This article appeared in the magazine Climb, it is better if you read it here and support me...obviously...
So you now want to train! You have made your mind up, you have girded your loins, you are ready to perspire. You have been inspired by great climbers, and great routes, and you want desperately to improve. So the first lesson is, it aint going to be easy, and it aint gonna be a short ride. If you want the ‘abbs in six weeks routine’ there is only one road, and it aint training, it’s called starvation. If you starve for six weeks, whatever muscles you have around your abdomen will look better, if you also train they will become a bit stronger. Not what we want really. So the honest answer is, unless you are a beginner, 6 weeks isn’t very long. If you are a low level person, you should make the jump to a higher level in six weeks, as this standard is so basic. If you are towards the top of the grade 8 pyramid, six weeks is enough to secure you a tougher red-point, and a gain in stamina, but very little else. I like to train in periods of four months, that’s 16 weeks! Get into your head, that length of time, is not as important as improvement, and you will have learnt something more important than how to campus. You have also probably read an incredible amount on training already, and I am sorry to tell you it’s mostly rubbish. There’s training on the web, there’s, monthly stuff in climbing mags, muscle mags, Men’s health mags, and it’s all generally garbage. In fact, if there is a nugget of wisdom in one of these training articles, it would certainly be impossible to find, as it’s surrounded with stacks of word padding, and bull shit. So if you are reading this because you can’t make progress with some one else’s recipe for greatness, take a deep breath. ‘Climbing better is not rocket science’, I am famous for saying this. ‘Train harder, try harder, eat less’, yep me again. If there is any science to it at all, it’s the amount of resting, or recuperation between sessions. The harder you train the more tissue you will break down, if you rest the correct amount of time you will regenerate this tissue, and a bit of bonus muscle too. If you don’t rest sufficiently, you will get weaker (you may think you have more stamina, but your body has just learnt to move better). To get stronger you need to train fairly hard, and then rest for preferably one to five days. I personally, like to rest for 3 days to six days! So I normally only get 2 climbing training days in 8. That’s not much! But it’s proved enough, many, many times.
If you are new to the sport the simplest solution to training is to go to a climbing wall, a bouldering venue, or a crag between twice and thrice a week. If you are young or genetically gifted I would still recommend this even if you are an experienced climber. It amounts to, day on day off, (on the most frequent schedule), and you get an extra days rest when you want or need it. Now then I don’t think of weeks having seven days anyway, I simply think of days on and what ever days off I need. You see trainers, opening times for gyms, all have a calendar and an agenda. The agenda is there, to get money from your pocket to theirs, a bit like mine really. And of course rain and climate will bugger your plans too, it defiantly does not operate to any known schedule. So try and train only when you have recovered, despite everything that comes in your way. Even if the sun is shinning and everything is dry for the first time in months, stick to zee plan.
If you are doing day on day off, this is a perfect pattern for getting more technique and skill. Cheap way to get better here is to watch the good guys and girls climb, take mental notes, don’t ogle, don’t drool, if you are getting on their nerves move away. Watch DVDS of the best, the neatest, and the weakest. The expensive way is to go to a pro and take lessons, some pros will turn you into pros, some will just dazzle and empty your pockets with flattery. You make your choice, you takes your chance. I take lessons whenever I can, I am not ashamed about it, and some lessons just need to be learnt again, and again. Knowing what is false flattery is very important, just as knowing what are incorrect, or false grades, to improve you have to know where you are, grasshopper.
If you are doing day on day off, there is not much chance of doing supplementary training without inducing overtraining, but you probably wont even need any. Try day on day off, and enjoy yourself, just work at it, do slightly more each session, or slightly harder, or more and harder. If you make progress be very happy and keep it up. It can be this simple.
So you might be saying what a con, he’s told us no training secrets. Well secret no 3 is, there are no real secrets! If there were magic tricks some one would be ahead of the pack. What about people who train every day? Well if you train every day you will get tired, loose enthusiasm, make no muscular gains, probably get injured, and generally go down hill. Unless you are on holiday at a great crag, forget it. Very good climbers can do it because they have every thing any way, and just need to sharpen their game, or are taking advantage of good weather. They also do it because they have to, or have too much energy, and are hyper active, and sometimes they are just plain stupid.
Now then, the above is all very well if you are not intimidated by climbing and can push your self, or have a circle of friends who will help push you. It is very easy to be intimidated by climbing and climbs, climbing is well intimidating at times that’s why we like it. But it’s this intimidating side which makes improving at climbing so hard for most. So you make slow progress -good, but feel intimidated somehow by climbing- bad? Don’t worry, this isn’t a trick question. If it makes you feel better, I’ll confess I am constantly intimidated by climbing and climbs, the difference is I get over it, or try to.
