A couple of weeks ago I shared what I felt were the three main lessons I learned as a coach in 2019. I outlined these lessons both as part of my commitment to keep learning and growing as a coach and also in the hope of inspiring you to reflect on your own climbing and training in an effort to do even better in 2020.
If you haven’t read the first article (Matt Pincus: Top 3 Training Lessons from 2019), I suggest you do so before reading this installment. For those of you who did read part one, here are the three lessons as a reminder:
- Simplify with two questions
- Structure your training so you feel yourself improve
- Finish the program
To summarize the above lessons, I would say that the essential points are that training programs should be simple and targeted, done at a sustainable volume and intensity, and completed.
Now, you may have noticed that the discussion here and in the first article has been entirely theoretical. I kept it that way on purpose because I wanted to focus on the principles behind these lessons and not on the details of specific training situations. While I feel like the underlying principles are the most important part, I do want to illustrate how these lessons can be put into practice because, as we all know, the devil is often in the details. To do so, we’re going to look at my 2019 summer training cycle.
A Case Study: My Summer Training Cycle
I’m using this cycle not because I think it’s a program everyone should copy and paste into their own calendar, but because it’s an example of one time where I really got the simple and targeted part of my training right.
In starting this cycle, I had come off a long spring sport climbing season that wrapped up in early July after a super high volume day during the International Climbing Festival’s Limestone Rodeo competition. Things had gone well, but I was feeling like my power was lacking and all the pocket climbing in Lander had left my fingers tired and weak in the crimp position.
My goal: get my bouldering snap back and improve my crimp strength.
Here’s the entire program:
- 2x per week limit bouldering
- 2-3x per week one arm isometric bar hangs
- 2-3x per week 3/6/9 hangboard ladders
- 1x per week sport climb outside
I swear that’s it.
Lesson 1: Simplify with Two Questions
To recap, here are the two questions I use to help simplify training programs and keep them as targeted as possible:
- Why is it in the program?
- How is this exercise/drill/session going to be progressed over time?
The basic idea is that you want to have a clear answer to both of these questions for everything you include in your training. If you don’t, simply delete it.
So let’s apply my two questions to everything in my summer program:
- Why: Get my boulder strength and power back after lots of long route climbing.
- How to progress: Work on harder and harder boulders as I felt stronger. The overall goal was to work up to sending a boulder I’d set on my home wall, which had always felt too hard and fingery for me.
One Arm Isometric Bar Hangs
- Why: Improve pulling strength and ability to maintain tension through the shoulder and midsection.
- How to progress: Work up to solid 5-second hangs and then add weight so that failure was reached by 5 seconds.
3/6/9 Hangboard Ladders
- Why: I needed to improve my crimp strength and wanted to do so in a sustainable way.
- How to progress: This is a Steve Bechtel ClimbStrong protocol and the volume is carefully progressed over the course of the 8-week cycle.
Sport Climb Outside
- Why: Maintain some endurance and, more importantly, comfort and skill on a rope.
- How to Progress: Start with second-tier/quick send routes and move to harder projects once the conditions and how I felt improved.
As you can see, there are clear answers to each of the two questions for everything in the program.
What’s not shown is the power endurance work and additional strength exercise I thought I wanted to include but eliminated. The power endurance was abandoned right away as I realized that including it would prevent me from having more hard bouldering sessions. Since the priorities of the cycle were finger strength and power, I felt that having more quality hard bouldering sessions was something I couldn’t compromise on.
As for strength exercises, I initially included some kettlebell work featuring snatches, swings, overhead presses, and goblet squats. I wanted to keep doing these strength workouts, as I thought they would help improve my overall strength levels, but my sessions got too long and I was having trouble recovering between them. So I returned to the stated goals of finger strength and power and chose to delete them from the program in favor of putting more quality work into my priorities.
Lesson 3: Finish the Program
With the sessions planned out and simplified, I set the duration of the cycle to 8 weeks. In part, this was to finish Steve’s 3/6/9 protocol and, in part, it was so I would wrap up the training in mid-September when the conditions in Lander start getting really good.
So how about lesson three. Did I finish the program?
The short answer is yes, but to underscore just how important finishing the program is, I’m going to share my experience with Steve Bechtel’s 3/6/9 hangboard ladders.
First, a little bit of background. The 3/6/9 Hangboard Ladders is a really simple program, and ladder training is well established in the general strength world. For Bechtel’s protocol, you hang for 3 seconds, rest, 6 seconds, rest, and 9 seconds at bodyweight from a hold that you can comfortably hang for 9 seconds. That’s it. No timed rests and, frankly, I didn’t even time the hangs as I’m confident I can count to 9.
