I remember the days of trying to climb something at my limit, be it indoors or outdoors, where my warm up would consist of an espresso, waving my arms around a bit, climbing an easy route, then wondering why I got pumped out of my box and climbed terribly.
It was pretty simple really, my warm up routine was lame, pointless really. Sure, these days my warm up might be a bit different depending on whether I’m jumping on a low stress E1 after work, or headpointing an E4, or redpointing that 7b+, again, but I’ll be doing a warm up of some description for sure.
Not quite the warm up we’re after…
Before we go any further I hate the phrase “warm up”, there’s so much more to it than that, so lets call it Performance Preparation – thanks Paul Roberts!
Today’s the day that the route’s going down, the grade is irrelevant (warm up before everything), it’s at your limit though, how are we going to best prepare ourselves?
Rest well, and eat properly. Turning up hungover, tired and hungry isn’t going to work, well, not for me! Be fuelled up and hydrated, I then like to eat little and often through the day otherwise I get sleepy.
Bring a good belayer you trust implicitly – can’t stress this enough.
Make sure conditions are good, if the rock is greasy and your crux move is a smooth sloper, it’s going to be hard to succeed, go somewhere else if need be.
Get your body ready to perform. We need to get the heart rate up (cardio), get your muscles and joints mobilised, and get your body well coordinated so your foot goes where you want it to and your hands hit the holds right first time every time.
Cardio – think star jumps, running, skipping
Mobilisation – such as lunges, gentle shoulder rotations, hip twists (I use a Theraband)
Coordination – turn your brain on with simple exercises like rubbing your tummy and patting your head in different combinations, stand on one leg with your eyes closed and touch the tip of your nose with the tip of your index finger, things like that.
Do some easier climbing (don’t underestimate them though), maybe a couple of routes, maybe some bouldering or traversing, depends a bit where you are, just remember it’s very hard to perform at your limit straight away. This will get your body and brain working, and your muscles recruited
Look at the route, get all the info you can from the ground, where’s the rests, where do you need to climb fast, where’s the gear / clipping positions, where are the key holds etc,. If you’ve already worked the route, still do this to reacquaint yourself with it and run through those sequences. Visualise the moves, visualise yourself doing them, visualise yourself successfully at the top.
When you’re tying in and getting your shoes on, get your mind in the right place if you haven’t already. This varies for everyone. It could be a happy song, it could be visualisation, it could be you going quiet, it could be you having a laugh with your belayer. I have a few things depending on my mood. Be positive.
Once you’ve started that route, give it everything, absolutely everything, if you shout “take” instead of slapping for that next hold you’ll never know if you could have made it! Give yourself every chance.
Putting the warm up to use, Laura working a 7a at Torbryan
There’s two results available.
Failure, well that sucks, but what did you learn? The rocks not going anywhere, rest and have another go, be that on the same day if you’re fresh enough, or another day if you’re not.
Success, yes! Enjoy the moment! I often struggle to make that moment last as there’s always another project to be done. Don’t forget to think why it was successful, we have to learn from our successes to keep achieving our goals. Don’t forget to thank your belayer!
Give yourself every chance of success!
The aim of this blog is to give you a bit of an overview, there’s a lot more to be said on each point!
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Looking out the window at the drizzle means one thing, no two. Firstly, no excuse not to go down the wall for some training and secondly no excuse not to write a blog about something… Normally my blogs are super easy to write, this one’s a bit more complicated, requiring more thought, but here we go, just bear in mind this is a massive subject, so this is really just an overview – the internet is full of great articles, and some utter rubbish as well.
For years I was kidding myself “off down the wall to get strong” I’d say, rubbish. Is going down the wall with a mate and doing a few routes training? No. I’m not saying it’s pointless, it’s great fun and you’ll get some benefit, as you will from any climbing, but don’t kid yourself it’s training. Sorry about that.
Time in the wall pays dividends…
Do you need to train, and more importantly do you want to train? If you’re happily climbing a grade and going to a climbing wall is just your way of ticking over when you can’t get to a crag then great, keep doing what you’re doing! If, however, you’re trying to improve your grade, think about what’s stopping you succeeding.
Being let down technically, or can’t work out the moves? Consider working on your technique first, if you haven’t done a massive amount of climbing, this will be a key limiting feature. Before training any aspect of your climbing, you must have a decent technique. It could also be your tactics, are you using the holds in the correct sequence? (Correct for you).
Getting scared? Don’t we all! But we can work on managing this through various techniques this will probably include falling off practice when appropriate to try and get more comfortable with it. The psychology of it all is vast subject in it’s own right.
