10 weeks until HC 2013… the perfect time for a training cycle!


This post is a bit long, but I hope it’s helpful as a set of reference points and suggestions for training. Since we’re about 10 weeks out from HC 2013 (and you wanna crush that shit), you have the perfect amount of time for a typical climbing training cycle.

First, some inspiring eye candy:

5:30 is nuts.

To begin, you should figure out what your goals are and the specific kind of climbing you want to train for. Since we’re talking about the New, it’s sport and trad, single pitch, generally technical face climbing on vertical to overhanging rock. Pitches vary from 50-100 feet and require endurance to fight the pump, good footwork, and often bouldery crux sequences. Here are some thoughts for training in 10 weeks:

4 WEEKS OF ENDURANCE — this is your base
3 WEEKS OF STRENGTH — this gets you through the cruxes
2 WEEKS OF POWER ENDURANCE — gets you through the crux while pumped

I base this on Eric Horst’s excellent training cycles, which you can learn about on his website or through his numerous publications, like Conditioning for Climbing. I also strongly recommend Dan Hague and Douglas Hunter’s book, The Self-Coached Climber, which gives all the science behind climbing and a great set of training tools.

ENDURANCE (4 weeks, although can be shortened if you have a solid base and you want to train more power endurance):

The long-term idea is to build capillaries to remove lactic acid as efficiently as possible from the muscles (the cause of the pump).  The training is called “Aerobic Restoration and Capillary” (ARC) and consists of climbing for as long as possible without being (fully) pumped.  The idea is to increase your “anaerobic threshold” in your forearms, meaning the time you can rely on your aerobic system before your anaerobic system kicks in and you get wildly pumped.  Endurance training should focus almost exclusively on forearms, which tend to be the first thing to fail.  The training: 3-4x/week of continuous, low-intensity training starting at 15 minutes and gradually going up to 45 minutes (or more) by week 4.

Endurance training is generally boring and easy to overlook, because you want to climb harder and work on that V6+ boulder problem or that awesome 5.12+ or whatever.  Instead, for endurance, you want to climb at least 2-3 grades BELOW what you  comfortably climb normally.  And you climb with little rest or pause.  I bring my Ipod, because it gets boring.

The training: TRAVERSE your entire gym.  If this is hard, traverse only the vertical parts and use the biggest holds you can find.  If 15 minutes of continuous climbing is hard, start with 10 minutes.  MOVE SLOWLY.  It should be precise — you should work on climbing technique, proper use of foot holds and hand holds — no lunging, no out-of-control movements… everything is totally relaxed and balanced. keep your arms straight, move up and down on the wall, focus on turning and flagging, keep your weight on your feet (not on your hands). If you don’t want to traverse and you have a partner or auto-belay, rope up and climb 2-3 FULL GRADES below what you comfortably redpoint.  If you normally climb 5.11, you are now climbing 5.8 and 5.9.  You can TR or lead, but need to go up and DOWN-CLIMB and then go right back up and right back down.  Try to rest on the wall, shake out, recover at the jugs, find stances to relax, BUT DON’T COME OFF THE WALL.  After your session (say, 15 minutes), rest for 10 or 15 minutes and do it again.  You can do this work-out 3-4x/week (every other day) because it’s not especially taxing or strenuous.  By the end of four weeks, you should see noticeable differences in your endurance — possibly even able to climb for 30-45 minutes without coming off the wall.  If this workout is easy already, up the difficulty and avoid all jugs or focus primarily in the overhang portion of your gym.

You should aim for about 1.5 hours of endurance training (including the rests).  After that, if you feel warmed up, climb some harder routes, boulder a bit (maybe do mini-pyramids — see “power endurance” below), or do pull-ups and push-ups (for antagonist muscle training).  On non-climbing days, integrate 30-45 minutes of cross-training, such as running, swimming, biking or whatever you like.

Keep a log book for each day and mark how long your endurance training lasted — you can then keep track of your gains and monitor your progress.

