The Secret of the Powerful
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.