight will likely never be perfect, but it should improve over time.  The more you practice dynamic movements, the better your body & mind get at remembering those types of movements, meaning you should find yourself better able to “dial” dynamic moves on your projects over time.

Consistent Campus Training will greatly improve your muscular coordination, key for moves requiring tremendous accuracy like this dyno to a mono pocket

Finally, its well known that some climbers just don’t do well on dynamic moves.  This could be due to a general lack of aggression or a strong desire to remain “in control” on the rock.  Campusing can work wonders with these issues.  By encouraging aggressive and committing movement in a low-risk environment, climbers can overcome years of overly static movement after only a handful of short campus sessions.

With all the many great things Campusing has to offer, its worth noting the downsides.  First, there is no doubt that campusing is much harder on the joints than other methods of recruitment training such as hangboarding.  Campusing is by its very nature somewhat wild and out of control.  With a hangboard you can dial-down the intensity at will, and let go the moment things get uncomfortable.  Often in campusing (or dynoing in general) the only sign of injury comes after its too late.  For that reason, its critical to minimize the amount of time dedicated to the Campus Board, and ensure that you are 100% injury free before beginning any campus activities.  Elbows are particularly at risk, but shoulders and fingers need to be healthy as well.

Hopefully your board looks something like this, or perhaps even better. From left to right the board has “Large”, “Small” and “Medium” rungs.

Now that you’re all psyched to get campusing, you just need get yourself a Campus Board.  Ideally you have a local gym with an acceptable board.  The board needs to be in good shape, with a large quantity of smooth “rungs” of uniform size and shape, spaced at short intervals (around 3-4″).  Many boards have way too few rungs.  The result is climbers quickly progress to whatever is near their limit, then its pretty much impossible to improve any further because the next increment of progression is too great.  The legendary Ben Moon has popularized the spacing of his board (22cm intervals), which is famous for the “1-5-9” ladder.  This spacing is way too big!  Someone like me can do 1-4-7 on Moon spacing, but I would have no prayer of doing 1-5-9.  So I would be forced to do something that is too easy to be at my limit.  Some day I may be able to do 1-5-9, but I won’t get there by repeatedly doing 1-4-7.

Another common problem is boards that mix different sizes and shapes of rungs on the same ladder.  This causes the same problem as a board with too few rungs.  The board should be ~15 degrees overhanging, and free-hanging to allow your feet and legs to swing around without dabbing on nearby walls.  If you don’t have access to a good campus board and you want to build your own, I highly recommend wooden Campus Rungs like these.  For some great tips on building your board, check out this guide.  You don’t necessarily need all three sizes of rungs–at this point I have no use for the Large rungs and only use the Medium rungs for warming up.  Finally, the rungs need to be numbered so that you can record and track your training.

Look for much more on how to get the most out of the Campus Board in the next few weeks….

Contact Strength, Max Recruitment, & Power Training

‘Contact Strength’, ‘Max Recruitment’ and ‘Power’ are terms used often by climbers in training, but their actual meanings and inter-relationships can be somewhat ambiguous.  As the first in a mult-part series on the subjuect, this post will attempt to clarify these terms and explain precisely what they mean for Performance Climbers. 

Skeletal muscle is composed of many individual muscle fibers, and they don’t always work in unison.

Each muscle in the body is composed of a multitude of individual muscle fibers.  When your muscle completes a contraction, not all of these muscle fibers are contributing to that contraction in a useful way.  Some fibers may contract at the wrong time, or too slowly to be effective, some may not contract at all.  Some of this is accidental, but some is intentional.  Individual fibers cannot sustain a contraction over a “long” period of time.  Any sustained muscular contraction is achieved by alternating the brief contractions of individual fibers (allowing some to rest while others are working).  This has obvious advantages to endurance athletes, but is problemmatic for those seeking to produce the greatest amount of force for a single, short burst of effort.

Max Recruitment Training is all about maximizing the amount and effectiveness of muscle fiber contractions for a single effort.  This is done in part by increasing the number of active fibers during a contraction.  The goal for climbers training Max R is to increase the ability to generate maximum force to execute one ridiculously hard move.  Of course, most of the time ‘ridiculously hard’ moves are atleast somewhat dynamic, which brings us to an oft used (and mis-used) term in performance climbing, “Contact Strength”. 

