Since I returned from Spain my goal has been to get strong again, stronger than I’ve ever been before. There are a number of climbs in the county that I’m keen to get on before I leave again, so far the weather hasn’t been playing along but there’s a week or so left so there’s a chance I’ll be able to have a play on a few of them. I’ve been capitalizing on the quality climbing (wall) conditions and have noticed significant improvements, in just a few weeks. Here’s how.
I picked three key areas that are crucial to being able to do hard moves. Fingers, power, and core. Its not ideal to train all these things at once, and it should be noted that if I had more time I would have focused on each one separately, whilst not entirely neglecting the others, for a period of time. When training these areas my goal was to get strong remember, so that meant very high intensity with plenty of rest. Rest is vital. Fatigue should not be part of high intensity sessions, but I have included some slightly higher volume sessions on the fingerboard and at the climbing wall in order to build a base of strength on which max strength can be built.
These can be trained to a ridiculous percentage of their original strength, and even if you think you have strong fingers it is certain that they can be made even stronger. Think of that problem you’re falling off; if the holds were jugs you’d do it. Fingers. Fingerboarding is the way to get strong fingers, and I like to split these into two types of sessions: repeaters and max hangs.
Repeaters: 3 sets. 6 or 7 grips per set. 1 minute of 7 seconds hanging, 3 seconds rest per grip. 2 and a half minutes rest between grips, and 6 minutes between sets. That’s your basic structure, tweak it as necessary. You should aim to have the intensity such that you fail on the last second of each minute. These is the grip types I have been using on the beastmaker 2000:
30 minute progressive warmup.
Half crimp on 15mm rung – I find 4 finger too easy, but 3 too hard, so I alternate one hand with 3 fingers the other 4.
Slopers – again, I find the 35’s too easy and the 45’s too hard. I used to use 3 fingers on the 35 to make it harder, now I use hand on the 35 and one hand on the 45’s, but use my thumb and nestle my index against the crease to make it possible. Just.
3 finger drag on 15mm rung
Half crimp again – I feel like this is one of my weaker grips and is used often in climbing which is why I do it twice
Middle 2 small pockets
Back 2 – one hand in back 2 pocket, one hand in medium pocket
front 2 small pockets
I find this session bloody hard and fail a bit more than I should. But with the easier version of this session I was doing I wasn’t failing enough. This type of session will give you a good base of finger strength, and is far enough off max to be relatively safe, but you must still be careful.
Max Hangs: If you want to develop maximum strength then this is the way to do it. I’m still tweaking this session, but the general idea is that you pick about 5 grips that you find very hard, these often have to be one handed to make them hard enough; you should only be able to hang for 3-5 seconds. Do this 4 or 5 times for each grip with 90-120 seconds rest between hangs. It won’t feel like you need this much rest because you won’t feel it, but its essential. It will take a few sessions before you find the right grips for you so experiment a bit.
Next up is power. Your ability to make extremely hard moves. I’ve found the best way to train this is by using a steep board, ideally 45 degrees overhanging. There’s a couple very effective sessions you can do to train this.
Max moves: Make up 5 or 6 very hard moves, each with a symmetrical twin. You don’t have to have a mirrored board to do this, but it helps. Make moves which train different areas. Try and do each move 3 times on each side with as much rest as is necessary, I find a couple minutes between attempts is about right. You WILL fail in this session, if you’re not then the moves are too easy. I found that at first I couldn’t complete any of the moves, I could tap or almost hold some of the final holds, some I was miles off. Now I can do about 2/3 of them at least once in the 3 attempts. I’m thinking about adding weight or tweaking them to keep them hard enough. I won’t describe each move here as it would take too long, but they use a variety of grip types and are of varying sizes, in some the movement itself is hard, others holding the lower hand is hardest, and others sticking the final hold or keeping tension is the crux. I found that substantial gains were made by just trying to hold the lower hold with a foot on; pull on with both hands and let go with one, hold it as long as possible. You’ll probably feel like you just fell off and didn’t do anything, but this is a great way to get maximum recruitment.
Hypergravity bouldering: This is bouldering with weight added in a weight vest ideally, a backpack with a weight in works well, as does a harness with weights hung off it. I normally add 5kg, it makes a big difference. In these sessions I work through the moderate – tricky problems on the board and try and repeat as many of them as I can, focusing on keeping tension as the weight can pull you out easily. I don’t tend to try absolute max problems with weight because the stimulus would be incomplete, you’d be better off trying to lock off the first hold of the move to get maximum recruitment, rather than actually trying the move.
The missing link for me. I’d never trained this much before but have come to realise how important it is, especially in gaining full body power so you can crush the holds out of the angles. I have been mixing in some arm work to these sessions to get a bit of burl, something I lack. I have been doing 2 full sets, each set comprised of both core and arm exercises alternated, this means there’s very little time when you’re standing around resting. I tend to do 5-7 reps of each exercise, and also do 10×1 minute efforts made up of 5 pull ups, 5 press ups, 5 legs draws (like like raises but you keep your legs at about 120 degrees and pull your knees up to your stomach or chest if you’re a beast).
Core exercises include: leg raises, attempts at front levers, side levers (can be seen in this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=H0vOH_XGWFU), roll outs on an exercise ball, walk out planks (normal planks but with arms outstretched).
Arm exercises include: assisted one arm pull ups, one arm lock offs, type writers, press ups.
Mixing these all up creates a beastly upper body workout and I’m normally feeling battered the next day.
