Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hypertrophy Part 2

Andy locking off on the crux crimp of Monsters in the Maze 5.12b
at Green Dome in Santa Barbara, CA
Watch a group of people with decent technique working a hard boulder problem and you’ll probably notice one of the following things is the reason for their failure:
  1. Holds are too small/slopey (hands/fingers aren’t strong enough)
  2. Holds are too far apart (don’t have enough lock off strength)
  3. Feet keep coming off  (core strength and/or foot placement precision is lacking)
The second part of the hypertrophy block targets these weaknesses through a focus on exercises that build strength (muscle and connective tissue mass) in appropriate parts of the body. 

Good to boulder a bit each workout and then use an appropriate combination of the other exercises described in rotation.  I tend to do Repeaters, Lock Offs and Ab Swings in one and Campusing in the other.  The most important thing is to spend some time doing them all regularly.  The combinations are less important.  Train Hypertrophy every other day depending on recovery needs. 

Warm up:

Do the warm up described in Hypertrophy Part 1.

Find a boulder problem that is hard, but doable in a few goes and then project it for the next 30-60 minutes as necessary.  The goal here is to get the body very warmed up for hard training to follow while improving projecting tactics and efficiency.  

The good folks at Beastmaker can explain the specifics, but will say that doing these methodically is easily one of the best ways to increase finger strength.  I generally do one set of each major hand position that is applicable/realistic given my fitness.  This always includes a warm up 4 finger false crimp (see campusing below) followed by full effort on  front 2 finger, mid 2 finger, back 2 finger, crimp, and sloper and when time and fitness allows some one arm work on good holds and/or mono combinations.   A note on pockets:  GO SLOW.  If 2 finger positions feel “tweaky” start with 3 finger positions and work up.  Those that patiently train pockets (by patient I mean months, not weeks) develop finger strength of mutant proportions. 

Generally, all of these hand positions can be worked effectively with the aid of a pulley when necessary.  However, when no pulley is available, intelligent staggered hand positions can be a nice way to “take weight off”  For example, say you can’t really integrate back 2 finger training into your routine (most can’t).  Instead of getting injured trying WAY too hard with both hands hanging back 2 finger pockets, back one hand off to a back 3 finger pocket and switch the stagger back and forth each rep of the set.  Or just do a back 3 finger set in lieu of back 2 finger for a while.  One finger can make a HUGE difference. 

Lock offs:
As the name implies, these help develop lock off strength.  Far more effective than pull ups or rows, lock offs create strength in the most helpful part of the pull motion.  Plus they train  feet, legs, and abs to support the movement.  Some may be surprised at how pumped their toes get dong lock off training.   While any type of hold will work for these exercises, I like to focus on pinches as this is the one hand position that is often hard to train on fingerboards. 

The simplest method is to grab a decent hold on a vertical to gently overhanging wall.  Then reach as far possible with the free hand, hiking feet up as high as necessary (preferably in a front stepped position).  Hold the locked off position for as long as possible.   Do 3-4 sets with each arm. 

A variation on the theme can be achieved on a systems board (moderate route will work too).  Climb up and down the board on good holds, but each movement hover the lead hand just over the next hold for five seconds before hanging it.  The end result is a series of lock offs up and down the board.   Each set should result in failure after 10-25 hand movements.  Do 3-4 sets. 

Ab Swings:
Ab swings strengthen muscles that keep feet light, precise and on the on the wall when climbing on steeper terrain - mainly a function of the core.   For ab swings find a large jug in a roof where its easy to keep feet off the floor. The first variation is to swing feet up to a hold towards the end of reach in front, bicycle the hold and catch the swing for a brief moment.  Then release allowing legs to swing back towards the ground.  Immediately swing legs back up towards the foothold bicycling the hold in the other direction  (keep things balanced) and repeat in reps until failure.  For the second variation swing feet to the side catching a foothold in the same fashion and repeating to the other side in subsequent reps until failure.  Do a a set or two of each of these.  This is also a good time to incorporate front levers and their variations.

Again, deferring to the Brits on this one.  Listen to Ben Moon.  He’s a strong dude.  Campusing takes a bit of time to work up to, but for those that can get comfortable on a board, especially a well constructed board (unlike the one at The Crux in Eugene), it often becomes HIGHLY addictive.  Friends of mine have been known to ignore “real” climbing for entire seasons because they get so obsessed with projects on the campus board.

