TRIPLE TRAINING CHALLENGE
by James Pearson
10 minute read
The Great Shark Hunt (8B) in Chironico
A long time ago, I was actually more of a boulderer than a Trad climber and spent a few years of my climbing life focused on "flashing" hard boulder problems. I spent my time between traveling away on climbing trips, either attempting boulders I'd already found or looking for new ones I'd like to try in the future, and working shift based long hours as a residential social worker when I was back in the UK. This didn't leave much time for training, and I certainly didn't have regular access to a climbing wall, forcing me to get creative with what I could around the workplace and on a little fingerboard I was lucky to have. In the spring of 2008, I saw Ben Moon climb The Great Shark Hunt an (8B) boulder in Chironico, Switzerland. The boulder relied heavily on very small, incut crimps, and although there would clearly be some technique and pulling between the holds, I knew if I could get my fingers as strong as possible, I'd have a better chance of making the moves feel easy.
My achievement wouldn’t come through a grade, though; for a long time, I have realized grades are all relative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is a 9c or 7c; no one cares! It’s only climbing. It can only be for MY pleasure that I decide to put myself through fear, tiredness, and then, hope, and belief, which all turn into a passion. Of course, over the two days that I worked the route, I had quite a few moments where I despaired in figuring out a method. I also went to bed those nights, asking myself why I was doing this. But then, waking up at 5 am to beat the afternoon sun, I itched to put my hands on the rock, savored the idea that I could only rely on myself to get the rope up; this project reawakened the climber that I am.
I came home with precise sequences in my head and the knowledge that if I trained, visualized, and prepared, I had a chance to link it all. I knew training would be challenging, especially motivating for another endurance lap through the summer heat. But I was finding myself again, finding my space to be a climber and a good mum.
I returned to the route with James a month later while the grandparents took care of Arthur. Part of me wondered why we were leaving our baby, and we both felt a bit empty without him jumping around the van. But then in the early morning, I put my game face on, James transformed into Mr. Perfect Belayer, and the fun began. In the (8b), I had no idea if I had the necessary endurance, but in a month’s training, I had noticed that it was all coming back quickly. I climbed precisely without a single mistake. I have no idea how it happened–maybe being a parent and having little time forced me to improve my efficiency. The (7b), the first (8a), the (5c) it all went smoothly. Then, in the last (8a), I made a few mistakes. I forgot a few methods, and there was a moment at the very end, where I realized I had to make the right decision very fast, or I would be off, and maybe not have the energy to try the pitch again.
It is here that I faced my old friend, the fear of failing; every climber has to find a way of dealing with this. When I was a competition climber, I used to tell myself to focus closer on the pleasure of the movements. This time, with my forearms about to explode, and while I was struggling to slow my breathing on a relatively restful tuffa, I could see in my mind Arthur dancing to his favorite music. With that, I realized that falling would be ok; failing was indeed not that sad. Accepting the possibility of not doing it gave me the energy to finish the pitch and scrape my way to the belay. One more (6b), and I had done it, I was again the climber I wanted to be! I had proven to myself that there was a balance between being a mum and a climber. That even the joy of my little one could give me strength for climbing that I hadn’t had before.
I'd love to tell you James and I drove back home playing Une Jolie, but that would be too whimsically poetic. After all, ticking the climb for its name or notoriety is not the experience I was after. Plus, James hates the song, but James's story of understanding French poetry, and as I say, “truly” becoming French, is another story altogether.
Written by James Pearson
Photo 1 by Keith Bradbury
Photo 2 by David Simmonite
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Route 1 - Fingerboard
Basic finger strength and de-sensitization
Improving basic static finger strength is pretty simple, with the biggest challenge being avoiding injury. For this I prefer to work finger strength on a fingerboard, as opposed to climbing on specific small holds or campusing - this way you can really control the exercise. Using a fingerboard in its simplest way involves either hangs on progressively smaller edges or increasing added weight on the same size edge. Both can be effective, and the main difference is that adding weight allows you to use a larger hold, which is more comfortable on your fingertip skin, allowing for longer/more frequent sessions. If, however, you know that the route/boulder you want to climb has very small/painful holds, fingerboarding on smaller holds will also improve your pain tolerance. Fingerboard sessions also have the advantage of being relatively fast, as they are very intense. I always found better results with shorter (around 20min, at least once per day) sessions instead of fewer longer sessions (eg. 1 hour, twice per week).