Contact Strength: if you can’t generate high force quickly, you won’t be able to ‘stick it’.

Contact Strength is a widely confusing term, so let me spell out my definition.  When you grasp a hold, your muscles do not exert peak force on the hold immediately. It takes “a while” (on the order of a tenth of a second in some human muscles*) for your muscles to generate maximum force. “Contact strength” is basically the amount of force you can generate during the period of initial contact with the hold.  This is critical to climbers executing a dyno, because you need that force to ramp up as quickly as possible, during the brief instant when your fingers are still in contact with the hold you are dynoing for. 

You’ve probably heard of “fast twitch” and “Slow twitch” muscle fibers, each designed to be more effective in different types of contractions.  Slow Twitch fibers are more dense with capillaries, allowing them to sustain areobic activites, but they take about three times as long to contract as “Fast Twitch” fibers.  On the flip side, Fast Twitch fibers are unable to sustain long efforts.  Fortunately for the “tortoise” climbers out there, some slow twitch fibers can be trained to behave more like fast twitch fibers (trained to contract more quickly).

A highly magnified cross cection of muscle tissue showing three muscle fiber types. Type 1 are “Slow Twitch” (the most common type), Type IIB or IIX are “Fast Twitch”. Type IIA fibers have attributes of both fast and slow twitch, and can be trained to behave somewhat like either.

However, true “max Recruitment” training in the weight-lifting sense doesn’t necessarily train the speed element of a contraction, but rather the maximum generation of force independent of time.  A weight lifter looking to max out his deadlift can tug and scream for half a second before the barbell actually lifts off the floor.  This can be true of hard climbing moves as well, as in the first hard move pulling off the ground or off a good stance, but in my experience the vast majority of crux moves must be executed dynamically.  So climbers need to find a way to train Max Recruitment that also helps to improve contact strength.  For this reason, it would probably be more correct to say that climbers can benefit from “Power Training” vice “Max Recruitment”, but since Power is a subset of Max R, both are relevant to climbers, its simply a matter of determining the best use of limit training opportunities.

Here are some general descriptions of a few climbing-specific activities that will help train Power or Max R in the climbing muscles without eschewing other key aspects of climbing training: 

Limit Bouldering: Pretty simple, bouldering right at your limit.  The key is to do problems that emphasize one or two REALLY hard moves, rather than problems that entail 6-8 pretty hard moves.  Remember, we want a small number of reps at very high intensity.  Bouldering at a lower intensity is fun and can have other training benefits, but to get Max R improvements, the moves need to be WAY HARD!  To get an additional power training effect, emphasize hard dynamic moves.

A good limit boulder problem will emphasize 1-2 really hard moves

Pros:

  • Very sport specific
  • Trains entire body (finger strength and core)
  • Trains movement elements
  • Can be done outside
  • Way more fun & social than any of the other options!

Cons:

  • Difficult to quantify intensity for purposes of tracking from season to season, can be alleviated with private wall or visiting outdoor boulder crags
  • Difficult to isolate specific muscle groups (may be limited by core strength, etc). Can be alleviated with routesetting privileges
  • Relatively uncontrolled, can lead to increased injury risk
  • More susceptable to external influences (peer pressure, projects at the whim of your gym’s routesetters, confusion between training & performance (desire to send training problem encourages unwise behavior))

Campus Training: This dynamic style of training involves footless dynos between like holds, and is probably the best method of pure power training available to climbers.  Look for some in-depth discussion on this in the coming weeks.

Pros:

  • Easy to quantify
  • Easy to isolate finger strength
  • Best for improving dynamic accuracy & confidence
  • Perhaps the best method for improving “contact strength”

Cons:

  • Higher than normal risk of aggravating elbows/shoulders
  • Depending on setup, can be difficult to progress
  • Not as specific to rock climbing as Limit Bouldering
  • Little movement training involved (although it does require some coordination, these movements aren’t very specific and not sufficiently varied)
  • Can be painful/hard on the skin
  • Requires special equipment (a campus board)

Hangboard Training: A hangboard can be used for any type of muscular training, its just a matter of varying the number and duration of reps and sets to achieve the desired goal.  Max R training on a hangboard would involve 2-3 sets of 1-3 reps of a short duration (5 seconds or less) for each grip position.

