Thursday, November 5, 2015

Coming back to climbing as a 40+ climber

(Photo courtesy of Dustin Moore)

When I was younger I climbed and trained extensively.  However, during my 30's I retired from active climbing, focused on school, work, and raising a young family.  Sporadically we visited old climbing haunts, and I found it estranging to feel more like a tourist than a climber at places like Hueco Tanks or the New River Gorge.  Moving back to Ohio reestablished the possibility of spending weekends at the Red River Gorge, but it was not until our kids got a bit older that we went to climb.

I clearly remember our first visit to Muir Valley in the Spring of 2012 and the bittersweet experience of being back at the Red while not "being back to fitness" as a climber.   At the practice wall, and then at the Great Wall I led the easiest routes to set up top ropes for my kids.  Even on the 5.7's I felt challenged, and I tired quickly on easier 5.10 routes.  After lowering off of Dynabolt Gold (5.10a) I looked wistfully across the valley to the tall overhanging 11s and 12s of the Solarium.  Those were the sorts of routes I used to love to climb, but they seemed impossibly far away.

After that trip I added to my spreadsheet record of my recent recent flash or onsight lead climb successes, with an average grade of 5.8.

25 years ago an old friend and climbing mentor had suggested that a good way to assess your current climbing level is to take the average grade of your 10 best recent routes.  So, in Spring of 2012 these  were the 10 routes that I had flashed on lead, with an average grade of 5.8.   So, as of Spring of 2012 I was a reasonably consistent 5.8 sport climber.  In three and half years I have progressed to an average grade of 5.11c for first-try routes.

So far I have learned a couple of lessons during the process of coming back to climbing.

  1. Be honest about where you are in the moment.  Measuring your current climbing in terms of your best 10 recent routes reveals more than any single route.  3.5 years ago I had to recognize that I was a 5.8 climber.  Now I am climbing consistently at the 11c level, and I have a way to go in order to climb 5.12 with the same confidence.
  2. Progress is incremental and easiest to witness through record keeping.  If it were not for my climbing journal I would not know what level I was at 3.5 years ago.
  3. Training brings slow, predictable progress.   Since spring of 2014 I have trained systematically according to the periodized schedule advocated in the RCTM.  The results are that I am slowly getting better every climbing season.  This is perfect, and allows me to enjoy the routes at my current level knowing that the next level of new climbs is waiting in the wings.   

(Photo courtesy of Dustin Moore)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Updated hangboard setup

I installed the Forge using a french cleat to augment my RPTC.  Some grips, like the IMR carryover, but have been made more challenging.  Others are new introductions, like the slopey crimper and the mini-crimp with thumb catch.

My big question for winter training season is deciding on which grips to use from the two boards.  I do know that I will be using the slimper, or slopey crimper because it seems super relevant for sandstone cruxes (see the Anderson's discussion). Also, the new pinches can be used as super deep open hand jugs, which also seem very helpful to include in my training on the board (see my discussion of deep handholds).

In the first photo you can see that there are multiple sets of eyebolts which will allow me to have two pulley setups running at the same time.  This will make switching from one board to the other faster and will allow two people to complete their hangboard sessions at the same time.  The Forge is also located higher from the floor which puts me in a more comfortable position while hanging from the grips.

I used a 2X10 to create a mounting board and a french cleat to allow width adjustment.  I often find myself wishing to adjust the RPTC, but it's location on the bouldering wall precludes that option.  To make the cleat I ripped a 4 inch strip from the center of the 2X10 with the saw angle set at 30 degrees.   The outer strips are bolted to the remaining section of 2X10 and the 4 inch board mounting sections slide in the gap.

I am really happy to have the adjustable width mounting.  I am not the most skilled carpenter so there is a very small amount of play in the system causing the grips to shift very slightly when weighted.

I also purchased the pulley set with the super nice low friction pulleys.  They are a major improvement over the hardware store pulleys that I had been using.

The one drawback of the system is that it ships with eye-bolts for mounting the pulleys that are (in my opinion) insufficient for the task.  I would be reluctant to hang a potted plant from such small eye-bolts.  Not only are they weak and shallow, but the eye is almost too small to fit a biner.  Here they are next to an eyebolt with a fully functional working capacity.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Getting more value from your bouldering wall

(This is the cover of the Dojo guidebook)

Like Bruce Lee, our Dojo packs a lot of quality into a small frame.   The wall is only 7.5 feet tall (at the center), but it fills a wide room that allows traverses and roof crossing.   In that space we have over 70 problems, ranging in length from 3 moves to 80, and difficulty from V0 to V10.