Depending on the difficulty of hand movement and/or the amount of reps done each set, campusing can either be used for hypertrophy or maximum recruitment.  During the hypertrophy phase I generally do a few sets of ladders, bumps and touches with a focus on volume on moderate moves.  Here’s an example:

Again in the name of balance, remember to intentionally alternate which hand leads on movements.  I generally do sets in pairs, first leading with my right and then with my left.

Warmup hangs (a few sets of 3-5 sec hangs on rungs)
Big holds 1-4-6-9-9-6-4-1
Big holds 1-4-6-9-9-6-4-1
Med holds 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1
Med holds 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1

Big holds 1-4-5-4-5 ... 4-5 (5-8 bumps total)
Big holds 1-4-5-4-5 ... 4-5 (5-8 bumps total)
Small holds 1-3-4-3-4 ... 3-4 (5-8 bumps total)
Small holds 1-3-4-3-4 ... 3-4 (5-8 bumps total)

Big holds 1-5-1-5 ... 1-5 (8-12 touches total)
Big holds 1-5-1-5 ... 1-5 (8-12 touches total)

Shoulder Prehab:
Do the exercises described in Hypertrophy Part 1

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hypertrophy Part 1

"Climbing is like lifting weights in the woods"
-Eliah Ball looking strong on Atreyu, 5.13b

I like to spend a good deal of time in the hypertrophy block.  Slow calculated effort here will lead to huge payoffs during maximum recruitment.  Simply put, the more high quality muscle (in the right places of course), the more there is to recruit.  The following plan assumes 6 weeks in hypertrophy, but this can be adapted up or down depending on one’s needs.  The first three weeks create a solid base of climbing strength through moderate bouldering 4x4s.  In the second three weeks focus shifts to specific development incorporating fairly powerful stuff (bouldering projects and campusing) to aid the transition to true maximum recruitment.  


Increasing size and density of major climbing muscles and their antagonist through focused repetitive stress until muscle failure.  While the physical focus of this block is stimulating muscle growth, its also the right time to develop technique and focus necessary to do sequences at one’s limit later on.  Now’s also the time to “pump iron” and incorporate traditional weight training techniques where applicable with particular focus on shoulders and arms.  

A Quick Note about Warming Up:
Be sure to warm up well before training.  Many options here, but the simplest way to do this is climbing on easy”ish” terrain for about 5 minutes.  I often jump on an overhung juggy wall and traverse around until a just a hint of a pump develops.  Then I come down and rest for 10 minutes or so.  The idea is to let any remnants of a pump dissipate before the workout.  When hard to near maximum effort climbing/training is planned, follow the rest period with some easy to moderate bouldering as a second warmup stage and then rest again.  This is the bare minimum anyone should do for a warmup.  Error on the side of too much here and your body will thank you. 

The first half of this block is spent almost entirely doing bouldering 4x4s, a simple bouldering workout that stimulates some hypertrophy while forcing technique improvements.  Pick four different boulder problems that are at a hard onsight level.  I like to include a variety styles into the mix.  More than an occasional fall is an indication that the problems are too hard.  Climb the first problem.  Then rest about as long as it took to climb it and climb it again.  Repeat until the problem has been climbed four times.  Then rest for five minutes and move onto the the second problem.  Climb it four times using the same 1:1 activity to rest ratio.  Take another five minute rest and continue in the same fashion on the third and fourth problem. 

Do these three times/week progressively stepping up the difficulty of problems included.  I track the overall difficulty of a 4x4 by adding up the ratings of all four problems.  (Example:  4 V2s = a score of 8).   Always good to start new training cycles on the easy side and then ramp up methodically.

Shoulder Prehab: 
Climbing is HARD on shoulders.  Climb regularly for an extended period of time and shoulder problems are almost guaranteed unless thoughtful rotator cuff/stabilizer muscle exercises are incorporated from time to time.  The goal of all these exercises is to pull the humorous back into the shoulder socket, keep the scapula locked down against the back and open the front of the shoulders/chest.  During hypertrophy, do one set to failure of a few of the exercises described below after every workout, cycling through them all over the course of a week.  Use lightweight (sometimes just the weight of the arms alone is enough). 

This article outlines a number of quality shoulder prehab exercises along with a nice warm up routine that can be used as “pre warmup” to the warm up described above.  When doing shoulder work at the end of a workout, the additional shoulder warm up is not necessary. 