Pros:

  • Easy to quantify
  • Easy to isolate finger strength
  • Can be done without access to crag or gym

Cons:

  • Not very specific
  • Little to no dynamic component, which is key to Power Training/contact strength
  • No movement training benefits
  • Monotonous (after 4 weeks of Hypertrophy training on the hangboard, do you really want to do another few weeks of Max R on the hangboard?)

What’s my favorite?  I’ve never used a hangboard for Max R training, and I have no plans to, but I could see the benefits if you didn’t have access to a good campus board or bouldering facility.  Unfortunately the lack of a dynamic element is a significant disadvantage.  I think both Limit Bouldering and Campusing have their place, but I favor Limit Bouldering because of the benefits of training movement and the entire body system all at once.  In the next few posts I will go into much more detail on Campus training and how it should be integrated with Limit Bouldering into your training plan.

Training Intensity

Intensity is simply a matter of how much effort you put into a given training activity.  In other words, how “hard” you are trying.  You may already be performing the prefect training activity, but if the intensity is wrong, you won’t get the proper results.  After observing many climbers in their natural habitat its clear that intensity levels vary greatly between climbers.  Unlike pure aerobic sports (where a good heart rate monitor or power meter can do the trick), intensity in climbing is difficult to quantify, which makes it very difficult to prescribe.  It also makes it very hard to get accurate feedback as to whether the proper intensity has been applied. 

However, finding the proper intensity for each training activity is vital.  It is absolutely possible to follow a precise training plan and see few results if the intensity is wrong.  There are two primary culprits, the first and most obvious being that many people just plain don’t know how much effort to apply (and many don’t realize how much effort they are truly capable of).  That is primarily what I would like to address in this post.

Applying the proper intensity during a hangboard session.

 
Its worth noting there is a potential to apply too much intensity, especially when recovering from injury, but in my experience the opposite problem is far more common, particularly among folks that came to the sport of climbing without much background in other organized sports.  If you’ve never really pushed your body to the limit you will have trouble knowing just how much effort to put into a workout.  Not all pain is bad, and its worth discovering the difference.  If you have access to an actual coach, it may be worth the money to have them assess your training intensity in real-time, but most of us will end up figuring it out on our own.

Determining the ideal intensity is somewhat personal and will take some trial and error for each athlete to get it dialed in, but here are some starting points for various activities to get you headed in the right direction:

– Local Endurance Training: AKA “ARC” or “CIR”, the earmark of this training is its LOW intensity.  Sounds simple, but this can be one of the most difficult to gauge correctly.  Even if you find the right intensity, it can be difficult to keep it up for the long set lengths involved (routinely greater than 30 minutes).  The danger of too much intensity is that the effort will become anaerobic, theoretically producing different results than those desired.  In my experience most climbers err on the side of too little intensity and I think this is a mistake.  These workouts should not be effortless; try to push yourself by climbing on steeper terrain or avoiding the best holds.  Avoid vertical (or slabby) terrain and any hands-free rest stances.  If you have a heart-rate monitor you might try using it for these workouts to establish a baseline, but don’t assume it will correlate to big-muscle aerobic exercises like running or swimming.  If you struggle with finding the right terrain, consider a “Fartlek” style workout, by alternating between periods (Say, 5 minutes or so) of more intense and less intense climbing.  Varying the intensity will allow you to give more focus during the intense period and relax a bit or hone technique during the easier interval.  During a typical ARC workout, I will keep a pretty good sweat going and will be breathing steadily as you would for a moderate-intensity run or bike ride.

– Movement Technique Training:  Most technique training should be done in the low intensity range.  When new techniques are introduced, the intensity should be very low, but eventually you will need to increase the intensity to “stress-proof” your technique.  At some point you will find yourself using these new skills on a limit-level boulder problem or redpoint crux, but you can’t consider yourself a master until you are routinely applying the technique while onsighting at your limit.  Usually in such a scenario the intensity will be very high.