What can you do with your holds and problem setting to get more value from your home climbing wall?  Here are some ideas that we have been using at the Dojo:

  1. Increase diversity of hold selection
  2. Develop a wide repertoire of problem types
  3. Document the routes with a guidebook
  4. Record community accomplishments in the guidebook

Diverse holds: 

Elsewhere I describe holds that I especially like, but my most important rule is that I want basic holds for cheap so I can spend money on compelling holds that expand the diversity and allow movement types that would otherwise be impossible.  

The very big:  holds like the Teagan Kaiju stalactites are ideal for this, and the "Kids Kaiju" problem feels super 3 dimensional, and even has a roof kneebar that my daughters discovered.  Along with the three Kaiju we have 4 more giant holds from Etch and Urban Plastix.   These rare but valuable holds are in contrast to the smallest, most numerous, and most technically valuable holds.  

The very small:  On the far side of the spectrum are 100's of tiny jibs that increase the realism and training value of all of the problems.  Some of the best of these are the sandstone chips from eGrips, multifaceted, small and technical.  I also have dozens of simple homemade jibs made from bean sized sections of oak molding.  

The very compact:  most home walls have limited space, so the best hand holds will offer distinct types of grips with small footprints.   Wide bottomed slopers are not ideal because they consume so much real estate.  In the space of one sloper you might fit in 4 or 5 more compact holds, that could allow for simple edges, gaston moves, underclings, pinches, etc.  The photo on the right includes UP ribbon pinches, Atomik system holds, comfy crimps & bubble wrap ledges from eGrips, screw on edges from Synrock, and green Kilter Winters and purple Teagans which offer great directional edges with small footprints.  

Punchline:  the ideal home wall will maximize both the diversity and density of holds.  This allows the most variety of problems to cross the same space.   So, don't be afraid to add extra t-nuts, or screw the holds in with deck screws in the spaces between your other holds.  While you are at it throw in some more jibs, which you can buy in color coded sets to make problems that just use a certain color of footholds.   

Set a wide variety of problem types

 If (A) you have many diverse holds and (B)  you have a lot of good problems then (C) you do not need to move your holds often.  This saves work and builds continuity.  So, fill your wall before you move your holds.  If you have densely packed diverse holds you will have no shortage of good movement options through every square foot of your wall.  We use different rules for different problems to get more options for building skill and training.

(The standard problem "Mercy, the Pabst" starts and finishes on the PVC pipe above the clock; the foothold only constraint problem "Blues Clues" starts and finishes on the blue taped footchip on the right, and includes all similar blue, tic marked footchips; the tracking problem "Black Flag" starts on the left side of the low angled roof and finishes on the roof rail in the foreground; the sequenced problem "Tuna Town Trainer" has hold number 34 in the foregrounded roof crimp.)

Standard taped problems:   Standard problems have taped handholds and allow any foothold.  Most are 5 to 15 moves long.  However, "Mercy the Pabst" is a 60 foot room traverse with about 50 hand moves.  This 5.11a mimics the Red River namesake with boulder problems punctuated with good rests.  With technical and fitness cruxes this route provides a tangible goal for many climbers that helps usher in the resting and route planning skills necessary to climb solid 5.10 outdoors.  For others, the same route is just part of their 20 minute ARC sessions, or a handy litmus test for recognizing low gravity days.  

Tracking:  Tracking problems restrict both hands and feet to taped holds.  These allow a higher level of control over movement and generally lead to more extreme positions than the "any feet" rule of  standard problems.  This rule is typical for mid length problems that integrate distinctive moves like heel hooks, bicycles and foot cut moves.  These problems tend to feel like "real" boulder problems while standard problems feel more like route climbing at the Red.   An even more "realistic" rule is tracking plus "naturals".  Naturals are small built in features like bolt heads, or seams in the plywood.  Discovering the right natural edge to make a problem go is similar to the foothold discovery  process outside. 

Jibs only:  However, even tracking can be too generous.  Most handholds present large footholds, so creative rules are needed to make routes sufficiently technical to become good skill training.   Most problems are "any feet" and others are "tracking and jibs" wile others are "jibs only".   Jibs only problems are reminiscent of some granite bouldering where handholds are generous but footholds are miserly.  These constraints create radically different types of moves and challenges that motivate climbers to become more technically skilled and gain greater outdoor experience.  Jibs only versions of standard problems often up the difficulty by about 2 V grades.  

