Review: Gimme Kraft!

Shortly after it was available in the U.S., I eagerly got my hands on this new book from Patrick Matros and Dicki Korb, trainers and coaches of German wunderkind Alex Megos.  I'm naturally a skeptic, particularly when it comes to a training program that any uber-strong climber uses.  I mean, who's to say that said training program had anything to do with getting them there?  In this case, Megos had "only" climbed 13b (8a) by the age of 13 before coming under the tutelage of Matros.  Of course, we also have to take into account that Megos had been climbing 8 years by this time, and in the very next year he was the Bavarian sport climbing champion.  Whether the training program hidden beneath the eye-catching green cover had helped him achieve the world's first 14d onsight or not, I was anxious to dig in.

Initially, I was disappointed.  While the cover claims that the book contains "effective climbing training", I'd posit that it contains nothing of the sort.  What it does contain, however, is a fine selection of exercises that could be used within your training, both climbing oriented and supplemental, such as rings and bar exercises, campusing, so-called "sling" training, and the now popular pegboard.  After a period of accepting it for what it is, and attempting to ignore the inaccuracy of the cover statement, I decided to review the book for what it is, rather than for what it somewhat claims to be.

But first, (because it just wouldn't be right if I didn't air my gripes) let's look at why this isn't a climbing training book.  In my opinion, "training" is much more than sport specific exercises and workouts.  "Training" consists of many more factors, including diet, rest and recovery, injury prevention (and rehabilitation), and, as is often necessary, lifestyle changes.  Certainly a serious aspect of training, and possibly the most misunderstood among climbers, is how to schedule your training in order to reach peak performance at a prescribed time.  While the authors do very briefly mention some of these aspects, and they do state that the book isn't a comprehensive study of training, I have trouble using the word "training" in conjunction with it at all.

So, it's a collection of exercises.

And at that, it's a damn fine job.  While none of the exercises included are groundbreaking, they are certainly effective.

About the book:

The text is in both German and English, mostly in alternating pages or descriptions.  After a small bit of initial confusion, the system seems to be a good approach, and eliminates the need to have the book be nearly twice the size.  The photos and exercise descriptions are excellent, and the book does a great job of suggesting the difficulty of each exercise, from beginner to pro.  Also described with each exercise are the basics of what it will do for you and what muscle group it works.  While this is important, it's also important to know why you should do it, how often, and in what part of your training cycle.  None of this information is given, so some background in training is helpful, which the authors suggest.  Interspersed throughout the book are "pro-tips" from many big name climbers such as Sasha DiGiulian, Bernd Zangerl, Melissa Le Neve, and Fred Nicole.  Also included is a DVD that shows the proper way to do the exercises and contains interviews with the pros who are pictured in the book, as well as footage of Wolfgang Gullich training with Professor Weineck.

About the exercises:

As I mentioned before, none of the exercises are groundbreaking.  These consist mostly of bodyweight exercises, many of which I used as a gymnast, though I understand that many climbers may not have seen these before.  As far as supplemental training for climbing goes, the list of exercises is extremely comprehensive.  A few of the exercises border on climbing "games", which is a welcome addition that could keep your group training sessions fun.  Other than variations of the included exercises, there is little room for anything else, with one glaring exception.  Mentioned nowhere is the fingerboard or hangboard.  According to an interview with the author by Peter Beal from The Bouldering Book, the omission was simply because fingerboarding doesn't fit into the complex training theme of the book.

About the DVD:

The included DVD has great footage of the pros doing the exercises that are depicted in the book.  For those who are new to these exercises (and some who aren't), this footage is important to show the correct form that should be used in completing the exercises.

The interviews with the pros may be important to bring name recognition to the book, but I found them to otherwise be mostly counterproductive.  My favorite interview was with Fred Nicole and Bernd Zangerl, who both seem to indicate that training isn't a big part of their climbing.  As the idea of training for climbing is still new, these two legends were questionable choices for a "training" book, though I enjoyed their philosophy.

Worth the price of the book alone is the footage of campus board inventor Wolfgang Gullich training under the supervision of Professor Weineck.  It gives you a glimpse into how scientifically Wolfgang was approaching his training.  He was ahead of his time, and perhaps training for climbing is just catching up to his early efforts.

In all, "Gimme Kraft!" is an excellent collection of exercises that any climber who is serious about training should have.  The footage of Wolfgang (particularly if you're a history nerd like myself) will get you psyched, and you'll find exercises you can use in every phase of your training.  If you're hoping to find a magic formula that will make you stronger with less work, you won't find it here.  The principles are sound, hard work is still required, and while, in my opinion, it isn't an "effective climbing training" book, it is a great collection of "complex climbing exercises".  

Buy it!  

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