Having just relocated to Lexington, KY, I’m really looking forward to climbing at the Red River Gorge. However, between a busy new job, a wife who works full time, and two very young kids, my climbing time is limited. I’ll probably only get to the Red a couple times per month and the only training materials I have at home are some rock rings, a pull up bar, and a hangboard. Do you have any suggestions for how I can train enough at home so I don’t get pumped silly when I do have the time to get to the gorge? –Scott (Kentucky)
Hey Scott, Congrats on getting a job within a one-hour drive from world class climbing! Unfortunately, the type of endurance needed for most (steep) RRG routes is hard to train without a home wall, Treadwall, or climbing gym membership. Obviously running to stay “light” and build aerobic capacity will help, but you really need to be able to get a pump on a wall in order for your forearms to adapt specifically (building capillaries, aerobic and aerobic enzymes, and such). Doing longish hangs on the finger board is one possible approach that will help somewhat—hang 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds, hang 30 seconds, rest 30, repeat until you can’t hang any longer. Another approach is to build your maximum grip strength on the hangboard—climbing researcher Eva Lopez Rivera has proven that developing maximum strength (with weighted hangs) does increase forearm endurance. While this may sound counter intuitive, greater strength will enable you to climb on smaller holds without getting pumped. Still, for those super long, steep routes…you really do need to train endurance via interval climbing and roped ascents in a gym. Therefore, strive to get to an indoor climbing gym once per week.
Hello Eric, I am a captain of a college climbing team. We compete in a bouldering circuit called NC3 that encompasses northwest state colleges. The team isn’t a varsity sport, so all the coaching is done by the other captains and me. None of us are very experienced in our training methods, and I was hoping you might have some ideas for a basic practice outline. Our team meets twice a week for 2.5 hours for practice, with competitions usually on the weekend. We have people ranging from about V2-3 climbers all the way to around V10. Anyways, because we are sort of self-coaching, I was wondering if you had some ideas for things we could do to help people get over plateaus. –Benjamin (Washington)
Hi Benjamin, It’s tough to give training advise via email, especially for such a broad range of climbing ability. That said, here are some things to think about. Obviously, refining technique and climbing more efficiently is priority #1—so as a coach be quick to help people learn to do cruxes more efficiently rather than simply letting them lunge through…and call it “good enough.” Have your climbers repeat problems and strive to get smooth and efficient, so they can flow rather than “fight” up the line. Also, exercises such as weighted pull-ups are good at the end of a workout, since you can only get so strong pulling bodyweight. Also, interval training (4x4s) and such are excellent for developing strength-endurance—important in a comp setting. Every few weeks you can also set up mock comps in which your climbers face a comp-like format having to send a series of problems with the clock running.
Dear Eric, As I am re-reading your book (T4C) and making a plan for the upcoming dry season, a question I have is about weekend climbing. I am strictly a weekend warrior, with very short and few extended trips. So, do I have to match the climbing outside to the training cycle? Or, more precisely, is it okay to climb regardless of the training? I am planning to be ramping up gradually for mental purposes, but it’d be hard to resist jumping on something hard and hangdog very hard moves. BTW, I appreciate your book and the work you’ve been doing to help climbers advance—thank you! –Rafael (Washington)
Hi Rafael! Your question is a good one–and, no, the climbing does not have to match the training phase. Most important is to try to end the cycle before a major trip, if one is planned, so that the week of active rest leads into the first climbing day of the trip. But for a weekend warrior, you goals is to train twice during the week (Tues/Wed or Tue/Thu), then climb for performance and fun on the weekends. It’s hard to do a precise training cycle this way—so just wing it the best you can!–but during your offseason (winter) you should be able to execute a more strict 4-3-2-1 or 3-2-1 cycle.
Hi Eric, The reason I am contacting you is because as I am going to be building an at home wall approximately 5ft wide and about 13ft high at a 45 degree angle or greater. I have been looking in to the H.I.T. system and was wondering if you would recommend it for a wall of my size? –Lucas (Maryland)
Hi Lucas, I’m psyched to hear you are building a training wall–great investment, if you are serious about climbing and getting stronger! IMO, 50 degrees past vertical is the best angle, especially for installing a HIT system (your wall sounds just big enough). Long-term, try to buy a bunch of crimps (different sizes) pockets, and pinches, so you can develop many hard boulder problems to train strength and power. A small wall can get boring, but you can make it fun and beneficial if you set specific problems you can work on and eventually try to link together into longer endurance “routes”.
Dear Eric, I used to be on the US Natl Cycling Team a very long time ago. I was a aprinter on the track and blessed /cursed with an ungodly amount of fast twitch muscle – 84%. It’s easy for me to have power and go hypertrophic very easily — and the results come quickly! Problem is, I suck at long, multi-pitch routes and if I climb with my partner (who’s rail thin and can crank 5.12s in his sleep with a broken elbow) and come to a crux, it’s easy for me to start flailing. My saving grace was I was taught to climb by a couple of women and they taught me to climb with my legs and “move like a cat”. I understand and believe in training. (It was drilled into my skull at 14 at OTC in Colorado Springs!) But my question is: am I genetically doomed to be relegated to short, intense routes? BTW, I’m also 44, Buddhist and mentally train daily in my practice. –Erik (Washington)
Hey Erik! First, don’t rule anything out for yourself–you have many assets: years of climbing experience (and likely solid technique), strong mental skills, and the understanding and desire to train. While 5.14 big walls may not be in your future, I do think 5.11 and 5.12 sport routes are very achievable….and certainly longer wall climbs as well. Sounds to me like climbing outside (for mileage) as much as possible is one important training approach, as time and weather allows–this will help elevate your climbing economy, which is one place you can continue to squeeze gains that will help you climb longer and harder. Of course, some targeting climbing-fitness training will help too–you’ll need to sort out just what your limiting constraint is and how you can best train it. I suggest consulting with a climbing coach in your area to get specific tips on how to proceed…since it’s hard for me to analyze and prescribe without seeing you in person. The bottom line: I think you can reach your goals, give a smart, consistent, and dedicated effort. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!