The Season to Train - Cellar Sessions
Oliver Torr takes us through the perfect 30-minute finger strength routine.
This is the year to Train HARD - right?
It’s that time of year again when climbers in the northern hemisphere start reducing the length of their projects, dust off bouldering buckets and head indoors for some much-needed training.
When discussing training plans and goals with climbers, I often hear and see a few mistakes more often than others. In order to help you transition into the next phase of your training, I'd love to share some of my favorite exercises in this training series.
Today's Focus - Finger Strength
Every climber needs some level of finger strength - regardless of whether they are climbing 5a or 9a in competitions or in the mountains. After working with thousands of climbers over the last decade, I can safely say that finger strength is a major contributor to climbing performance. My belief is that anyone who can climb at a higher grade than you, will 9 times out of 10 have stronger fingers.
To improve strength, you will need to stress your body in a way which replicates the demands of climbing. You can gain a lot of finger strength through climbing alone, but for those of us who can’t spend all day at the crag, a fingerboard is one of your best tools for the job. The tips below are a few things I have asked clients to do over the years to maximize their limited training time using a fingerboard.
Tip 1: Measure Your Performance Regularly.
If you want to improve, you need to have a starting point to base your progress off of. Without knowing how strong you are to begin with, you will not know whether or not your training methods are working. I often see climbers using the same fingerboard routines year after year, and then question why they haven't become stronger. If you don’t measure yourself you cannot evaluate your progress. For further guidance on how to complete a max strength hanging protocol, check out the Crimpd app. This will guide you through the protocols we use for measuring a climber’s strength at the beginning, middle, and end of a training plan.
Tip 2: Make Your Training Progressive
Once you know how strong you are it’s important to increase the load placed on your forearms to make them adapt. If you refer to your max hang score as 100%, you can create a progressive plan that increases the load every few weeks. The example below shows how you can do this while including retesting to see if you have made progress.
The climber weighs 154 lbs. and managed to hang with an additional weight of 44 lbs. during a max hang test during week 1.
Tip 3: Create A Structured Warm Up
Fitting in training is often the biggest issue for climbers who have busy lives. It's important to know exactly what you are doing to warm up for a fingerboard session, as people often rush through warm ups to get to the meat of the training as quickly as possible. You must have a structured warm up (like the one suggest in the plan below) so that you can maximize your efforts in the session and at the same time, reduce your risk of injury.
Tip 4: Convenience Is Key
The easier it is for you to get started, the more likely you'll be to follow through with it. Set up a fingerboard in a convenient place within your house so it is accessible and fits within your daily routine. Another convenient tool to have is a good interval timer on your phone or tablet. This means you can have everything pre-set so your session is ready and waiting.
The Session - The Perfect Finger Board Training
Over the last few years, I have had less and less time for my own training - which means I've had to become more efficient with any spare time I have to fit training in. I have used the following session whenever my time is limited, but I still need to fit in some strength training. I would use this session for the first 8-12 weeks of the winter training to increase my maximum strength before focusing on smaller holds or different grip positions. Most importantly, for climbers with a time crunch it’s easy, it works, and it only takes 30 minutes, including the warm up!
General Warm Up: Getting Warm
As your muscles and joints will be cold at the beginning start really easy and make the exercises harder as you progress through the warm up. For example, in set one, complete the pull-ups with a foot on a chair and work up to set 4 where you lift your full body weight.
Exercise:Complete these exercises 4 times with little rest between each exercise. Specific Warm Up: Preparing The Fingers
To get your fingers ready complete interval hangs at a low intensity. This not only increases the blood flow to your arms but also allows you to prepare for the specific edge and grip positions used later during the max hang portion.
Exercise: Set 1: 3 seconds on, 7 seconds off* Set 2: 7 seconds on, 3 seconds off* Set 3: 3 seconds on, 7 seconds off** Set 4: 7 seconds on, 3 seconds off**
Each set should last for 30 seconds (3 reps) with 30 seconds of rests in-between sets.
* For sets 1 and 2, keep your feet on the floor to reduce the load on the fingers.
** For sets 3 and 4 start to hang with just body weight as your fingers warm into the exercise.
Max Hangs: The Hard Bit
My preferred strength training for a short session uses 10-second 2 arm dead hangs utilizing a strict half crimp grip position.
The aim of this session is to load your fingers each week at the specified intensity level that you determined from the Tip 2 formula section. Start with 2 reps at a low weight intensity then step up to your specific max intensity for 4 sets. The last 4 sets are where strengthen is gained.
Set 1 - 2: 10-second hangs at a below max load level.
Set 3 - 6: 10-second hangs at a max load level.
Rest for 2 minutes between each set.
Sets 1-2: Weighing 154 lbs, I hang with an additional load of 44 lbs of weight, this should feel challenging but not too difficult. This allows me slightly more time to warm-up and increase before loading the fingers at a higher intensity. Sets 3-6 I increase my load to +66 lbs, which works out as the correct intensity
(i.e. 85%) of my max.
Stretch: Look After Your Tools
To reduce the risk of injury through excessive tightness and to increase your performance on other grip types such as pockets, I always leave time to complete a few simple stretches at the end of each session.
