How Weekend Warrior Max Snyder Climbed His First 5.14

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“Training got me to give a shit again.”

Max Snyder climbed 5.13 and V8 within his first two years of climbing, and over the next few years had slowly raised that to V10 and mid 5.13 – lifetime goals for many climbers. But like most climbers, he wasn’t satisfied. Pursuing a moving target of excellence is at the root of why so many of us continue to try to push into the next harder challenge.

After a 6 month western climbing trip in mid 2016, life projects and looming night classes conspired to put climbing on the back burner. 100 hour work weeks as a carpenter and a fast food diet left Max in the worst shape of his life – not even able to repeat the warmups at his local crag. While we would usually suggest that a climber of this caliber needs a completely customized plan, we also believe that in training, we start where we are – not where we used to be. So when Max came looking for a training plan that would fit his now nearly nonexistent extra time, we suggested our Boulder Strong Proven Plan with coach Blake Cash. Proven Plans, now with or without coach communication are inexpensive training plans based on the patterns we’ve seen most often at specific levels. Boulder Strong would get Max back to his previous levels, and ideally it would expose some specific areas in which he could really use improvement.

“The experience was both eye opening and ass kicking”, he says.

Having a structure based around specific objectives and drills for each session helped Max realize not only how much time he normally wastes in the gym but also “how many weaknesses I had…and how many excuses I had to justify these weaknesses and never work on them.” Having someone monitor his training gave Max someone to be accountable to. Because he knew Blake was watching, he often got off of the couch and into the gym when he’d rather have stayed home.

“One of the biggest benefits I saw was having someone on the other end of the app holding me accountable.

Even though I would be alone in the gym training, I wasn’t training alone.”

After finishing the Boulder Strong plan and taking a month off of training to focus on climbing, Max signed up for a long term Custom Plan with Blake in order to reach a big goal that had been brewing: 5.14, and he had a specific one in mind.

“His goal was Proper Soul from the get-go”, Blake says, “but foundation-wise we had some work to do.”

In January of 2017 Blake started Max on a high volume program that included both high intensity, low volume power sessions and high volume, moderate intensity circuits (in separate sessions). Perhaps most important were the circuits Max was doing once each week. He was given 30 minutes to repeat as many high level moderate boulders as possible - ideally doing each first try. With an exercise like this, simple math doesn’t quite work - doing five V5’s is worth more than doing three V8’s - but the nature of New River climbing is such that the ability to do three V8’s will be worth far more than those 5’s, so it’s up to the coach to weight specific grades differently.

In one of Max’s final circuits of the first cycle, his notes indicate that he did three V8’s, six V7’s, and five V6’s - a good step up from his first few sessions that included zero V8’s. A higher volume of difficult problems was the perfect start for Max on the way to climbing his first 5.14.

 
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Proper Soul is a 14a at The Cirque in the New River Gorge, West Virginia. Max lives 7 hours away in Pennsylvania. Not an easy situation, no matter how driven you are. Max says it was made much easier because of the supportive climbing communities in both PA and the New. He never had a problem finding dedicated partners.

“It’s truly humbling to have people as psyched on your project as you are. If your homies aren’t about your success, they aren’t your homies.”

Totally inspired by the route, Max would make the 14 hour drive every weekend in the peak season and averaged around every other weekend during the rest of the year. Because his time in the gym was often limited by a busy work schedule to two 90 minute sessions a week, Blake pushed for some weekends spent in the gym during the off season. He won occasionally, but as coaches we also have to take into account what the client values. Max valued getting outside and it kept him sane, so Blake helped to structure his outdoor time to better complement his training.

Rather than allowing Max to fall into the trap of banging his head against the project, Blake asked him to spend Day 1 on Proper Soul, and spend Day 2 working on his second tier objectives – routes a couple of notches easier that he could do in a handful of attempts. It wasn’t uncommon for a trip in less than ideal conditions to be dedicated entirely to filling in spots on his route pyramid.

This was a massively beneficial tactic for Blake and Max to have employed. When working on a difficult project, particularly if you’ve convinced yourself that the send is close, it’s incredibly easy to lose sight of the fact that you’ve fallen in the same place 20+ times and you haven’t touched another route harder than a warmup in months. When getting there and back requires a full day of driving, it becomes even more difficult to pull yourself away from the big objective. You very well may be gaining important muscle memory and fitness for that specific route, but it’s likely that you’re losing overall strength and fitness – qualities that may indeed prove necessary for the big send. It can be a confusing, vicious cycle to break free of.