STRENGTH (3 weeks):

This goal is simple: get stronger.  This is also the riskiest part of your training regiment because you don’t want to hurt yourself by tweaking a finger pulley or getting a shoulder injury.  Unless you have been climbing for YEARS, I would AVOID the campus-board entirely and only consider moderate use of a finger or hang-board.  Muscles get stronger much faster than tendons and the risk of injury is very high when you are taxing your body at or near its limit.  You want to thoroughly warm-up for all strength training exercises and plan your program based on your years of climbing.  I started climbing in 1998, and just started doing campus training this past year.  I need to rest for two days after an intense campus session.  I would not recommend it for anyone who has been climbing for less than 2 or 3 years.

To determine your strength training plan, you need to assess where you currently are.  What level bouldering do you comfortably onsight?  V1 or V4 or V6?  If it’s higher than V6, you obviously know more than me and should make videos (see above).  I focus strength training almost entirely on bouldering because here you can really focus on a combination of power and technique in short bursts of energy.  Rope climbing is not ideal for this portion of training (but it can be for power endurance, see below).

The idea is to climb hard, up to and at your bouldering limit.  And then to push through that limit to the next level.  Let’s say you generally struggle on V4.  I would warm-up in the bouldering area on 8-10 problems, generally V0-V2.  Since you just came off 4 weeks of endurance training, 10 problems should be easy for a warm-up.  Now, stretch, rest, chill out for about 10 or 15 minutes, until the pump is entirely gone and you arms feel warm and relaxed.  Start hammering the hard stuff: V3 and V4 and maybe even a few V5s.  Even if you can only do a couple of moves, start working them.  The idea is to climb at your limit and start piecing the problems together.  It can be frustrating since progress may only come by inching closer to the next hold and then falling. Take frequent rests.  The point is not to get pumped but to climb hard at your limit, while staying as fresh as possible.  These bouldering work-outs easily take 2-3 hours, with frequent rests. If you feel any pain (in fingers, in joints), take a rest and don’t keep pushing it.  Some climbing holds are very injurious to the pulleys, and you don’t want to hurt yourself 5 weeks out.

Again, keep a log book of the problems you worked and were successful (and unsuccessful at).  If you have been climbing for a couple of years and are thoroughly warmed up, you may consider a hang-board session.  The idea is quite simple: you just hang (arms slightly bent) from different grips on the hang-board.  I find this tedious, personally, but many people swear by it. “Rock Prodigy” has a good hang-board work-out (as well as a ton of insightful stuff to say about training for climbing).  During my strength phase, I use the campus board about once or twice a week, but again, I only recommend that for climbers who have been climbing strong for years and can comfortably do V5+.  There are lots of good campus training videos online.  This is one of my favorites (and daunting)!  There are plenty of other strength training exercises you can do (take a look at the videos above for some ideas or Eric Horst’s Conditioning for Climbing book), such as frenchies on the hang-board, uneven pull-ups, etc. I like to focus on lock-off strength and do this either on campus board or on a gently over-hanging part of the gym: try to hold the lock-off for about 10-20 seconds and go up as high as you can. Vary the holds you use (both for the lock-off hand and the feet) to change the difficulty.

Finally, keep up the cross-training (running, swimming, biking, or whatever) and do some core training of stabilization muscles as well as antagonist muscles (ie, reverse curls for forearms, push-ups for lats).

POWER ENDURANCE (2 weeks, although can be extended if you swap out with ‘endurance’)

This is the last part of your training cycle and combines the first two phases: endurance meets strength.  I tend to extend this part of my training longer than two weeks (and cut the strict endurance phase in half), but in the 10 week cycle, you only get two weeks. You could easily swap a week or two of endurance for more power endurance, if you already have a good endurance base. In any case, for power endurance, you want to try to get 3 workouts per week.  I tend to favor more bouldering, but you may want to focus on lead climbing in the last couple of sessions for the sake of your mental game.  After all, the New is all lead (or TR if someone else sets it up) and the mental challenge of leading can be daunting if you’ve only been bouldering the past 10 weeks.

