Thursday, September 06, 2012

Climbing Fitness in 4 Weeks

My latest training article for DPM hit the shelves this week. It can also be found on their web site by clicking here. This is a follow-up post, to add both some detail and personal perspective on why this protocol was chosen and how you might alter it.

I am this article’s target audience as it’s almost identical to what I’ll be doing for training this month. It wasn’t my plan when I wrote it but life got busy and I now find myself lacking climbing fitness as summer wanes. Sending temps are coming and, when pressed for time, hangboarding is by far the best bang for your buck to improve quickly.


Hangboarding is boring. It takes mental toughness. For inspiration, here are some personal anecdotes on how much it can help you:

In 1990 I had a fledging business that didn’t allow me to go climbing at all, forcing all of my training around a board in my shop. A serendipitous meeting with a Swiss exchange student, who showed me techniques far in advance of what came with the Metolius Simulator (the only board on the market back then), led to a two month training cycle that transformed me from a 5.10 to 5.12 climber.

life at the @#$%! video shop

In the md-90s one of our friends followed his girlfriend to grad school. A shy lad, he didn’t bother trying to meet climbing partners. Instead he hung Yaniro Board in their apartment and started entering all the national competitions. Out of nowhere, he always finished near the top. This is a guy who’d only redpointed a few 5.12s, did very little actual climbing, and was suddenly beating guys you’d read about in every issue of Climbing. He simply became so strong that he could hang onto basically anything.

elijah demonstrating a move where technique will not help you but hangboard training will

Last year, what’s left of the old Santa Barbara crew, Phil and Elijah, lost their climbing gym, The Shed, a state-of-the art training facility. They bought a Beastmaker, a Moon Board, and hung them in a garage. Turns out a gym full of equipment was mainly keeping their focus from where it should have been all along. Both had the best climbing season of their lives.

phil shows stuff you can do in your mid-40s if you hangboard train

Another of our crew, Micah, used a hangboard because he had ankle reconstruction and couldn’t walk. Before he could even go on a proper hike he ended up redpointing the hardest route of his life.

micah shows stuff you can do when you can't walk if you hangboard train

There are plenty of stories like this. Check out the Anderson brothers, Sonnie Trotter, or the guys over at Beastmaker. As Ben Moon once said, “technique is no substitute for power.

There are many ways to train effectively for climbing. Almost all of them have some amount of merit that vary in effectiveness due to the individual. Like I state in the article, if you don’t know how to climb there are better ways to spend your time. But when all is said and done, the ability to hang onto holds and not let go is always going to be the single most effective way to raise your level.


The routine I wrote for DPM is just one option that has worked very well for me. As a multi-sport athlete I’m always in and out of climbing shape. This is the best plan I’ve found for getting back into shape quick, without spending much time (I work a lot). Following the links in this post will give you other ideas. All of them are good. Training should always have an individual element to it. Find what works for you.

The lock-off hangs are very stressful. Proceed carefully. They are a suggested protocol. If you aren’t strong enough and need to alter them your training will not suffer. Do them when you’re ready.

Training is only as effective as your ability to recover. The article's schedule is a suggestion. Tony Yaniro once wrote an article stating that he never decided if he was going to train until he warmed up. If he felt strong he trained. If he didn’t he rested. This can be tricky to gauge but climbing is a tricky, subtle, sport where you put an excessive amount of stress on very small muscles and connective tissues. Listen, astutely, to your body. Hangboard training is generally safer than most forms of training because movement is controlled. Still, it’s easy to get hurt training for climbing no matter what you do. Remember Stevie Haston’s first three rules and live by them.

haston showing stuff you can do in your mid-50s if you hangboard train


The article presents a few tricks I use to lose weight. I dig a little more into the thought and history behind them next week. For now, drink water. A lot of water. It both keeps your connective tissues strong and helps you lose weight (note the scribbling on stevie's board). And nothing, not even a hangboard, can improve your strength to weight ratio as much as shedding some pounds.

pic at top, tommy caldwell. want to climb massive virtually holdless granite slabs thought to be impossible? hangboard train.


Josh said...

Fuck yeah. Perfect timing.

Rule number one in climbing: Don't let go.


Brian said...

Hot Damn Elijah!
Is that RUBBLE?

Steve Edwards said...