I’ve been stretching after most sessions as well, because I feel like flexibility is a huge weakness of mine, and I’ve found that being supple helps everything. Your whole body just seems to function better when you’re range of mobility is good, nothing is holding you back. More on that another time though.
When planning on the structure these sessions base iy on your relative weaknesses and your goals. If your fingers are much weaker than your body then do more fingerboarding, and vice versa. Remember to rest properly between sessions and efforts. And Try Hard.
A couple months ago I set off on my much anticipated (by me) trip to Spain. Catalunya is by all accounts the new ‘place’; if you wan’t to climb hard then you have to go there, because that’s where all the hardest climbs and climbers are. So my expectations were pretty high for the area not just for myself, and for the most part I was not disappointed.
I turned up at Siurana just as it was getting dark, and stayed there only 3 days in almost non stop rain and wind. Not what it said on the tin. Fortunately I ran into Alan Pierce, whom I’d met at Ceuse and we made our way to the Cova Gran, Santa Linya in search of dry rock and some of the world class climbing we’d heard all about. Santa Linya is huge, littered in 9’s, and pretty f***ing steep, and it was here that I met up with Mark Busby who helped me out loads here (Cheers Mark!), and then managed to climb my hardest route yet, Rollito Sharma, 8b+. It used to be considered 8b/+ until a hold at the crux broke making it a bigger move to the good tufa above (unless you’re name is Yamada Wataru and you can casually squeeze a half pad pinch in a 45 degree overhang after having done ~20 moves, weigh up your options before flicking to an undercut and going at last up to the good tufa where you carry on to climb to the lip of the cave!). It was nice to be able to climb this route with less effort than I expected, twice. I guess that shows that a bit of hard work and a good base of routes from previous trips can really make the difference when it comes to breaking into a new grade, these things don’t tend to happen on their own, and even though it might seem that I didn’t have to much that much effort on the route itself, although there was definitely some effort put in, especially in the moves leading up to the crux throw, I have been training for this kind of thing for the last two years and in the past year I’ve climbed a lot on a rope so had the necessary ground work done. All I had to do really was learn the sequence and the rest took care of itself. No mental battle on this one because I hadn’t appreciated all of this, and that helped, it meant I could just climb without worrying about success or failure, and that is when I climb best.
After a while there, however, the coldness started to get into our bones and we decided that a change of venue was on the cards so we drove down the road to Bruxies, Terradets, after spending a welcome couple nights in a hostel in Ager – tent living around the 0 degree C mark can really wear you down. The climbing in Terradets is some of the nicest I’ve ever done, if not the most interesting, it is all on very skin friendly holds and has some really nice flowy tufa moves with pretty obvious sequences for the most part, however the routes are all pretty similar so it can be boring in a way. Here I succeeded in completing my other goal for the trip, to onsight 8a, in the form of Bon Vitage, which I did after a day trip to Tres Ponts where I flashed my first 8a, Mitres Modern. These two days were one of my best two climbing days ever, and Mitres Modern was certainly one of the trips highlights in terms of quality of route and effort put in. I would have liked to spend more time in Terradets ideally but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my trip there so I moved down to Margalef with Cailean and Hannah and then eventually Siurana. These areas took up the last few weeks of my trip but by this point I was pretty tired and didn’t climb very well.
I find it interesting, though, that in these last few weeks of the trip I was, on the whole, unhappy with my performance during the trip. This was largely in part due to my performance at the time affecting my view of the trip as a whole, but all the same, it is ridiculous that I had achieved my main goals for the trip and more and yet was still not satisfied because I had not climbed hundreds of routes, and because I hadn’t climbed quite as many 8’s as I would have liked, even though my average grade was significantly higher than other trips, as was my base onsight level. It is perhaps one of the most unprofessional attributes of a large percentage of all climbers; to have this ridiculous mentality that you should get a personal best every session, and that you should be on top form 12 months of the year. It is impossible to do this and yet for many people, including myself at times, it is something they try to achieve. This approach and attitude is not exhibited in any other sports that I know of, certainly not at a professional level, and for the most part, not at all. If you want to perform at your best at any time then you have to be comfortable with being below 100% for some of the year, this is something I always knew but perhaps didn’t accept fully until this recent trip to Spain.
In many ways, then, this trip could be seen as the most successful trip of my life; I achieved my goals for sport climbing for the year, I learned a lot about myself and that in life you can’t be at your best all the time. As a place though, Spain did seem to lack something which did not feel missing in my trips to France. This could have just been the less than ideal circumstances I found myself in at times, and it could have been the weather and the cold as these definitely made things harder at times. Even with these things considered though, Spain is definitely different to areas in France I’ve visited like Ceuse, Gorges du Tarn, Loup, and St Leger. Perhaps it is an acquired taste because it did grow on me as the trip went on, even as my climbing performance deteriorated, and that says a lot. I certainly preferred some areas more than others, the set up varied quite a bit as did the rock, and these really affect how I view a place. Santa Linya for example, has quite good climbing in terms of the moves you do and it is also a brilliant feature, however the rock quality there is not nearly as high as some of the other places I visited.
Spain then is something new with lots to offer. There is, most likely, something for everyone there. Now though I’m having a little break from sport climbing because it was all getting a bit too ‘possible’ in a way, the moves anyway. Towards the end of the trip I found myself longing for some properly hard moves that I could barely conceive of doing, those moves where everything has to fall into place just to catch a glimpse of possibility, but more on that another time. For now, I’m getting stuck into a bit of bouldering training and will be trying to get out in the county to try a few problems I have in mind, hopefully the weather will play ball so that I have chance.