Round 96

I’ve been climbing for some time now, started off just powering through everything and would do ok. I feel like have broken through on a number of levels, namely my technique and mental game have caught up with my power. However, the main aspect I have noticed has been holding me back is my finger strength, when I get on small, bad holds I fail. I have a hard time crimping–I open hand almost all holds. I’ve tried doing some specific fingerboard and campus training but crimping just doesn’t feel comfortable. Any insight into this would help alot. –Nathan (British Columbia)

Nathan, The structure of your fingers differs from me and others—we’re all unique. With practice and training, however, you should be able to improve some at crimping…but not everyone will be able to crimp like Sharma! Body position also affects your ability to stick on tiny holds, so stay open minded about improving technique in subtle ways–this can make a big difference. Ultimately, I don’t have any “Secret” to tell you…but I do suggest that you force yourself to crimp more often when climbing indoors and continue to train crimp grip on a hangboard. Over time, you”ll gain more strength and comfort in using this grip and it will become a real asset on the smallest holds on your project routes!

I really enjoy all of your advice, thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been climbing for a year and a half and on a non-exceptional day can climb up to a V4 or 5.11. I feel that the amount of time I spent during that year and a half at other activities(marathons and alpine climbing) hampered my progress as a rock climber. Now I am shifting my focus to rock climbing. Do you have any recommendations for me as I make the transition? Should I continue to run at lower mileages to keep up my endurance and avoid weight-gain? — Annie

Hi Annie, Sounds like you are doing great! Sure, I think it’s good to continue with some aerobic activity…perhaps running (or other) 2 or 3 days per week. Of course, you primary training focus should be specific to rock climbing, so hopefully you can climb or train for climbing 3 or 4 days per week on top of the aerobic training days. Most important: try to assess as best you can what your limiting constraint is when climbing. This weakness should be the focus of your training this winter. Of course, it never hurts to improve finger strength, forearm endurance, lock-off strength, and core strength…so select some exercises to improve in each of these areas. Also, I believe it’s wise to do a small amount of antagonist muscle training (push and rotator cuff) as explained in detail in my books. Hope this helps. Good luck!

I am 44 years old and I just recently started to climb again. I used to climb 14 years ago on a 6c 7a level. I perfectly know age affects performance and I guess even more in climbing being so demanding for the fingers. What s sort of level I can realistically achieve? I train hard and very committed when I put my mind into it, but with age comes some wisdom and I want to try to avoid injuries. I would appreciate your recommendation. –Alessandro (Tunbridge Wells, UK)

Hello Alessandro, Yes, you can climb at a high level again–age 44 is not that old, but you must ease back into it gradually so you don’t get injured. I think 7a+ or harder is certainly achievable. Very important: Warm up properly before training and climbing, since at our age it’s necessary to lower injury risk. A regular training schedule (2 to 3 days per week) of climbing-specific exercises will go a long way to improve your fitness in the coming months. However, actual climbing (both indoors and outside) should be your primary focus—can you climb 3 days per week (mix of indoors and outdoors)? This way you’ll improve your technique and regain the important mental skills. Hope this helps. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Hey Eric, I have a question about a problem with my hands. I’m 15 and when I’m cranking on a really hard climb either in the gym or outdoors (usually on 5.12 overhanging sport climbs) my fingers start to lock up on me. The strength of my grip feels ok, but it gets really hard open my hand, which is very uncomfortable while trying to finish the climb, and it takes about 5+ minutes to go away. I was wondering what kind of an injury (if it is and injury) this is, and how to help rehabilitate it. –Dalan (Alaska)

Hello Dalan, Hum… I’m not sure what you mean by “locked”—sounds like an extreme form of muscle cramping, but I’ve not really heard of this happening to climbers. Two things that might help prevent it: be sure to drink a lot of water before and during climbing AND be sure to warm-up progressively (easy, medium, hard) when you climb—don’t just jump on 5.12 cold. If the problem causes long-term pain—or if the condition gets worse—then I suggest you consult a doctor. Otherwise, hopefully it’s something you can learn to work around and avoid.

I wanted to share my story after reading about how you value hearing about your readers’ experiences. I’ll also follow with a question and would greatly appreciate your feedback.I had a kidney transplant in August 2010 after climbing for fifteen years. During the years before my transplant, I had many health related ups and downs, but still managed to climb at a peak level of 5.12b intermittently. After much downtime and reflection during my recovery, which was greatly assisted by my loved ones, I decided to start training. I’d owned a copy of Training for years and had read it, but never really set a program for myself. I turned 30 in October and started a dedicated approach soon after. In January, I sent Cyclops, my first 5.13a  (depending on your guidebook choice). The rest of the year has followed with numerous other climbs far beyond my previous limit, including preplaced gear leads of Survival of the Fittest (13a) and Clairvoyance (13b), as well as numerous 5.12s in the Gunks. I also sent Diedre a Richard (12d mixed) at Val David, and a few very memorable first ascents at recently developed crags in the Adirondacks, which include The Fancy Cat (12a/b mixed) at Shelving Rock; a longstanding project at Potash Mountain, Sasquatch Hunting (13a/b); and most memorable was a climb I bolted named Four Ounces to Freedom (12d mixed) at Crane Mountain. (A kidney weighs approximately four ounces; I found the name appropriate!) I’ve also done a fair amount of bouldering up to V8, but my focus is definitely on routes.

So, on to the question. Most training programs seem tailored to those who have enough time to climb in the gym or have short, focused outdoor sessions, but don’t get to spend a large amount of time climbing outdoors. It turns out that I do have a lot of time for climbing outdoors (I teach online part-time and guide part-time), but have lots of problems fitting my outdoor climbing into a periodization schedule. I find that outdoor climbing is often an irregular activity at an area like the Gunks; I can’t just crank out lots of routes or problems for the sake of training because of proximity, the speed of trad climbing, climbing with partners who aren’t climbing as hard, etc. To get to the point: How do you balance outdoor sessions with pure training? Do you stick with the normal periodization on top of whatever you end up doing at the crag to the extent that energy and time permits? Or do you trade in outdoor climbing time for more focused training time indoors (this would be difficult for me)? If you can’t complete all that’s required for a normal periodization cycle, should you stay on track for that cycle while substituting in days of climbing outdoors that don’t necessarily fit the requirements of that portion of the cycle? I hope my question makes some sense. Thanks in advance for any advice! And moreover, I can’t thank you enough for such a lucidly written and effective approach to training. That and my new kidney have really improved my life, climbing and otherwise. –Mike (New York)

Great story, Mike–thanks for sharing! I’m happy to hear about your progress AND your hard routes and FAs! Sounds like you are smart and have a good feel for training/performance issues. So, for someone like yourself—who guides and climbs a lot—you almost have to train intuitively, because it’s very hard to do a structured 4-3-2-1 cycle when climbing a ton outside. I think your best bet is to keep climbing outside as much as you can, but then to add in a one or two targeted training sessions per week—the goal being to focus the training on the type of moves (and physical constraints) that most closely relate to your current hard projects outside. So if you are working on hard roped projects focus more on anaerobic endurance training exercises…whereas if you are working on some rad bouldering lines at the gunks, then your training focus should be more on power and max strength. Integrating this training with your outdoor climbing AND getting enough rest days will require some planning. If possible, try to plan things out a week or two in advance, so that you are always getting 2 or 3 rest days from climbing and hard training per week.