Letter wall:   Our 70 degree wall has a bunch of holds taged with letters from A-Z.   Here climbers can invent new problems by simply listing the letters of the holds.  Old style home woody walls sometimes used named holds in a similar fashion.  This old "woody" rule allows us to make new variations easily and we then record them on a record sheet on the sidewall.  The most popular get added to the main guidebook in both standard and jibs only versions.    

Foothold only constraints:   "Blues Clues"  is a 12b room traverse that restricts the footholds, but is open hand holds (minus handlebars).   The feet are tiny, technical blue footchips that are strategically placed to require body tension and effort, even while grasping large jugs.  This foothold only constraint creates a much more technical and powerful route than would be possible with such good handholds and tracking.  

Constraints of omission:  The moderate traverse "No roof match, no cry" simply marks the start and finish, and then constrains climbers to avoid holds on the roof, and excludes matches and re-uses of holds.  This constraint forces climbers to think more carefully about sequence and finding the best option, even on terrain where there are plenty of good holds.  This ability to translate holds to movements is extremely helpful at areas like the Red, where choosing the wrong movements can add several letter grades of difficulty.  

Sequenced:  Numbered sequence problems are tagged by tape and number, and the holds have to be followed in order.  This allows routes to force matches, or prevent them, and routes can overlap themselves and create movement sequences much longer than the wall size would allow.  For instance, the "Tuna Town Trainer" has about 80 hand movements.  We also have power endurance training routes with numbered holds to help us tailor our effort to reach maximum fatigue at the right moment on the route. 

Create your own Guidebook

Yoichi visited Tokyo last summer and bouldered at Climbing Gym VOLNY where they have a wall with dense holds that are never moved, and routes are recorded in a book with a photo of each route, the holds marked, and a place for climbers to log their successful ascents. This makes the most out of a small space by creating a lasting record of the problems that people do, and subsequently repeat.  Like a local outdoor boulder with a host of eliminates, their wall with their guidebook becomes a repository of the cultural history of the climbing area.   

Guidebooks for discovering problems:  We have started to document our accomplishments in the guidebook book, and so far, it has been an excellent addition to the Dojo.  The book motivates climbers to tackle new projects, helps them identify problems that are in their range but have not yet sent, and brings attention back to old favorites.  

Sign the route registry:   After sending problems climbers get to sign their initials and date next to the problem description.  This individual record keeping creates a satisfying ritual.  It is nice to see your efforts affirmed, even if it just a printout of problems in a home bouldering wall. 

Distribution of community experience:   Signatures accumulate and reveal the more popular problems, as well as revealing the types of climbers who tend to climb particular types of problems. Here, on the first page of the Dojo Guide you can see that Black Flag is a very popular problem.  I can see that I should set another problem in this same range that highlights a different set of skills and challenges. 

Build community

We welcome beginners and pros, young and old.  The common denominator is that the dojo is a place of learning.  We encourage a positive approach to learning for everyone.  This type of informal, peer to peer learning used to be the mainstay of climbing instruction, and the dojo keeps that tradition going.  

Ultimately, climbing is meaningless and of little value.  But caring for others and helping them develop is one of the most important things we can do.  So, by building community with a home climbing wall we can collectively transform something that is rather trivial into a community process that can make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others.  I think this is what makes some climbing scenes so much more valuable than others. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Maxpull trainer on portable pull up bar

This Maxpull trainer fits on a portable pull up bar.  It rests on the grips and is tied down by one set of lines, and rotated back towards the door frame by a second set.

"Cultivating deep hold fitness" explains why you might want one, and how to train on it.

