Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Top 5 Bad Gym Habits of Route Climbers.

Here at The Power Company, we don't often talk about the differences between climbers who choose to mostly climb on routes and those who choose boulders.  I'll go ahead and call that neglectful on my part, because there are some fundamental things that are different about the two.  We'll talk more about those differences in a later post, but for now I want to focus on a difference that wasn't obvious at first, the fact that while in the gym, for the most part, boulderers are closer to training the "right" way than route climbers are.  Since internet readers have a tendency to automatically jump to extremes to discount everything they read... let me note here that I said "for the most part".  No, of course this isn't a hard and fast rule, but it happens too often to dismiss it.

To paraphrase several readers of Jaime Emerson's excellent site, B3 Bouldering, "Why 5?  Why not 10?  Why not 20?"  And to paraphrase Jaime's answer, "Because it's my site and my list."

Any more questions?  Ok then, on with the show.

Going Climbing.

Let me start by saying this... if you go to the gym just to have fun, with no desire to improve, then you should go and do exactly that.  You should climb.  Do whatever you want.  Treat it the same way you do when you go outside.  Just climb.  
If you want to improve, you should definitely not go to the gym to just go climbing.  If your goal is to treat the gym as "training" for climbing, then you'll have to structure it differently than you do your outdoor sessions.  If your normal routine is to warm up, sample a few climbs, see how the project "feels" today, and then do 3 laps on the same 5.10... STOP.  Do something different.  Anything.  Spend the night working on a project.  Spend it on vertical topropes instead of leading the roof again.  Go bouldering.  And whatever you're doing, try hard.  Learn something and take note of what you learned.  This doesn't have to be an endless treadmill.  If you do it right, it could get you somewhere.

Staying In Their Strengths.

When I look around the climbing gym, it's always the same people on the same angles.  The crimp masters post up at the near vert walls.  The compression junkies find all the biggest slopers and stake out the aretes.  Those opposed to footwork are campusing up the steeps.  It never fails.  Hooray, you did another 45 degree V9 sloper rig.  Good job.  But why do you keep telling people that the 15 degree techy balance problem is awkward and stupid?  Because you suck at it, that's why.  Which is precisely why you should be doing it.  
It's true, your hardest outdoor sends will likely be the ones that suit your strengths.  However, the level of return you'll get on climbing solely at a particular angle or always on a particular grip will diminish rapidly.  Paying closer attention to your weaknesses will make you a better climber.  No question. And what happens when your ultimate compression project ends with a runout, techy headwall?  
You'll wish you had spent more time on those awkward, stupid problems. 

Counting Pitches, Discounting Quality.

Often when I ask people how their session went, I get an answer that details the number of pitches they climbed, as if they're in direct competition with Alex Honnold or they're training for the 24HHH.  There's no mention of how hard they were trying, whether or not they learned anything new, or if they made progress on something.  Only a confirmation that they reached their arbitrary number of scheduled pitches for the session.   
Again, let me say this:  If your goal in climbing is to get in a predetermined number of pitches each time you climb, and that is enough to make you happy, then by all means, keep doing it.  I wish my goals were as simple to achieve.  I envy you.  However, if you want to improve at rock climbing, then somewhere along the line you got bamboozled into believing that a certain number of pitches is directly related to getting better.  It isn't.  
Well, that isn't entirely true.  Sometimes it is directly related.  When you are a beginner, or new to route climbing, then it may very well be to your benefit to get in lots of pitches.  If it's early in the season and you're getting your route legs back under you, I'll give you a pass.  But if it happens every week, your pass is revoked.
Instead of concerning yourself with number of pitches, try paying attention to the quality of the pitch, and the quality of the rest between pitches.  If you're cramming 24 pitches into a 3 hour session, it's likely that you aren't rested well enough to give 100% to either your physical, mental, or emotional performance on 23 of those pitches.  If the desire is to improve, I would rather see someone give 3 high quality attempts at a hard project or a climb that exploits their weaknesses than send 15 pitches at the same grade they've been climbing at for the past 5 years.
Quality, not quantity.