For multiple reasons, this tactic became particularly important for Max’s Proper Soul campaign. One of the defining features of the route is the steep crux dihedral, and it had become a bit of a demon for him.

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“I knew I could do the damn thing…

but every time I’d get to the dihedral, I would make some stupid mistake, fall, pull back on, and take it to the rest. It was as if every time I tied in I was putting on a weight vest.”

Believe it or not, sending is a learned skill. If you’ve only practiced falling off of a route and haven’t had to go to battle in a while, then everything will need to be absolutely perfect in order for you to clip the chains. This makes for a much longer process, particularly when it’s a 14 hour round trip. By doing these 2nd tier projects, Max and Blake were keeping up not only fitness and strength, but motivation and the ability to quickly get into the right headspace.

He’d also gotten close to the send several times, only to have weather or life obligations keep him away for several weeks. Momentum is tough to carry with extended breaks from progression on the project. Having had those 2nd tier sends under his belt helped him be sure that he could perform when the time came.

Blake says that he and Max would check in after every training block, figuring out what worked well and how to build from the progress. Avoiding a mistake that many coaches make, Blake took into account what Max felt he needed in order to make the send happen. Climbing is an incredibly complex sport, and no amount of data or objective training will always trump what the climber feels they need when they’re up there. Having a direct line for that subjective communication – as well as objective measures - is absolutely imperative for a coach and climber to succeed together.

Most trips to the New are weekend affairs for Max, but on this trip he’d taken a week off to spend climbing. Rather than go all in on Proper Soul, he opted to also explore other routes. On his 4th day in a row climbing, Max had a double 5.13 day, opening his eyes to what he could do if he just got out of his own way. He’d learned that “if I’m tying in to send, my head needs to be there too. I can’t be talking to myself at all or rearranging beta. The time for all of that has come and gone, it’s time to execute.

Max wrote this note to Blake about the day:

“Figured I’d go hard one last day and then take two rest days. Flashed a 12a for the warm up, sent Smackdown 13a second go, I would’ve flashed if I was a little warmer. Sent Crossing The Line 13b third try of the day, feeling very whooped I executed flawlessly and had plenty in the tank at the anchor.”

Blake says that from his perspective, this season seemed different. “Progress was happening at a faster rate than other seasons”, so for the gym sessions he “made sure to pull back on the volume while keeping intensity high.” The outdoor mini projects were helping Max keep his fitness and sending headspace together, so gym time could be spent giving short maximum efforts – exactly what’s needed to be sure that top end strength and power stays intact.

“It was a matter of a few weeks after his final phase that he fired it” says Blake. “I really liked how he approached trying a route that seemed to not suit his strengths. He didn't devote every waking day of climbing to trying to do it. He kept variety in his climbing days and went to other cliffs and did new routes frequently. This approach kept him mentally fresh and confident.”

From Max’s training notes:

“Meant to take 2 rest days but the weather for the coming days looked ominous. Decided to head out early in the morning to get some send burns in before the chance of rain rose. Matched the highpoint first go but psyched myself out the next go. Matched it again on the 3rd go but it was too hot to give anymore try hard. Retreated back to the house for some food, naps, and dog petting. Went back a few hours later, did the warm up to get the blood moving. Tied in, waited for the breeze to arrive, and executed. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed so smoothly or deliberately before in my life. Everything flowed. I didn’t think about my beta or the climb once, I was in it. It was such a surreal moment to stand on top of the cliff and take it all in. I had so many goes where I felt completely bricked at the top of the dihedral, but when I sent the route, I felt like I had enough in the tank to peel off another pitch of 12a.”

Max says, “I know this seems obvious but when I sent, I was calm, relaxed, and went through each sequence without question. I even chatted with my belayer at the rests.” He knows this didn’t happen by accident. It was a well thought out and executed plan built together by he and Blake. We’ve said it often - no matter how good a plan, it’s the dedication and commitment of the athlete that really matters. For Max, training got him to give a shit again.


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What’s Next for Max Snyder

After two and a half years of on and off work into Proper Soul and some time to soak in the experience, Max again isn’t satisfied – choosing instead to continue chasing the elusive moving target of mastery. He says he’s torn between cleaning up old projects, plucking overlooked gems, or diving into another big project. Between burns in The Cirque he had plenty of time to look around at any number of “next projects”, but in the meantime he plans to build up his collection of 5.13 sends and spend some time sport climbing around Wyoming.