Sunday, January 20, 2013

2012 Recap

When first sitting down to compile this year’s “tick list”, I was a bit concerned that there wasn’t going to be much to report.  This has been a year of transitions and in the midst of all the change, I’ve often felt tired and sort of uninspired to push on the climbing/adventure front.  While my gut reaction is to write this off as laziness, it has also become crystal clear that there are some realities and significant limitations that will continue to force me to choose my spots.  Some of these I’ve chosen, namely a commitment to building a career around creating positive change in food systems.  Others are out of my control.  I’m the proud owner of severely arthritic ankle attached to a rotationally deformed lower leg.  There’s no amount of will power that can change that. 

So with that, here’s a quick run down of 2012’s highlights:
  • Enjoyed some of the most fulfilling work of my life.  Developed brand strategy and messaging for a campaign to increase consumer demand for local food  as a Marketing Consultant for Willamette Farm and Food Coalition.  Earned a Masters in Business Administration with a focus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Hired as Sprout! Program Supervisor to lead the development and management of a cutting edge regional food hub in Springfield, OR for NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation).  Joined Willamette Farm and Food Coalition's Board of Directors.
  • 8 consecutive days of climbing at Red Rocks and The Cathedral.  Highlights included an onsight of Sonic Youth, 5.11d; an onsight of Unimpeachable Groping, 5.10b 7 pitch Grade III; and an epic fail on Pocket Line to the Moon extension 5.11d (1 hour sport climbing “epic” on day 8 - no gas in the tank)
  • Climbed two of the most coveted routes in Western Oregon.  Barad Dur, 5.11a 8 pitch Grade IV and The Prize, 5.11c 5 pitch Grade II
  • Got out to Smith Rock for a number of great days with good friends.  Onsighted dozens of routes up to 5.11a; redpointed Blackened, 5.11d and took a 30+ ft whipper on the last move of Vomit Launch, 5.11b during a half hour onsight failure.
  • More than a few fun day trips to crags in Western Oregon including The Callahans, Flagstone, Wolf Rock, and The Garden. 
  • Sent one of the best boulder problems of my life on the river in Leavenworth, WA
  • Logged ~750 miles on my new bike including an 80 mile solo ride from Eugene to Florence. 
  • Breached the 10,000 mile mark on my 150 cc scooter including a round trip ride from Eugene to Portland
  • Hosted 15 “Dinner with the Smyth’s” dinner parties at my amazing new house, filling more than 100 different people’s bellies with delicious food
  • Helped slaughter/butcher a 30 lb turkey as part of a 40 person Thanksgiving dinner that I won’t soon forget.  

Brilliant bouldering in Leavenworth, WA

Barad Dur, 5.11a

Thanksgiving 2012
 EUG - PDX on scooter


 Sonic Youth, 5.11d

 The Prize, 5.11c

Coconut Bliss's WFFC fundraiser

 MBA 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012


As the name suggests, the Foundation block of training is all about priming the body for the rigors that lie ahead.  For many, this block feels incredibly boring, but I always enjoy these workouts.  They leave me feeling really good actually.  Plus there’s some satisfaction in knowing that this investment of time early in the season will pay large dividends later on.  Whatever the case, just about everyone benefits from spending at least a few weeks suffering or blissing their way through a foundation block. 

I'm not diving deep into the science behind these ideas, as most folks reading either already have an understanding of this stuff, or don’t really care.  Most of what I’m preaching is laid out quite well in Performance Rock Climbing by Dale Goddard and Udo Neumann. 

Building capilarity in major climbing muscles through extended time climbing without rest.  Comparable to taking the arms for jog.  Stick to easy"ish" terrain and learn how to recover in rest stances effectively.  These workouts finish with a generous amount of core work and prehab focused on common problem areas.

Continuous and extended use of muscles forces the body to figure out how to effetively circulate fresh blood into, and spent blood out of muscles.  The adaptive response created by these workouts is increased vascularity, mainly in the form of capillaries.  More capilarity enables muscles to recover more efficiently between
  •  hand movements (better endurance on routes)
  •  routes (more attempts/sends each day)
  •  workouts/climbing days (efficient recovery/adaption)
So 3-4 days per week I jump on the wall and take my arms for a jog.  Like a nice jog, the idea is get the heart rate up and build a mild pump, without getting anywhere near failure and stay in that place for 30 minutes or more.  If a significant pump begins to build, find a rest stance, shake till it recedes and then continue on. 

These workouts end with prehab.  Shoulders are an important muscle group to protect, but because of my extensive prehab needs, I forgo them until the next block.  I do one set of each of the following shooting for complete failure around 30 reps or 1 minute depending on the exercise:
  • Reverse wrist curl
  • Elbow pronator (twisting a hammer in towards the body)
  • Calf raise
  • Peroneus raise
  • Plank
  • Side plank
  • Bridge
  • Heal Slides