Arms get pumped silly on climbs when you’re not actually finding the moves very hard, for example on sustained but non cruxey routes? You’re lacking endurance.
Not strong enough to hold the holds? Get stronger!
Unable to do the individual moves even though you can hold the holds? Not enough power.
Not able to link hard moves, even though you can do all the individual moves? This indicates a lack of power endurance.
It’s important to understand a few key words when giving the above points some thought.
Endurance, this is the aerobic capacity of of your muscles, specifically in climbing your forearms (local endurance). It’s the ability for you to keep climbing without getting too pumped (ie. solid forearms that can’t grip any more), which is when your forearms can’t get enough oxygen in them.
Strength, by this I’m talking about contact strength – holding that hold. When we talk about strength, we are talking about a static force, i.e. hanging from a hold, nothing more, so a stronger climber can hand off a smaller hold than a weaker climber (relative to their weight).
Power, doing something with that strength you’ve got! The product of strength plus movement. Think of a boulderer climbing a steep, short, sharp problem, they are using power.
Power Endurance, this is linking hard moves together without your arms giving up. Thinking back to endurance being aerobic, power endurance brings in the anaerobic process as well so to train it you need a good base of all the above.
Some success, Katana (E4) at Holyhead Mountain
How do we train our weaknesses? With hard work! Remember you’ve got to want to do the training, so have a think about what motivates you. It could be a particular route or grade, it could be to burn off your mates, or to make the most of that upcoming trip to the Costa Blanca – whatever it is, use it.
Before anything, warm up! You need to prepare your body to perform, get the heart rate up with some jogging, star jumps etc, do a bit of mobility stuff to get your muscles and joints moving and do a bit of co-ordination work as well. Then move on to some EASY climbing or bouldering.
Endurance, low intensity mileage. Example, doing laps at the wall, 4x4s at a level that makes you moderately pumped, but no more. If you get to the point where you’re feeling very pumped to the point you might fall off then you’ve moved in to the anaerobic phase which is not what we’re after.
Strength, if you’ve not done a lot of climbing yet, embrace bouldering, this will do wonders for your strength. If however you want to train strength specifically and you’ve been climbing a while already then the finger board is hard to beat. But, there’s a bit of a warning here, finger boards are brutal on your fingers, I’ve already mentioned warming up but feel the need to re-emphasise it again! Do a good 30 minutes of bouldering or climbing before getting on the board, and if you’re under 18 seek some advice first as it has the potential to mess up your long term finger development. That said they are massively useful, repeaters on a Beastmaker or similar will improve your strength. My top tip here is to download the Beastmaker App for your phone and start easy.
Power, campus boarding is one choice, and will undoubtably improve your power, like fingerboarding it’s intense so remember that warm up. You’ll see campus boards in every wall but they probably only become of use once you’re bouldering about 7a / V6 or above. Personally I prefer to boulder to my limit and have only ever used a campus board to benchmark my progress, this involves boulder problems near my limit and resting in between each go for a few minutes to recover properly, before doing another one. Using bouldering to train has the advantage of being more enjoyable and allows you to work on technique at the same time.
Power endurance, so you’ve got a good base of all the above? Now you can work on power endurance! Remember back to endurance and 4x4s, for power endurance we’re going to be doing 3x3s, but instead of being at a moderate pump level, we now want to be at a higher pump level, by the end of each set of three you want to be at our absolute max, a move or two from falling off, or falling off very close to the top. We can also achieve a similar result from bouldering. Choose some problems a couple of grades below your limit and aim to repeat an individual problem 3 times, you should be failing or close to failing on your last go, rest and repeat.
Wings of Freedom, 7a+ onsight, Spain. Photo Bennett Barthelemy
This is such a complicated subject. You’ll want to train all these different elements in phases, but we have to keep on top of them all. If we focus entirely on endurance, you’ll be stumped when you come to a crux section on a sport route, if you focus solely on power you’ll run out of gas hanging around placing gear on a trad route.
Don’t forget to rest. All this training requires your body to rest and rebuild to get stronger & fitter.
Remember I asked why you’re failing on routes? We also need to consider what we are looking to achieve from our training, maybe that’s linked to what’s motivating us. If you’re aim is to onsight The Strand, E2 at Gogarth then you’ll need endurance just to keep on trucking, if it’s to redpoint your a cruxey 7a somewhere then it’s probably power endurance you’ll need.
Well done for making it through that lot! Hopefully it’s useful and gives you something to think about. I get such a buzz from succeeding on routes that I’ve had to work hard to achieve that it’s easy to stay motivated to train and I enjoy the training itself, and that’s super important I think. If you don’t enjoy the training, even if it’s type two fun, it’ll be hard to keep doing it, week in week out.