Set 1: 15-second forearm flexor stretch, repeat for each arm. Set 2: 15-second forearm extensors stretch, repeat for each arm. Set 3: 5-second finger flexor stretch, repeat for each finger.
Repeat each set twice.
Duration: For Long-Term Gains
I would complete this session 2-3 times per week for 8-12 weeks.
And that’s it. With a bit of time dedicated to sorting weights, this session usually takes me about 30 minutes to complete. In a busy period, this leaves me with 5 minutes to grab some food and run out the door to work.
If you are unsure about any of the tips or exercises I've written about, please visit the links below for clarification or reach out to a qualified coach for some professional guidance.
Lattice Training website, YouTube page, Facebook discussion group, The Crimpd App
Oliver Torr's Training Kit
1 ISLAND, 2 MONKS AND UNTOUCHED GRANITE
“Why did James and I pick a small dot on the other side of the planet?”
Because Yuji told us about it. The last time Yuji proposed us a trip, we ended up in Kinabalu, the now oh so famous mountain where untouched granite will overwhelm the climber. The Real Rock tour has thrown Kinabalu into fame, but 5 years ago, when we went there, no climber could even put it on the climbing
Kinkasan is a small island not far from Fukushima, on the north east side of Japan. It has 26km circumference and is inhabited by two monks. From Tokyo it is a six hour journey. Yuji didn’t say that much more: Kinkasan’s coast is covered with granite cliffs, and there is a Shinto shrine on it. Yuji mentioned as well the damages made by the tsunami…
We began our journey with next to no expectations about the climbing, and a big question mark for the rest. 3 days in the trip and I know exactly why we came: for Japan.
2 years ago we spent a week in this unique country and both James and I knew that we had to come back one day: how could I compare it? Well, the first time you taste wine, you have heard a lot about it. But you smell, and you only smell the alcohol, you taste and you can’t put words on it because wine is subtle, complicated and requests an education. You have to go back to it, learn to enjoy, differentiate and remember. Japan is maybe a little bit like wine.
There is this astonishing mix of modernity (the Japanese toilets and their multi jets, music and self cleaning options give you an idea of the immensity of your difference) and spirituality, respect, focus.
We arrived at Base Camp, the gym that Yuji opened 5 years ago in Tokyo, and I oscillate between marvel and shame. I am a pro climber, and most of the boulders are too hard for me, the Japanese climbers around me seem to evolve so effortlessly, like flying cats on the wall. But then you realise: the world championship have just finished in Paris and in the bouldering competition, 3 of the 6 medals are not only Japanese, but from Tokyo, from Base Camp. Yuji and his company helps the athletes become professional and they often climb together. Shall I repeat that? Half of the world’s medals come from one gym! Surely there is no wonder that Yuji owns that gym… But that is only just the very top of the iceberg, because behind this 3 medals, there are a lot of other athletes with an incredible level. I have never seen so many good, extremely good boulderers in one place. And I am a former competition climber, trust me, I know what I am talking about.
“Why are they so good?”
The answer is surely complicated but here are a few elements: climbing has become very trendy in Japan, with over a 100 gyms in Tokyo. The Japanese body type is perfect for climbing; light, powerful and explosive muscles. The Japanese constant pursuit of perfection pushes the athletes to train hard, just like everyone around them simply accomplished every task with perfection.
It was dry for the crossing, and after unpacking our bags at the shrine we bouldered on a nearby beach for 1 hour before the rain came. With so much rock to see and so little time, we hiked out anyway along the coast to search out potential lines. The rain became heavier, we became wetter, and after 4 soggy hours we returned to the shrine, hopes high but spirits low. We’d been preparing this trip since September 2015, putting the team together, finding funding from sponsors, organizing the local logistics, yet it would all be in vain if the weather didn’t brighten up.
A morning of rain gave us the excuse to sit down and record some interviews, though truthfully we had little to say as we’d done little climbing. Toru, ever the silent optimist finally dragged me out to the closest boulder spot during a break between two showers, and we were surprisingly able to climb! Toru lived up to his reputation of boldness and brilliance, making the first ascents of two of Kinkasan’s boldest and hardest problems. Finally things were looking up. The forecast was good for the following days, and group psyche could not have been higher. We began to plan our upcoming adventure and our first trip to the other side of the island – the area with the highest concentration of rock, and the biggest cliffs, but had to cut them short as bad news broke.
With my thirst for climbing temporarily quenched, we left the island in limbo, happy, yet sad, but knowing we’d be back in less than 24 hours. We passed the day visiting some of the worst tsunami affected towns in an effort to better understand what hardships the local people had to live through, and how they are moving forwards towards the future. It is one thing to watch the news from the comfort of your lounge back home, it is another thing entirely to see it first hand, and speak to the people who have lost everything - houses, possessions, loved ones!
Suddenly our troubles with the rain seemed embarrassingly small, and we remembered why we were actually here in the first place.
Our personal climbing desires must come second to the larger goal of showing this place to the world. Rain or shine, we have to get out there. Hike around, document the potential, and if in the end we are lucky, open up some new routes.