Round 29

Do you have some tips for learning to lead climb indoors?

Q: I’m learning to lead climb at the gym and need beta on how to improve and master the sharp end. Where might I find this info? –Larry (Bellingham, WA)

A: Hello Larry, You’ve emailed the right guy as I have a brand new book out called Learning to Climb Indoors (released July 2006). The book has a full chapter on learning to lead climb, and I’m sure you’ll find it very helpful. There are also chapters on how to increase rate of improvement in climbing, basic and advanced techniques, fear management, and basic fitness training. You can order a copy direct from our website. Of course, there are a number of other articles on the technical and mental aspects of lead climbing to check out in the Training Center. Visit our TC Archive to see a full listing. Good luck, and have fun on the sharp end!

How can I train climbing endurance away from the gym?

Q: I have recently started toprope climbing at the gym, and I get pumped very quickly. Maybe 5-10 moves into a climb I end up popping off the wall because I am spent; this despite the fact I can boulder up to V5. My wife and I are expecting twin boys in September so I won’t be able to climb as often as I do now. Is there a way I can build endurance for longer routes without climbing more? –Brian (Ashburnham, MA)

A: Hello Brian, Congrats on the upcoming family! I have two boys (4 and 6) who are learning to climb–you’ll have some great times ahead, to look forward to. Anyway, if you can boulder V5, then you are already capable of 5.12 moves. Your problem climbing longer routes is more likely lackluster technique and poor economy of movement, not necessarily lack of endurance (although some local endurance training would help). Unfortunately, the only way to improve technique and economy of movement is to climb regularly. Pull-ups, Pump Rocks and such can help build muscular strength and local endurance, but won’t do much for the specific demands of climbing and skilled movement. If possible, try to fit one gym climbing session per week (plus, two at-home strength training workouts) even after your twins arrive. This one day per week of actual climbing, integrated over the next two years will give you 100+ days of experience and HUGE gains in climbing skill and climbing economy. You will be a better roped climber two years from now–I promise! Best to you and your soon-to-be family!

What are some other ways to train with a weight belt?

Q: What are the best training strategies utilizing additional weight (i.e. using a belt)? In your book, Training for Climbing, only the HIT routine or Frenchies seem to involve using a weight belt. Is there any sense in climbing routes with a belt? –Andrew (Edinburgh, Lothian)

A: Great question, Andrew. HIT, Frenchies, pull-ups, and medium- to large-hold bouldering are ideal for Hypergravity Training (training with a weight belt) since they tend to be controlled and generally won’t involve injurious holds or body positions.

Climbing routes with added weight, however, might subject you to dangerous holds and arm/leg positions. I’m also concerned that added weight might compromise your technique and thus have a negative effect on your long-term skill. Of course, if you often climb with a big trad rack outside, then you are already climbing with added weight! So, I suppose you could climb some indoor routes (with kind holds) with a “light” weight of 5 or 10 pounds–this would tend to build muscular (anaerobic) endurance. But I would not go heavier. Please let me know how it goes.

How to deal with pain while crimping?

Q: Finger soreness often prevents me from crimping, and I’m afraid I’m close to injury. It may be that I just need to rest this grip position for a few months. However I was wondering if using the open hand position will allow my crimp to heal and improve? Is it possible to be strong enough in open hand position to use those tiny crimp edges? Thanks! –Richard (Wolverhampton, UK)

A: Hi Rich, I’m going to assume you are talking about the classic A2 pulley injury which produces pain near the base of the finger, palmer side. If so, this is an injury that’s rarely “climbed through” with success. Take a few weeks off, and then gradually return to climbing with an emphasis on using the open hand grip. Avoid any moves or grips that produce pain, and I’d hope that you’d be able to work through this.

As for using the open hand grip on small holds… The smallest, sharpish edge holds usually require a crimp grip, but you can strive to limit the use of the crimp grip to these smallest holds. Otherwise favor the open hand grip, and you will eventually gain incredible strength and confidence in it. Hope this helps.

What’s your opinion on Treadwall training?

Q: I used a treadwall for three weeks in the winter and my abilities improved rapidly to 60 minute sessions on a steep wall at medium speed with medium size holds. I found it healed lingering injuries, improved my flexibility, and gave me the ability to recover on steep walls. What’s your opinion on this kind of training? –James (Calgary, Alberta)

A: Good stuff, James. Thanks for writing. I think Treadwalls are an excellent way to “cross train” since it’s so different from the typical indoor climbing of steep, hard, pumpy moves. Ultimately, I think the average climber should periodize training with a cycle for stamina climbing, bouldering (power/strength), and anaerobic endurance (hard climbing for a few minutes sustained). Do this, and change the focus every few weeks, and you’ll get uncommonly good result. Of course, a climber who specializes in one type of climbing should spend more time training in that specialty. Still, variation–and a break from hard climbing–is important for recovery and injury prevention, as you aptly point out.