Here is what you need: 

  1. Materials: 
    1. A pull up bar like this one. 
    2. 4 inch pvc pipe 
    3. 1 sheet of skateboard grip tape (9 X 33 inches)
    4. 5 or 6 mm cord (ideally climbing grade)
    5. climbing tape or hockey tape
    6. Washers (fit cord but block knot in the cord)
  2. Tools
    1. Saw
    2. Drill  (with bit slightly larger than cord width)
    3. Orbital sander or sandpaper (60 grit is fine)
  3. Knots
    1. Overhand or figure 8 
    2. Clove hitch
    3. Half hitch  

Construction steps:  
  1. Cut the PVC into a 30 inch section, or a length that just fits inside your doorway.
  2. Sand the PVc to completely rough up the exterior
    1. Sand the ends to remove the sharp corner
  3. Rinse and wipe the plastic sanding dust
  4. Tightly wrap the area to either side of the perpendicular grip with tape
    1. This increases the friction on the bar and makes the knots much more secure
    2. As needed, reinforce the grips with tape. 
      1. Ours were cheap and too soft.
  5. Place the PVC pipe on the bar and see how it fits
    1. Mark the bar for tie down cord holes, slightly to the inside of the perpendicular grips
    2. Drill the tie down holes into the PVC
    3. Cut a 30 inch section of cord
    4. Tie an overhand or knot into one end, thread a washer onto the cord
    5. Thread the cord from inside the pipe out, so that the washer pulls tight to the interior
  6. Put the PVC pipe back on the bar, and practice securing it with clove hitches to the bar. 
    1. Tie the pipe to shortest distance to the cross bar and as tightly as you can.  It helps to tie the second line towards the outside of the bar so that as you tighten the second it is pulling the bar outward.  /o ----------------------------------------- o\
      1. I use clove hitches for these.
    2. Look at how the PVC pipe sits, and chose the spot to drill the second set of tie down straps.
      1. Select a spot that is high enough to cause the pipe to strongly rotate back towards the doorway and high enough that the cord, as it runs out of the back of the pipe will cushion the pipe against the molding. 
      2. I chose spots slightly outside of the first set of holes and rotated about 90 degrees from the first set.  When tied down, these straps angle in to tie on the inside of the
    3. Take the PVC pipe off and drill the second set of holes.  
      1. Widen the hole so that the line, when pulled down, is not being loaded over a sharp 90 degree corner in the PVC.     
  7. Put two more cords in using knots and washers again.
    1. Attach the tie down lines first, using clove hitches that you tie tight and securely.
    2. Attach the rotation lines.  I make two passes around the bar, cinching the line tight around the taped bar.  Then I tie a series of half hitches to secure them.  
    3. The pipe should have almost no rotation if you load it by hanging from it.
      2. Make sure your lines are tight and knots are secure.  
      3. You don't want the Maxpull to move while you are using it.
  8. Decide where you want to put your grip tape. 
    1. I cut mine into two 8.5 by 9 inch sections, and left room in the middle 9 inches where I could place another sheet if I wanted to.  
    2. Make sure the grip tape goes low enough in the front that you can grip the pipe with the palm of your hand, and far enough down in the back such that it stays secure. 
    3. Sanding and cleaning the PVC makes the grip tape stick better, but it is not really designed to be loaded laterally, so make sure that sticky section extends well beyond where your fingers reach. 
    4. After you attach the grip tape you just need to poke a hole with a pencil and re-thread the rotation lines. 

The tie down line runs to the front of the bar, and outside of the cross piece.  The rotation line runs to the back and inside of the cross piece.

Tie down on line is on the left, secured with a clove hitch (extra half hitches are moved out of the way).   The rotation line is on the right, secured with two friction loops and three half hitches. 

The grip tape extends about 2 inches lower than the gripping area of the bar.  The rotation line is pinched between the molding and the Maxpull.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Heat Index 100 + 30 min ARC = ?

A light sweat.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cultivating Deep Hold Fitness

This hold reaches deeper than the climber’s hand. Holds like these are common on sandstone cliffs at the New and Red River Gorge. You run into them at other crags too, especially on steep routes with large features.  While it is possible to crimp or actively squeeze these holds it is more effective to use a type of relaxed, open hand grip where you pull with skin at the base of your fingers more than with your fingertips.

Deep hand holds tax a different subset of muscles
Using an open hand grip on deep holds relies primarily on friction produced on the palm or base of the fingers by maintaining a slight flex at the wrist and the joint of the finger closest to the wrist (MCP joint). Because the friction surface is lower on the hand, or prior to the DIP and PIP joints, the flexors (and extensors) that uniquely activate the fingertips can be largely relaxed, while the wrist and MCP flexors do the work. On routes where hold depth is mixed, climbers can take advantage of of deep holds as strategic rests, and get much more mileage from their level of fingerhold fitness. This shifting of effort from one muscle group to another follows the same logic as using handjams on face routes, but it is more subtle. Unless you climb routinely on the sandstone jug hauls you might not even be aware that these ‘virtual handjams’ even exist on the routes.