Lastly, remember this blog is just a bit of an overview, this is, as I’ve already said, a massive subject… If you’re going to get training, get as much knowledge as you can, whether that’s reading stuff or seeking advice from a climbing coach.
Get training and smash those goals!
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Last year was a good year, in many ways, but especially in a climbing sense. I’ve loved climbing for as long as I can remember, but 2016 was the year I really started training properly and I made a conscious decision to try harder.
In terms of training, I mixed it up with bouldering, finger boarding, laps on the auto belay and some core workout sessions. The single biggest piece of enlightenment came from bouldering, and I’m saying that as someone who would never call themselves a boulderer! It was the realisation that sometimes you have to try hard, I mean really hard, every last bit of energy you have might need to go into that move and instead of not trying, and letting go, giving it everything and trying might mean you get that route. Outdoors I bouldered Font 7a and indoors 7b and this has really translated to my sport and trad climbing, if you don’t give things a max effort attempt, you’ll never know if you could have got it or not.
The other biggest improvement came on my climbing trip to Spain. A month of climbing with super psyched people (in some amazing places!) really sorted my head out, not being held back by unrealistic thoughts of hurting yourself etc. really frees up your climbing. On that trip I managed to onsight my first 7a, then 7a+ and redpointed my first 7b then 7b+.
On returning to the UK I’ve been super keen to keep riding the wave of psyche so I’ve tried to translate the extra fitness I’ve got from the sport trip and the good mental state from taking loads (I mean loads!) of falls on sport routes. Yesterday I managed to get my first non slate E4, Katana on Holyhead Mountain, which has really got me excited for the climbing possibilities of 2017.
Super happy to have ticket Katana E4 6a
The list on my fridge helps give me some focus, sometimes I find the amount of climbing on offer a bit overwhelming and struggle to know what I want to do. Last year the list was 43 routes long and I only ticked about half of them, but the list provided a bit of structure and my total number of routes was just shy of 200. Highlights included routes like Left Wall E2 5c, The Strand E2 5b, Khubla Khan E4 6b, Heading the Shot 7a+, Quartz Icicle E2 5b and Dale Duro Negro 7b.
This year’s list is going to be hard to complete, I’ve made it quite challenging! But I’ll love every minute of working through it!
The 2017 list of psyche, some “easy”, some requiring more effort!
I love climbing, obviously, and I love sharing my passion for it with all my clients, none of us should ever stop learning so this year I’ve enrolled on some coaching courses to improve my own delivery so I can really make the most of my clients time with me.
A massive part of the fun hasn’t just been the climbing, but also the amazing places I’ve been and the awesome people I’ve met along the way that have made the last year so brilliant.
Anyone can improve their climbing if they want to, I’ve just been lucky enough to meet the right people to give me the drive and determination to up my game a bit, but if you need any help working towards your own targets, get in touch!
My climbing has been going really well lately, I’m loving it and getting some great routes ticked, like El Guide Direct E3 5c in the Pass, The Weaver E2 5b at Tremadog and Quartz Icicle E2 5b at Gogarth. Recently I had a few days work in Swanage…
Mabinogion E2 5c, a short but super sweet route.
I spent a really enjoyable three years living in Swanage once upon a time, the climbing there is amazing – steep and juggy but loose and a bit intimidating. I remember my first time climbing there, me and my skinny arms got utterly spanked and it made me think I was the worst climber in the world!
This book fills me with both excitement and terror in equal measure!
Whilst I was living there I worked my way through most if the climbs that I could, got hit by the odd rock, watched a mate fall in the sea, got dive bombed by various sea birds, tapped a lot of rock to see if it was solid (usually it wasn’t) and was often scared out of my box! By the end of my time there I felt like I’d had my fill of Ruckle climbing and any visit back to Swanage mostly resulted in sport climbing at Winspit or Hedbury. There were a couple of routes that were still on the “to do” list though, one of which was Elysium E1 5b where the crux moves are very “un-Swanage” – being a crack and a crimp rather than the usual brutal roof.
Having spent a winter down the wall I’ve managed to fit in plenty of climbing this year, so I really wanted to tick Elysium. I was down there for the week and managed some after work sport climbs but one evening was definitely going to be a Ruckle trip.
It’s not Elysium, it’s not even the Ruckle, but it is a typical Swanage view! The Spook E1 at Guillemot Ledge.
