About a month ago we were asked by two climbers in Salt Lake if, since we’d be there anyway for the official release of Redpoint at the Outdoor Retailer show, we’d be willing to sit down and provide some climbing improvement guidance. Apparently our travel schedules are becoming known. Anyway Brendan and Brendan (no, we haven’t changed the names to protect the innocent) were willing to work around our hectic show schedules and a date was set.
The Brendans are seasoned climbers with many fine ascents to their credit. Both are working their way into 14a sport; Brendan 1 is on his way back to the grade having sent 14a in 2002 and 2003, and Brendan 2 is making his first foray into the 14 world. As it turns out, Brendan 1 had been a member of the youth climbing team inSaltLakeunderDouglasso he is well versed in our methods. Both are in their mid- to late 20s and live in theSalt Lake Cityarea.
As far as physical resources go it’s hard to imagine a richer environment. There are multiple crags to choose from consisting of a variety of rock types, and outdoor climbing is available year round within just a few hours drive.SaltLakealso boasts one of the best indoor training environments as well with many fine gyms within easy commuting distance.
Brendan 1 has a full time career, a wife, and a young child so time for training and climbing is at a premium. He feels like three to four training sessions a week are doable, but the time he can spend away from home to climb outdoors is limited. Brendan 2 has fewer time constraints so we tailored our recommendations more to Brendan 1 since the two enjoy training together.
The Brendans were very clear about this: move up to the 14b or c level within the next year. Their current project is Horse Latitudes at the Virgin River Gorge, a 110 foot slightly overhanging limestone 14a. The climb is broken at the half way point by an undercling shake, the first half consisting of 12c. The second half contains the V7 crux, an offset balance deadpoint from a small crimp to a pocket. Both Brendans would like to send Horse Latitudes by the end of February, the close of the 2012 VRG season.
Current training regimen
The Brendans have been involved in a periodized training schedule with heavy emphasis on strength training by using a campus board, finger board, and system wall. Both have felt like a lack of strength is the main issue holding them back from higher grades, and they’ve worked hard to try and overcome this perceived deficit.
We asked the Brendans to provide us baseline information about their current condition. The two are fairly well matched in all categories, and here is what they told us:
Local aerobic endurance (20 minutes continuous climbing): 11c
Local anaerobic endurance (4X4): V5
Max bouldering grade: V9 or V10
Stamina (12 – 15 pitches in a session): 12c
We visited with the Brendans at a Salt Lake gym in order to perform an abbreviated movement diagnostics session. We watched and videoed the two as they worked on several boulder problems observing their process and movement. In addition we created a very specific two move problem to see how they would approach a common movement issue for climbers at their level.
Movement: Video analysis showed that both Brendans have some very positive attributes in their movement. Brendan 1 showed very good trunk extension on vertical moves and on some steeper moves as well. We also saw that in a number of dynamic situations he was able to initiate movement from the hips. Brendan 2 demonstrated good body tension and the ability to make small yet critical adjustments that allowed him to change a move of off-set balance into a move of more stable balance. Finally both showed very good active range of motion in the hip joints. Neither of them struck us as a “thug” and most people watching them would say they move very well.
We felt that their current movement skills form a good base for further refinement, but we didn’t see as much well controlled movement initiation as we would have liked. We felt that they still have more to learn about balance and how to distribute the effort of movement in the body relying less on the upper body for initation. The Brendans, like most climbers, rely on feel and an intuitive sense of how to approach a particular problem type, and this tends to favor those skills which are well learned and that the climber is particularly good at and disfavors weaker, less used skills.
Physical: The Brendans spend a lot of time bouldering and doing the strength training explained above. This type of work tends to be of a high intensity, short duration, and low volume nature and helps explain their relatively low level of aerobic and anaerobic endurance. At V9/10, maximum strength is adequate for the climbing anticipated.
Movement: We believe the Brendans have spent plenty of time with hangboards, etc. and instead should place more emphasis on sport specific training methods. By sport specific we mean activities that closely resemble the requirements of the ultimate objective, i.e. climbing! Hang and campus boards increase isolated muscle strength but do little to help in the application of that strength. Think about a skier that complains of leg fatigue. Would weighted leg presses be the solution? Probably not since a leg press does little to help the skier’s overall performance which is dependent on efficiently using balance and body position to best advantage, and to achieve this he needs to do what? Ski, of course!
We’d like to see the Brendans spend more time climbing, and in the case of learning movement, work boulder problems at just beyond their redpoint grade. In addition we’d like them to analyze easier problems in the V6 to V8 range in which the objective is to experiment with balance and movement initiation until the most efficient sequence is discovered.
Physical: We feel like the Brendans have spent sufficient time with intensive, short duration strength building exercises and should instead concentrate on less intensity and longer durations. We have three objectives in mind…
1. Improve aerobic endurance. Increase the grade at which they can climb continuously from 11c to 12a or b. Raising the anaerobic threshold will provide two benefits. First, the Brendans will be able to climb to the rest on Horse Latitudes using mostly efficient aerobic energy and will therefore be fresher at the beginning of the shake. Second, the recovery at the rest will be faster and deeper so that when they cast off for the second half they’ll be more rested. Keep in mind that on 5.14s there is often no climbing easier than 5.12. This means that if a climber’s aerobic endurance level is under 5.12 then all the climbing will be above their anaerobic threshold.
2. Increase anaerobic endurance: Increase 4X4 grade to V6. The Brendans currently have anaerobic endurance levels consistent with solid 5.13 climbing, but since they want to move into the mid 14s they will need to be able to climb longer sections with sustained movement intensity of V5 and higher. They will also need to be able to do harder cruxes while pumped. Raising their anaerobic endurance level will help with these issues. We also suggested that they use longer form interval training such as 6X8 as these will help them deal with the long lower intensity sections of climbing on a route like Horse Latitudes.
3. Increase stamina: The Brendans don’t get much outdoor climbing in due to their schedules, and their daily volume of climbing and training is lower than solid 5.14 climbers should have. The goal of improving stamina is to increase the amount of productive time they have during each day of outdoor climbing. We want them to be able to quickly redpoint 5.14a in a few tries and to be able to put a number of solid working burns in on a 5.14b/c in a day. To this end their stamina level needs to be raised. We suggest that they start doing Continuous Intensity Repetitions at a bouldering grade of V7 and work up from there. On routes they should start withCIR/VIRat the 5.12d level and work up to 5.13b.
We agreed to monitor the Brendans’ progress so stay tuned for future entries.