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:  usa@jmclimbing.com
Distributor:  jmclimbing.com

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 usa@jmclimbing.com

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!

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!