Round 50

Q: Is age 48 too old start climbing? Do I need to train to increase strength? –Anne (South Africa)

A: Absolutely NOT, Anne! I know many people who began climbing in their 40s and 50s, and they are loving it! In fact, I occasionally climb with a couple that are in their 60s, and they both climb at a high level.

Climbing is largely a mental and skill activity, so you can excel at any age without being super strong. FYI, I have a new book is called Conditioning for Climbers–it would be an excellent guide for your getting into training. Also, my book Learning to Climb Indoors is a great first book.

Enjoy the rock, have fun, and you’ll be climbing for many years to come!

Q: First, I would like to say thanks to you and NICROS for all the articles and podcasts you put up for free for everyone! Now my question: After one year as a climber, I can TR most 5.11s and I can boulder some V8s, however my weakness is lead climbing. When on lead, my hands get slick and I just can’t climb right. I am not consciously scared or nervous, so I don’t know what’s going on. Any ideas? –Kyle (New Jersey)

A: Hi Kyle, First, you are climbing GREAT for only one year in the sport. I’m glad you are pushing into roped climbing. I can’t say for sure what your problem is without seeing you climb, but I have a real good idea based on working with many other young climbers.

Since you are bouldering so hard, I sense that you are a strong climber and, therefore, you can muscle through hard moves readily on boulder problems. When doing grunt problems, many climbers really don’t have good technique (despite what they think) and doing this regularly at the gym, they can’t shake the technical flaws when they climb on a rope.

So, while you might THINK you are not overgripping or that your technique is good, I bet you are still “leaking” energy in many ways. Climbing is a subtle activity, and on lead everything needs to be all that much more precise. So, here’s my advice. Stop bouldering for one month! Seriously, go to the gym and warm-up by doing about 5 toprope routes of increasing difficultly. Then rest for a bit, and shift into lead climbing mode. Start on a 5.8, striving to climb it in smooth fluid way, using your feet optimally, twisting your body to avoid lunging–in fact, don’t allow yourself to lunge at all, everything must be static. Next, do the same thing leading a 5.9, then a 5.10, then a 5.11. If you fall, work the route until you redpoint it.

For the first two weeks, don’t get on any routes over 5.11. So, most of your lead climbing will be submaximal…remind yourself it’s about developing SKILL not strength. Then on the 3rd and 4th weeks you can start building up to a few 5.12s, but still begin with a 5.8, 5.9, etc. each session. Make leading your total focus for one month and your body and mind will learn to perform optimally. Make this your mission for the next month, and you will improve a lot!

Q: I hear different things regarding crimp versus open hand grips from various climbers in my gym. My understanding was that it was better for the hands to use an open grip as much as possible, and that training with an open grip will increase crimping strength whereas the reciprocal was not the case. I cannot, however, seem to find any article about this. What is the safest grip and how is it best to train and increase grip strength? –Andrea (Canada)

A: Hi Andrea, Open hand is always the safest grip, since it reduces risk of tendon pulley injury and maximizes leverage of the flexor tendons. So, yes, you want to favor this grip and to a large extent strength will transfer to crimp. However, the crimp is a unique grip and to maximize crimp strength you must train it regularly (but not overly so, since this can also lead to lateral elbow injury). So, it’s a balancing act of training crimp, but favoring open hand as much as possible while climbing (to lower injury risk).

Q: Ok, so I’m 5’9”, 185 lbs and not in the greatest of shape. What I want to do is get really prepared for outdoor bouldering in the springtime–I know that I need to lose some weight. What do you recommend for training? Preliminarily, I was thinking about this: M: climb hard, come home, work the hangboard, do pushups and a core workout. T: run. W: easier climbing night, work endurance on the hangboard, core and pushups. Th: run. F: climb hard, core and push-ups. Weekend: run. –Tim (New York)

A: Hi Tim, You are on the right track–dropping weight is the single most important thing you can do physically for better climbing. Eliminate all fast foods, fried foods, snack foods, and you’ll be on your way. Your workout schedule sounds pretty good to me. Try to get in 4 running days per week, at least 30 minutes each time. One concern I have is the fingerboard workout AFTER your hard gym climbing–that really tempts injury, especially until you get your weight down. I would only do a few sets of pull-ups on bucket holds after the gym climbing, plus the antagonist stuff like push-ups, dips, abs, etc.