Kinds of balance:
- Stable balance - COG well inside base of support
- Offset balance - COG near or at edge of base of support
- Dynamic balance - COG outside base of support (eg dyno, running).
- A broader base of support will be more stable
- A lower centre of gravity will be more stable
- Type and quality of balance determines how much muscular effort a move requires
Ways to improve balance:
- Broaden the base of support eg by widening feet, back-stepping or flagging.
- Change the path of the COG in space eg arch or rock over a good foothold before moving hands.
- Use momentum to cover periods of dynamic balance eg lunge or swing.
- Create body tension
I’m not entirely on board with the explanation and examples here. The diagrams of base of support don’t always explain the examples (eg flagging doesn’t make sense in a 2d face-on diagram, and creating body tension does not change the base of support at all). I’ve seen diagrams elsewhere that break it down into forces on each point of contact instead, which I feel has more explanatory power (eg leaning creates rotational forces which are opposed by flagging, body tension doesn’t move the centre of gravity but it does change the distribution of forces at each contact point).
Base of support
List of different hand and foot holds and how to best use them wrt to COG.
- Silent feet - climb without a simple bump, scrape or adjustment of your feet.
- Glue hands - use each hold in the position you first touch it - no adjustments.
Poor practice ingrains bad habits. Practice when well rested, on easy routes and in low-pressure environments (ie not in front of a critical audience).
Measure progress eg count number of mistakes per exercise.
Once a skill is solidly ingrained, gradually ramp up the physical and psychological stress.
Body awareness is typically poor. People don’t know where they are in space, how they are arranged or where they are applying tension.
List of important climbing muscles.
- Climb blind - focus on internal sensations, experiment with range of motion and balance, pay attention to location of COG and orientation of hips.
- No-hands climbing - need to position COG precisely to be able to step up without hands, focus attention on pushing and pulling sensations in legs, try to create line of tension from toe to upper spine.
- Pressing - steeper wall requires arms, similar focus on pushing and pulling sensation in legs, pay special attention to transitions eg do you relax legs and hang just after hitting a handhold?
- Straight-arm climbing - creates awareness of pulling with arms so that you only deploy it deliberately.
Turning and flagging
Inside flags are harder on high feet. Outside flags don’t push COG as close to the wall.
Drop-knee pulls COG in and down, and also allows adding opposing forces to feet.
- Traverse forwards/backwards - keep the same hip to the wall the entire way.
- Pivoting - stand on single foothold, alternate turning left and right hip in, pay attention to feet and hips moving at same speed.
- Same-side-in - only move left/right hand when left/right hip is in to the wall.
- Same-side-in with straight arms - experiment with driving turns from knees/hips/arms.
- One-foot-off - can only move left/right hand when right/left foot is not on a hold, forces every move to be some kind of flag.
- Other-foot-off - an only move left/right hand when left/right foot is not on a hold.
- Drop all the knees - fully dropped and turned before each hand move.
- Furthest point - traverse, each point of contact must be further ahead than the last point of contact.
Movement initiation and centres
Complex movements involve coordinated contractions across the body. Same movement can begin from different muscles. Useful cue is to focus on a single area and try to initiate movement from that area.
- Centre on high knee - step up, focus on pushing with high knee.
- Centre on low knee - step up, focus on pushing with low knee, picture compressing lower leg like a spring (usually high knee is the ingrained habit).
- Centre on both knees - step up, initiate with low knee, finish with high knee
- Centre on hips - step up, focus on hips, round and arch back to throw weight across.
- Switch up - try different centres, find what works best for different moves, see if your partner can tell which centre you are using just by watching.
- Centre on back-step - same-side-in exercise on steep wall, experiment with initiating from back leg vs hips, try straight arms too.
- Lengthen spine - same-side-in traverse, visualize spine being stretched out by the movement, compare on short vs long moves.
- Arching spine - backstep on overhang, sag down and arch up, visualize being carried up by the momentum of the arch.
- Applied bouldering - pick an easy bouldering problem, try to find best centre for each move.
Typical best uses:
- Arching - moves requiring lots of tension, back steps on step climbs, thin moves at any angle.
- Stretching - long reaches, especially moves that end in offset balance.
- Pelvis - dynos, anything steep.
- Knees - stepping up, back-step, drop-knees, any turn where feet are good enough to pivot.
Different paths between same start and end points produce different forces. While theoretically paths of COG is what matters, in practice it’s easier to focus on path of pelvis.
- Inward and outward arcs - dyno off sloper, visualize pelvis either arcing in->up or out->up->in.