At first glance, this program seems almost so easy it couldn’t work. After all, you’ve probably been doing some kind of weighted hangs and this program is nowhere near advanced enough for you. Don’t take this statement personally. I only write it because I thought the same thing the first time I read Bechtel’s protocol.
That said, I also really respect Steve as a coach and a friend. So when he describes a hangboard protocol saying, “Of all the training programs I’ve written, this may be the most effective,” I decided there was probably something I was missing and should just give it a shot to see for myself. In making this decision, I decided I was going to hold myself accountable and follow his instructions to a T. No cutting the program short and no editing it – hence the 8-week cycle.
If you want to see the full program, you can find it here in Climb Strong’s Hangboard Manual.
I started on a 10mm edge and the first sessions felt EASY. So easy I was tempted to add weight. I’m glad I didn’t.
A closer inspection of Bechtel’s program reveals that this is a carefully thought-out protocol where the volume of hangs and time under tension is carefully increased over the course of eight weeks. At the two to three sessions per week recommendation, that’s sixteen to twenty-four sessions. I did all 24, although I had to add an extra week to make up for a couple of missed sessions. And let me tell you, while the sessions felt easy at first, the volume of 10mm half crimp hangs I was doing at the end of the program would have simply been inconceivable for me to complete eight weeks earlier. If that’s not measurable progress, I’m not sure what is. Even more importantly, when climbing, my fingers felt stronger AND healthier than ever. Suffice it to say this isn’t the last time I’ll be completing a cycle of 3/6/9 ladders.
The main lesson here, though, isn’t just that the 3/6/9 ladders is a great program. It’s don’t judge a program by the first session or the first week. If you make the commitment to start it, see it through to the end – even if that means extending the cycle a week or two to get the sessions in. Then, and only then, can you effectively evaluate if it actually worked or not.
What about Lesson Two?
Alright, how about lesson two? Did I feel myself improving over the course of the cycle?
The short answer is yes. As I noted above, I felt my crimp strength improving, which was one of the main goals for this cycle. Plus, I went from not being able to reach 5 seconds of one arm bar hanging to doing so consistently with 10lbs added. Additionally, I steadily progressed through the boulders on my home wall. Things that were initially projects became easily repeatable and I wrapped up the cycle by sending my goal boulder during the last session.
Most importantly, however, my sport climbing performance outside steadily improved. I did a couple days of easier routes and worked up to sending The Strawberry Roan 5.13d during the sixth week of the cycle. This send was meaningful for a lot of reasons, but suffice it to say it gave me A LOT of confidence to try bigger objectives during my fall season.
Wrapping it up
Well, there you have it. All three of my 2019 lessons shown in practice. The only question left is did it work and did it get me ready for my fall season?
In answering this question, I’m a bit conflicted. I didn’t send either of the 5.14 routes I invested time in, but I got damn close. It would certainly be nice to have sent and be able to say it was a resounding success, but it didn’t play out that way. What I can say is that I sent over ten 5.13 routes, including several 13c’s and 13d’s, and I’m confident I would not have gotten as close as I did on either of my 5.14 projects without this training cycle.
Again, I want to reiterate that I used my summer training cycle as an example not because I think this is a program that is applicable for lots of people to follow themselves. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as this cycle was so specific to my individual goals. I used this training cycle as an example firstly because I feel it illustrates all three of my 2019 lessons well. More importantly, though, I used it because it shows how you can use a combination of training principles and your own goals/priorities to cut through the massive amount of available training information. My hope here is that these two articles won’t just add to the tremendous amount of training information out there, but will give you some tools to help you design a truly targeted program that will help YOU reach YOUR goals.
Cover Photo: Matt Pincus sending Remus 5.13b | Photo: Kyle Broxterman |@theonsightcollective
About The Author, Matt Pincus
Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber from Jackson, Wyoming. He spends most of his time on the road living out of his van. Matt is responsible for most of the blog posts and social media posts for TrainingBeta and is our head trainer. He’s a seasoned climber and coach who can provide you with a climbing training program from anywhere in the world based on your goals, your abilities, the equipment you have, and any limitations you have with time or injuries.
Train With Matt
Matt will create a custom training program designed to help you target any weaknesses so you can reach your individual goals. Whether you need a 4-week program to get you in shape for an upcoming trip or a 6-month program to make gradual strength gains, he’ll create a weekly schedule of climbing drills, strength exercises, finger strength workouts, and injury prevention exercises tailored to your situation.