So lets reiterate, first train and rest sufficiently, be happy with whatever gains you make. If you have money seek out an honest pro, who will point out obvious faults at a cost. Lastly don’t be intimidated. So you understand everything, except the last. If you understood the last you wouldn’t really need my advice would you, and you would be some one called Achilles or Jesse Owens, but you’re just called Bert or Jane, and you come from somewhere flat and boring.
If you climb low end you have a very obvious right to be intimidated, lowend climbs are generally not steep, and you can hurt yourself. Low angled climbers are justifiably intimidated, that’s why I skipped this grade, and went to easy harder routes. If you climb 8a, but want to climb harder, you are most likely just intimidated by a just a number. Wow, scared of a grade! And us 8a people look down our collective noses on the lowgrade brigade! Being less intimidated by stuff is one of the hardest things in sport, what ever your grade, so no need to rush it, it doesn’t work to rush anyway. Again you think he’s not telling us anything, Well I am, try harder, think more, move quicker, stop faffing around, be confident, less intimidation. There are reasons for failing on something, so ask what they are? If you are too dumb, ask your mates or a pro. What are the reasons, or reason for having problems is hyper important. Don’t deceive yourself. Is it a problem you can solve next go (or after you come back fresh) or is it a long term thing (months) that will take work and improvement. So if you have the reason for failure apply the solution and succeed, it’s simple.
Did you buy a Finger board? Have you put it up yet? Used it? If you are making reasonable progress by your day on day off, or day on two days off, you can just mess around on your board. Using it to help relax your back, is a start and, so is doing some hangs. Hangs or dead hanging, will increase your finger strength whilst not interfering with recuperation too much. Using the board, or boards, with all the differing holds will help you develop differing grip strengths. If you have a glaring problem of strength like being unable to do pull ups, remedy this with three sets of pull ups at max effort on a totally finger safe hold. If you really cant do pull ups-well jump up and lower your self down, or perhaps seek a different sport. 8a boys and girls, could do three sets, with a third to two thirds body weight, to all thirds extra weight, on a totally safe hold. To finish off Hang on board and do some leg raises, the stronger you are the more challenging you can make the leg raises. If you are weak do knee raises, if you are strong do full front leavers with ankle weights and leg raises to the sides. If you are lazy you will just do the hangs, no problem. If you are keen you might as well do a pull up or two while hanging. I am famous for doing thousands of pull ups, people laugh at me and tell me they don’t work, I smile back.
Remember I said, you needed some floor space, well use it. Do three sets of press ups. If you are strong mix it up, do one arm two leg press ups, and one arm one leg press ups. If you think press ups are useless, think again, you are well wrong, they are ace. Call them moving Pilates, call them retro, in fact ‘retro old school dynamic body tension secrets’ is bang on, just do them. Press-ups for me, help strengthen the whole body, but notable the core. Press-ups can be varied by shifting the position of the hands; shift them out to the side, more pectoral muscle. Position the hands more forward more core, backwards more triceps. Watch the lower back, it is easy to injure. Between sets try a little stretching. A word on stretching, get a book! Actually, flexibility helps a great deal, but is the least limiting thing in most climber’s arsenal. There are great climbers out there who have only average flexibility, but there are some masters who have Black Belt flexibility, who do ya wanna be? If you stretch too much before climbing it can have a very negative effect on your climbing, for several reasons which I am not going to go into here, but after climbing is a great time to stretch, and a nice relaxant to boot.
So what have you learnt now? Enjoy yourself, go climbing or bouldering, think about things a bit, maybe use the fingerboard for a bit of supplementary training finger training and a bit of hanging core work, and a bit of floor core work. How about thinking longer term than burning people off, don’t just think, the climbing wall, or bouldering at the same venue, try thinking where do you want your climbing to be in 6 months. If you thought about it like that there are people reading this who could exceed the standard of everybody operating in the World today! Are you zee one?
If you are a boulderer, your training on a finger board for your fingers shouldn’t really exceed about 8 secs per hold, if you are trying to be specific to your task. If you are a red-pointer, or a person who does short cruxy routes maybe 8 to 15 secs, and if an onsighter of longer routes, with a lot of gear fiddling, 15 to 30 secs. I mix it all up, most of the time, but try to be more on the money if I have some particular route in mind. Hard climbing can easily damage fingers, my best advice is to try to stress fingers no more than 75 %, but train them a lot. Remember secret no 4, ‘it’s better to be reasonably strong making infinitesimal gains than hyper strong, and injured’.
Stevie is sponsored by Grivel , La Sportiva ;V12.