– Hypertrophy and/or Muscular Strength Training:  This phase can be tricky because its not black or white.  Let’s assume that we are following a strength building regimen that involves different “exercises”, each with multiple “sets” of a varying number of “reps”.  Each individual “exercise” should be done to failure or very near failure, implying 100% intensity.  However, it is unlikely you can achieve failure at the last rep of the last set if you give 100% intensity to each prior rep.  Generally your intensity should ramp up as you work through the sets.  I generally use 3 sets for a given exercise, so the first set will be around 80% intensity.  Not “easy”, requiring attention, but completely in control.  I will be fatigued at the end, but I could do more reps if I wanted to.  By the third set, I will be breathing heavily, perhaps trembling a bit, my form will just be starting to suffer and I will be giving 100%.  For a 5 rep set, by the 3rd rep or so I will have doubts about my ability to complete the set.  By the end of the 5th rep I will just about be sliding off the hold.  If you’re a screamer, you should be screaming on the 4th & 5th reps.  The second set will be somwehere in the middle, starting out controlled and perhaps relatively casual, but will feel very difficult by the end of the set.  If this doesn’t sound familiar, increase the resistance until your experience is similar.  If you are applying the proper intensity, you won’t be able to handle much more than 20 total sets in a single workout (i.e., 7 exercises with 3 sets each).

– Power/Max Recruitment Training:  This one is pretty simple on paper; give 100% or more to each set, once you are properly warmed up (if campusing, your warm-up should inlcude some low, then moderate intensity campusing), then rest however long you need to be able to give 100% again.  The tricky part is summoning 100% intensity for a 5-10 second effort.  In my experience that is easier to do during a progressive strength training or power endurance routine, where you can gradually dial up the intensity over several minutes.  In a true Power scenario, you will need to summon that intensity very quickly.  A gradual warmup can help with this, as well as learning how to tap into elevated states of arousel.  The cliff notes version: screaming, boisterous encouragement, and aggressive breathing can all help with arousel.  Fortunately dynoing can be painful if you aren’t very accurate, and pain will help stimulate arousel as well.  Succeeding on every set is a good sign that the intensity is too low.  If you’re really attempting the most powerful movements, you should be failing most of the time.  Another indicator is number of movements in a single set.  True Power or Max Recruitment should trend toward a single extreme movement, but certainly no more than five.  In my experience after three movements you can’t really give anything more of value.  If you’re doing more than that, and they’re all ‘hard’ moves, then the workout is not  really  targeting Max Recruitment.  As for warming up, while its important to be thorough, be careful not to waste all of your power during your warmup.  Power is the first thing to fade during a workout so experiment with different warmup lengths and keep track of what works best (I’ve seen  a clear decline in performance when my warmup last more than 45 minutes).  Finally, once the warmup is over, there are no easy campus sets.  If you can’t give 100% effort then the workout is over.  Move on to something else or save it for antoher day.

In this example, only the 2nd movement is truly at my limit, the others being mostly window dressing.  I’m not a grunter, but I did grunt spointaneously during the hard move.

– Power Endurance Training:  Similar to Hypertrophy, PE workouts should begin in control but get progressively more intense to the point where you can just barely finish.  Near the end of the last set, my motor skills will be totall shot, and I’ll have to swing my feet to get them from hold to hold; every hand movement will become a dyno.  At the end of my best PE workouts I literally feel like vomitting and passing out (not necessarily in that order).  My breathing is completely out of control, on the verge of hyperventillating, and I can’t stand up unsupported.  My forearms are totally pumped; not only can I not squeeze anything, I can’t relax my grip either.  When I go to record my effort, its difficult to write because my hands are shaking.  Unless its extremely cold, I’m dripping with sweat.  Some plans suggest taking a 10-15 minute break and then repeating the workout.  There is no way I could do this, and in my opinion if you can, then the intensity is too low for PE (but it would make for great stamina training). 

– Rest:  A bit tongue-in-cheek, but many climbers aren’t very good at resting.  Proper rest will probably take some effort.  Digging a trench, building a retaining wall, running a marathon; these are not rest activities.  Plan to do basically nothing for at least a week, and take it easy on your fingers for the entire rest period, or add anditional rest time once the retaining wall is finished.
Beyond an understandable lack of knowledge, the second most common cause of improper intensity is a simple lack of effort in one form or another.  This is usually not caused by laziness, but a number of other possible causes including  external distractions during the workout time, unexpected interruptions, general fatigue from overtraining or lack of sleep, and other factors that culminate in a gneral lack of focus on the task at hand.

