Tuesday, April 22, 2014

System Boarding Part 2: What.

Now that we know how and why to use a System setup, we need to put together a board.  I’ve been through this process, so I realize how difficult it can be.  How tall, how wide, what angle, and perhaps most difficult, which holds and in which configuration?  Of course, the answer depends largely on the space, budget, and needs of the specific users.  Lets look at not only our specific wall, but at the basics of how to decide what your wall should look like. 


Our Engine Room wall, like many of yours will be, was largely dictated by the available space.  Lucky for us, we had just enough space to make our wall pretty much exactly to the specs that I wanted.  6'6" wide by 8'10" long with a 12" high kicker provided just enough wall space to be a full arm span wide and no more than 3-4 moves tall.   We use our wall largely for strength and power training (though it could easily be used for power endurance training), so the 3-4 move height works perfectly for our needs.
Lets say for the sake of this post that you have an unlimited amount of space.  What’s the absolute ideal size? 
In my opinion, there is little reason for length to exceed 10-12 feet.  If an impressive looking wall is one of your needs, then maybe you’d find a reason to go taller, but for training purposes, more than 5-7 moves is generally going to be overkill.
As far as width goes, I could see going as wide as 12’ or so.  Beyond 2 arm spans and I can’t see the reasoning.  This would basically look like a 6’ wide bouldering wall connected to its mirror image.  With a high hold density, you’ve got endless problem possibilities. 


Our simple angle changing system.
While our wall is adjustable from about 20 degrees overhanging to however steep we want it, we generally keep it around 30 degrees.  This isn’t by accident, and the reason is one that everyone should take into account:
What angles are you training for?
While rock in the Red can vary widely in angle, most of our projects are steep, and usually around 20-30 degrees overhanging, so that’s where we spend a great deal of our training time. 

Ideally you’d have the freedom to go from dead vertical to about 60 degrees, or even to horizontal roof if that’s the main angle you’ll be climbing on.  However, this isn’t likely.  From 15 degrees to 45 degrees are the most useful angles for route climbers, and going to as steep as 60 might be more useful for boulderers.  If you happen to be restricted to one set angle, go for about 30.  It’s steep enough to cause big gains in power and require constant core tension, but not so steep that tiny and slopey holds will be useless.  
How you setup an adjustable board depends entirely on what your space is like.  We simply hung chain from the C-channel beams on the ceiling and hinged the wall at the top of the kicker with strap hinges.  The kicker is actually a 12" tall box that is screwed to the floor.  I've heard many naysayers comment that this setup will result in the wall "bouncing" when you're going hard, but I can't budge it, and
neither can the bigger guys we train with.  With a little creativity, just about any space can work.


Our board is simple.  2x6's for the frame, 3/4" plywood for the climbing surface.  A few beefy eye bolts and chain to attach it to the C-channel.  Nothing fancy.  Simple.  
After building the frame, I realized that our Tnuts, if drilled on a perfect grid, would fall on some of the studs.  To remedy this I worked out a symmetric grid that allowed all of the Tnuts to fall in empty space.  You could go the same route or just build a frame onto a pre-drilled board so that it doesn't interfere with hold placement.  
Cost for construction was right around $150, including the Tnuts.


It's no secret that our board was sponsored by Atomik, and I truly believe that Atomik has the best selection of dedicated system holds that I've seen, and they're in the process of adding 60 new shapesYaniro monos!).  That said, a system wall could easily be put together using any holds that are symmetric on a central axis.  This will allow you to do exactly the same move on both sides.  It may seem trivial at first, but if a hold has a better thumb catch for one hand, or is slightly more positive when held with one hand, it will become noticeable.  
to the line (including the old
Again, your hold choices should be tailored to fit your training and your goals.  We use a mix of slopers, edges, pockets, and pinches, with a heavy lean toward edges.  If you're climbing in Wild Iris, you don't need many slopers, and if you're a Rifle local, pockets aren't necessarily going to be your focus.
How difficult the holds are to use will depend on who is using the board.  Our board is setup for climbers who are aiming for grades from V5 to V12, so we have a wide variety.  If you look at the photos, you'll see that I used two colors... blue for more moderate holds and green for more advanced holds (The red holds are not dedicated system holds, but happened to work as such).  If it's your home wall or a shared wall with a few friends of similar ability, you'll only need a set of holds that apply to your ability.  Don't buy "good" holds.  Training power and strength requires small, hard to use grips, and that will also be welcomed by your bank account.  We have 4 "jugs" on the wall: 3 across the top, 1 at the bottom center.  No more needed.  
If you're like me and would love to fill all the available space, Atomik has a line of screw on system holds that will fit your needs perfectly.  The edges are my absolute favorites.
Cost for the extensive set of holds we have was right around $450.00.  


