Round #153

Dear Eric, I resumed climbing 5 years ago after a 10-year break. I am 50 years old and recently sent my first 5.12 lead in 20 years. I purchased your book How To Climb 5.12 when you first released it many years ago and recently purchased your 3rd edition Training for Climbing. I am a physician and I appreciate your attention to evidence-based results. I have noticed huge increases in strength but have battled the soft tissue injury bug, usually with success. Now I have early signs of arthritis in the DIP joint of my middle fingers and I want to know how I should augment my training. I assume that minimal edge strength training is a bad idea, but what about weighted hangs? I never use a full crimp but use the half crimp often on thin moves. Glucosamine has mixed scientific data in humans but works great for dogs. I want to continue pushing my athletic limits but don’t want prematurely end my climbing career due to my enthusiasm. I assume you have similar struggles. Thanks for all you do. –Ron (Texas)

Hi Ron! Yeah, we’re about the same age (I’m 53), and with smart training (and motivation) I’m sure we can both climb at a pretty high level for years to come. Some limited hangboard training would likely be a real boon for you as long as it doesn’t increase your DIP joint pain (glucosamine and fish oil might help…I do both, so I hope so!). Anyway,  doing some open-hand and open-crimp hangs on a mid-sized edge (14mm – 20mm, or slightly less than one finger pad) with added weight is the best strategy for you. Try using the 7”/53” x 3 protocol in the book. First session begin with body weight and do 3 sets (9 total hangs). If that’s easy, do the next session with a 10 lb weight belt (or similar). Continue increasing the weight each session until the hangs get hard (you’ve found the right weight when the 7” second hangs begin to yield failure on the last hang of the 3rd set).  You can do these hangboard sessions twice per week, ideally on gym climbing days—cut your wall climbing a bit short and finish up with the hangs (this way you are well warmed up). Terminate the hangboard training if your DIP situation gets worse—hopefully if wont!

Hi Eric, I have already read three books of you and I am quite impressed. I am aiming to do the mountain guide exam in Switzerland in three years. Therefore, I am training a lot the aerobic capacity. But my ultimate goal is to someday climb 8a. I read in your book that a high volume of aerobic training would negatively impact climbing strength and power, due to catabolic effects. I was just wondering, how many hours of aerobic capacity I can train? At the moment I train up to 12-14 hours a week, climbing, antagonist and running. –Reto (Switzerland)

Hi Reto! Yes, excessive aerobic training will tend to decrease max strength and power in the upper body. 12 – 14 hours of aerobic activity is a lot! I’m not saying you can’t do 8a with this amount of aerobic training, but I think you’ll get there faster if you reduce to just 3 – 6 hours of aerobic activity (running, rowing, etc) per week. Ultimately you need to determine your preference—if you prefer alpine climbing, then you do want to do a lot of aerobic training….but if sport climbing 8a is more important, then you must reduce aerobic training and do more finger flexor training for maximum strength and strength-endurance. Hope this helps. Good luck, my friend!

Hi Eric, First of all, a huge thanks for all the material that you have produced over the years on the matter of climbing and climbing training. I thoroughly enjoyed your Training for Climbing book, as well as many of your articles, videos and podcasts. I’m UK based and started climbing just under 3 years ago. I love reading, watching and listening to all kinds of materials on climbing related subjects, particularly training, and this has helped me make great progress in my climbing. However, I find that although it is relatively easy to find information on training exercises and how to build a training plan, comparatively little is produced on the subject of identifying weaknesses. Most of my climbing friends aren’t as keen on pushing their climbing as I am and so I find myself spending a lot of time wondering where I should put my training efforts. The self-assessment in Training for Climbing was an interesting start, but I am curious to know if you have any other assessment material? I realize the obvious answer would be to get a coach, or, to start with, have friends give a critical view of my climbing, or even video myself and use the footage to identify improvement points, but is there any advice on how to do so, what to look for, etc.? Thanks again for everything you’ve done for climbing and training for this beautiful sport, you’ve certainly been a huge inspiration to me! –Michael (United Kingdom)

Hello Michael, Thanks for the kind note—I appreciate your comments and I like your passion and energy! Yes, finding a coach to work with you in person is best—it’s really tough for me to work with people remotely…I always feel like it’s not the most effective way to work…and perhaps you can do just as good by “reading my mid” via a detailed reading of my books and listening to my podcast! A smart, passionate climber can usually do a pretty good job self-coaching with these tools…until they find a coach. No doubt you can continue to improve a lot in the years to come as long as you stay motivated, continually self-assess and correct course on your training, and most important stay injury free! Hope this helps—let me know when you break into the next grade!

Eric, What is your opinion on complex training as a part of general fitness training as it relates to climbing? I understand that at my level of experience (2 years), climbing more would most likely be the best training. However, winter provides fewer climbing opportunities and the nearest climbing gym is 100 miles away. I do have a small home wall in the corner of the garage, but quite frankly, it’s not the best. I am simply looking for methodologies to incorporate into my general fitness routines that would have carryover to the rock. –Jeff (Tennessee)

Hi Jeff, I’m not exactly sure what you’re considering “complex training”—as applied in my books, an example of a training “complex” is the marrying a difficult hangboard set with a campus board set…which is NOT really appropriate for you, given your experience. As you point out, actual climbing time is where the money is at for you. But given your situation…there’s obviously a need and benefit to staying active and building strength and aerobic endurance between gym visits.  While doing some running, core exercises, and push muscle (antagonist) training each week would be a great thing to do, the most effective training for directly improving your climbing would be 3 days per week of pull-up training (with weight added, if you can do more than 8 pull-ups per set) and a limited amount of fingerboard training (i.e. hanging on a 20mm or 3/4″ edge for 10 seconds at a time). There are several protocols outlined in my new 3rd edition of Training For Climbing that you can apply to get stronger this winter. Do all of the above (including the running and antagonist exercises) and I think you’ll be climbing much harder in the Spring!