Round 118

I’ve just finished my first periodized training cycle, and I am now beginning my second. I’ve realized that I naturally build muscle quite easily, however I think my recruitment is rather low. For this next cycle I want to spend more time focused on max recruitment, however I feel that finger strength is also a weak link for me. So my question: what do you think of Eva Lopez’s protocol for finger strength exercises? It seems like a great way to increase finger strength without causing hypertrophy. Additionally, my gym just installed H.I.T. strips. I was thinking of doing both your recommended HIT workout with the Lopez protocol, beginning with the Lopez protocol and doing the HIT workout after. Do you think the combination of the two will result in overtraining? –Nick (Hong Kong)

Hey Nick, Hypertrophy (muscle fiber growth) isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to your forearm muscles (unless you start to look like Popeye!), so I wouldn’t worry too much about that. It is, of course, a concern if you begin packing on large/heavy muscles in other parts of your body. That said, you want to train max strength by doing weighted hangs and HIT (both which simulate hypergravity and cause the neuromuscular system to adapt in a way that will increase your grip strength-to-weight ratio). Eva’s protocol is great, but there are other approaches that work, too…that you might cycle through every few months. As for recruitment training…campusing teaches motor units to fire quickly and synchronize, thus increasing total recruitment and contact strength. Of course, hypergravity training (as mentioned above with heavy weights and brief intense hangs) also increases recruitment. Important: don’t do too much—with the kind of training mentioned above, many climbers do overtrain and thus get injured…or eventually start seeing a decrease in strength. Therefore, you need to use periodization and cycle through to other types of training (AE and lower-intensity, high volume aerobic climbing) every few weeks. Hope is helps. Good luck!

Is there a type, brand, or model of weighted vest that you would recommend. I will mostly be using it for my HIT strips workouts but may take outside as well. Hanging dumbbells off a belt just isn’t cutting it any more. I have used weight up to 26lbs. There are so many options out there, so I thought I would ask an expert. BTW, I really appreciate your contributions to climbing! –Alex (Missouri)

Hey Alex, For HIT, I prefer weight belts over vests, in order to keep the weight near your center of gravity—this way movement is more natural/normal. I have a 20-lb belt, 10-lb belt, and 5-lb belt that I can quickly combine, add, or remove to adjust weight for various sets and grips. A vest may be needed if you go really heavy—I’ve used a vest up to about 45 lbs…then it starts to get ridiculous! That said, a heavy vest (I have a 60 pounder) is ideal for hangboard training! Unfortunately no company makes the perfect rig for climbers—you’ll just need to surf the net and see what you can come up with. I’ve acquired quite a collection of various belts and vests over the years…so I just strap on whichever is right for the exercise at hand. The bottom line: a weight belt and vest are great investments, since you’ll use them a lot for many years of strong climbing ahead!

Hi Eric, Thanks for being so willing to answer questions–as a new, young climber in a small town it is very much appreciated. I have a couple questions. I just got my first pair of semi aggressive climbing shoes (Miura lace up) and knowing you have young boys, I was wondering if they are getting any foot problems from tight shoes. I run a lot, so my feet need to be in good condition. Question two: I have noticed that my progress is starting to slow down, and I’m wondering if it’s better to climbing lots of routes below my maximum ability (5.11) or to spend a lot of time projecting (5.12s)? –Nick (California)

Hey Nick! First the shoes: lace up Miuras are great shoes—but you don’t want to wear them for hours on end. Try to cycle them on and off every 15 or 20 minutes. Also, Miura VS might be a better option in the future for gym climbing, since they are easier to take on and off. Anyway, wearing tight should for a couple hours a few days per week shouldn’t be a problem, although long days outdoor climbing is a bit harder on the feet. As for your climbing time…as a relatively new climber, it’s good to climb for volume just below your max level. This way you get lots of technical practice, mental practice, and develop the skill to move smoothly and conserve energy. That said, you do need to sometimes project harder stuff, both roped projects and hard bouldering—this stretches your capabilities, develops power, and the killer instinct! In terms of splitting your time in the gym, I’d say 75% climbing for volume (developing technique and movement skills) and 25% bouldering/projecting for strength and power. Have fun!

Dear Eric, When I do the physical self-assessment (from your Training for Climbing book) I find that my finger strength is what is lacking the most. I spend about 3 to 4 days a week climbing in the gym. 2 days bouldering/ 2 days sport climbing. In the weekend I try to climb on rock depending on the weather. My bouldering sessions are usually short and intense. I try to give it my max and as soon as I see performance dropping, I quit and finish my session with some core training, antagonists and stretching. My sport climbing sessions are usually longer. I try to exhaust myself during these sessions to train endurance. But my finger strength is almost always my limiting factor. So I’d like to incorporate finger training. I have a home setup with a well equipped fingerboard and a slightly incline wall with some holds. I installed it some months ago. Long story short, should I incorporate finger training somewhere in my ’week-schedule’ and, if so, when and how should I best be doing this? I was thinking to maybe do 2 days of fingerboard training in the morning. On days that I go sport climbing in the gym in the evening and use a max hang protocol. So no pyramids but just a progressive warm up and then just hangs of no more than 7 seconds on the most difficult holds I can handle. This for 5-7 positions in about 3 to 5 sets. I’m seeking some advice—thanks! –R (Belgium)

Hey R, Your training program sounds okay to me; and it could be that 2 fingerboard workouts per week will be a good addition. One concern, however, is overtraining–if you add the bouldering, but don’t remove some other climbing exposure, since your fingers/forearm muscles can only take so much. Make sure your fingers have at least 3 days rest per week. With the fingerboard workouts, you might also experiment with adding weight to your body and doing the 7 second hang protocol on slightly larger holds. And if you do a hangboard session in the morning and a gym session in the evening, then I would definitely make sure you have a rest day from climbing right after this. A small amount of campus training might be a good addition, too—but please seek the guidance of a coach for instruction on this. Good luck, my friend!

I’m confused on what training to do in order to improve and move to the next level (5.12). I’ve been climbing three years and I normally boulder 2 or 3 times per week, plus one day of top rope climbing at the gym. Recently, I added the pull-up interval after my boulder days. I’m planning to incorporate hangboards too since we have a beastmaker2000 in the gym. What training should I do? Should I focus more on power first? My goal is to finish 2013 lead climbing a 5.12 route. –Chris (Colorado)

Chris, In terms of physical training your focus should be strength first (bouldering and weighted pull-ups and weighted fingerboard hangs) and anaerobic endurance second (interval training on boulder and routes). Switch your focus every 2 or 3 weeks. Of course, with just 3 years climbing experience I want to stress that you can still improve a LOT on technique and the mental game. Therefore, doing regular roped climbing (indoors and out) is important for increasing quality of movement, efficiency, and mental skills. Strive to put it all together—the physical, mental, and technical—and 5.12 will seem easy. Good luck!