As you can see in the photos, our wall uses wood rails as it's main feet.  This is for several reasons.  First, a system wall, in my opinion, should be used not as a campus board, but for paying specific attention to the tension required for hard movements.  If you have incut, textured feet, it's easier to hold tension.  We use plain wood rails, in two sizes, 3/4" and 1/2", left square (rather than incut) to force the climber to really apply tension.  Wood blocks would also work, though it is easy to cheat on the corner of a block.  You'll notice that the sides of our rails are angled upward.  This is to help facilitate with lateral type push and pull moves, such as gastons and sidepulls.  
Also, if you look closely you'll find footholds extending into the handhold level.  We used a few different sizes of feet, all placed to help with final moves or moves that require high feet, such as gastons or other oppositional movements.
Cost for the footholds (including the set from Atomik) was roughly $40.00.

Handhold Configuration:

This is largely a matter of personal desire and opinion, but there are a few basics that can be followed.
 I prefer a variety of hold positions.  Underclings, sidepulls, gastons, and straight down pulling holds.  If the terrain you're training for has a specific orientation of hold, don't be afraid to switch it up.  A friend of mine has all of his holds set to be down pulling, because that's how the majority of the hard moves he encounters are oriented.
Before setting our wall, I drew out our Tnut grid and sketched several versions of the wall.  This allowed me to see potential problems with setting before I encountered them, and made the process much simpler.  It also made it easier to order holds, as I knew pretty much how many of each type I needed to reach the configuration I wanted.
A few basics.... don't forget about wide compression moves, long reaches off of underclings and sidepulls, opposition moves, or any sort of high foot rock up type movement.  I like to place different "levels" of holds near each other, for instance, a 1/2" flat crimp might be just above a 3/4" flat crimp.  Or a 1/2" incut crimp might be just beside a 1/2" slopey crimp.  This allows us to a specific move as training to be able to do a very similar move (one hold further or higher) that is more difficult.  Lots more could be said on this subject, and inevitably, will, but for now I'll let your own creativity guide you.

For less than $700.00, we built exactly the wall we wanted.  Adjustable, varied, and perfect for training power.  Seeing as how the holds are the bulk of the cost, you can quickly cut your initial cost by starting with a simpler set of holds and building up your collection as you get stronger.  Personally, I know that I'll always have a system wall to train on.  It's too perfect and too cheap not to.


Monday, April 14, 2014

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

For all of you Facebookers, we now have an official Facebook page.  

Click HERE.  Then Click LIKE.  Or Follow.  Or whatever it says that makes people watch their smart phones and get a fuzzy feeling inside when the little chime on their phone alerts them that someone cares.  Do that.

We'll be talkin shop over there from time to time.

Oh, and yes, we still do talk about climbing here, believe it or not.  I'm about halfway through writing part 2 of the System Wall series, so be on the lookout for that and more reviews coming soon!

Friday, April 4, 2014

This is Where My Time Goes...

This is not about training.  Unless of course you put it into the context of reduced amount of time for training.  However, I can't even fit it in that way, because I haven't missed out on any training to work on this project.  Fact is, I just wanted to share.

Sometime around 2003 I conceptualized an album based on my favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird.  The project would be built around samples from the movie soundtrack and loosely follow the moral lessons and themes from the book.

After years of knowing that I wasn't ready to complete the vision, the words finally came.

Here is the first song.  The rest will follow by summer, and will all be free for download.  I chose to release it today, as it's the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King.  Enjoy, and feel free to share.

Thanks for indulging me.  Now back to our regulary scheduled programming...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

System Boarding Part 1: Why and How.

Some time ago I received a reader question about System Boarding for Power.  At the time my experience with a system board was limited to the most basic, bare bones, old school version of a system board, containing HIT strips, a few pinches, and maybe a few other holds in random spots.  That setup, and many I’ve seen, are better suited toward a very monotonous form of power endurance training, or if you’re above the 5.12 or so level, it likely falls more into the area of local endurance.  Even adding tons of weight on that style setup for what most call a “strength” workout, and you have to do so many repetitions that skin becomes a major issue, and the rep count is way too high to be training true strength. 

The other popular version of the system board is one that has a vertical series of the same pinches, the same crimps, the same  pockets, and the same crimps.  A climber would ladder up and down these holds in order to work a specific grip. Problem is, as you get stronger, you either have to add considerable weight, buy harder to use holds, or do more laps.  Adding weight doesn't necessarily help you hold smaller edges, and can quickly erode technique, buying new holds every time you progress would get expensive, and more laps is training endurance.  