My sessions were straightforward. Begin on the largest hold you have and hang in a half crimp position (4 fingers bent at the 2nd joint, no thumb) for anywhere between 5 and 15 seconds, depending on how comfortable it feels. Rest for the same amount of time, and then repeat the hang with an open hand grip (3 fingers, bent at the first joint). Repeat this sequence until your fingers feel warm enough to move down to the next smaller rung size. Keep this rhythm until you arrive at the smallest rung you can hold. At first, you won't be able to hang for more than a few seconds, but you will get stronger and more accustomed to pulling on small holds with time. As soon as you start to have pain in your skin (not the same pain as thin skin from too much climbing, but a "burning" in the flesh underneath) then stop, and warm down. As I said before, it's much better to do more shorter sessions than one session where you go to destruction and then can't climb for another few days. With time, both your finger strength and pain tolerance will increase. In my first month doing this, I went from not holding the 6mm edges to doing 15 seconds of pull-ups on them!
Route 1 - Resistance Band
A Resistance Band is useful for starting to hold a "new" edge or simply warming up. Clip one end into the bottom of the fingerboard and put your feet in the other. You'll need to experiment with different thicknesses to find the right support for your weight.
Route 1 - Mental Training
Attempting to "flash" boulders is mentally challenging, but like anything, we can train ourselves to become better. In more recent years, Caro has helped me a lot with visualization, explaining some of the secrets she learned as a competition climber. Still, back then, in 2008, my visualization tactics were pretty simple. I'd try to get as much information as I could about the problem, either from looking at it myself or by talking to people. Then I would imagine climbing it over and over in my head. The objective is to memorize as many of your movements and decisions ahead of time. This way, when you actually try the climb, your energy, strength, and ability are put to good use instead of being wasted in moments of indecision.
Route 2 - Fingerboard
Rest and Recuperation
From Tim's video on the route, I knew that there was a "rest" before the final boulder problem, on two good but small edges. We usually rest in routes on big jugs, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to rest on other holds–A rest is any hold where you can recover at a faster rate than you get tired by staying on it. By learning to rest on poor holds on a fingerboard, you can improve this capability and rest on ever-smaller holds on routes. While not worth an individual fingerboard session in its own right, rest training like this is really effective at the end of a session as a warm down.
With your feet on a small stool or, better, holds on the wall, start by hanging on a hold that would be comfortable for ~30 seconds, feet off the ground. Try to shake out one hand at a time, alternating your hands every 5 to 6 seconds, and aim for 10 shakes - one set should take around 1 minute. When you can do this without any noticeable fatigue (perhaps after several sessions), you can try the next smaller hold or add weight. Depending on how intense your session was, aim to do 2 to 5 rest sets at the end of a session.
Route 2 - Resistance Band
With a lot of training for a specific project, we often forget about our general conditioning. Try to balance out the active training you've been doing with some antagonistic work with a resistance band. Fix the band to a wall or floor and do lightweight repetitive exercises to work on the muscle groups that climbing often forgets.
Route 2 - Visualization
In addition to simply visualizing the route's moves, for Muy Caliente, I also began to visualize my emotions. This is a huge part of climbing success and failure and can help control your stress and help you deal with situations that don't go according to plan. As an example, imagine that you are climbing, when suddenly a hold that you thought was going to be good is not as big or as in-cut as you imagined. Visualize the shock, the surprise, the fear, but also the control. Visualization is not just about imagining the perfect ascent, it's about preparing yourself to react quicker and more effectively to whatever situation might arise.
Muy Caliente (E10) at Pembroke in the UK
When I decided to try to flash Muy Caliente back in 2011, a new (E10) at Pembroke that Tim Emmett had recently climbed, It was easy to find the motivation to train for that goal, not only to increase my chance of success but also not to keep me as safe as possible.
