Round 1

What is the “secret” to excelling at different styles of climbing and at all climbing areas?

Q: I am a climber that is primarily interested in climbing harder and harder traditional routes, even though I do enjoy all other facets of the climbing experience–bouldering, aid, sport, etc. Hopefully, I will one day be climbing 5.13 cracks, despite the fact that I am now hovering around .11c. I guess my real question is how do so many climbers that we read about in the magazines excel in so many areas at the same time? Is there a specific regimen of training that will help one become talented in many different situations? Climbers like Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, Yuji Hirayama, and many others seem to push the grades in every realm of climbing. What is the secret? –Thomas

A: Excelling at many areas demands that you travel and gain a lot of experience climbing at many different areas. The professional climbers you mention have undoubtedly climbed hundreds of different routes at dozens, if not hundreds, of different areas. This vast experience eventually develops an intuitive sense for climbing all types of rock and provides a high rate of success in “guessing” correctly when faced with novel moves or situations. The good news is that you too can develop this intuitive sense by logging lots of mileage at lots of areas.

Given your goals, I suggest you strive for approximately a 50-50 split of sport and trad climbing time. Working sports routes will allow you to push the difficulty envelope and develop the strength and skills you might not gain on traditional routes. When climbing trad routes, occasionally partner with someone that can “drag” you up routes harder than you might try on lead, however, it’s equally important that you regularly pump some cracks while dragging the sharp end of the rope.

Bottom line: there is no “secret”, other than to write down you goals and focus your thoughts and actions on achieving them.

How do I improve footwork and technique?

Q: I am seventeen years old, and I love rock climbing. At this point, I can climb fairly well but I’m looking to push my climbing skills much further. I must tell you that I live in Singapore , so I don’t get much chance to climb on real rock. I do most of my training by bouldering on my school wall and at indoor climbing gyms. I want to improve but my close climbing buddy (who’s better than me) always says that I use too much power, panic too easily, and that I don’t possess good technique when I climb. Please tell me how I can train my footwork and technique so that I can use crappy footholds and get better at climbing. —Kenneth

A: The two keys to improving your footwork are: 1) climb frequently on non-maximal routes where you can concentrate on good technique and efficient movement, and 2) develop the habit of focusing like a laser beam on EVERY foot placement (regardless of grade). Examine each foothold to determine its best use, then place your foot carefully on it and FEEL the hold under your toes. Now, relax your upper body, find your balance point, and let your feet do as much of the work as possible!

How can I prevent recurrent elbow tendinitis?

Q: Previously, I had a case of lateral epicondylitis in my left elbow that took three long years to totally heal. More recently I have suffered the same in the right elbow. I seem to be prone to these connective-tissue type injuries and I’m concerned about re-occurrences and new injuries. My knees have betrayed me, my hands sometimes hurt, my back is a time bomb, etc. The core of my problem seems to be in the tendons and ligaments, although muscular spasm gets its say from time to time. I’m just a mess…what can I do? —Jerry ( Tucson , AZ )

A: I, too, have bad knees and back from years of running (and a few big trad falls in the early 80s), so I know how you feel. The lateral epicondylitis (i.e. tendinitis of the outward side of the elbow), though, is pretty straightforward. It almost always kicks in as a result of muscular imbalance in the forearms. Some folks have problems with both elbows, although it may be a bit more common with the dominant arm. The treatment is outlined in detail in the TFC book. Here’s the Readers Digest version: 1) Stop climbing and training until the inflammation and pain subside. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication is helpful during this phase. 2) Commit to several weeks of “rehab” in the form of daily forearm stretching (both sides of the forearm) and reverse wrist curls with a 5 – 20 pound dumbbell (every other day). Gradually reintroduce climbing to your exercise program, but religiously warm-up and stretch *both* sides of your forearm muscles before getting on the rock. Long-term you should be able to eliminate THIS problem once and for all!

How useful are fingertip push-ups as training for climbing?

Q: Most training literature recommends sport-specific training as part of an overall program that begins with establishing a base level of strength and fitness. I would argue that most beginner climbers (and I have only been climbing under a year) have underdeveloped grips, even if they are otherwise fit. Few other sports or activities make that demand on participants. So, I think beginner climbers would benefit from strength training of the forearms to develop the grip.
Finding myself in that position, I have tried something picked up from martial arts training: the fingertip push-up. I found it very helpful and superior to forearm curls and squeeze grips for climbing. Have you ever experimented with these? —Jason

A: Yes, I often did fingertip push-ups during my early days as a climber (late 1970s) when there was little else you could do at for developing finger strength. I agree that body weight type exercises (and general training) is ideal for beginning climbers, so for now fingertip push-ups are a pretty good exercise. As you progress, you’ll need to progress to other more specific and strenuous strength training exercises in order to realize further gains.

How do I best train the crimp grip position with the HIT Workout?