At the end of the day, you’re unlikely to get much out of your training program if you’re just going through the motions.  I’ve found myself in this position on many occasions.  If you’re scratching your head after a season of ho-hum results, think hard about the effort you put into your training.  Were you giving it 100% (when 100% effort was called for), or were you mailing it in through your Hypertrophy phase, just counting the workouts until you could start bouldering again?  Did you save some strength for the Campus Board during you Max Recruitment phase, or did you blow all your power during your so-called warmup? 

Most of us have a large resorvoir of desire and are able to access it when needed*, but focus and attention are not so easy to maintain.  The majority of my own sub-par efforts stem from a lack of focus or attention when the opposite was required.  Fortunately this can be simple to correct once you learn how.  Look for more on this topic in the near future….

(*If you routinely find yourself struggling to muster the desire to give it your best effort, check out some of my tips on motivation here.)

Q&A #2: Training at the Crag

This is a quick post to answer a pair of questions I received here.

Scotty O. wrote:

“I recently moved back to Bend, OR (and Smith Rock!) where I began my climbing career. I moved from Colorado where I climbed Rifle almost exclusively. After a Fall of screaming forearms, I focused on training my severely lacking endurance over the winter. The gains I noticed this Spring were HUGE and I began to cross Rifle and Maple endurance-fests off my list quickly.

Now that I’m back at Smith Rock, I rarely feel pumped on a route, but find myself falling off more powerful/bouldery cruxes. What can I do to overcome this and balance out my power? What can I do to keep my endurance up while I’m here? I’m not opposed to sessions in the gym, but I would rather maximize my time here at Smith and maybe reserve some days at the crag strictly for training and mileage…”

Thanks for the questions Scotty,

Nothing beats bouldering if you want to build power while climbing on real rock.  Smith has some bouldering, but it tends to be pretty miserable due to the freakishly sharp stone.  As a great compromise, I would highly recommend “roped bouldering”.  In many ways this can be even more effective than real bouldering, as usually the fall consequence is less serious.  The flip side is that it works best with a dedicated partner (although it can be done solo with a rope soloing device and much gear fiddling).  The procedure is simple: find a route with a boulder-problem crux, get a rope on it (preferably toprope through the next highest bolt above the crux) and work the boulder problem repeatedly off the dog.  I find it more motivating to pick a route I’m actually interested in redpointing at some point later in the season.  If you plan to spend a long time on your bouldering sessions, be considerate and pick a route that isn’t super popular, or save it for a weekday.

Smith has a number of great ‘shorties’ that can make for a great boulder project.

If you prefer to actually have a shot at sending something, another option is to pick a really short route.  These routes need love too, and they tend to pack a wallop relative to their grade.  Smith has a number of great mini-routes that could equally be described as extended boulder problems.  Heresy, Da Kine Corner, Energy Crisis, Mothers Milk and Jam Master J are only a few examples.  Remember to get a decent power workout you need to do it while you’re fresh, so do it first thing after a complete warm up.

As for your second question, consider doing “laps” on a pumpy route you know well.  This is a popular past-time for the Smith locals–I’m sure you’ve seen them lapping Churning in the Wake as the sun sets at the end of a long day.  Ideally you would select a pumpy route without much rest (and certainly no hands-free rests; or skip any such rests), and a route you know fairly well.  At Smith another consideration is to find a route that isn’t super sharp (good luck with that!).  Some good choices off the top of my head might be Magic Light, Overboard, Heinous Cling (short or long version), the aforementioned Churning, Aggro Monkey or Scarface.  Obviously its key to find the right difficulty, probably around 1 number grade below your redpoint limit (or just about equal to your onsight limit).  Climb the route from bottom to top, then lower, rest 3-5 minutes (keep track of your rest interval and keep it consistent), then repeat.  Try to do 3-5 laps, building up progressively by reducing the rest interval and increasing the number of laps from workout to workout.   If it becomes trivial, move to a harder route.  If you fall off, try to pull back on and continue  Climb at a normal pace, but don’t milk any really good rests.

Good luck and enjoy the great routes at Smith!

Strongman Fred hucking a lap on Churning