Deep hold rests can hide in plain sight
The photo above demonstrates how illusive these rests can be. A few inches to the left of the climber's hand you can see a platform on the hold that has two sharp edged square cut lips set at 90 degrees from each other. The left hand can be rested on the front, and the right hand can be placed sideways, in a semi false grip that leverages the lip that cuts back towards the wall. From that position the fingertips can be relaxed as the sharp edge cuts some friction into the base of the fingers. Although such rests can be painful, the intense friction at the base of the fingers means that the wrist and MCP flexors do not have to work very hard to maintain a grip. During a careful shake out all of the forearm muscles have a chance to recover.

If such rests are available, why not use them? Perhaps the pictured climber is just warming up and wants to get a better pump. Or perhaps he is so strong that he has no need to minimize the effort spent with his fingertip flexors on this route. 

However, it is also possible that this climber trains primarily on shallow holds and has not cultivated strength and experience in gripping deep handholds. This cultivated strength seems to come primarily from projecting steep 5.12+ jug hauls, where success comes from milking every rest. However, if you can train for these holds at home, with enough training The Midnight Surf can start to feel as restful as a slab.

(Midnight Surf, Muir Valley, RRG)
In this post I want to do the following:

(1) advance the discussion of the range of muscles involved in holding deep and shallow holds.
(2) suggest that climbers need to train wrist and MCP flexors specifically, which involves applying force low on the fingers/ hand in order to maintain the grip.
(3) recognize that endurance should be cultivated for both depths of grips, which allows for strategic endurance that extends finger flexor fitness by shifting effort to other muscles.
(4) share some updated observations I have about cultivating deep hold fitness across training cycles and using deep hangboard grips.

(1) Let’s discuss the range of muscles involved in deep and shallow holds

There are six hand flexors.  Three flex the wrist only: flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus; and three that flex both the wrist and the fingers: flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profundus, and flexor pollicis longus. There are also 6 that extend the wrist, of which four also extend the fingers.

Note: The isometric contractions used on climbing grips engage a complex array of wrist and finger muscles. Furthermore, the particular muscle fibers that are engaged depend in complex ways on the combined positions of the elbow, wrist, and finger joints. Therefore when I distinguish muscles by hold depth and type those distinctions are ones of emphasis (the finger flexors find relative rest, not complete rest while that hand grabs a deep hand hold).

The following three muscles attach to the hand below the finger joints. To the extent that strength from these can be cultivated, then that strength can be used to deflect the wrist and hold weight that the other flexors can avoid. Of the three ‘wrist only’ flexors palmaris longus (C) flexes the wrist strictly and is the main actor that presses the palm forward. The flexor, f.c. radialis, (A) also abducts the wrist and is engaged when pressing the palm of the hand near the pinky finger. F.c. ulnaris (B) flexes and also adducts the wrist and thus presses the palm forward near the index finger.  The other hand flexors flex both the wrist and the fingers. These that perform mixed duty are important on deep holds for wrist flexion and because deep holds will often provide some friction low on the fingers but above the hand.

A. Flexor carpi radialis
B. Flexor carpi ulnaris
C. Palmaris longus
Source for images: David Q. Thomas, lecture notes in Anatomy and Physiology

Of flexors of both the wrist and fingers, two are of special note.

D. Flexor digitorum superficialis (originates in the medial epicondyle of the humerus, radius and ulna and inserts in the middle phalanges 2-5)
E. Flexor digitorum profundus (originates in the ulna and inserts in distal phalanges 2-5)

The difference in insertion points (between D and E) seems to be key. The flexor digitorum superficialis inserts into the middle phalanges, while the flexor digitorum profundus inserts in the distal phalanges. This means that the the f.d superficialis can join the wrist flexors on deep holds where friction is concentrated near the base of the fingers. In contrast f.d profundus is crucially necessary when effort must be exerted at the fingertips. This is the crucial muscle to train for shallow, open hand holds because it can engage even when the wrist and MCP joints remain in a neutral, un-flexed, position.  