- Two-handed dynos - pick easy dynos with uneven feet, experiment with straight path / diagonal path / inward arcing path.
- Two-handed float - same setup, create tension from toes to back at top of path, aim to maximize hang time.
Other paths to try - inward arc with inside hip (backstep), straight in (steep deadpoint), straight up (offset balance + bad holds), corkscrew (turns, drop-knees).
Stages of information processing:
- Stimulus identification - mostly subconscious prioritisation of stimulus, selection improved by training and experience.
- Response selection - choose an action, can be consciously controlled or automatic depending on level of experience.
- Response programming - motor system executes a coordinate program to carry out the response.
Most of the exercises in this book are attempting to influence stimulus identification by priming attention.
Closed- vs open-loop control. Closed-loop - feedback adjusts movement. Open-loop - no feedback, usually because duration of movement is shorter than processing time.
Stages of motor learning:
- Cognitive - skill takes conscious attention, can be helped by self-talk or verbal instruction.
- Diversification - can apply skill in different setting and variations, but when under pressure is unlikely to find appropriate uses or apply it correctly.
- Autonomous - large degree of conscious control over details when desired, can apply in a wide range of situations even when under pressure.
You learn what you practice. If you spend most of your time climbing under pressure or at your limit, you’ll likely learn bad movement patterns. Set aside the first hour of each session for deliberate practice in a low pressure setting.
Redpoint and onsight tactics
- Place draws on rappel to save energy for learning.
- Rest at each bolt and review the previous section. Re-climb it until you’re happy.
- Go direct on bolts when resting so your belayer gets to rest too.
- Advance the rope by standing up on draws so you can work moves on top-rope.
- On challenging moves, start at the goal hold, lower down an inch and then go back up. Add an extra inch each time until you can make the entire move.
- When linking sections, start at the last section and gradually add lower sections. That way you’ll have the most practice on the part of the climb where you will be most fatigued.
- Look out for rests while linking.
- Plan as much from the ground as possible - including rests and clipping/chalking positions.
- Have a backup plan for tricky sections so you don’t stall if the primary plan doesn’t work out.
- Learn from experience when to back up and look for alternate sequences and when to just commit.
Endurance is governed by ATP supply:
- Muscles store enough ATP for 10-30s of activity.
- Anarerobic system restores ATP inefficiently and produces lactic acid. Can power 1-3m of activity before muscles pump out.
- Aerobic system restores ATP (13-60x more) efficiently and removes lactic acid. Can power activity indefinitely, but limited by oxygen supply and blood flow.
All three sources contribute at different rates depending on the exercise profile.
Strength = maximum force produced by muscle contraction.
Power = force / time. Describes the tradeoff curve between force produced and speed of contraction.
Strength is important for static moves. Power is important for dynamic moves, especially for latching holds before weight returns.
Anaerobic threshold - maximum rate of activity that the aerobic system can handle indefinitely.
- General aerobic exercise - eg running or swimming - improves heart/lungs, usually not the bottleneck for climbing endurance though.
- ARCing - 20-45 minutes of nonstop climbing, aim for slight burn but not pump - increases blood supply to forearms.
Anaerobic reservoir - maximum amount of energy that the anaerobic system can supply before waste products incapacitate the muscles.
Interval training - aim to repeatedly fill and empty anaerobic reservoir - increases anaerobic reservoir and trains focus under stress. Lactic acid damages muscles, so take 1-3 days recovery between sessions and don’t repeat more than twice a week. Diminishing returns after a few weeks. Don’t continue past 6-10 weeks. (How quickly does it fade?)
- 4x4 - 4 reps x 4 back-to-back bouldering, rest ~3m between reps, pick difficulty so that you almost fail on the last route.
- Rope laps - 4-6 laps of sport route, time rest to avoid full recovery.
Stamina - ability to work and recover repeatedly over the day (I’m not clear on what this governed by)
- Bouldering pyramid - given max grade M, climb 4x(M-3), 2x(M-2), 1x(M-1), 1xM, 1x(M-1), 2x(M-2), 4x(M-3). Fully rest between routes.
- Continuous-Intensity Repetitions on rope - 10-15 laps, rest fully between laps, aim for hardest grade that won’t produce a pump.
Aside from obvious benefits, improving strength improves your ability to rest. Recovery rate is related to percentage of maximum contraction, not absolute force, so stronger climbers can rest on holds that weaker climbers would pump out on. (Not clear what the mechanism is here. Are stronger muscles more efficient? Does percentage-of-maximum-contraction affect how much the blood supply is constricted?)