While I used to be a staunch traditionalist (ethical midget), I now see the truth.  There is a time and a place for saying "Take" and sitting on the rope.  While working out moves.  While warming up.  For (actual) safety reasons.  
There is also a time and place when "Take" should be completely removed from your vocabulary.  While in redpoint mode.  While onsighting or flashing.  While training.
If you're on a rope for training, it's likely that you're doing one of two things... an "ARC" type workout in which you should never get near the point of failure, or a workout that requires reaching failure to affect adaptation.  In either case, unless for safety reasons, the word "Take" has little place.  
The gym isn't only a training ground for the physical aspects of climbing.  Perhaps more important for many of us, the gym can be where you get to hone your mental and emotional skills.  Learning to go for it in the gym can make for much more productive days outside.  For the many of you who find that several days are spent on your project just convincing yourself to make the next move or clip, it can be a major shortcut to sending.   
Use it when appropriate, but when you're ready to go hard, forget the word entirely.

Ignoring Bouldering.

I used to be you.  I "trained" solely on routes.  I mean, I wasn't a boulderer, so why waste my time on bouldering?  Essentially, routes are a bunch of boulders all stacked on top of each other.  Sometimes those boulders are stacked in your favor, sometimes they aren't.  In every case, sending depends on how efficiently, if at all, you can do the moves.  It all comes down to strength and power.  If the hardest moves on a route are at your utmost limit, it's unlikely that you'll send, and the best way to get better at harder moves is to try them bouldering.
You can absolutely work on difficult moves on a rope.  However, even if you've mastered the art of trying 100% despite the fall potential, you've climbed a number of moves just to get there.  You'll use energy to pull back up the rope.  It takes more effort.  It takes an excessive amount of time. Stop wasting time and energy, and work on hard moves right on the ground.  There is no better way to get stronger.
I've heard many route climbers claim that they've never been shut down by a move, so there's no reason to train bouldering.  Either you're abnormally strong, or you aren't trying routes that are difficult enough.  I'd guess the latter.  Even if you've never encountered a move that you can't do, gaining more power will make all those moves seem easier.  You'll be less depleted for that last move showdown, or you'll have more left for the pump fest following that first bolt nerd gate.  
More power can't hurt, but less power certainly can.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Strawberry Roan

Entering the techy crux and the heady exposure.  Photo by Adam Amick.

I've mentioned before on here that last summer I teamed up with good friend Leif Gasch to try and put down a famous unfinished Todd Skinner project called The Strawberry Roan.  There isn't much I can say about it that Leif hasn't already said better than I can over on his blog, but I will say these words before you click on the short film below that we made while working on the route.

While I fell on the last hard move on my last attempt at the route, the experience of working on this route with Leif was far more important than clipping the chains.  From hiking up there the first time and standing under the most perfect arete I'd ever seen, to working out improbable sequences, each of us with different beta, and watching Leif send at the eleventh hour, finishing with a standing ovation at the Lander bar afterward, it was an amazing adventure.  One that meant the world to me.

And that The Strawberry Roan isn't going anywhere.  It's not gonna fall off.  This ain't Rifle Mountain Park.  :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ebooks for Climbers... Nutrition and Strength

While I've not had the opportunity to read either of these books, I definitely plan to (and review them both), and wanted to let you all know of their existence, so you can check them out HERE.

Rock Climbing Nutrition: The Essential Food Guide for Climbers, written by Aicacia Young, RDN, is of particular interest to me.  I grew up in a culture of canned and processed food.  It was less than a decade ago that I ate fast food EVERY day, often times two or three times a day.  I've gotten much better at monitoring what I put into my body, but it's a part of my climbing that could certainly use help, and I look forward to getting into this book.

You Can pick up Aicacia's book HERE.

Strength:  Foundational Training for Rock Climbers, written by respected trainer and legend Steve Bechtel (and with a cover shot of OG hardman Andy Skiba, the first American to climb V12), is sure to be filled with practical, no nonsense advice about ways that you can gain functional strength for climbing.  Steve is a friend of mine, and one of the most knowledgeable people I know.  I'm making the assumption that I'll likely learn a thing or two once I get to dig into this book.