The rest of this post will simplify the situation to assert that there are two basic sets of muscles:

  1. hand hold muscles which (primarily) flex the wrist and MCP joint, training these leads to deep hold fitness
  2. finger hold muscles, which include both flexors and extensors which (primarily) activate the PIP and DIP joints, training these leads to fingertip fitness
    1. shallow open hand grips highlight the flexor (E)
    2. crimps highlight both flexors and extensors

F. Extensor digitorum
G. Extensor carpi radialis longus

Crimp and half crimp grips activate both flexors and extensors, and resting these muscles is key to success on routes that mix fingerholds with deep hand holds. These muscles (and other wrist and finger extensors) are visible on the outside of the arm and can be notably relaxed when grasping deep hand holds. In a point that I emphasise later, it is crucial to train endurance for these muscles too by integrating crimp grips into your ARC and recovery workouts.

(2) If you want to be strong on deep hand holds you need to train your wrist and MCP flexors specifically, which involves training on holds where applying force low on the fingers is crucial to maintaining the grip.

Most hangboards and the vast majority of artificial climbing holds are designed to be grasped with the first and second pads of the fingers. Training on such holds will also develop hand hold muscles somewhat, but that limited development is far less than what those muscles will develop when specifically trained.

Holds that isolate the wrist and MCP flexors are characterized by a pronounced change in direction and a relatively sharp or grippy external corner. The primary grasping area of the hold is near the lip, and they are not grasped actively with the finger tips, instead the fingertips float freely while the base of the hand is pressed on the outside corner. Such holds are also deep enough that the fingers are unobstructed as the hand and wrist exert effort to hang from the corner of the hold. On sandstone these are visible as ledges that are nearly square cut, with either sharp or high friction corners. They also occur when jugs are sharp or positive enough that the primary surface of effort is at the base of the hand.

(Sharp lipped square cut jugs on Cell Block 6)

In the gym it is rare to find holds that can be engaged deeply with the hand and also lack an active finger hold surface. The closest you will typically see are either jugs that are too easy to grab or deep slopers that engage open hand finger hold muscles and hand hold muscles. Here are some in my home climbing wall.

The first photos show simple handlebars that can be grasped by relying on the friction at the base of the fingers. The third image shows a chalk line of the primary gripping effort on the wooden handlebar. The last two photos show a square cut wooden roof jug that allows for a deep grip at the base of the fingers using palmaris longus. This hold also engages the f.c. radialis while pressing the pinky side of the palm into the corner. As part of my ARC training I have started to integrate steep and deep rest stances that involve camping out on holds like these.

Figure A shows a schematic of the side view for an overly simplistic design of a deep hand hold. The curved line suggests the position of the hand.  B shows a hand hold sloper and C is illustrates the MaxPull training hold which engages a full range of flexors from the palm to the fingertips, discussed later.

The strength and endurance that we develop through training result from the types of grips that we use. For instance, climbers who only climb on shallow pockets and thin crimps won’t find these holds to be restful as someone who also trains on deep open hand holds. I have certainly witnessed climbers who feel more secure crimping the lips of deep square cut ledges (to their detriment as they spend all their fingerhold endurance on holds that do not require that type of effort). Conversely climbers who only cultivate endurance on deep holds will find sustained thin hold routes to be impossibly tiring. Others who specialise in bouldering on big compression problems on smooth granite blocks will have deep hand strength, but will still get pumped on 90 foot jug hauls. A well rounded climber needs to, at the very least, develop strength and endurance for all the major types of grips both deep and shallow.

For many climbers, the only place they encounter enough deep holds to really train on them is at steep crags like the Red. So, new climbers to the Red they are unprepared for the rest holds they encounter, and thus they perceive themselves as lacking endurance. But they are not lacking endurance in their finger flexors. They likely have all the endurance they need for long fingery face climbs.

However, gaining Red River fitness requires an addition to the standard dimensions of fingerhold based fitness: strength and endurance on deep handholds. Training on deep holds that tax the wrist flexors and f.d.superficialis will result in strength and endurance specific to those types of holds.   In this photo a deep, sharp lipped hold lurks on Stunning the Hog, a rare relief from pinches and slopers.  This already sustained route becomes much more difficult if climbers ignore the rests that such holds can provide.

(3) Endurance should be cultivated for both depths of grips, which allows for strategic endurance that extends finger flexor fitness by shifting effort to other muscles.

