Round 11

What’s the best way to improve bouldering and lead ability?

Q: What is the best way to improve my bouldering and lead abilities? -Jason (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: There are two approaches to elevating your abilities, and you should place equal focus on both:

  1. Occasionally stretch the boundaries of what you are able to do. This is more practical on a TR and safe lead routes where you can hangdog and work on sequences that are a little too hard for your current ability. In doing this, don’t thrash, but instead “work” the sequence striving to find technical solutions. You need to grow your technical skills, as well as your strength, and working hard routes can help you do this.
  2. Re-climb routes and boulder problems you’ve already ticked, striving to climb them with greater precision and economy. Most climbers just “move on to the next project” after ticking a route–in doing so they climb most routes sloppily and not in the most efficient way. Being satisfied at just “getting by” guarantees mediocrity. Like a gymnast practicing to do a routine perfectly, you should practice working routes to the point of perfect movement and economy. No, you shouldn’t use this approach all the time, but as with #1 (above) you should do this some of the time as “training on the rock” strategy.

Of course, some targeted strength training might help you break into the next grade, but without knowing your weaknesses (and seeing you climb) I can’t make any suggestions.

What’s the best hangboard training program to get strong quickly?

Q: What’s the best hangboard training to get strong (quickly) for comps? — Zachery (Raleigh, NC)

A: Zach, As a relatively new climber, your best training is to simply climb (indoors or out) 3 or 4 days per week. On top of this, some supplemental hangboard training can help. Since you’ve been climbing three years, it’s probably safe to do some training with a 10-pound weight belt added to increase the training effect. Many climbers get a jump in finger strength with this hypergravity-training technique. Still, there is no secret way to “get strong quick”; becoming a high-level climber requires a comprehensive approach that focuses heavily on improving technique and the mental game. Good luck!

What’s the most effective way to train for a one-arm pull-up?

Q: What’s the best way to train for the ability to do a one-arm pull-up? -Bruce (Hong Kong)

A: Hey Bruce, Developing one-arm strength is easier for some folks than others; it’s somewhat a function of bone length and tendon insertion location. Still I think most average folks (like me) can learn to do a one-arm given the right training program. I learned to do a one-arm when I was 16 years old, and I can still do one (usually) even at age 40! OK, so here’s the beta on three exercises to put to work: 1.) One arm lock-offs with your palm facing your body…hold as long as possible then lower slowly to the bottom. Do 3 sets each arm. 2.) Uneven grip pull-ups…add a sling to a pull-up bar so one hand is 18 inches lower that the other. Do as many pull-ups as possible, then switch sides. 3.) Weight pull-ups. Do regular pull-ups with 20 lbs around your waist.

Don’t do all of these in the same workout. Pick two, and do them at the end of your climbing session (never on rest days).

How can I train to improve strength on 45s and ceilings?

Q: I’ve been climbing in the gym about 2 days per week for 8 months. I want to increase my finger/grip strength to allow for more action on 45s and ceilings. – Glenn (Perth, Australia)

A: If you’ve been climbing less than a year, then you still have some big gains to make in terms of technique. It’s important to recognize that every subtle technical improvement will yield a significant gain in “skill strength”-that is, you will feel stronger and more effective as a climber. You might engage a climbing coach for a session to see if he/she can identify some specific technical areas to work on. However, just continuing to climb regularly will produce steady improvement in technique and ability (for your first couple years in the sport) without serious strength training.

That said, you might want to do some “training intervals” on a 45-degree wall with a 10-pound weight belt around your waste. Don’t climb at your limit, but instead on moderate holds. The added weight will enhance grip and lock-off strength. You’ll notice this when you get back on the wall climbing at your limit (without the weight).

What are possible modifications to 4-3-2-1 Training Cycle?

Q: Eric, I have been doing your 4-3-2-1 program for 4 years. Is this exact program still effective or should it be modified in some way? -Zareh (Camarillo, CA)

A: Great question, Zareh. The 4-3-2-1 is still a good program, however, if you have top-shelf technique, then you might upgrade to a 3-2-1 cycle which eliminates the 4 weeks of endurance and technique training. The 3-2-1 can get pretty intense, so don’t risk skimping on the 1 week of rest. As you improve in ability and train harder, quality of rest (and diet) becomes increasingly important.

How can I train to improve grip strength on slopers?

Q: What is the best way to improve finger grip strength and ability to climb on sloping holds? -Jason (Cheswick, PA)

A: Hello Jason, You can improve performance on slopers in two ways:

  1. Improved body position will improve the force vectors on slopers and make them feel more positive. For example, hanging on a sloper with a hip turn and drop knee that draws your body into the wall will make a sloper feel more positive than trying to hang on the sloper in a neutral (normal chest-in) position.
  2. If you don’t have any finger or elbow problems (injury/pain), then you could also begin bouldering once per week with a 10-pound weight belt around your waist. This will definitely increase your grip strength and make you stronger on all holds, including slopers. (Avoid super thin, tweaky holds when bouldering with weight.)

Use both approaches and you’ll feel much stronger in a couple months!

What’s the best training for a 50-something climber?

Q: Eric, I’m 54-years old and have been climbing about 2.5 years. I have lead 10b inside and toprope up to 11a outside. My current workouts are: power/core yoga 6 days/week, climbing 4 days/week, and riding about 20 – 30 min/day. What are reasonable goals and training schedules for my age? – Jackii (Sandy, UT)

A: Hello Jackii, Sounds like you are doing terrific with your current program. It’s well-rounded and, it seems, very regular. The aerobics and core training are great, and your 4 days/week climbing is perfect frequency. I suspect you still have much learning curve yet to come, so just climbing a lot will maintain progress. Some additional “pull muscle” training might help, too. If available, a couple set on a Lat Pulldown machine (or pull-ups with aid of a spotter, if needed) twice per week would be beneficial.

I should mention that I occasionally climb with a 58-year old lady (and her 67-year old husband), who climbs solid 5.12a on TR. They both possess impeccable technique, as well as a very measured, intelligent approach to climbing. So my message to you is to set no self-imposed limits.

Hope this helps out. Drop me a note in a year and let me know how it’s going!