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.

rock climbing warm up

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?

  1. 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.
  2. Bring a good belayer you trust implicitly – can’t stress this enough.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
redpointing at Torbryan

Putting the warm up to use, Laura working a 7a at Torbryan

There’s two results available.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

If you feel like you like to push your grade, check out our Rock Improver courses…

As usual, you can catch up with what we’ve been up to on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

sport climbing castle inn

When it all comes together

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.

Rock climbing improver course

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Not strong enough to hold the holds? Get stronger!
  5. Unable to do the individual moves even though you can hold the holds? Not enough power.
  6. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
climbing holyhead mountain e4 katana

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
sport climbing costa blanca

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!

If you feel like you need help or a push in the right direction, check out our performance climbing courses…

As always, check out the Facebook and Instagram pages!

Running a Single Pitch Award assessment isn’t all about sitting around with a stern face…!

The day actually starts the evening before the Single Pitch Award (SPA) assessment, with a final check of the candidate’s DLogs on the Mountain Training website when I’ll make a few notes on each person. It’s a good system, if you keep on top of logging your routes and sessions it’s pretty quick to do, it only becomes tiresome if you build up a backlog. From a Course Director’s point of view it’s really easy to use and I can check everyone’s experience very quickly, I’m a fan.

After that I’ll go and get all my kit sorted for the day, I like my extra minutes in bed in the morning! My personal kit all gets packed up along with plenty of warm kit, especially at this time of year, and I’ll put in plenty of other kit in case the candidates need to borrow anything such as extra static ropes, gri gris, abseil fig 8’s and a couple of guide books. It’s good to have plenty available on the day.

As per normal I’ll wake up before my alarm and check any emails, browse Facebook, see what odd thing Donald Trump has done to make the news today… My courses run from Pete’s Eats in Llanberis which is ideal and only five minutes away and when I get there I meet the candidates and have a quick chat.

spa assessor walesOften I’ll know one or two of them from a training course or something else we may have done together which is always nice, it’s equally great to be meeting new people going through the scheme. I still remember exactly what it was like when I was starting my climbing career and we all still go through various assessments so I know that it can be a stressful experience! I try my best to make sure my courses are as relaxed as possible, my feeling is people perform best when they’re comfortable and it’s not my place to be putting unnecessary pressure on people because I’m sure they’re putting enough of that on themselves! I try and set out what’s expected of them, which shouldn’t be anything surprising as they’ve already done a SPA training course.

We run through the rough plan for the couple of days, check that people have the right kit etc, talk about the scheme and Mountain Training, the possible results (Pass, defer, fail) and then we head out to a nearby crag for the bulk of day one, which for me is mainly focused on group work.

single pitch award assessment coursLion Rock is my normal first choice, as it’s super close and ticks all the SPA boxes, knowing it well there’s also some less well travelled parts that mean even if it’s busy I can find us some space. This is where the assessment really starts for the candidates! As much as I’m facilitating a nice chilled environment, I am still assessing so I’m taking in as much info as possible, what kind of harness have they got? Does it look used? Have they put it on correctly without faffing? I start asking some questions too like does this crag meet the SPA requirements, do they know the SPA requirements? What hazards are there here?

Getting things moving along I set the first task, I’d like them to set up something to get a group of novices climbing and I give each candidate a rough area to work in, to which someone will probably ask “do you mean a bottom rope?” I probably won’t answer this directly, not to be awkward, but I’m trying to work out if the candidate is thinking about the right sort of things.

As the candidates get to work, so do I. I’ve got a maximum of four candidates, that I potentially know very little about so although I’m trying to give them breathing space, I also need to keep a close eye on what they’re doing, with a lot of my focus on their personal safety, checking that they’re appropriately attached to something good when they are operating on or near an edge. I’ll wander around checking anchors and just having a general look at what’s going on, I’ll chat to people a bit as well, maybe about what they’re doing, but equally just having a nice chat to get to know them, I always want to enjoy my time at the crag. From an assessor’s point of view there’s loads going on now, so I will make the occasional note, but I’ll be sure to do this out of sight as much as possible, I don’t think it’s very nice to be sat looking at someone’s setup making notes.

Once people have completed their task, I’ll pop over and have a chat about it, ask a few questions and sometimes make a suggestion or two. Normally these are fine tuning points, I’d be gutted if even really slick people didn’t learn something from my assessments! At other times I might not be happy that what they’ve setup is safe to use, in which case we’ll have a chat and I’ll give them the chance to rectify it, ideally working it out themselves – we all make mistakes on assessments, if you do, it’s important to deal with it and move on, you’re unlikely to defer on one error.

single pitch award assessment walesAs the candidates have just set up bottom ropes (hopefully!), we then go and use them, with each candidate running a mini session on their route involving the rest of us, I may throw in the odd problem, if it’s appropriate to the context of the route. At this point I’m looking to see clear demonstrations and instructions, before the safe management of a belay system and climb, hopefully involving all of us. I normally ask the candidates individually what belay system they would use out of choice, but may ask them to do something else so each person is doing something a bit different. This gives us a chance for each candidate to review a system’s pros and cons once we’ve seen some different things going on.