Fingerhold endurance, is what you need to grab small and medium crimps over, and over again like on the RRG routes Soul Ram, or Orange Juice.  This type of endurance is trained by ARC workouts and PE workouts that concentrate primarily on shallow open hand holds and crimps.   Finger extensors, crucial for crimping will not develop endurance unless moderate and easy crimps are a regular part of ARC training.  [The RCTM clearly advises for ARC training to use lower angles, smaller feet, and thin holds precisely because fingerhold endurance is so crucial to success on technical face climbs and as the difficulty of all angles of routes increases they tend to include longer, more sustained sections of thin holds.]

Deep hand hold endurance, is what is needed to hang from a long series of deep open hand holds like on The Return of Chris Snyder or 40 Ounces of Justice. This type of endurance is trained by climbing “steep for the grade” routes where you can rest your way to the top. In the gym you can train ARC workouts that include deep hand holds with steep rest stances, where the holds bite into the skin at the base of the hand. Wrist and MCP flexors need to be repeatedly engaged while holding high proportions of body weight, otherwise these muscles will not be strong enough to hang the “rest holds” while relaxed enough to allow blood flow and recovery.  

Strategic endurance, is what is needed on routes that intermix deep and shallow holds on steep sustained walls. In my experience, Apollo Reed and Table of Colors are good examples of routes where you can recover on a couple key deep hand hold rests and get back your finger strength to pull the comparatively powerful crux sections.  
If we assume that most RCTM climbers will be training primarily on shallow holds, they could benefit from some training to raise the fitness of their wrist and MCP flexors (A,B,C,D). They could use fitness in those flexors to functionally extend the fitness of their other flexors(especially E) and their extensors (F and G).

A climber could increase their “deep hand hold” fitness and seemingly become stronger at “finger holds” too by keeping fingerhold flexors relaxed as often as possible, and by recovering mid route with a long term rest that “spends” deep hold fitness instead of the more scarce finger hold fitness.  This is the same principle underlying finding rests on hand jam rests where the thumb flexor pollicus longus is primarily utilized instead of the other wrist and finger flexors.  

(4) Some thoughts on cultivating deep hold fitness while training and using deep hangboard grips.

Training effectively should take into account how finger and hand fitness are cultivated from different types of grips. For generalist climbers it seems prudent to adopt training practices for endurance, strength, power, and power endurance that are either duplicated for both hold depths (and therefore both finger and hand flexors) or effectively combine use of both hold depths. At the very least it is helpful to consider how failing to train for particular fitness types on one of the hold depths can create a weakness in a climbers abilities.  

There is a good discussion on Mountain Project ( of how people translate bouldering difficulty to route difficulty.  The range of perspectives illustrates how different climbers experience these grade translations differently.  I would argue that this is largely because of how the climbers differ in terms of cultivating fitness for different grip depths and each climber’s balance between strength, power, power endurance and endurance on those depths.

For instance, climbers who only ARC on steep terrain with deep holds should not expect to have much fingertip endurance, and will correspondingly relish steep juggy routes and shrink from sustained, thin face routes. Similarly, ARC ing on shallow fingerholds will not stimulate the deep hand hold flexors, but will prepare a climber well for the long face routes at Smith.

Most of the training suggestions in the RCTM are centered on fingerhold fitness, which is generally great advice, because fingerhold fitness is often the key limiting factor. However, the universality of some of the specific training activities should be considered in light of the specificity of hold depth.  Thinking about my own training in this way helps me understand my lack of progress in some areas and surprising progress in others.  During the last two seasons my distribution of activities was very unbalanced by hold depth

  1. I trained ARC primarily on open hand holds.  While I gained some general endurance I did not especially highlight the use of deep handholds.  I also never crimped while ARC climbing or warming up.  Hence, my endurance is focused primarily on medium open hand holds.  I have almost zero endurance for crimping and my deep hand endurance is limited as well.
  2. I trained strength on shallow open hand pockets and half crimp edges.  All of my hangboard grips only made contact on the last pad of my fingers.  MCP and wrist flexors were not trained for strength.
  3. I trained power on small and medium campus rungs as well as some crimps, two pad open hand slopers and pinches.  Once again, MCP and wrist flexors were neglected although I do not climb many routes or boulder problems where such power is crucial.
  4. I trained power endurance on medium crimps, medium pinches, and two pad pockets.  I had no deep slopers or open hand holds that engaged below the second pad.  I feel as though PE and ARC training did engage the MCP flexors as well as the open hand finger holds.  

Here are the changes I am making to my workout cycles.  

