Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ATTACKTICS: Projecting Part 1, Picking The Project.

Most climbers, at some point, will wonder how hard they actually could climb if they put the time in to try it.  I don't mean that they'll train for years and make the sacrifices necessary to reach their true potential... just that they'll wonder how hard they could climb right now, if they tried a route more than 2 or 3 times.

For those that have never undertaken a project, it can be intimidating just to decide on the right route.  It's easy to get in over your head, and even easier to not shoot high enough.  There are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to help make this decision.

#1:  Style or Anti-style?

Do you want a project that challenges your weaknesses, or one that suits your strengths?  Most of us have an anti-style, and it's extremely gratifying to complete a route at a difficult level that exploits those chinks in your armor.  On the flip side, maybe you're looking to redpoint a personal best.  Projecting something hard that suits your style is a great way to end the speculation and find out exactly where you stand.

#2.  Short or Long Term?

What are you willing to invest?  Mini projects (3-5 sessions or so) are my favorite way to build momentum going into a climbing season, and carry the least investment.  Once this becomes the norm, it isn't uncommon to have multiple mini-projects going at one time.  Long term projects, on the other hand, require a much larger down payment... you might just spend an entire season, or two, or three, and still not have the send to show for it.  With the bigger investment comes a bigger payoff...  clipping the chains on the hardest route you've ever done is one of the best feelings in rockclimbing, and will last all of about 30 seconds, and you'll be planning your next long term project.

Of the two questions, you have 4 possible answers.  Lets look at those a little more in depth.

#1:  Your Style, Short Term Project:

This one is easy, and the best intro to the potential frustrations of projecting.  A good place to start looking is at about 2 letter grades above your best onsight.  If you are a horrible onsight climber, go for 3 letter grades.  If you haven't projected before, this could potentially still be a personal best, but don't be intimidated... you'll quickly learn that after 5 or 6 attempts the moves start to feel much easier.

#2:  Your Style, Long Term Project:

If you're looking to really dig in, spend a season or more working largely on one route, and can be ok with the repeated failure, then this is for you.  Don't be afraid to shoot for a full number grade over your most difficult onsight.  If you believe yourself to be an uncommonly good onsight climber, maybe only go 3 letter grades.  It's likely that much of the climbing on the new project will be at your onsight level, with a few cruxes sprinkled in.  Only spend up to 2/3 of your climbing days focused on the project.   Be sure to take some days off to get some quick sends in on other styles, or you risk stagnating on everything except your project.

#3:  Your Anti-Style, Short Term Project:

For me, this is the most valuable style of project.  What you shoot for largely depends on how "anti" it really is.  For instance, I've done 13b second try when it's in my wheelhouse, but my current mini project is 13b.  The catch is that its only slightly overhanging, bouldery, and has two moves that are at the absolute limit of my reach (I actually measured), followed by several more big throws.  Not my style, but so damned good I can't help but want to do it.  I generally shoot for 2 letter grades over what I could do 2nd go in a similar style.  This is my preferred method of building momentum for the season, particularly because the training season focuses somewhat on the weaknesses that this style exploits.

#4:  Your Anti-Style, Long Term Project:

Probably the least common type of "mega-proj", simply because the frustration is hard to accept.  By definition, you're going to have to aim 3 or 4 letter grades over your best onsight of the style.  Tread carefully, as you're walking a thin line.  On one side of this line lies the gains you can make from strengthening a weak link.  On the other side is the fact that too much time spent on weaknesses means that you'll be slipping in the things you're good at.  Again, be sure to spend maybe 1/3 of your climbing time on other routes.  It'll keep you strong all around, rather than just for this project.

Buckling down and spending several weeks on one line can be scary, particularly if you are a weekend warrior and have limited time outside.   However, the process can become rather enjoyable, and can reveal a little more about you as a climber.   And if you decide that you despise projecting, you can always go back to your old ways.

 Do you want to just finish the season having done 40 5.11's instead of the 32 you did last year?  Are you even really progressing if that's your method of measurement?  Maybe it's time to step up your game, pick a project, and get to work.


  1. Thanks for this, I have been following your blog for some time and have found a ton of useful stuff on here. I look forward to each new post. It's funny your timing seems perfect, seems each post is always relevant to where I am in my climbing/training at the time haha. For example, your article about planning for a climbing trip came 6 weeks before I leave for a Red Rocks trip, and helped me adjust my training schedule a bit to reflect my goals for there... Anyways, this article is also quite relevant to me, since after a solid few months of training, this is going to be the first season that I am planning on projecting a lot more routes at my limit instead of onsiting so much, and hope to be able to establish myself firmly in the mid-12's over the next year. Your suggestions for choosing a project route are very helpful, but I find myself in a bit of a unique situation. I live in an area far away from any major established sport climbing areas where there are many routes to choose projects from. There are very few routes established at my limit. There is a reasonable amount of rock that offers some hard projects and for a few years I have been establishing my own routes and bolting projects. I find that I either do the routes easily, or they are hard, but it is hard to know how hard and how much work it would potentially take to redpoint, as there are no other routes to compare the standard to. Any advice on projecting when it comes to FA's? I have some time in Red Rocks coming up where I could establish what my current onsite/quick redpoint baseline is, and use that to judge my projects at home against to pick ones to put the most effort into? Also have a month in Squamish coming up this summer, should I consider sacrificing some of the performance of my spring season to really ramp it up to top redpoint shape in August? any insights are appreciated.

    1. Hey Greg,

      Glad you found the site, and glad it's helped a time or two. You are definitely in a unique situation. I think your idea of finding the baseline in Red Rocks and then using that to compare where to work at home is a good one. I've had pretty good luck with performing all spring, and then doing a very short sort of "reboot" to get ready for a summer trip. My summer trip is usually to Wild Iris, so I do short cycles of power and power endurance. A couple of weeks of training, assuming you work a little to keep strength levels up during the season, will have you back into nearly prime shape for Squamish. Particularly if you have a month there, that first week of getting acclimated is likely to kick you into high gear.

    2. Thanks so much for the quick reply, Kris!

      I have a few FA projects on the go and I'm trying to prioritize them so that one can help train for the next somewhat and I can keep performing through the spring. I have a good home gym so if I start to taper off before Squamish I can do a "re-boot" as you said, and I plan on spending my first few days there bouldering to kick myself into high gear. Thanks again for your advice and I look forward to future posts!

      One other somewhat unrelated question: I did a full 4 weeks of high-intensity hangboard workouts for finger strength early this winter. Shortly afterwards I sustained an A2 injury. I treated it right and trained through the injury and its better now, but continuing training meant eliminating supplemental finger strength training that I was planning on doing through my next phases, and now, though I feel I am at least where I was at pre-injury, I don't feel like I am much farther ahead in that area. Do you think there is any value in doing a small amount of supplemental finger strength training at this stage so close to performance season, or do you think that it is most beneficial left to its own focused cycle? I have heard strong opinions either way on the matter. Thanks again!

    3. I've had luck both ways Greg. Particularly if you've got fingery projects, I say do it. Just remember to leave enough time for recovery... it's easy to do too much during performance season.