A Tale of Two Brendans

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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.

Redpoint book signing at Outdoor Retailer


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.

Available resources

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.

Assessment process

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.

Assessment conclusions

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.

7 Responses to “A Tale of Two Brendans”

  1. Brendan NicholsonNo Gravatar says:

    01/27/12 UPDATE:
    We settled on a training plan of alternating stamina and anaerobic workouts with a day of rest after each. Aerobic endurance work before each workout and possibly on rest days, time permitting. We have completed two of each workout, with both indoor routes and boulders.
    We are way less fit than we thought. Aerobic Endurance level=5.10a/b. Anaerobic level=4×4 of V5 and 6×8 of V2. Stamina= 14×5.12a in 3 hours.
    Notes: Don’t eat anything you can’t stand seeing again before a 6×8.
    Plan: Keep failing towards success.

  2. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    Its great that you guys quantified where you stand now and have such a strong picture of your base level. Although you are less fit than you thought, you do have a great base to build from and I suspect that your fitness will improve rapidly.

    Please keep us posted! We want to know how it is going, what problems you encounter, what success you are having etc.

    BTW, sorry to hear about the aftermath of the 6X8, those things are brutal!


  3. Brendan NicholsonNo Gravatar says:

    02/14/12 UPDATE:
    3.5 weeks and 12 workouts in, solid progress. Aerobic Endurance level=5.11a/b. Anaerobic level=4×4 of V6 and 6×8 of V3. Anaerobic level=5.12dx4 alternating immediate leads with partner. Anaerobic level=5.11d/5.12ax16 alternating immediate double-leads with partner. Stamina= 14×5.12b in 3 hours or 15xV6+/V7- in 2 hours.
    Just feeling less pumped after hard climbing and recovering much more quickly on decent holds while climbing. Fingernails and skin look like we have been trying to dig out of prison with our bare hands.

  4. Dan HagueNo Gravatar says:

    With this kind of volume it’s no surprise you’re feeling more fit. Keep up the good work, and go kill Horse Latitudes.

  5. Brendan NicholsonNo Gravatar says:

    04/16/12 UPDATE:
    We finished the training cycle on March 8th after 23 workouts and took a two-week break. ‘Horse Latitudes’ was not sent but Perky said he felt better on it than he ever had. We will need another consult to formulate a specific training plan for that route. We have had some time after the break to assess where we are at. In relation to the strong-men of our local bouldering cave, we are weaker bouldering than when we started (right after a hangboard/campus phase). I feel fitter than I ever have, with the ability to give full efforts on hard projects or onsights and then rest a bit and do it again, and again. This will work well for my current goal of climbing 20 new (to me) 13s before 2013.

  6. Dan HagueNo Gravatar says:

    Everything as predicted although I thought Horse Latitudes would fall, but you two are set up to tear through the 13s this year.

  7. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    Thanks for the update. So sorry that HL didn’t get sent. I would be interested in hearing more details from you. How the process of the past few months went, what your next goals are, and so on. You mentioned 20 new 5.13s. Do you have specific routes in mind? Is there a range within the 13 grade that you want to hit the hardest? Will some of those be on-sights?

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