Most people favor the 4×4 as the gold standard for power endurance (or perhaps the 5×5, if you are feeling really ambitious).  The idea is simple: pick 4 boulder problems that you can do (and know you can do because you’ve done them before), at the top end of your range.  If you boulder up to V4, you might pick: V3, V4, V4, V3.  Do them all in a row without resting (except to walk between problems). Then rest for about 5-7 minutes and do them again and again and again, for 16 total problems.  If this is easy, do a 5×5, or increase the difficulty of the problems.  You should just be able to complete the last set successfully.  If you fail earlier than that, choose easier problems next time.  Try to pick a diverse set of problems (ie, not all slab problems or roof problems) that approximate the kind of climbing you expect to do outside.

Instead of the 4×4 (or 5×5), I generally prefer a different work-out, what might be called a “double pyramid.”  It consists of 20-30 boulder problems, depending on the difficulty and, again, is made up of problems that I have done successfully before.  You are not “working” new problems here, but training, so you should focus on stuff you can do and perfect your technique and hone your power endurance.

Here’s the double pyramid: it starts with 9 “easy problems” (all different, if possible), then gets progressively harder, until I get to my hardest problem.  At that point, it gets progressively easier, until I get back to my base of 9 easy problems.  It might look like this:

V0 V1 V2 x 3 each = 9 problems

V3 V4 x 2 each = 4 problems

V5 x 1 = 1 problem

V4 V3 x 2 each = 4 problems

V2 V1 V0 x 3 each = 9 problems

That’s 27 problems (a big work-out but do-able if you calibrate the difficulty right).  You rest between sets (after the first 9, after the next 4 after the 1, etc) for about 5-8 minutes. It may take some time to make it all the way through the work-out, but once you do, you can begin adjusting the difficulty and rest periods appropriately.  You will need at least a day or two to recover after the work-out. To break into this workout, you can also do “mini-pyramids” (say, 6 easy problems, 2 medium problems, 1 difficult problem, 2 medium problems, and 6 easy problems).

I would do more roped climbing in the second week, focusing not on “the hardest” problems but on stuff that is close to the upper limit of what you hope to redpoint.  You don’t want to be hang-dogging all over the rope (since this negates the endurance part), and you also don’t want to speed up easy stuff (since this negates the strength/power part).

REST (1 week):

Don’t climb the week of HC until you arrive at the New!  I’m not kidding.  Your body needs time to rest, heal, and recover.  Instead, go for a short run or LIGHTLY cross-train.  Don’t do any weights though!  You can’t build muscle in a week anyway, and you don’t want to be sore.  If I do anything climbing related this week, it would be a very short traverse work-out or very easy bouldering just to stay warm.  And it would be at least FOUR DAYS BEFORE I climb outside.  If you’ve done the whole plan, you will be at your most fit for climbing after this week.

Looking forward to seeing you all in July and hope this helps plan your next 10 weeks!

On Mentoring (or, “Who is Craig Pack?”)

I was prompted to write this blog (updated for factual accuracy) after several friends asked me recently who Craig Pack is.  My answer is about five years late (for which I apologize to Craig), but perhaps it will shed some more light on the history of homo climbing and the importance of mentoring in the gay climbing community.  Thanks for reading!  — Todd

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create and sustain an intergenerational community of queer climbers who learn from one another, share experiences, and become responsible for passing knowledge down to others.  For me (as with Erik Carlson and many other climbers in the San Francisco bay area), our climbing “careers” started with Craig Pack.

I started climbing sometime in 1998, and it was shortly thereafter (probably early 2000) that I first met Craig at the Mission Cliffs climbing gym in San Francisco.  Craig grew up in Fresno, California, a short drive from the Yosemite valley, where he learned to climb as a kid from the masters.  But it wasn’t the most welcoming place for gay people, and he experienced tremendous bigotry, some within the climbing community itself. When I met Craig, he was splitting his time between San Francisco and Truckee, near Donner Summit in Lake Tahoe.

Craig had been climbing for decades and had scaled miles upon miles of vertical terrain.  For Craig, climbing was as natural as walking, and anyone who climbed with Craig was always amazed that he seemed to walk up unprotected, slabby, vertical faces (in Joshua Tree, in Yosemite, in Tahoe, in Tuolumne), as if he was on level ground.  He was never flustered when climbing; his legs never shook; he just stepped with elegance, regardless of whether or not there was protection.  I would call it the grace of a dancer who just intuits where to step and how to move.