You can pick up Steve's book HERE.

Knowing what my schedule looks like, it could be a while before I get to reviewing either of these gems, but I wanted to give you guys and girls the heads up so that you can get your hands on them at the start of this training season.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Bumper Pads from Vision Climbing

Out of nowhere, my brief break from climbing and training is over, and I'm back in The Engine Room.  I'd missed it, of course, in some sadistic way.  It's possible that I need this industrial attic space to balance out the wide open of Lander, Wyoming.  More than likely though, I just love it.  I love holing up, with no crowds around to feed my ego, and going to work.  So I am.

My first visit back to The Engine Room was with the goal of finding new max boulder problems.  I needed bad holds.  BAD holds.

And so, the Bumper Pads.

Shaped by Vision owner Lynette Miller, but inspired by local strongman Aaron Schnieder, these edges are deceptively difficult to use.  I've witnessed the off the charts crimp strength of Aaron, so I knew that if he had input in the design, they would push me beyond my realm of comfort.

I mounted the Bumper Pads on our Engine Room bouldering wall last year, and quickly discovered that at our 30 degree angle, they were often harder to use than I could muster.  This season, in an effort to switch things up a little, I readjusted our wall to about 25 degrees, and suddenly the Bumper Pads make sense.

At our former angle (30), I can't imagine you'll be using more than the largest one in many problems
easier than V10 or 11, unless you pair them with big footholds or have them simply to bump off of (get it... bump... bumper pads!).  As soon as you start to back off on the angle, they get more and more useful for us mere mortals.  At our current 25, I can (barely) use them on more of my limit problems, and when used judiciously, a few of them can now be the crux hold in V6's and 7's. At an even lower angle, they would really shine for creating crimp problems in the V4-V8 range.

Something about these edges is confounding.  Before you bolt them to the wall, they seem big enough to use comfortably.  They seem better than your usual "crux" crimp.  Then you try to use them.  They have a deviously rounded shape that threatens to spit off the weak of body tension the minute fingers are laid to them.  Actually, I have a couple of theories as to why they end up being so difficult, and for me, each theory is a positive.

One, because the edge isn't situated against the climbing surface, but against the rounded surface of the hold, it's not as comfortable to "dig" your tips into.  Two, again because the edge is in the middle of the hold, it doesn't flex like a normal edge.  If you watch a normal edge when grabbed, it flexes, and if you're "digging" your tips in, you get a little bit extra to hold.  Not so with these.  Also, these seem to mimic the rounded edges you so often find on southern sandstone.  I have an inexplicably difficult time on those edges, and it certainly translates exactly to the Bumper Pads.

The edge itself is rounded enough to be friendly, but make no mistake... the Bumper Pads will spit you off, and you'll leave skin behind.  A few swipes with sandpaper (a must for all new holds, in my opinion) makes it a little more comfortable to accept the inevitable ejection.  The shape of the edge differs from hold to hold... some are curved as if smiling, while others frown at you like a coach who knows you're not giving it your all.

At their widest point (across the edge), the 5 hold set varies from about 3.5" to 4.75", easily making room for 4 fingers (for those of you who use your pinkies when you climb, unlike me).  Because of their diamond shape, they can be squeezed into the most packed of bouldering walls (except for maybe Steven Jeffrey's wall).

The shape and design would seem (to me) to lend itself to spinning, particularly when oriented in such a way that you aren't pulling directly in line with the bolt and edge, but either I can't pull hard enough to make them spin, or the physics of it escapes me.  Regardless, I've had no more trouble with them spinning than I do with any other hold.

As I (hopefully) get stronger, the Bumper Pads will play more and more into my limit bouldering.  They force the precision and focused finger strength that I value in my training.

Vision tells me that they'll be running a nice special that puts the 5 hold set at only $25.00.  At that price, these are a steal. The special runs from today to 8/15/14, so go get em now!

Get em while they're on sale!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

You Aren't Actually Training.