When you train to flash something, you don't have the luxury of actually trying the specific moves beforehand and allowing your body to become naturally stronger and conditioned from trying the route itself. Instead, it's about breaking things down to their base elements. There is very little chance you can find another route similar enough to train on or even build a replica that is perfect enough to cover all the subtle details that climbing tests. However, if you can simplify all of the route demands and work on these elements independently, you'll be in better general shape when you do finally get the chance to climb. For Muy Caliente, I spent six months flashing 100's of sport routes around the same grade and a similar style (slightly overhanging face climbing) and worked on other specific elements on a fingerboard. I also visualized as many of the features I could understand and even began experimenting with visualizing the unknown.
Masters and Cifuentes, (8b+) in La Via in ES
Another boulder problem, another life! When Arthur was born in 2018, and an elbow injury I'd picked up a few months before was made worse by having him in my arms most of the day, I began to wonder if I'd ever climb hard routes again. I'd been almost exclusively Trad and Sport climbing for the last eight years, and even before Arthur was born, my bouldering level was far from what it once was. By chance, or necessity, Caroline and I realized that bouldering was something we could "easily" do with a small child, and after ~ 12 months of almost only bouldering, though at a relatively slow rhythm, both Caro and I were not only back in good shape, approaching our strongest bouldering form ever! In January 2019, I'd come very close to climbing Masters and Cifuentes (8b+) a beautiful boulder in Alcaniz in Spain, falling twice on the last hard move, on the last day of our trip. We planned a return trip for a month later, and I designed a training regime to work on weaknesses I felt had let me down.
Route 3 - Fingerboard
To increase my finger strength resistance, I did lots of "repeater" sets on my fingerboard. These try to imitate the intense rhythm you find on boulder problems and challenging sport routes and are straightforward exercises that always give me good results.
One set is made up of 5 hangs, on the same size hold, with the same hand position. You hang for 6 seconds, and then give yourself a micro rest/shake for 1 second before hanging again. This imitates climbing rhythm, where you are often hanging in a static position on two hands (while looking for the next move) and then quickly moving into the next position (micro-rest). You can do the same exercise on every type and size of hold, and I generally do a session with 5 or 6 different holds or hand positions and repeat the 5 or 6 sets, 2 or 3 times. I only do this on relatively large holds because you are often heading towards your max capacity, thus, it can be dangerous to use very small or non-tendon-friendly grip positions.
Route 3 - Resistance Band
I also felt like I was missing some core tension for one of the crux moves, meaning I had to compensate and ultimately waste energy in my fingers and arms. Core workouts on the floor are easy, fast, and effective, and you can even add a resistance band into the mix to give you some different, dynamic exercises.
Route 3 - Visualization
As much as having a stronger body can help, if your mind can't follow, you might still fail. I'd fallen on the last move because I ran out of power, but I could have also run out of power because I became excited or nervous on the moves before. Visualizing the whole boulder problem was easy because I'd already spent many hours climbing on it. However, I could still make significant improvements in how I dealt with excitement and stress. Not only did I visualize climbing the boulder and making the moves, but also how I might feel walking to the crag, putting my shoes on, warming up, making my first tries etc.—knowing that we'd made this trip with the primary goal of me climbing this boulder. In the past, pressure like that could have been enough to stop me from performing at my best, but there is no reason that pressure like that cannot make you surpass your best if handled correctly!
Over the past year with our limited access to climbing gyms and training facilities it has become increasingly difficult to prepare for the climbs that fuel our motivation and imagination. Before the pandemic many of us spent countless hours in the gym climbing and training. As well as, getting tips and tricks on training for specific styles of climbs in person from our communities. In search of a simpler way to train at home, we have proposed a challenge to the Wild Country athletes to help all of the Pure Climbing community refocus your training for when sunnier days allows you to get back to your project.
Welcome to the Triple Training Challenge. With only a fingerboard, resistance band, and the use of mental training we have challenged our athletes to devise a plan to prepare for three routes they have projected in the past. They will showcase the significant challenge each route presented to them and how they would have applied this information to prepare physically and mentally for their ascent. You can use these tips to breakdown your own routes and apply the specific techniques to your own training.