Q: Eric, I recently purchased your HIT strips from Nicros, and I have completed three HIT workouts. I am very happy with the product but I do have a quick question. When performing the “crimp” grip sets, my fingers tend to extend and assume what I have always referred to as a “open” position. I can perform many reps in this way…is this ideal? FYI, my wall is exactly 55 degrees, and I currently train with 25 pounds around my waist and up to 24 reps per set. —Scott ( Las Vegas NV )

A: Hey Scott, Treat your first HIT cycle as an experiment, since it takes time to dial in the correct weight as well as develop the feel for the process (for instance, getting comfortable with the 3rd team 2-finger pocket grip). Your experience with the crimp grip is common. I suggest cutting back to just two sets with this grip and, possibly, reduce the weight a little. Strive to only use the “full crimp” position for these sets since the open hand position is extensively trained with the pocket grips.

In my new book, Training For Climbing, I have refined the HIT workout somewhat. I suggest reducing the number of sets slightly (per above) and reducing the max reps to 20 (not 24). This will mean adding more weight sooner. Of course, it’s best to cycle on/off HIT and get plenty of rest. HIT really hammers the nervous system and this type of recovery takes longer (but it’s what provides the big gains in strength). If you even feel weaker on the rock, it’s a sign of this “central fatigue.” Immediately increase the number of rest days and you’ll snap back much stronger than ever before.

Campus Training: How Much Is Enough?

Q: Eric, I just bought your new book, and I must say its really awesome! You mentioned three kinds of exercises that can be incorporated into Campus Board training (i.e. laddering, touches, and double dynos) and that each exercise should be limited from 5 to 15 sets. My question is that in a campus training session, should I limit myself to one or two of those exercises or should I do all three? Currently I am doing 5 to 10 sets of each of the three exercises. Please advise. —Jay

A: Thanks for the kind feedback on the book, Jay. With campus training, it’s best to error on the side of “too little” instead of too much. What you are doing now is the absolute most you should do. In fact, at your current level of climbing you might gain more benefit from some Complex Training (as describe in my new book). This would mean coupling some Hypergravity training with some campus training double dynos, though, I would encourage you to cut the volume of your Campus Training by 50 percent. Therefore, you might do a complete HIT workout followed immediately by 5 to 10 sets of double dynos. This cutting-edge training strategy should open up a new levels of strength and power.

What is the best hand position for performing Heavy Finger Rolls?

Q: After reading Flash Training again I decided to incorporate Heavy Finger Rolls into my off-season weight training. I have a question about proper form.
In the photo in the book you are demonstrated with palms facing away from the body, however, it’s my experience that palms’ facing toward the body is better. It seems more natural in that it more closely mimics the position your hands would be when climbing, and it seems easier to keep from dropping the bar (since you can use your thighs to push it back into your hands). Am I missing something, or is it okay to do it palms-in? —John

A: You can do then both ways, but palms’ facing away is better. While both positions isolate the forearms in a similar manner, there is a significant difference in wrist position, which plays a very important role in grip strength. With palms out, your wrist will be in a slightly extended position–just as you naturally assume when you grip and pull-on a small hold (observe how your elbow comes out from the climbing wall in the “batwing” position in order to maximize leverage and grip strength). Oppositely, the palms’ in position naturally flexes your wrist and results in a biomechanically weaker position.

Yes, it’s a subtle difference and I can’t prove it’s a big deal; however, I’ve believe it’s better to train heavy finger rolls in the stronger palms’ out position. Certainly, this is not a core exercise for climbers, but occasionally exposing your forearm muscles to uncommonly high loads (rolling body weight on greater) is highly beneficial.

P.S. I suggest performing heavy finger rolls “within” a weight lifting rack to “spot” the bar should it slip from your hands.

How do I incorporate high-intensity exercise like Campus Training into the 4-3-2-1 Cycle?

Q: I have read your book Training for Climbing. In regards to the 4-3-2-1 training cycle: in the first 4 weeks of endurance training, is it or is it not suggested to do strength training/conditioning after one has climbed many routes for endurance training? Is it better to wait until after the first four weeks to do things such as systems training, campus board training, lock-off training, and such, or can I do these exercises after climbing during the entire 4-3-2-1 cycle? —Shane

A: Performing a formal 4-3-2-1 cycle is difficult during the climbing season…there’s just too much going on. During the off-season, however, it’s an ideal regimen to follow. The first 4 weeks is all about climbing–lots of submaximal climbing both indoors or out (if possible). High intensity supplemental exercises like Campus Training, lock-offs and such, obviously work maximum strength and power, therefore, they should be used only during the 3-week “power” phase. Of course, the 2-week phase focuses on Anaerobic Endurance (A-E), so here’s where you do interval training on hard boulder problems or short at-limit routes. The cycle concludes with 1 week of rest – no climbing or serious training – before repeating. Good luck!
Can you suggest a training program for someone getting back into climbing after a long layoff?

Q: I just came back from the bookstore—your new book has inspired me to look for some places to train for climbing. I did some bouldering when I lived France a long time ago, but I pretty much will be starting from scratch. What training programs would you recommend for me? —Limor ( Reston , VA )

A: Limor: It’s really tough for me to give quality advice without knowing you (i.e. your strengths, weaknesses, goals, etc). I suggest visiting one of the SportRock climbing gyms in the DC area. This would be a great place to get back into climbing, as well as attain some personal training or coaching. Of course, I encourage you to get out on some real rock as well—you have many wonderful natural resources nearby including Carderock, Great Falls , Seneca Rocks, and the New River Gorge. Enjoy and have fun!