It's the new buzzword... "Training".  Everybody and their mom wants to train, has training advice, and can give you a 3 minute video depicting their training.  This may sound like a plus, particularly for someone who sells training programs, but that isn't necessarily the case.  Just take a look at your Facebook timeline.  Click on the first "training video" you come across, and you'll find 27 comments from people tagging their friends.  "We HAVE to do this!"  No you don't.  It's a good bet that it won't help you at all, or if it does, it's only because you're so "untrained" that you'd probably get that much stronger just by watching Cliffhanger.  You already know my thoughts on doing the same workouts as your friends... so we don't need to go into that.

What you want to do is workout.  This isn't training.  Two totally different animals.

Semantics, you say.  Blah blah blah.  But for me, these are important semantics.  So what's the difference?

Working Out is essentially the pursuit of being tired, sweaty clothes, and next day soreness.  Its unlikely that simply working out will make you much better, because it lacks direction and specificity.

Training is a series of progressive, measurable workouts that move toward a clear set of goals.  Training takes into account the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete, and stays specific to the needs of that athlete.

Not the same.

Now, to play devil's advocate, it's possible that the workout video you're watching is exactly what you need.  Doubtful, but possible.  However, 9 times out of 10, most people don't have a clue what they need, so every workout video, even when they contradict each other, is the RIGHT one.

This isn't to say that working out is bad, and I'm not saying that these videos aren't useful.  They give a glimpse into how the pros workout, which is interesting to see.  For me, they give an idea of how much further climbing can go when smarter training finally takes hold.  And frankly, most of you could use a workout or two.

Just keep in mind that you can't do "a little training".  You can't go into the gym and "train a few times before my roadtrip".  It doesn't work that way.  Training takes thought, diligence, and dedication.  Working out can happen spur of the moment, but training requires planning and sacrifice.  There are plenty of ways to train, even if you don't know how to get started.  Talk to someone you know has a track record.  Buy a book.  Read a blog.  Visit TrainingBeta.  And finally, really pay attention, and learn to put your ego aside to self evaluate or take criticism.

Or just go work out... there's no shame in that.  Just stop telling everyone that you're training.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review: Transgression Hangboard (and Training Plan) by Eva Lopez

By now you've seen it.  It's unmistakable.  The Transgression hangboard (and it's little brother, the Progression) is the first commercially available hangboard in some time to depart from the "little bit of every grip type" design.  As I've been talking up the benefits of training only on edges for a while now, I was instantly smitten with the design of the new board.  I had to get my hands on one.

I'd also heard that the board came with a training plan, one that went further down the path I'd taken my own training.  I'd never felt completely settled on a hangboard training plan, lost somewhere in the limbo of knowing that the classic "repeater" workout was far too many reps to really build strength (but great for power endurance) and believing that using smaller holds made more sense than using more weight.  Eva's methods seemed to go much further down the "less reps" road than I was willing to travel, so I didn't completely buy into the plan to begin with.  For the sake of this review, I decided to commit to it anyway, even though I was on the cusp of reaching a long term goal and was already toying with being my own training guinea pig. 

First things first.  Before I began the review, I'd heard several people lamenting the weight of the board (bad for shipping), the sharpness of the edges, and that in transit, the heavy boards were prone to damage.  This was true.  WAS.  You'll notice that my board isn't the swirly pattern typical of the original boards.  Because of the initial issues, JMClimbing changed the material used to manufacture the boards.  They are now made of a much lighter polyurethane (instead of polyester) that is unlikely to get damaged under normal shipping conditions.  Likely because of the new material, I found the edges to be downright friendly.  By the end of my cycle, I was hanging with 105 lbs. on the 18mm edge, with no worry about cutting into my fingers.  If any of these problems kept you from seriously considering the Transgression board, then now is the time to take another look.

On to the review.
Yasmeen in the correct, half-crimp position.