Base Fitness.  Adding stances and rests that highlight hold types where my endurance is lacking.  I identified and created additional steep rest stances that rely on deep holds.  I also created slightly steep rest stances that use solid 1 to 2 pad deep edges where I can use a simple crimp grip as a resting grip.  During my ARC session I also maintained the general supply of the variety of medium sized, mostly open grips I have been using for rests and moves.  Finally, I make sure that I integrate a full range of hold depths and types into my ARC moves.  

Deep hand endurance/power endurance.  During my ARC and PE phases I am training open hand endurance on the 4 inch Maxpull board.  These grip taped full depth cylinders engage every joint from the wrist to the DIP.  The full depth of the pipe means that wrist and MCP joints are engaged in a very skin friendly manner.  (unlike many deep jugs with tend to have sharper edges). I find that I can still put in a good workout on the Maxpull even after my skin is too sore for another ARC session. This is because the effort is spread over a wide area of skin and you hand stays very stable on the hold (until the last few seconds of a failed hang).

I use the Maxpull board as a cumulative fatigue exercise, similar to hill climbing in cycling. The goal is to complete 3 sets of 5 hangs. Each set is composed of five static hangs of 45 seconds or until failure, seperated by a 15 second rest. The short 15 second rest is key to build fatigue across repetitions.  A 5 minute rest between each set allows only a partial recovery, and I have explored shorter rests finding that 3 minutes works, but 2 is too brief.   

I find that my early repetitions primarily load the palm of my hand and my fingertips. As fatigue grows with each additional rep these flexors weaken and my grip shifts. Then I actively engage my MCP and PIP joints to take some of the burden. By the time I get to my final repetition all of these flexors are fatigued and begin to fail as I slowly loose my grip and fight the eventual slide off. An important aspect of the hold is that every joint can contribute to holding the grip, and therefore the progressive exhaustion of each pushes more effort onto the remaining functioning flexors. During these workouts you will experience the most intense and extensive forearm burn that you will ever feel.  It is extensive because it engages all three of these:

Strength / Hang board.  Deep open hand strength requires holds that engage all four fingers across all joints.  Most hangboards are not deep enough to allow this. Shallower slopers tend to neglect the pinky and to concentrate force on the first two finger pads. This 7 inch half pipe provides three great training options. (1) work all finger joints by hanging it from the position depicted below. (2) isolate the last two finger joints by hanging from a lower starting position (3) isolate the lower finger joints by starting from the upper position but with a slightly more than half width section of duct tape under the fingertips of the index, middle and ring fingers. 

You can see from the photo that I have a narrow strip of duct tape covering the top inch of the hold, marking the highest position that I use.

I plan to use the same 7/3 second duty cycle and general protocol of the RCTM intermediate HB workout with this grip. I plan to use options 1 and 3.

To address my limited capacity to use large crimps effectively on steep routes I am looking for a flat, deep crimp grip to include in my HB range in order to make sure that I build strength in my finger extensors. I am considering these two options.  

Power.  I am leaving my power cycle unchanged.  I will continue with a combination of campusing on medium and large rungs, and limit bouldering on a range of challenging open hand and crimp grips.  However, if I were primarily looking to boulder on open hand and compression problems I would look for:
    1. a beam to work on sloper campus moves combined with compression.
    2. a gym with a hold budget enough to have lots of giant sloper problems
    3. half pipe sloper campus rungs   

Construction:   4 inch Maxpull board.  There are plenty of other ways to attach a 4 inch pipe to a wall or pull up bar.  My method here works ok, although the pipes flex a tiny bit when weighted.  I plan to make another version that I can simply strap to a removable pull up bar by using a single section of pvc the width of the doorway.  For any design you want the tube to be stable, the grip tape to be well adhered, and the full depth pipe to maintain the cylindrical shape.   

Construction: The deep sloper is made from a threaded connection piece of 6 inch (interior measurement, 7 inch exterior) PVC pipe.  I sanded off the ridges on the outside, cut it in half and screwed wooden feet onto the corners.  The surface is covered in skateboarding grip tape which overlaps the top edge of the pipe and is pinned between the wall and the top wooden feet. Note: you can see a band of white duct tape along the top inch of the pipe which keeps your grip lower on the pipe, making the grip more challenging and keeping an ergonomic wrist position.

This table provides a simple baseline estimate for the proportion of body weight that would be carried by hands in a standard rest position.  I posted it to prepare for a post about wall angle, baseline grip strength, and endurance.