In that old post I posited that a better way to system board for power would be to treat it more like bouldering, though on mirror imaged symmetrical walls.  Recently in our new Engine Room, and with the help of Atomik Climbing Holds, I put my theories to test. 

The Engine Room.

In the upcoming series of posts about System Boards, I’ll discuss not only what, how, and why, but also how I went about choosing which holds to buy, how I decided on the hold layout, and a review of Atomik’s extensive line of system holds. 

Jeff Kayse puttin in work.

Today, the why and the how.

We all know that bouldering is the best way to train real climbing power.  While you can separate climbing power into it’s different components and maybe more effectively train those (think campusing), there is no better substitute for doing hard moves than, well, simply doing hard moves. 
The problem with using bouldering as a training tool is that it’s simply too difficult to measure and control.  If you train in a commercial gym, you’ve likely experienced the frustration of problems being height dependant, or all of the hard problems are compression, or every hard move is a jump to a crimp, rather than the precision and tension you so desperately desire.  Not to mention, the grading of boulder problems in most commercial gyms is at best inconsistent, leaving you often confounded as to whether or not you’ve improved.  Frustrating.

I was there.  Between the frequent changes to the boulder in the gym, the jumps at the end of every problem, and the (very) inconsistent grading that you’ll inevitably get within a group of setters, I was in need of a change.  I needed a bouldering wall filled with moderate to bad handholds of all types and footholds that would require constant tension to avoid cutting feet.  I wanted it short enough that no more than 3-4 moves would land you on a finishing hold, and preferably on an adjustable angle to mimic outdoor projects.  Its configuration would have to remain static for long periods of time so that I could measure progress on the exact movements from previous seasons.  I could simply have built a small bouldering wall, but I also wanted to be more systematic.  I know from past experience that my right side is considerably weaker than my left.  A short, fierce bouldering wall that is split down the center by it’s own mirror image seemed to be the best option. 

Enter my new favorite training tool:  The System Board.

Jeff Kayse training pockets.
More than half of the climbing portion of our strength and power phases has moved to the system board.  Progress from the workouts has become much easier to measure.  My right side weakness has more clearly emerged, and I’m able to address it more effectively.

It’s so deceptively simple.  You make up a hard boulder problem that targets a hold type or movement that is either giving you trouble or is specific to your project.  You try that problem, rest, then try it's mirror image.  Ideally, you'll be able to increase the difficulty of the problem by either using a worse foot or using a slightly worse hold to do a similar movement.  With this kind of focused targeting, I've found that my power is drained quickly, and it's easier to see that it's draining because I've gotten very familiar with the minutae of the movements I'm trying, so a drop in the level of my balance, my pull, my coordination, or my core can signal the end of a session.  

You're only limited by your imagination.  I've come up with dozens of moves that I've yet to do and dozens of others that I can't yet fathom.  For many seasons to come, this will be my go to tool.

Up next: What.  I'll discuss the specifics of our board... dimensions, construction, and which holds I chose.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: Acid Rain Pinches From Vision Climbing

I love pinches.  Generally speaking, I’m abnormally strong on them.  Not Steven Jeffries kind of strong, but stronger than the average climber.  I often honestly refer to good pinches as jugs, only to have a climber who just fell off the same hold look at me like I’m speaking in a foreign language.  Because of this, it’s hard to find pinches that are difficult to use and don’t fall into the tiny edge, weird knob, or giant sloper category, but instead into the “actually use your whole hand and have to squeeze, can’t really crimp it kind of pinch” department.  Make sense?

Enter the Acid Rain Pinches from Vision Climbing.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from these little guys, as I hadn’t climbed on them, but had fondled them enough to know they were going to provide challenges.  James and Lynette from Vision were nice enough to send over a set (along with their “Bumper Pads”, which will be reviewed in another post, soon) for our review.

Shaped by Chris Neal, the set comes with 5 small pinches, all pockmarked with “erosion” dimples.  Nearly the entire hold is usable, so they don’t take up much real estate on your wall, which was a key feature for me, as it is for most home wall owners.  The texture that Vision uses is friendly, though same as every other manufactured grip (with the exception of wood), I find it necessary for skin friendly training to lightly sand the surface.  The erosion dimples were particularly sharp edged, but a minute or so per hold was all it took to have them rounded and ready to bolt on. 

Photo by Taylor Frohmiller

Our wall angle is adjustable, but we keep it at 35 degrees for the most part, and for the entirety of this review.  Much steeper, and you’re gonna have to be a monster to use these pinches.  For walls between 15 to 30 degrees, you’ll have no problem coming up with pinch problems that fall into the V3-V6 range. A little steeper than that, and they quickly become much harder to use, settling nicely into the V5-V9 range.  Anywhere past 45 degrees, and you’re certainly pushing your pinchers into double digits. 

