Training. Fucking. Works. by Marina Inoue

I first met Marina Inoue in a southern boulder field. Like it or not, boulder fields often become the stage for posturing and bravado, but it was quickly evident that this tiny tattooed woman wasn't interested in that. She was just as intent on supporting everyone else as she was on her own projects.

Intent. I don't use that word lightly. 

Shortly after our first meeting, Marina spoke with me on the podcast. I've now had the pleasure of knowing her for several years, and I've seen her approach everything she does with that same driven intent. When she signed up to do a custom plan with Nate, who carries that same intention, I knew it could be something special. See, training isn't a magic bullet. You need certain qualities to make the most of it, and Marina had them all. 

- Kris

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By Marina Inoue

Photos by Tara Kerzhner 

For the first five years I climbed, I had in my head that I had no business training. My belief was that I wasn’t advanced enough to warrant it and that learning more about becoming better technically would hold more value than just getting stronger. The idea of injuring myself campusing or hangboarding made me nervous, and progressing through actual outdoor climbing just seemed more interesting.

A little history: about two years into climbing, I figured out a way to adjust my work situation and climb nearly full-time, spending significant blocks of time at any given climbing destination. Through this lifestyle, my education about my own climbing developed more quickly, I imagine, than the weekend warrior who has more limited access to the outdoors. By honing and developing skills through the practice of relentlessly projecting at my limit - a process I have always loved -  I’ve been able to climb around fifteen routes at 13a/b and boulders up to V10, in multiple different styles in different areas. During this time, structured training didn’t really interest me, not only because I had minimal access to a gym, but also because - contrary to how many people feel - I felt I grew stronger living on the road. Through psyche, motivation, and access, I was able to progress consistently for a long time.

But then, the plateau.

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I am always thankful for what I am able to accomplish, regardless of the grade; some of the routes I am the most proud of doing aren’t the hardest on paper. For me, it’s the experience, not the result, that ultimately is the most important in climbing. But we all know what it’s like to feel that the same range of difficulty is constantly the same range of difficult. Before going to Hueco this past winter, I decided to ask a friend to help me with a hangboarding program.  He created a comprehensive program and was very supportive and helpful throughout the process. By following it diligently, I ended up sending my hardest boulder to date: "Dark Age" (V11). The pride of doing something that was difficult for me, something that had seemed unfathomable, was great. But the real takeaway from the experience was this: Training. Fucking. Works. My perception of what I was capable of, what could be possible, how hard I can push myself, the belief, the confidence, was all very much changed through a mere three weeks of training.

In the spring, after two stationary months, I decided to work with Nate here at the Power Company and dedicate myself to training before going to Rifle for the summer. The climbing in Rifle is three dimensional, physical. There are a lot of power endurance sections, a lot of body english, and big dynamic movements. I had goals. Routes in mind. And after what I’d gained from training and climbing over the winter, I wanted to improve upon it. I filled out the comprehensive consultation form, and talked Nate through what I wanted to accomplish. It was, at first, a little strange to fully relinquish control of my gym sessions to the program. It was interesting to invest a lot of time and what felt like blind-ish trust into training, while essentially “giving up” a spring climbing season to be in a gym. A lot of the movement drills felt odd, maybe even a little silly, and I felt pretty clumsy climbing on plastic. The core work wrecked me at first, and I discovered I am very entry-level at campusing. I failed at hangs. I failed at plenty of things. But the structure of the program was incredibly valuable and made my training sessions highly-focused and efficient. There was no dilly-dallying, and little socializing. It was often just me, the workouts, my headphones, and some try-hard. I stuck with it and pushed through all of it, with the help and patience of Nate the whole time. When the cycles were over, I didn’t know what to expect, so I didn’t expect anything.

My excitement to climb outside was so great that performance seriously felt secondary. I was just psyched to climb.

The reintroduction to Rifle is always rough. The warm-ups felt hard. I was shaky, getting heinously pumped, and didn’t feel fit. I had to be patient while building endurance. But after a few weeks, I was able to recover while resting on routes, and found what seemed like a new level of calmness and flow within my climbing. The movement drills I had done while training had burned a muscle memory that was firing without me having to think. I was snappier, more dynamic, and contacting holds with far more efficiency than ever before. After finishing off "Vision Thing" as my first project of the season, I climbed multiple 12+ and 13- routes as secondary projects, dispatching them in far fewer tries than last year, and was able to use what last year had been a small project as a literal warm-up. The previous year, I’d tried and failed two or three times at a bouldery crux at the top of "Lost and Found" (5.12b); this year, I did it first try. I climbed my hardest route to date, "Apocalypse" (5.13c), after putting in about two weeks of effort. My next hardest route to date, "Tomb Raider" (5.13d), went down in the same amount of time. And the most incredible thing? I felt like I had more to give, even on these routes that had seemed intangible and intimidating. That feeling - that I deserve to be on these challenging routes and can push even further - is absolutely invaluable.

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It's been, without a doubt, the best season of rope climbing I have ever had.

I am very, very grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be outside and focus on my climbing as much as I have. I still feel like I have so much to learn about movement, technique, mental acuity, and efficiency while climbing. And personally, I think it’s in poor style to choose to train strength over learning skills because no amount of pull-ups or hangboarding can teach you how to be a good climber.

But after completing these training cycles, this year has been a breakthrough in my climbing, by miles. Physically and mentally.

In the end, intimidated by its grade and reputation, I never tried the route I’d really had my eye on. I let my fear of not being ready trump my curiosity. Next year, I won’t.