Next! Group abseil time, this is probably the most complicated setup an SPA holder will do, it’s not rocket science but it does have a few different things going on, and people know they’ll probably have to solve a problem when their time comes to send someone down it, usually a stuck hair or stuck on a ledge problem. Today, we’ve moved away from the main part of Lion Rock because it became busy with a couple of other groups running taster sessions. I’ll try my best to move out of other people’s way where possible, because I can probably make things work in places where it might not be as good for them. Whilst setting up the group abseil in the new location (Spotty Walls area of Lion Rock), I find myself a good vantage point to see everyone doing their thing and make a few notes on what people have done so far, if I don’t do it, I forget! As I mentioned earlier, it’s important that people keep learning so if there’s anything I’ve seen that I think the group will benefit from chatting about, I’ll make a note of that too.

learn to lead trad rock climb wye valleyOnce a couple of people are ready to go, I get one candidate to manage another one down their abseil whilst I observe. I’m looking for them to get the abseiler safely to the abseil, give them a good brief and to have positioned themselves in an appropriate spot. Was the abseiler on a safety rope well before the edge? Is the candidate safe and able to see all the way to the bottom? Do they keep hold of the dead rope? Part way down the route I introduce a problem such as hair stuck in the abseil device, I’m looking for the candidate to solve this in a safe manner and fairly slickly, it doesn’t need to be fast, slow and steady is good for me. The candidates have to be on top of their game here and so do I, I’ll have already given the set up the once over, but I’m also watching what they’re tieing off / releasing really closely. It’s usually pretty obvious who has practiced this and who hasn’t! As the next person running an abseil has a ledge halfway down their route, their candidate becomes crag fast on it, so they get a different problem that requires another method to solve it, but again I’m looking for the same things – safe and slick.

SPA climbing course kit dmm dragon camsMust be lunch time! After a good sandwich and a hot drink I’m ready to go again, so it’s time to get the candidates working again! I’ve set a few tasks, so one runs us through harness checks, one runs us through putting our harness on properly, one talks us through a variety of belay devices and the other talks us through how to place a cam well. One of the candidates didn’t quite nail the group abseil setup as well as I’d like so I send them off to do this again in another spot, whilst the others place some gear and equalise these with slings, before I send them off to do another setup for novices (yep, that’s a bottom rope!), each in a different spot to what they’ve used already. One of the candidate’s nut placements weren’t quite what I was after so I send them to a spot that relies on nuts, to try and get them to redeem themselves, which they do. Crag knowledge pays dividends for me to be able to create the scenarios I need to see.

After a bit of chat about the environment and our responsibilities at the crag, it’s time to head to the Beacon climbing wall for the indoor element of the assessment, and I ask the candidates to be ready to deliver a couple of games that have a learning point attached to them. When we get to the Beacon, it’s cafe o’clock first, which gives us a chance to go over the home paper that candidates get sent prior to the assessment.

single pitch award indoors spaAfter a bit of a warm up and the candidates running their games – which I’m looking to be fun, educational and safe, we harness up. The indoor wall gives me a great chance to see lots of belaying, catching falls (just on a top rope), tieing off the belay plate etc. and we’ll use a couple of different belay devices. As with the outdoor stuff there maybe a few problems to solve as well, even though the key is always problem avoidance in the first place!

After a quick debrief and a chat about day two, that’s about it for the day!

I’m usually pretty tired after an SPA day to be honest. You might think the assessor just sits around thinking about what’s for tea, occasionally getting up for a little stroll, but while I may sometimes sit down for a bit if I find a comfy rock, my mind is constantly working. What’s he doing there? Is she safe? Has he got an equal number of strands coming out the back of that knot? Is that krab done up? How we doing for time? What are we doing next? What more do I need to see from each person? Have they met the standards so far?

Whilst my candidates are still learning, the same goes for me, I learn something every day at work and I believe it’s imperative that we all review at the end of each day and put anything appropriate into practice.

Hopefully the waffle above gives you a bit of an idea of what to expect from an SPA assessment, and a little insight into an assessor’s thoughts. Every SPA provider has their own way of doing things, their own styles, their own itineraries, so it goes without saying that these thoughts are only my own ramblings!

To summarise what I’m looking for from candidates…

  • Safety
  • Efficiency rather than speed
  • Appropriate setups
  • An understanding of what they’re doing
  • Thought about the “group”
  • Enthusiasm

And from me…

  • Safety, keeping myself safe and also the candidates
  • Maximising time through efficiency
  • Creating a relaxed, friendly, learning atmosphere
  • A robust, fair assessment
  • Picking appropriate crags, often to make the most of wind direction etc
  • Enthusiasm (that’s easy, I live for climbing!)

If you’re looking for an SPA course, or anything check out the rest of the website for more information and don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can be of any help!

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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!

As always, check out the Facebook page, and Instagram feed for updates.

We’re now into our third year of running these and we’ve just finished another Original Mountain Month, as always it was a great success.

Over the month the four participants got loads of climbing and hillwalking done.

Highlights include a great little mini break camping in Cwm Glas after a traverse of Crib Goch in stunning weather and climbing great routes like Grim Wall Direct (E1 5b) at Tremadog. We got loads of other stuff done too, scrambling over Tryfan, night navving in the Carneddau, staying in the Cwm Dulyn bothy, lead climbing loads of trad and sport on the coast and in the mountains.

At the end of the month they did their SPA training and ML training courses too.

Over the month we had five other highly qualified visiting instructors joining me to give a really good breadth of instructional knowledge and experience.

The next course starts in September and there’s just one space remaining… (for more info click here)

As usual you can see what we’ve been up to lately on our Facebook page

SPA skills

SPA skills

Leading in the Slate quarries

Leading in the Slate quarries

Crib Goch fun times!

Crib Goch fun times!

Tremadog in the (chilly) sun

Tremadog in the (chilly) sun