Tradeoff between specificity and isolation. Fingerboards etc allow isolating individual muscles but don’t cover the variety of angles and loads encountered in actual climbing. But the variety in climbing makes it hard to get 6-12 reps of the same movement. Use both.
Muscle fibers come in different types:
- Slow twitch - Type I - good for endurance.
- Fast twitch - Types IIa and IIb - good for strength and power.
Ratio is mostly genetically determined, but unless you are a complete badass you are nowhere near the point where this is the factor limiting your performance.
Two levers to push: hypertrophy and recruitment.
Hypertrophy - bigger fibers produce more force. Train by fatiguing fast twitch muscles. Aim for 6-12 reps - lower loads only fatigue slow twitch, higher loads lead to failure before most of the fast twitch fibers have had a turn.
- Bouldering pyramids - given max grade M, climb 4x(M-3), 2x(M-2), 1x(M-1), 1xM, 1x(M-1), 2x(M-2), 4x(M-3). Fully rest between routes.
- Continuous-Intensity Repetitions on boulders - 10-15 routes, rest fully between routes, aim for hardest grade that you can climb in 1-3 tries.
- Campusing - 6-8 moves per arm
- System wall - set bouldering routes for yourself that repeat the same movement 6-8 times per arm.
Recruitment - more fibers recruited => more total force, fibers recruited faster => more power. Train by shocking muscles into recruiting more fibers. Aim for 1-2 reps.
Very high stress - warm up well, pay attention to nagging pains, rest fully between reps, don’t go beyond the planned time even if you feel unfatigued.
- Threshold bouldering - pick bouldering routes way beyond your max and attempt to make individual moves.
- Campusing - decrease rung size or add weight vest, 1-2 moves per arm.
- System wall - decrease hold size or add weight vest, 1-2 moves per arm.
Similar to recruitment training, but:
- Ballistic training - add speed and weight.
Plyometric training - add eccentric load at the beginning of each movement.
- Ballistic campusing - explosive two-hand dyno, aim for 3-5 reps, add weight.
- Plyometric campusing - drop down and immediately two-hand dyno back up, aim for 3-5 reps, increase distance.
Emotional and mental training
Subset of the material that’s covered in The Rock Warrior’s Way.
Self-assessment and goal-setting
Climbing pyramids - list numbers of redpoints at each grade in the last year. Top of the pyramid should look like 1-2-4-8. Skinny pyramids like 1-1-2-3 indicate rushing ahead without building a good base of experience. Fat pyramids like 2-7-15-many indicate either plateau (if the top climbs took more than 10 attempts) or ready to move on (if the top climbs took only a few attempts).
Compare indoor vs outdoor pyramids, bouldering vs sport pyramids, steep vs slab pyramids etc to identify weaknesses.
Gives a table of performance guidelines at each target level to identify physical weaknesses eg to climb solidly at 5.12a, aim to be able to do:
- ARCing at 5.10c
- 4x4s at V0-V2
- Laps at 5.10d-511b
- Max bouldering at V3-V4
- CIR bouldering at V2
- CIR routes at 5.10d-511b
Set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal to provide long-term direction and motivation. Set short-term goals for each season to drive specific training.
A good way to measure progress is to build and raise pyramids. Eg from 0-1-2-4-8 you need to climb 1-1-2-4-x to raise the peak. For outdoor climbing you can put specific classic routes in the pyramid. For indoor climbing you probably have to settle for just counting grades.
Cross-training will probably not improve your climbing.
Periodization is the gold standard for athletes, but it’s not much fun for amateurs. Progressive training is easier to plan for and provides regular incremental improvements (which is good for motivation), but at the cost of lower peaks.
Make a list of strengths and weaknesses using the exercises and self-assessment tables. Compare these to your short-term goals eg my goal for this year is a long pumpy roof climb and I’m weak on roofs and anaerobic endurance. Concentrate training on these critical weaknesses.
Aim for 3-5 sessions per week, with no more than 2 in a row. Alternate training days (movement skills, physical training) and performance days (building pyramids).
Training day schedule:
- Warm up
- Movement training
- Strength training
- Anaerobic training
- Aerobic training
Performance day schedule:
- Warm up (on several easy and medium routes)
- Make up to 4 learning or redpoint attempts on your project, resting for 20-45m between each attempt.
- Explore another potential project.
Record each session - what you planned, what you actually achieved, what you ate, how you felt emotionally and physically, who you climbed with. Look for patterns.
Movement and aerobic training can be done every day. Stamina and anaerobic training can be done 2-4 times per week depending on intensity.
Big list of detailed example training schedules for varying ability levels.