As I would later find out, Craig was not only one of the founding leaders of Stonewall Climbers (purportedly “Earth’s first lesbian, gay, and bisexual climbing club”), but he also won the gold at the Gay Games in Amsterdam in 1998.  He had established climbs in the Needles and the Sierras, with several first ascents and many seconds under his belt.  Shortly after we met, he taught me how to lead climb and helped me get (quite modestly!) “lead certified” at the gym.  I wasn’t the only one that he mentored.  There was easily a half-dozen or more gay climbers that Craig was patiently training, not to mention a network of LGBT climbers across north America with whom he climbed.  In the early 2000s, we began making multi-day climbing trips all over California and Nevada, mostly climbing trad (and mostly me following).  He was a generous and extraordinarily patient leader.  He taught me how to build and equalize anchors, how to place and remove gear, how to climb multi-pitch, and how to read routes and understand sequences.  He also trusted me to catch his falls (which rarely happened).  Although perhaps one of the easier routes we did together, the Regular Route on Fairview Dome in Tuolumne Meadows is one of my most memorable: At nearly 1,000 feet, the climb starts with a 5.9 crack, before culminating in a stemming sequence leading to a four-foot roof, and topping out on large flakes and ledgy features.  It’s widely considered one of the 50 best climbs in North America.  As I got stronger, we started doing more sport climbing, pushing and inspiring each other.  We climbed in Joshua Tree, Donner Summit, Lover’s Leap, Big Chief, Red Rocks, Bishop, the high Sierras, and many other places.  He not only taught me how to climb, but he also taught me (perhaps without consciously knowing it) how to teach others to climb.  In essence, he taught me to share the love, experience, and knowledge of climbing with others.

Five years ago this October, Craig was climbing alone in Donner Summit when he slipped, falling to the ground.  He was found hours later (thankfully his cell phone worked), with two shattered ankles, head trauma, and massive disc compression in his back.  He had to wear a mobility-limiting “turtle cast” for months and later, when the cast came off, he hauled his decimated body up and down the stairs in his house by his hands.  Full of pins and metal plates, both ankles became infected and required numerous surgeries.  The road to recovery has been unimaginably long and arduous.

Many people shake their heads when I bring up the issue of soloing, muttering things like ‘how can you be so crazy/stupid?’ or ‘I would never free solo’ (as if roped climbing will keep you 100% safe).  Craig had bouldered alone and soloed countless times before.  He was on his home terrain, climbing well within his ability, although the weather conditions were hardly ideal.  He wasn’t, comparatively speaking, that far off the ground (I remember how, to my astonishment, he free soloed the first 70 foot pitch of Prince of Darkness in Red Rocks, belayed me up, then lowered to get his jacket, and soloed it again).  I truly believe that soloing is right—and even sane and meaningful—for some people.  Craig climbed with such grace that “protection” was, perhaps, intended for others, like me, who over-thought climbing, who hesitated, whose feet fumbled and whose hands clenched the rock too tightly.  Every once in a while, when I stop thinking and simply climb, I embody—if only for a moment—that grace and elegance of movement that defined Craig’s style.

Since his accident, I find myself wanting to share climbing with other gay climbers by helping to create a community of people, who will, in turn, mentor other young climbers. In its best sense, mentoring is not one-directional, but rather a recursive relationship, in which the seasoned climber both shares his or her wealth of experience with others and is open to learning new things from (and approaching new challenges with) lesser experienced climbers.  After Craig’s accident, I felt a strange emptiness, but I also realized that my own role in the climbing community was changing – and that, perhaps, like Craig, I could give something back by sharing the knowledge, enthusiasm, and experiences that he shared with me.

In climbing, we are all somewhere along the shifting continuum of mentors and mentees.  Every mentor has something to learn from others and has something to teach.  And every mentee has something to teach and also has something to learn.  Sometimes our primary roles reverse themselves, unexpectedly, as mine did after Craig’s accident.  These interactions and relationships of teaching one another through respect and caring are what constitute a climbing community.  It’s something that I find to be the most compelling part of participating in Homo Climbtastic.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t add, as I’m sure Craig would appreciate, the unending stream of eye-candy is a nice touch, too.