Board Dimensions:  

Width:   23.5 inches 
Height:  16 inches 
Depth:   6 inches at it's deepest

Weight: 17.5 lbs

Price:  $265.00 plus shipping

U.S. Distributor:

If you're at all familiar with hangboarding, it's easy to see why this board and it's little brother are desirable.  Each board has a jug and 8 edges of decreasing size, with the Transgression being the more advanced of the two with edges of 18mm (about 3/4 inch), 14mm, 12mm, and 10 - 6 mm (less than 1/4").  For the people who like to keep close track of numbers and tiny progressions, this thing is a godsend.

The texture of the edges is a little gritty, so I sanded the flat side of the edges just slightly.  A quick pass over each just to make sure that no burrs were left from the manufacturing process.  Like I mentioned above, the edges themselves were friendly enough that they didn't require any more sanding than the one pass (keep in mind that I feel that a light sand is mandatory for all climbing holds and boards).  The 18 mm edge never cut into me despite the extra load of 105 lbs.  The 6 mm edge I was using at the end of the cycle never cut me, and did no more than the absolute minimal skin damage that my 1/4 inch wood edge does.

The edges are oriented in a descending order in such a way that it makes full crimping difficult.  If you ask me, this is a positive feature.  I wouldn't recommend ever training finger strength in a full crimp position.

I may be stating the obvious here, but the fact that this board has edges in descending sizes makes training much simpler.  Training, as opposed to just "working out", relies on ever increasing loads to continually spur adaptation.  With this board, adjusting the training load is easier than ever.  It's true that adjusting the weight you're adding has nothing to do with the board, but that approach misses a key component to climbing training... using smaller holds.  This is where Eva's novel approach come in.

The board comes with a detailed poster that explains Eva's studied approach to using the Transgression  Her doctoral thesis was researched and written on finger strength training, so I'm inclined to trust her methods.  Inclined enough that even though I was climbing the best I ever had using my own approach, I opted to try Eva's way for a season.
board.  The poster is so detailed that at first glance it is difficult to understand.  After spending 10 or 15 minutes trying to comprehend the information, it started to become clear, and now makes perfect sense.  To make it even easier, she has very easy to grasp videos posted online HERE.

In my first couple of seasons using a hangboard, I saw huge gains.  Since then, gains have slowed first to a trickle, and more recently, to almost imperceptible.  I'm ok with this... I understand that this is a long fight, not a quick battle.  However, after my first season using Eva's methods, I saw bigger gains than I had in a few years.  The crux hold on my long term project was noticeably easier to hold... so much easier that my body position changed due to being able to "own" that hold so easily (but that's another story I'll tell you soon).  I'm not going to completely divulge her methods here, but there are some points I want to make.  This workout fits right into what my own research indicates is the best method to gain strength.  I was nervous to stray too far from the classic "repeater" workout, but Eva's research gave me the push I needed.  I'm glad that it did.  Also, the time spent hangboarding over the course of a training season is GREATLY reduced, which is a major plus for those of us who are time strapped to begin with.

Just last week, I began my second round of hangboarding using Eva's board and methods.  I'm sold.

The one negative I've encountered with this board is that it was probably rushed out a little too quickly, which seems to have contributed to the talk of sharp edges and damaged boards.  Not to mention, many in the US have had a hard time finding a board due to distributor issues and exorbitant shipping costs, which I'm told is now fixed.

Price is also an issue that many are concerned about, but after using the board for a season, I've reconciled with that.  Most boards I've used, I've outgrown.  This one will last me many seasons, and if you split the price up season to season, it's more than worth it.  While the steel tendoned among us will need an even smaller edge, the board will still be plenty useful for a large portion of the training.

 For a gym environment or in a place where the board will be used by a wide variety of climbers, I can't imagine a better finger training tool than the Transgression and it's little brother, the Progression.

The vitals, so you don't have to search back through this post:

JM Climbing

In the U.S., email

You can find Eva's training videos HERE.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Training Beta Podcast

Just wanted to give you guys a heads up, if you aren't already following the Training Beta podcast, that the new episode, a conversation I had with Neely, who runs the site, is up.

We talked about the hows and whys of training, projects, being a weekend warrior, and a little bit of everything else.

Check it out HERE!