Photo by Taylor Frohmiller

When I first got the Acid Rain Pinches up on the wall, I was skeptical that I could come up with anything
hard enough to make them worthwhile for me in a training capacity.  However, by positioning them in ways that I was forced to pinch (never pulling straight down… is there a bigger waste of a good pinch than turning it into a down pulling jug?), added to the fact that our wall has very few good feet, I was quickly shut down on many of the moves I came up with.  The erosion dimples add another layer of difficulty, reminiscent of outdoor climbing.  Precision is a necessity, because your fingers will inevitably stack into the dimples, so if you’re off a little, your grip suffers quite a bit.  A big plus, in my opinion.  I mean, I love big smooth pinches that you can launch and slap to with no concern for precision, but in reality, real rock holds are usually more fiddly than that.  These pinches force it.  Good job, Vision. 

Photo by Taylor Frohmiller

On our 35 degree wall I’ve come up with an endless number of moves connecting Acid Rain Pinches that I have yet to complete.  Many of my limit boulder problems now involve these pinches.  They are small enough that you can’t simply layback off of them and turn them into a jug, while they are large enough to allow plenty of skin contact and friction.  If you set in such a way that you’re forced to pull straight out on these holds, you’ll get way more than your money’s worth of forearm soreness from the amount of squeeze required.  

You can find these pinches and all of Visions other offerings HERE.  They offer free shipping on orders over $100, so if you pick up a couple of sets while you're there, you'll save a few bucks.  If you're a crimp monster, check out the Bumper Pads... I'll be telling you more about them soon!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Endurance Training for Climbers Looking to Break the 5.11 or 5.12 Barriers

Our first training program is live and for sale for just $24 on TrainingBeta.com!

It's an 8 week local endurance program that is designed to help climbers break through the 5.11 or 5.12 barrier, and help to build a solid foundation for future training programs and harder climbing.  It's broken into two 4 week phases, and will require 2-4 days per week, with time built in for climbing outside.  It is spring after all!

This program is entirely climbing based, includes lots of mileage and several endurance drills that will not only help keep you ahead of the pump, but will teach you to better manage and recover from that inevitable pump.  Through the prescribed exercises you'll learn to keep your technique together no matter how destroyed you feel. Wooden forearms don't have to mean failure anymore!

Click HERE to get on board and pick up your copy of this training program.  Bust through to 5.12 this spring, and by the time you're ready, we'll have the next steps ready for you!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Introducing: TrainingBeta

Last season at the Motherlode, while working on Transworld Depravity, I would hang out at the midway rest and watch the climbers on the GMC wall on their projects.  As is often the case, the rotations would coincide such that I'd see the same climbers getting closer and closer to sending.  It was a fun back and forth of energy.  Occasionally I'd venture over to soak in the sunshine between burns.

 It was on one such jaunt that I met Seth and Neely.  Seth had been working on White Mans Shuffle, a relentless 13d, and Neely on 8-Ball, one of the best (and stiffest) 12d's that the Red has to offer.  I immediately recognized that Neely was no-nonsense.  She was direct, looked people in the eye, and didn't mince her words.  Exactly the kind of person that everyone needs to have around.   Having many friends in common, including some of our favorite people, it seemed like we'd known each other much longer than the 15 minutes of reality.

Several days later on Facebook, I saw a post from Neely introducing her brand new site, TrainingBeta.  Knowing that Neely is driven and focused, I contacted her in hopes of helping out somehow.  She was looking for trainers to write training programs, so we talked out the specifics, and I got to work.  In the meantime, she and Seth were working overtime on TrainingBeta, with the plan of making it a one-stop shop for training.  Podcasts, interviews, and training programs, as well as advice from athletes and trainers alike.
I'm happy to announce that the first training program is available on TrainingBeta, from Boulder based trainer and partner in "Team of 2", Kris Peters.  I've looked over the program, a 6 week Power Endurance program, and I strongly approve.  For those who get pumped after only a few crux moves, and just can't sustain the energy needed to link together long cruxes, this will be your ticket.

I believe that my first addition to the site, a general local endurance program for those who are looking to move from 5.10 to 5.11 or from 5.11 to 5.12 is up next!  I'll be posting more about TrainingBeta in the future, as I'm proud to be a part of Neely and Seth's vision, and I think it will be a great resource to all of us.  It's a fun time to be involved in the climbing training field, and these two make it that much more exciting!