Your Questions

Round 111

A big goal of mine for the last few years has been to train hard enough to onsight my first 5.13. I do enjoy sport climbing and bouldering, but I struggle with putting time into redpointing at my limit. My toughts when I fall repeatedly on 5.12d is that I must need to train harder. Personally, I get a lot more out of an onsight or send after just a few tries. I have been climbing long enough to know that each person’s training should be specific and determined by a number of variables. What I don’t know is if to climb at this level one needs to focus on intensity or just putting more time in. Any insight will be greatly appreciated. –Nate (Colorado)

Hi Nate! I understand your climbing MO—that’s pretty much how I roll, in that I prefer onsighting or redpointing in a few tries rather than long-term projecting. Of course, onsighting 5.13 is a high bar to reach if redpointing 5.12d is about your current limit. Still, I feel it’s an achievable goal, but it requires a lot of actual climbing time and quality training to develop the strength, power, and climbing economy to perform at this level.  In terms of training, you need to accurately determine your limiting constraint. Do you typically fail on hard routes because of lack of strength, power, endurance…or are more fuzzy technical and/or mental issues holding you back? This is where a good climbing coach can help out—is there a veteran climbing coach at your gym (or elsewhere nearby) that could help you identify your weaknesses and design a program to target them? Unfortunately, there’s not much specific advice I can give you via email…other than to read Training for Climbing and Maximum Climbing to elevate your self-coaching. Drop me a note when you send 5.13!

Are BCAA supplements helpful in improving strength and endurance during periods of high-intensity training? How should they be combined with whey protein…or can I consume just whey as a supplement? –Neda (Iran)

Hi Neda! Whey protein is very helpful for hard-training-athletes, especially if their diet is low in protein-containing foods. As for BCAAs, I don’t think you need to supplement these if you are consuming whey once or twice daily. The one amino I do supplement singularly is L-Glutamine—taking 5 grams in water mid-morning and mid-workout may provide added benefit. Hope this helps. Good luck, my friend!

Dear Eric, I have a few questions, so please bear with me. I’m new to the sport, but I have fallen completely in love with it. I separated my shoulder about a month ago (mild-moderate anterior subluxation) while playing basketball, and haven’t been able to climb since. I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended physical therapy. I started PT about two weeks ago. The physical therapist works with a lot of sports injuries and seems good, but hasn’t worked with any climbers. He says I’m about three weeks away from returning to climbing. Once I am able to climb again, how do I ease back into it intelligently and in a way that won’t result in re-injury? Can you recommend any climbing-specific rehab exercises? –Andy (Minnesota)

Hi Andy, PT is a good thing after such an injury, and you should be able to work back into climbing without any major problems. The key for you is to avoid hard, steep bouldering, since this is hardest on the shoulder joint. I suggest you focus mainly on vertical bouldering and vert rope climbs–make the next month or two about improving technique and movement, which will make you a better climber faster than strength training will. After a few months–and no shoulder pain–you can begin harder/steeper bouldering and near-maximal roped climbs. Still, avoid anything that seems overly “shouldery” and go easy on any supplemental pull-up and hangboard training–save this kind of training for next winter season. Finally, you should continue indefinitely with the basic PT exercises, such as Internal and External rotation. Hope this helps!

Hey Eric, First, great job on the books and training articles–it’s always nice to hear your opinion on so many different questions in this wacky world of climbing! So here’s mine: Whenever I get into discussions with my friends about getting higher in the grades, bodyweight is the first thing to come to my mind on why I’m not as ’strong’ as them. They constantly tell me that my bodyweight is not the issue, but am inclined to disagree. It seems the majority of really strong climbers weigh in 140 to 155 pound range. I know that there are some exceptions to the rule like Sharma and Jon Glassberg, but in reality it seems like weight plays a crucial part in getting into the higher grades. I climb, I run, I eat right, and my job is physically demanding (landscaping)! Any thoughts for a 6’1”, 185lbs male?  –Kyle (New York)

Hi Kyle, All your observations are correct. There are a few “large” superstar climbers, but on average the elites are more slight. That said, I think weight is a bigger issue for long endurance climbs, whereas with bouldering I think a good grip training program can build the mass-relative strength needed to succeed at the higher grades. Have you ever done any fingerboard training, such as adding weight (hypergravity training) and hanging on crimp holds in brief, repetitive bursts? Another technique is to do one-arm lock offs on a crimp hold with the free hand only grabbing lightly on a sling (so you can hold the crimp lockoff for 5 seconds). You should also look into Complex Training (as described in my TFC book), which couples fingerboard training with campus training. Proceed carefully, but long-term I believe you can get way stronger! As for your bodyweight…perhaps you can drop a few pound (with effort), but it sound like you are already quick lean and fit. So, I’d encourage you not to obsess over bodyweight and instead concentration of elevating your grip strength with each passing season. Let me know how it goes!

Hey Eric, I’ve just gotten back into climbing seriously this past year, but I don’t get out as much as I’d like to with a 2 year old and another baby on the way. I typically work technique in the gym once a week, climbing the same route until I perfect it and workout on a hangboard at home 2 days a week with antagonist and core work following. My goal this upcoming season is 5.10d to 5.11a. At what point would you recommend starting HIT training? Should I wait until next winter? Is there something different that I should be doing? It’s really tough to find appropriate workouts for  ”weekend warriors” at the 5.10 level. –Brooks (Connecticut)

Brooks, I can appreciate your situation–I have 2 boys two years apart, so I’ve been where you are now (my boys are now 10 and 12) and I can assure you that getting out climbing will be easier as they get older! As to your question…given your recent return to climbing I suggest you hold off on HIT or anything “high end” until at least next winter. I like your current program of training movement, hangboard, antagonists, core, etc. One thing you might add to the routine is 2 or 3 sets of weighted pull-ups on the hangboard with a 2-second lock-off  at the top of each pull-up. Add 20 pounds or so and try to do 5 to 10reps. You do not need to go to complete failure. Also, with your outdoor route goals, you should try to add something endurance-oriented for your climbing muscles. Lapping routes is ideal or doing bouldering intervals (4x4s). Doing outdoor routes is obviously excellent all-around training, so try to get on the rocks as often as you can. Let me know how it goes this season–maybe see you at the Gunks sometime!