Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Cross-Training Dilemma

First off, thanks to everyone who stopped over at Reddit and participated in the AMA!  Great questions kept pouring in that required in depth answers, and before I knew it, I'd been at it for over 6 hours straight.  Having to answer questions that were being fired at me from all sides was a great way to "reset" my brain and mental state, and to get more focused than ever.
"The Engine Room", in progress.

We've been building a Power Company training room, complete with new toys that you'll be seeing in reviews, including Eva Lopez's Transgression hangboard, and the system holds from Atomik Climbing.  I built a board specifically to try out Atomik's System line (both bolt on and screw on), and the first few sessions have left me incredibly amped, as I think system boarding could be the most overlooked training tool out there.  More on that later.

Right now I want to talk about a question that is asked of me nearly weekly.

"What kind of cross-training do you do?"

None.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.

Actually, I suppose that isn't true.  I climb on boulders to get better at routes, and I hang on small edges to get better at bouldering.

It's not that I believe that cross-training is silly.  Not at all.

Ok, that isn't true either.

For a large percentage of the people who "cross-train", it is silly.  Pointless.  Unproductive.

Let me say this loudly (but not so loud as to be in all caps)....

If you're cross-training for fun... because you like it or want to excel at it... or because it simply makes you feel good... then by all means keep doing it and stop reading now.

If however, you do it because you believe that you'll become a better climber by running, doing CrossFit, or playing soccer 2 nights a week, by all means, keep reading.

Allow me to backup a little.  I'm getting too excited and getting ahead of myself.  There are people who will benefit greatly from cross-training.  If you fall into one of the below categories, then join the cross-trainers over in the corner who are already cursing me out.

  • You need to get fit.  If general fitness is your weakest link, or if your aerobic fitness isn't at least average (among athletes, not amongst all Americans.  I'm sure average is horrendous here) then maybe playing soccer is what you need.  If you don't have the general bodily strength that comes along with being an athlete, a (very) little bit CrossFit can probably help you out.  If keeping your weight down is your main concern, then running or biking is going to be great for you.  A very small percentage of climbers actually fit this bill, and most of those would see greater benefits with a better diet and more climbing, but sometimes it's easier to be involved in something organized, so I'm willing to let it slide.
  • You have nothing but extra time.  If your free time is unlimited, and all you want to do is climb, then finding a low impact cross-training hobby might be a good idea.  Climbing all the time isn't good for your climbing, particularly if you're always trying hard, so a little organized badminton is just your ticket.  I personally don't know anyone who get's everything done and still has so much time that they need this, but I suppose it's possible.
  • You are A.D.D.  (the real kind, not the overdiagnosed bullshit kind).  If you find that you just can't focus on climbing, and need something more exciting in your life, give rugby a whirl, or maybe auto racing or bull fighting.  According to Hemingway, the latter two might be your best options, depending on your level of pain tolerance.  I understand that climbing is slow and boring, and maybe you haven't realized yet that it's the only sport that actually does keep your attention, so try out some others.  You'll be back.  And before you go and get all uppity on me, I have some experience (and success) with helping A.D.D. climbers learn to focus.  So there.
  • You just like it.  I mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again so that I don't have to answer comments from 45 people who like running but can't read for comprehension all that well.  
  • Your climbing skills are too good to improve upon.  I'm not even going to bother explaining.  If you believe that you fit into this category, then do MORE cross-training, please. 

Sure I do.

That's pretty much it.  For the rest of us, it doesn't make much sense to spend time competetively doing kipping pullups when we could be refining our actual climbing skills.  I've yet to see a climber who I immediately thought "Wow, that guy definitely needs to play some softball."
In all seriousness, if you love to run, go running.  If you love to push a bobsled, do it.  If you adore CrossFit, then by all means, enjoy destroying your joints.  I'll be climbing, or doing something very specific to climbing, with my training time.
And who knows, maybe all this climbing will make me a better bowler?


  1. OK, but what if I just like it?

    1. Joel, I might have mentioned that (several times). Yep, definitely did.

  2. Hello Kris,

    When you refer to cross-training, are you including general weight/resistance training in that group? I have found it beneficial to do some resistance training focusing on pulling, pushing and some leg work a couple of times a week. Mostly low reps as the emphasis is getting stronger and not bigger. I find this makes bouldering feel easier. I also do some core on those days, but I consider that some what sport specific. Thoughts?

    1. Not including general weight training... only other "sports" as a way to get stronger for climbing. I'm a proponent of weight training when it's needed (some people are already far stronger than their climbing is, so I don't suggest it for them unless they have unlimited time). Low reps, high weight, good form. Definitely.

  3. Hey Kris, what is the height and angle of your engine room walls?

    1. Not completely sure of either. I have plans to measure, but haven't yet. Somewhere around 30ish degrees right now (both are adjustable), and both top out at around 8 feet at their current angle.

  4. I'm so happy to have read this article. I say it at the gym all the time, endless pull ups will NOT make you any stronger, specially if you are already bouldering V5 or harder. But they don't believe me.
    Thanks Kris.

  5. Hey Kris,
    I have found that stretching, yoga, massage, focused weight lifting and core exercises are all helping to make me feel healthier and better able to withstand the stresses that climbing and climbing-specific-training put on my body. I would classify these as "cross-training," since they are not rock climbing, and I find that they are very useful as adjunct activities to the main sport. Just my two cents.
    Chris Hill

    1. Hey Chris, my definition of cross training is a little different than yours. I do all of the above (minus yoga... my time is far too limited), but don't consider those things cross training. True, those things aren't rock climbing, but they are all parts of training for nearly every sport that exists, which in my mind, just makes them essential training elements rather than cross training. Wikipedia says this about cross training:

      Cross-training refers to an athlete training in sports other than the one that athlete competes in with a goal of improving overall performance.

      Basically, we agree, just with different definitions.

  6. I love this essay! My problem is that I just want to do it all and I want to do it now! I want to train like a madman, climb the Diamond, climb at Rifle, climb in the Black, do the Nose in a day, get on an 8 day El Cap aid route and then do it all over again!

    1. Mark, I feel your pain. It's been a tough run focusing on sport climbing at the expense of other goals, but now that I'm close to my 14a sport goal, I'm excited to get back to the Valley for some big stuff, as well as to some smaller rocks for harder moves!

  7. Keep me posted when you'll be in the Valley. I'll be there mid May to Mid June this spring and all of October this fall.

    1. Mark, I'm hoping to be there a fair amount of October. I turn 40 on the 5th, and was hoping to spend my 40th on a wall. I'll definitely keep you posted on how my plans are shaping up.