Me and Matt abbed down the free hanging 40m line to warm up on a VS called Heidleberg Creature which is ridiculously steep for the grade, I’m pretty sure it would be HVS anywhere else. I followed Matt up the first pitch and whilst it was easy, it was certainly a fierce reintroduction to Swanage trad! The second pitch was easy again, with the standard loose top out – having done the warm up it had to be time for Elysium.
Abbing down again for the main event I was psyched to finally be getting on it, although I was a little concerned that the very start of the route looked harder than expected, until I realised I was looking at the wrong bit..!
I’m a bit anal when it comes to my climbing kit and racking up with Matt’s kit was a little off putting, it’s all fine but it’s a bit of a motley collection compared to my nice matching rack of stuff.
The start is super steady and after about seven or eight metres you end up on a nice ledge where you can place a couple of good wires in readiness for the crux crack section which had a bonus newly stuck number 3 nut and the slightly dubious peg which I tied off with a sling. The crux involves using a small crimp to exit the crack into the halfway horizontal break, which was super soapy in the still evening air. After crimping hard on it with plenty of chalk on my hand, I was soon past it and traversing the break after placing a monster blue hex at the end of it.
After the crux the route goes through what’s described as a strenuous roof and that passed without any drama, ending in a welcome hands off rest which I milked as I was expecting the next section of small roofs to be a bit cheeky. Thankfully the holds are all good and even high up the rock is surprisingly sound for the Ruckle, the only struggle was the amount of rope drag I had as I hadn’t extended one particular piece of gear under the first roof.
I was super happy to have cruised this route as it had been on the list for so long, it felt like unfinished business.
Bringing Matt up on second was an extra work out, hoofing the ropes through with the drag fighting back, but before long he appeared at the top super happy to have followed it clean, but knackered – the standard Ruckle result!
Next time Billy Pig will be the target, another E1 I never did involving a mega roof which you cut free on…
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I’m a creature of habit, every morning starts with an espresso, fruit smoothie and porridge. I think climbing is the same, you can get in the habit of climbing certain grades which can lead to a plateau and sometimes you need a little push somehow to get up off that plateau and push your grade a bit. Then this new grade can become habit.
I’ve been having a great time at work this week in the sun and my Original Mountain Month clients have got loads done, climbing at Milestone Buttress, Holyhead Mountain and the Slate Quarries plus an ascent of Crib Goch with a wild camp in Cwm Glas. I’ve also ticked two really great routes over the last two days, yesterday was the mega classic route on the Cromlech, Left Wall E2 5c and today was SS Special E2 5b on the Grochan. I’d really like E2 to become my grade of habit, over the last few years my average grade has been HVS and if I could extend this to E2 I’d be really happy.
Crib Goch fun times!
The training I’ve been doing has mostly revolved around bouldering and the Beastmaker, it was really nice to climb these routes and feel the benefit of all the effort. None of the moves on either route felt particularly hard, but they did highlight that I need to train on the routes indoors too as my endurance doesn’t currently match my strength – so this is something I’ll add a bit more of over the next few weeks.
So the routes?! Left Wall has been on my to do list for years, it’s a stunning looking line on a stunning crag that I drive by almost daily and the climbing did not disappoint, the moves were never that hard, but there’s a lot of them and you should really temper the urge to place too much gear so as to save some energy. If you haven’t done this route and are capable, get on it and if you’re not yet ready it’s definitely something to aspire to!
Tom following Left Wall
Looking back at Left Wall
Last year I went to do SS Special after work on a lovely summer’s evening, the banter was good, I started climbing, I fell off! I got back on it but was knackered and did a variation of it at HVS – SS Sickle. But today was the day and I met Stu at about 0830 and after a quick bit of traversing to warm up I was on the initial crack placing a number 4 nut, then I down climbed back to the floor, should have warmed up more! A few minutes later I was feeling good so I fired back up the crack quite easily, placing a couple more runners on the way, first third done and you’re at a hands off rest, relax and recover. Place another nice nut and you’re off up the middle third which is sloper city, easier than the crack but pretty pumpy for un-warmed up arms. Now with the pump properly set in I was beneath the final third of the route, on a slopey ledge with a really creaky jug of a handhold. I built a mini belay here of a couple of offsets and a couple of cams, because the next bit looked a bit steep for tired arms. Pull up through the overhang and there’s mega undercuts and you’re back on vertical rock where there’s more runner options, one more section of cheekiness and you’re at the top. I’d climbed pretty slow but was really happy to tick this off the unfinished business list! Quality route.
High on SS Special, milking the final rest!
My 2016 wishlist of routes has a few ticks already and I’m feeling super psyched to tick the rest off too, just need to work on the endurance a bit, but hopefully E2 will become habit and will be the average grade of the year…
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