Not rule #1, nor 2 or 3. Those are all don't hurt yourself. So maybe rule #4. It works really well.

Not Rubble, Brian.The Hell of Being Crushed Alive. Bob has some great shots of Rubble. Maybe he's put them up on King Dino.

Josh said...

No no. Those are Stevie's Rules of Training.

Rule #1 of climbing is: Never forget to not let go.


Half Circle G said...

Great info Steve, and couldn't be better timing. Just getting settled in at the new place in Joshua Tree and I have a hangboard being shipped to me now. Can't wait to get started!

Sarah said...

I really wish someone could tell me what is ok for a pregnant and still climbing woman. Because I'm back on full body harness top-rope, its the perfect time for me to work on hanging onto to tiny holds I typically don't have the guts to do on lead, since all the pressure is off. I'd love to keep up hang board work, but every time I do anything remotely similar, it of course, engages the muscles in my core....but now those muscles are splitting open (short, I get that Diastes recti thing every baby) and what ends up happening is the muscles conform around the hard utuerus just feels really really weird. And without guidance, I'm assuming really weird is probably not good.
This didn't really have anything to do with your post, but I've got a big climbing trip coming up in...four weeks, lol...and I want so badly to do this, and yet, it's very scary to try and figure this stuff out on your own. So I guess I'll just be happy to be getting out.

Anyways. I enjoy reading your blog!

Sarah said...

This is one of those times I wish there was more information about what you can and can't do during pregnancy. I've got a climbing trip coming up in four weeks, and part of me thinks -- oh this is perfect, since I'm on top rope, I can really focus on trying some new,scary, tiny hold climbs that I'd never have the guts for on lead-- but when I go just do a dead hang, thinking every time it will be different, it freaks me out. I am short and short waisted, so I get diastis recti with each baby, and when I'm hanging, any kind of movement makes my core obviously engage and then the splitting muscles conform around the hard ball sticking out of my belly. It feels so very strange and sort of wrong. And without guidance, so very strange and sort of wrong is a bad thing. But two babies back, I was afraid to climb while pregnant at all because, you guessed it, it felt sort of strange...

Anyways. I love reading your blog and I realize this isn't exactly on topic, I'm just a little frustrated overall with the entire fitness world and pregnancy. Its like, because everyone is scared to be wrong, they just tell mothers to not do anything out of the odinary. But It's quite scary to be all on your own deciphering how to balance growing another human being with your desire to keep fit and active in your normal life. Your doctor says "what you do normally" and then calls their lawyer when you say "rock climb".

Sarah said...

Sorry I thought my first comment got eaten when I signed in.

Anonymous said...

Stevie Haston is rad.

Anonymous said...

Question Steve:
When A7-A10 on the lock offs on each grip do you hang: fully locked off for 10 seconds rest for five seconds then 90 degree for 10 seconds rest five then do 45 degrees for 10 seconds then rest five seconds then repeat for a total of 6 reps for each grip? Could you please elaborate. Thanks for your time.


Steve Edwards said...

The lock-offs are hard, which is why you drop from 12 to 6 exercises in the first workout. You will almost certainly have to use easier holds during the locked off sets. For example, during my first lock-off workout I'll do what would be my six easiest grips (the last six of the workout I did prior), and then add harder holds each time, finishing with those six.

There are examples of all the positions above (though you're two arm hanging). If the full locks are too much try and second two (90,45) and a regular hang (though try to always keeps your arms slightly bent so the force is on your musculature and not your connective tissues).

Anonymous said...

Awesome thanks for responding so quickly steve. Good advice too. i was a little apprehensive on doing the lock offs with the smaller holds on my moon board, so i guess I'll listen to my body and work up to it. So I take it the lock off hangs for each degree (ie full, 90,45)is a lock off position for 10 seconds shake off 5 seconds then proceed to the next degree? Your routine and diet has been working well already! Huge gains with finger strength which I never knew I lack so much in and I already lost 8lbs in the first 2 weeks. Thanks for the post agian!


kyber said...

Hey Steve, so I have another question (posted one on DPM and thank you for responding). So would more cardio be okay or would it be pushing it? I play basketball on certain days and the your schedule only aligns with those certain days a few times. Or maybe I could stretch out the schedule and make it line up and take full rest days in-between to make it work?


Steve Edwards said...

just answered your questions here: