Matt Pincus on the Principles of Projecting
Date: October 17th, 2019
About Matt Pincus
Matt Pincus is a good friend of mine and he’s my right hand man at TrainingBeta. He manages and writes the blog, he manages our Facebook presence, and he’s our in-house Online Climbing Trainer. In this interview Matt talks about some key tenets of projecting routes or boulders and how you can incorporate them into your own climbing ASAP.
Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber based out of Jackson, Wyoming, and often lives in his van on the road. He’s climbed up to 5.14a and V12 and is constantly changing and tweaking the ways he trains as he learns new things. Because of his success with his own training and climbing, he began training others and studying the craft more intently. Matt’s ability to listen to people’s needs, his attention to detail, and his keen interest in all things training contribute to his ability to create effective training plans for his clients.
I wanted to talk with him about a popular article he wrote on TrainingBeta called “Projecting Principles” because learning how to project effectively can be the difference between sending and not sending. It doesn’t matter how strong you get in the gym: if you go outside and try something at your limit but don’t know how to effectively project it, you’re probably not going to do the thing, or it’s going to take you longer than you want.
Matt and I have hosted a couple clinics at the International Climbers’ Festival about projecting, so this is a conversation about the tools we successfully use in our own climbing (which is mostly projecting hard-for-us climbs) and the things we notice that our clients and clinic attendees are falling short on.
We talk about things like how to know if something is too hard for you, how many times to try a route or boulder before giving up, tactics like clipping up to work moves out, memorizing and honing beta, and crag etiquette for how long your goes should be. Plus a bunch of other topics.
If you’re interested in training with Matt after listening to this interview, you can sign up to work with him (from anywhere in the world) at www.trainingbeta.com/matt.
Matt Pincus Interview Details
- What is a project?
- Who should be projecting?
- How hard should a project be? What’s too hard?
- How long should you project something?
- Learning and growth that can happen from projecting
- What a sending pyramid is and why it’s important
- First attempts are fro beta sussing
- Bouldering tactics
- How to plan your day around a project
- How long your goes should be on a project
- Eating for success
- How to save energy for the project
- The importance of links
- Goal setting
Matt Pincus Interview Links
- Train with Matt: www.trainingbeta.com/matt
- Matt’s Instagram: @mpincus87
- TrainingBeta Facebook (Matt manages it): @trainingbeta
- Matt’s companion article: Projecting Principles
- All of Matt’s articles on TrainingBeta
- Dan Mirsky’s article on projecting: “The Projecting Process“
- Danny Robertson’s article on training on a project: “How I Train for Limit Sport Climbs“
Training Programs for You
Do you want a well-laid-out, easy-to-follow training program that will get you stronger quickly? Here’s what we have to offer on TrainingBeta. Something for everyone…
- Personal Training Online: www.trainingbeta.com/matt
- For Boulderers: Bouldering Training Program for boulderers of all abilities
- For Route Climbers: Route Climbing Training Program for route climbers of all abilities
- Finger Strength : www.trainingbeta.com/fingers
- All of our training programs: Training Programs Page
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Photo by @jonathansiegrist of Matt Pincus projecting Simply Read, 5.13d in Rifle, CO
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and I just want to remind you that the TrainingBeta podcast is actually an offshoot of a website I created, trainingbeta.com, which is all about training for rock climbing.
Over there we have regular blog posts, we have training programs for route climbers or boulderers, or people who just want to train finger strength or power endurance. We also have online personal training with Matt Pincus and nutrition consulting with myself. I’m a nutritionist. Hopefully one or more of those things will help you become a better climber. You can visit us at trainingbeta.com.
Welcome to episode 134 of the podcast. A little update on me: I am done with my Rifle season. If you saw my Instagram posts you’ll know that I did not send my project which was Tomb Raider in Rifle but that wasn’t actually my goal. My goal was to two-hang it. I know that seems like maybe not such a great goal, like the goal is always, it seems like, to send a thing. I’ve never actually gone into a project being like, ‘I just want to two-hang it this season and I’m going to dedicate myself to two-hanging,’ but this project is so hard for me in so many different ways, mentally and physically, that I just wanted to keep my expectations realistic and not set myself up to get upset with myself if I didn’t send it.
Anyway, I ended up two-hanging it. I almost one-hung it. I felt really strong on the last day there and the conditions just got better and better so I am really psyched but mostly I’m psyched because I kept my head up the whole time I was there. I only had a couple negative moments on it, which was a huge win for me, and I was much less scared on it than I have ever been before so all of those things. I also made links where I was like, ‘Wow. I didn’t ever think I would do that.’
All in all, it was a fantastic season and now I know what I need to do to potentially send it next year. That’s what I’m going to try to do and now I’m training for the Red. I’ll go there November 1-21 and hopefully send a few easier-than-Tomb Raider things while I’m there for a few weeks.
Speaking of projecting, on this episode of the podcast I have Matt Pincus who is our online personal trainer for TrainingBeta. We’re going to talk all about the projecting process and how to effectively project routes or boulders. Through his training he’s seen people get stronger and better at climbing and all of those things and something that he’s noticed is that even if somebody is strong enough to do a certain grade or a certain climb, sometimes they don’t do it because they don’t know how to project effectively. This seems like low-hanging fruit so I wanted to talk to him about it on the podcast. He actually also wrote an article about it and that can be found on trainingbeta.com if you just search ‘projecting Matt Pincus.’
There are tons of tactics to use, right? And there’s tons of information, even to the basics of: What is a project? What does a project even mean and who should be projecting? How hard should your project be? What’s too hard? How do you know if something you get on is just too hard for you and you need to get stronger before you get back on it?
We’re going to talk about those things and all of the learning and growth that can happen from projecting and certain tactics that you can use, but also having a sending pyramid leading up to trying something really hard for you. There’s all kinds of stuff that we’re going to tell you about how to approach something that is difficult for you, something that is going to take you more than one attempt to do.
Here’s Matt Pincus. I hope you enjoy this. I’ll talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Welcome back to the show, Matt. Thanks for joining me.
Matt Pincus: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be back.
Neely Quinn: So you’re a traveling nomad sometimes. Where are you right now?
Matt Pincus: I’m in Lander, Wyoming. I live in Jackson but this is sort of home away from home.
Neely Quinn: Is it currently snowing there?
Matt Pincus: Today, yes it is, unfortunately. We’re calling it ‘First Winter’ and we’re hoping that it ends today and that it goes back to glorious fall temps.
Neely Quinn: Right. So you travel from Jackson to Lander quite often and you’re climbing at Wolf Point right now?
Matt Pincus: Correct.
Neely Quinn: What are you doing in Wolf Point?
Matt Pincus: Well, we’re dealing with a little bit of seepage at the crag so I guess currently the main thing I wanted to try is a little wet but I am working on a route called Reemed Out, which is pretty cool for the US because it’s a full 40-meter pitch. You need every inch of an 80-meter rope to get off the top of it so it’s kind of like a little slice of Europe in Wyoming.
Neely Quinn: Wow. How hard is it?
Matt Pincus: It’s like 13c or 13d. I think we give it the slash grade.
Neely Quinn: So that would be a project for you?
Matt Pincus: Correct.
Neely Quinn: I’m grilling you about this – you’re like, ‘Stop asking me about my climbing’ – because the topic of the day is projecting. I think it’s interesting because both you and I are very into projecting things. What are your thoughts on this topic today?
Matt Pincus: I guess we’re doing this interview because we just published an article on the TrainingBeta blog today that I wrote about projecting. I agree, I think you and I are climbers that tend to project things more than just going out and having a day where we just do some pitches. The impetus for writing this article was that in my coaching and in the clinics that we’ve taught together at the International Climbers’ Fest in Lander, we’ve noticed that this is an area where I think people get mixed up and don’t quite know how to engage with the process. Whether they should be engaging in the projecting process, they don’t even consider the fact that it could be a process, and really sell themselves and their climbing short.
Neely Quinn: Right. We’ve done a couple of those clinics together where we’ve both been illuminated as to the fact that people don’t project and that actually, a lot of people don’t know what sending is. Before we even get into the projecting process I want to talk about that a little bit, especially for newer climbers.
When we had our last clinic there were a couple people who were completely content to just get to the top of a climb without having sent it. Can you describe what the difference is?
Matt Pincus: Yeah, so whether it’s a sport climb, a trad climb, or a boulder problem, kind of the rules that we’ve all agreed to play by are that ‘sending’ means that you start at the bottom and you climb to the top in one go without weighting the rope or using any point of aid and with no falls. On a boulder problem that would mean starting from the start holds and topping out, again, without falling.
Neely Quinn: Whereas a lot of people are okay with taking on the rope or falling or whatever and not getting to the top, which is fine. I want to point out that that is a completely fine way of going about climbing, but what we’re talking about here is projecting in order to send a rock climb, whatever type it is.
Matt Pincus: Like I said, they are sort of arbitrary rules but it’s the rules that, as climbers, we’ve sort of agreed to play by so yeah, I agree. There’s nothing that says you have to play by those rules but sort of within our sport we’ve established that starting at the beginning and climbing to the top in one go without falling or hanging is what constitutes a send so yeah, what we’re going to talk about today is essentially what goes into working towards doing that.
Neely Quinn: Cool. Now that we have that out of the way I want you to maybe start from a personal level, maybe talking about where you are in your projecting process with this route that you’re on right now. Maybe tell us what you get from this process and the actual send at the end, that will hopefully come soon.
Matt Pincus: Sure. The route I’m on is called Reemed Out and it’s actually an extension to a 13b at Wolf Point called Remus. I did Remus last fall and, again, did not do it first try. Where I’m at currently is I’m trying to add this seven or eight bolt extension on top of this climb that I’ve previously done.
Where I’m currently at in the process for me is I’ve done all the moves, I’ve re-sent Remus several times, and I’ve managed to do the extension starting at the Remus anchor and climbing to the Reemed Out anchor by itself. I have it at an overlapping one-hang and now I’m trying to do it in one piece.
Neely Quinn: ‘Overlapping one-hang’ I think is a term that could maybe be defined. You kind of just did but can you define it real quick?
Matt Pincus: Yeah, so a one-hang is exactly what it sounds like it would be. If you started up a route, you fell once, you hung on the rope and you take a rest while you’re hanging on the rope, you pull back on and climb to the anchors. An overlapping one would be if you then started lower than where you fell off and did it in two overlapping pieces.
Neely Quinn: A one-hang is pretty much as close as you can get before your send. It’s not the closest but it’s pretty close to sending. People can one-hang things for years, or forever, so it’s not like once you one-hang you’re going to send but it’s good. It’s a milestone.
Matt Pincus: Yeah, I would say it’s a big checkpoint on the way to sending.
Neely Quinn: Even a two-hang, which is where I’m at on my project. For me that was my season goal so that can even be major progress on a route.
What do you want to talk about first with the projecting process?
Matt Pincus: I think we should maybe go back to the beginning because when we’ve taught these clinics, I think one of the main things that we’ve seen is when we present these ideas – one-hang, two-hang, overlaps, anything like that – those concepts are sort of a bit beyond what some people understand. They’re really useful for engaging the projecting process but we really find that we get better results with people if we kind of start from the beginning and really just define what a project is. I think we should maybe start there.
Neely Quinn: Cool. What is a project?
Matt Pincus: The definition that we should use for a project is simply: a rock climb that you try more than once. Again, with the intention of working towards sending it. I think the main thing to note there is they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, durations, and levels of commitment. You can have a project for the day, you can have a week-long project, you can have a season-long project, or you can have something that you’re trying for multiple seasons. How deeply involved with a project you want to get is really up to you but the important idea here is you’re trying a rock climb more than once so that you can work towards sending it cleanly.
Neely Quinn: Right, and it seems like it’s really up to the person’s personality and goals how long that project should be. I have clients who go out and they don’t ever project or they don’t ever get on anything more than two times. One of my clients says he’s ‘greedy.’ He wants to just do a bunch of climbs whereas then there are people like Jonathan Siegrist or you or me, even, who will do several season-long projects. Do you want to talk anymore about that and the differences between those goals or anything?
Matt Pincus: Yeah, I think we can cover that a little more in detail later. I think the more important thing to note there, again, is that it’s totally up to you and that there’s plusses and minuses to both. Ultimately, your goals in climbing are up to you. Your client who is ‘greedy’ about just wanting to get on tons of rock climbs, that’s totally fine and with that kind of goal set it doesn’t make sense to engage in a multi-season long project where you might not have that many days where you can get out and you’re going to devote them all to trying one rock climb. That’s not really in line with your goals and you’re probably not going to have as much fun but obviously, the harder a rock climb is for you personally, relative to your level, the longer that project is probably going to take. There’s inherent trade-offs. If you’re only ever trying a rock climb twice you’re probably not trying something that’s close to your limit.
Neely Quinn: Right, so there’s a huge continuum.
Matt Pincus: Exactly. I think the next point we really want to make here is the idea of who should be projecting. I think for climbers who haven’t engaged in the projecting process before or at least thought of engaging in the projecting process before, it can seem like something that isn’t meant for anyone but elite level climbers, you know? You mentioned Jonathan Siegrist. It totally makes sense for him to try a multi-season project. The guy’s done over 300 5.14s. Duh – he needs to be trying something for a really long time because he’s a pro and he has to do hard rock climbs, but it’s not something that we feel like is reserved to elite level climbers.
If you go back to our definition of what a project is, if it’s just trying a climb multiple times to work towards doing it then really the answer to ‘Who should be projecting?’ is everyone. The devil’s in the details in terms of how long a given person should be trying something, a given route or a given boulder problem, but we really feel like if you are to really progress your climbing and continue improving in climbing, everyone needs to be trying a rock climb more than once.
Neely Quinn: Well, not everyone needs to but everybody could.
Matt Pincus: Yeah, everybody could. I guess we should say that everyone needs to who wants to continue to keep climbing harder and harder things.
Neely Quinn: Right, and that is, I think, the bulk of it. Your main point is that everyone learns so much in the projecting process.
Matt Pincus: Exactly. If I had to sum up the point of the article I wrote in sort of one sentence it’s the idea that if you never try something more than once you’re really robbing yourself of a lot of learning opportunities. You aren’t really realizing the amount of growth and learning that can go into trying something more than once. When we try something once, it’s unknown. You don’t know the beta, you don’t know where the holds are, and things can feel really hard. Even something as simple as going up a route or trying a boulder a second time when you have an idea of the beta and have done all the moves, or maybe you haven’t even done all of the moves yet but at least know where all the holds are, things can feel dramatically easier. That’s just one example of where you’ve done some learning and that’s facilitating your progress towards eventually doing the rock climb.
I guess what we’re sort of stuck on for the moment is it’s worth stating that if your goals aren’t to continue climbing harder and harder climbs then yeah, you don’t need to ever project. That’s sort of an implied goal here.
Neely Quinn: Right. Yes, if you want to keep moving up through the grades you’re probably going to get stronger by projecting because you’re going to be on harder routes and so you’re going to have to be doing harder moves than normal. That in itself will make you stronger and then on harder routes a lot of times there are different techniques that you didn’t know about before that you can practice on those routes. Then you have to learn how to rest while you’re projecting something that is harder for you. All of those things can make you a stronger climber and then a stronger onsighter, too.
Matt Pincus: Totally. I think it’s just an important part of growth as a climber. You’re exposing yourself to a much deeper understanding of a route or a boulder if you do try it more than once. As you learn you’re expanding the things you’re exposed to and the situations that you have to deal with and confront. You’re not just limited by, ‘Well I don’t know where that crimp is. I didn’t see that crimp so I fell off,’ and then you never try it again, right? If you go back and now you know where that crimp is above the fourth bolt and you hit that, now you’re climbing into a terrain that you wouldn’t have accessed, really, had you only tried it once. That is more opportunity for learning, you’re exposing yourself to new things, and that’s more growth in your climbing both physically and technically/skillfully, and mentally, sort of across the board.
Neely Quinn: I think there are a couple questions that need to be answered in here, too. How hard should a project be for somebody? How hard should they be trying? What should their first attempt look like? How bad can they look on their first attempt and still think that they can send it?
Matt Pincus: I think to the first part of your question there, how hard a project should be, there’s a danger in biting off sort of more than you can chew. Again, it’s sort of up to you. There are no hard and fast rules here but I think it’s a better strategy to – you don’t want to be trying to skip three grades or something – kind of work up through the grades so you’ve built a base to sort of support your efforts on a project.
If you’re trying to climb your first 11a and that is your goal and you’ve never climbed 10b before, it’s going to feel pretty hard and it’s going to feel like this pretty big step up. If you do more 10a’s and you do a couple 10b’s, maybe a couple 10c’s, and a 10d maybe and you’ve built this nice looking pyramid, this base that’s going to support your efforts on a project, then that 11a step isn’t going to feel nearly as big. You’re going to be more prepared for it.
Neely Quinn: Right, but so many people now – we’ll get emails from people like, ‘I’ve climbed 12a and in six months I want to have climbed 13a.’ Do you think that’s out of the question? Or what do you think about that?
Matt Pincus: I mean going up a number grade in six months is a big progression but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable goal to want to climb 13a. I think you just need to be smart about working up to that rather than just going outside and getting on a 13a and hitting your head against the wall until you hope that you do it.
Neely Quinn: What if this 12a climber, just to throw out some scenarios here, does go out and put himself on a 13a and he can do all the moves but he can’t link very many of them together? Do you think it’s worth trying?
Matt Pincus: Yeah, and this situation you just said I think can be quite common. You maybe haven’t built this nice base but there’s maybe nothing wrong with trying and exposing yourself to what that level you want to get to feels like. Yeah, you might surprise yourself. I would say in the scenario that you said there, “Yeah, you’ve done all the moves but you’re having trouble linking. Maybe keep working on it here and there but I wouldn’t go in on it full force as in: this is the only thing I’m going to climb on.” I think that’s a recipe for frustration and stagnation.
Neely Quinn: I think we could sit here and talk about this forever. I just want to be the devil’s advocate here and point out that when Paige Claassen got on Odin’s Eye, what she thinks is her hardest climb yet, she didn’t do any of the crux moves for the first couple times she was on it. I think that that’s worth pointing out. I’ve had that, too, where I didn’t get to the top of a route for the first three times I got on it and then I sent it on my eighth try or something like that. I feel like it can progress in a very weird way. What are your thoughts on that?
Matt Pincus: Totally. I think that was the second part of your question: what should a first go look like? I think that people would be amazed if in climbing videos and movies and stuff, instead of just showing a send and a couple falls beforehand, we got to see uncut footage of a first try on a project from the world’s best climbers. People would be amazed at how often that’s the case. People don’t do individual moves, they don’t do many individual moves, they hang on every bolt. On a boulder problem they walk away having done zero moves or like 2 moves out of 10 or something. The climbers who are more experienced with projecting know that is part of the process and that sure, it’s not what they wanted but it’s okay because that’s just the first step and they’re going to keep going through their process and work towards eventually sending.
Neely Quinn: So some guidelines for how hard your project should be is, yes, it makes more sense to follow the pyramid scheme where you’re doing a few of each of the grades below the grade that you actually want to get on and you’re working up to it but there are some situations where it’s okay, for sure, to get on things that are a little bit above that or that feel almost impossible the first time you get on them. It’s just a matter of what you’re willing to bite off, right?
Matt Pincus: Totally. I would say that the situations in which we’re talking about where you can’t do any of the moves, basically, at first? That’s going to be, in theory, a bigger, longer project than one that you do all the moves pretty easily your first time on it. I’d say for people who are more experienced, if you’ve been through the process before, and many times even, then biting off a bigger project is going to be more appropriate for you than somebody – like if you’re this climber and even the idea of trying a route multiple times is new to you. Projecting is a skill so you’re going to want to start slow and sort of not bite off these huge, bigger, more in depth projects and sort of work on building up and practicing the skill of, ‘Okay, how can I efficiently learn a climb and work towards sending?’
Neely Quinn: Okay, yeah, I think those are good guidelines. In your article, which was really good by the way…
Matt Pincus: Thank you.
Neely Quinn: I’ll link to it for sure in the show notes. You talked about a bunch of tactics which are really important. The first one was that the first attempts on a route are for beta sussing. Can you talk about that?
Matt Pincus: This goes back to that idea that we were just talking about, how the first attempt on a route doesn’t have to look anything like a finished project of sending. When we teach our clinics, a big point that we try to stress is that you should set your intention on the ground about what you want to accomplish on this climb.
Is this within your ability, like you’ve climbed this grade numerous times before and you’re trying to do it cleanly, send, first try? Great. If that’s the case we think you should decide that on the ground and pull on and you just give 110% and make gravity rip you off the holds, trying to onsight.
However, if you’re in that zone where this is a grade you’ve never climbed before or is at the highest grade you’ve ever climbed before or within a couple grades of the highest you’ve ever climbed, there’s a good chance, in all likelihood, you’re not going to do that climb first try. You may as well approach it as efficiently as possible to start learning the route. When we have you go up on those first attempts, rather than just pulling on – you’ve decided on the ground that you’re not going to send first try – and go out guns a blazing and try hard until you get pumped and fall off, we’d rather see you be more systematic about it. Go bolt-to-bolt and focus on figuring out the most effective way to climb each section of the route.
By going bolt-to-bolt you accomplish two things: one, you can try things multiple times so you can really find and learn the best way to do each sequence on the route and you also conserve some energy by not linking huge sections together and getting super pumped. Conserving that energy means you’re going to have more energy left in the tank to give a second try that day or a third try that day.
Neely Quinn: I think that’s an important point, too. When you say, “go bolt-to-bolt,” that can mean a couple things. You can just go bolt-to-bolt and just do the moves in one way, whatever way works the first time you get to the next bolt, or you can come back down and practice the moves so that you figure out the most efficient way. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve seen in our clinics. People don’t think, even when they get to the top, ‘Well this part at the sixth bolt was really hard to me so I’m going to come back down and I’m going to top rope it now that I have my rope through the anchors.’ Try it over and over until you really get it. I think that’s what you mean by ‘beta sussing.’ Doing whatever is required to really figure out the best beta, the most efficient beta.
Matt Pincus: Exactly. I like to personally think of a route that I’ve never been on before as a series of questions. If you break it up mentally into its bolt-to-bolt segments and think of each one of those as a question, how can I most efficiently climb this? When you’re working up a route and you do a section and it’s super easy and it flows really nice, yeah, you might not need to immediately say, “Take,” and redo that section. You can note important feet or things like that but it’s important to just say, “Take,” and rest a second and then move on to the next section.
But if you do a section and clip the next bolt and you’re like, ‘Woah. That was pretty hard. I don’t know about that,’ rather than just saying, “Oh great. That was hard,” you haven’t really answered that question very effectively yet. I think the goal is to work towards sending so you’re going to want to have a good solution for that hard section, that crux, because it’s not going to get any easier for you magically. You need to invest the effort in learning how to climb that section as efficiently as possible. Then, when you have the next bolt clipped maybe you lower and do it again right then. Or, you keep going and like you said, on the way down you’re rehearsing a section again on top rope.
Neely Quinn: Right, and you can rehearse bigger sections. On my project in Spain it was really scary at the top for me so – I think we talked about this later – I brought a stick clip up and I stick clipped up the last four bolts and then once I figured out all the moves, when I got to the anchor I went back down and did all of the moves for those whole four bolts and tried to link it to see if I could while I had the top rope up. Stick clipping is a really nice tactic to use sometimes, too.
Matt Pincus: Totally. I think if we’re still talking about a first go on a route, I sort of tend to suggest that it’s better to avoid doing those bigger links like the four-bolt link at first because again, the goal of all these tactics that we’re going to cover here is to facilitate the learning of the route as efficiently as possible. On a first go up the route I think you just keep it simple and you learn the moves but yeah, if several goes in you’re confronted by, ‘Wow. This section is really scary. I need to take steps to be able to climb it confidently,’ then that’s totally good tactics at that point.
If we go back to the idea of stick clipping, on this first try if you look at the goal as just to figure out the beta, find the holds, find the sequence that works for you, and find the best sequence that works for you, then there’s nothing that says you have to do it all on lead from the ground. Leading is a scary thing for a lot of climbers. Pretty much all climbers at some point in their career and in their climbing deal with the fear of falling. I think a big part of that comes from having to launch into the unknown. You’re sitting on the third bolt. You’re looking up and the fourth bolt looks kind of far away. You don’t see a super obvious sequence or the holds look kind of small and that’s scary.
If you do things like go in straight to the bolt with another quickdraw, like clip yourself in direct and kind of walk your feet up the wall, you can have your belayer give you some slack and you can clip up to the next bolt and do that section on top rope. If the bolts are too far apart then yeah, you can send a loop down and pull up a stick clip. The important thing is you’re taking the steps there to facilitate that learning as efficiently as possible and eliminate that fear. Now you’re trying that section on top rope and it should be less scary and for all you know, you didn’t see the critical pocket out left that makes that section pretty easy. Now that you’re not getting tunnel vision, just scared trying to get to the next bolt, it’s easier to learn those things and to see the obvious solutions that you might otherwise miss.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. That seems to cover first attempts for beta sussing, that topic, unless there’s anything we missed.
Matt Pincus: I’d maybe like to give people a clear guideline there. I tend to – and this is by no means set in stone or a hard and fast rule, this is sort of my personal way that I like to approach things when I’m going up a route for the first time. People can adapt to their comfort and skill levels from there. If I’ve decided to project a route I tend to stop at most of the bolts so I make sure I’m not adding pump into the equation because I’m just trying to learn the moves. When I find a section I can’t immediately go through, where I’m sort of stumped, I’ll usually try twice on lead. I’ll take the fall twice before going to those tactics of clipping up or calling down for a stick clip.
If I try twice and I just don’t have any ideas then yeah, rather than just sit there and keep whipping over and over again and your belayer has to catch a fall, you have to yard up the rope every time which, if the routes are steeper it’s going to be really tiring, just be efficient. I’m going to clip that next bolt because for all I know I’m just missing a hold I can’t see. I keep doing that until I’m at the top and then I’ll usually clip the anchors and have my belayer lower me slowly so I can mentally rehearse the beta for each section on the way down.
Neely Quinn: And don’t forget to also rehearse how you’re going to clip. If you have clipped up it’s easy to sort of forget about that.
Matt Pincus: Exactly. I think that’s a really good point. If you have clipped up you can mock clip and you should at least, even if you don’t clip all the bolts on lead or while climbing, try to find the clipping stance where you will clip from. It’s a total bummer when you’ve stick clipped the fourth bolt from the third and then you get there from the ground on your second try and you’re like, ‘Oh shoot. I have no idea how to clip this draw.’
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a bummer. Grabbing draws is also fair game. [laughs]
Matt Pincus: Totally. I think everything is fair game. I think it’s important to note that these tactics are used, accepted, and are just a part of climbing at all ability levels from the easiest climbs all the way to Adam Ondra on 5.15s.
Neely Quinn: So that is the first point in our whole projecting conversation. The second one that you had laid out in the article is how to plan your day around projecting. How does that go? How do you suggest to do that?
Matt Pincus: I think when you decide that you’re going to try a project it’s sort of inherent that you’re going to be trying a harder route or boulder, a harder climb. When you’re doing that you want to structure your day so that you’re attempting that climb when you’re your freshest and have the most energy to do so because that’s the goal of your day if you’re going into this with a projecting mindset. I think the obvious place for that is immediately after a good, thorough warm up. You’re warm, you’re ready to try hard, but you haven’t done more boulders or more routes to make yourself tired and make it harder on yourself to try the hardest thing you’re going to try today.
That is one thing I think we see a lot in our clinics and I see a lot in my coaching. I’ll have people tell me, “I did this warm-up then I did these three onsights, I did this other pitch, and then I went to try my project.” So you waited until your sixth or seventh pitch of the day to try the hardest thing that you’re going to try? Or maybe even the hardest climb that you’ve ever tried? You’re going to be tired after seven pitches of climbing. You’re making it harder on yourself and you’re not really setting yourself up for success there.
Neely Quinn: Yep. So what’s a better way?
Matt Pincus: I think the best way to do it is to warm up and to remember that when you’re going into a projecting day your warm-ups are just about warming up so warming up too much like we just outlined with seven pitches of warmup is no good. Warming up too little is no good either because you can get flash pumped, you’re not going to be fully recruited and ready to try hard, and either way you sort of sabotage your efforts.
Neely Quinn: Let’s talk a little bit about the flash pump. I don’t know that everybody knows what a flash pump is but I think it’s really important. What does it feel like?
Matt Pincus: It feels like you’re pumped so there’s a ton of blood rushing your forearms and your forearms feel all swollen and pumped, but it’s also this rubbery feeling where you’ve undermined your ability to pull or to hang on. It basically happens when you go too hard too fast.
Neely Quinn: And that can affect you for the whole day, really.
Matt Pincus: Totally. You can really undermine an entire day’s worth of climbing. When we look at that in the idea of the warm-ups, if you’re just doing these routes to warm up for your project, if you feel like the route is too hard, like it’s too much too soon, then it’s a much better idea to just say, “Take.” Yeah, bummer you didn’t get to send your warm-up. Maybe you’ll do it next try but you’re going in with the priority of trying this project for the day and you’re going to be more psyched if you make progress on your project or send your project than you sent your warm up pitch.
Neely Quinn: I think there’s a lot that goes into this, actually, and I kind of want to share my experiences this summer because I think that my number one point is for me, at least, I need to be on things that I know for warm-ups because otherwise I’m sort of searching around and I’m more likely to get flash pumped. For me, I think that I do best on two warm-ups and I make them 45 minutes apart, then I like to wait 45 minutes to an hour before I climb on my project after my second warm-up.
I think it’s worth talking also about the grade of the warm-up. Like you’re saying, it should be easier for you than your climb. If your project is an 11a what do you think a proper warm-up should be?
Matt Pincus: I agree. I think a two pitch warm up is a safe zone. You’re not doing too little and you’re not doing too much. It might take a little more trial and error than that but that’s a good place to start.
If you’re projecting 11a maybe your first pitch is 5.9 and a 5.9 that you know really well. I think a good guideline for your second pitch is a number grade easier than your project, so if your project is 11a then a 10a would be a good second pitch.
Neely Quinn: That’s interesting because my project is a 13d and I warm up on an 11d and then a 12a and I feel pretty warmed up. I feel like if I did a 12d it would pump me out too much and I would get powered down. What do you think about that?
Matt Pincus: Again, when you get into a projecting process you have to fine tune these things and experiment a little bit. Everyone is different to a certain extent so when we give these guidelines they’re definitely not hard and fast rules. You just have to experiment.
I think this happens to everyone where sometimes you go – like if I’m trying a 14a or something and I do a 13a that I know as a warm-up I’m like, ‘Ooh, that was a little too much this time. I got a little too tired on that. I need to scale it back and maybe do a 12c instead as my second pitch.’
There are times when routes are super bouldery where if you just do two longer, easier routes beforehand and you go and hop on your route and there’s a hard crux low on the route, you’re not ready or recruited to try hard and pull on those holds. Then you might need to do a harder second warm-up or even a third warm-up or something like that to facilitate being ready to try hard.
It’s just keeping the idea in mind when you’re going through this trial and error process that the role of the warm up is just to get you warm and ready to try hard on your project. There’s nothing that even says that you have to do full pitches in your warm up, right? I’ve definitely done before, like in the scenario I was talking about with having a bouldery route, I would do a pitch or two of easier climbing to just get generally warm and get into the flow of climbing and then I would go and do a bouldery section low to the ground on an easier route than my project. Let’s say the boulder problem is to the third bolt. Then I just stop, say, “Take,” come down and rest until I’m ready to try my actual project.
You can figure out and customize a warm up as much as you need for you, personally, and for your project. Different projects often require different warm ups. As long as you’re keeping that goal in mind of just getting ready to put your best efforts into your project then you’re keeping the right thing in mind.
Neely Quinn: One last idea about that is I remember my husband would get super flash pumped on his project a long time ago. He would just warm up on a couple 12a’s before and he was trying a 14a or something. What he decided to do was to do his two 12a warm-ups and then get on his project and go bolt-to-bolt on it for at least half of the route and that would warm him up for the actual moves that he needed to do. I think that’s a really smart thing to do.
Matt Pincus: Totally. The benefit of doing a warm up like that is you’re getting more repetition and more practice on the section of the route that you do going bolt-to-bolt so the beta, the foot moves, everything is really fresh in your mind and you’re setting yourself up for giving your best efforts then.
Neely Quinn: What would you say to boulderers? When you’re on a V11 or something or if somebody is projecting a V5, what do you warm up on?
Matt Pincus: Again, I tend to start slow. I think warming up for bouldering, ironically, is a little trickier, especially because a lot of times you’re not like at a cliff with a bunch of routes. You’ve walked out to some boulder somewhere and there might not be a good spread of boulder problems to gradually warm you up.
You also have the issue of skin. It’s a big issue in bouldering, wearing through your skin, so you don’t want to waste skin. If you’re projecting a V5, doing a couple V3s – if they’ve got sharp holds you’d rather save that skin for efforts on your V5 project.
I think a good tool there is a portable hangboard. It’s invaluable when it comes to bouldering because you can warm your fingers up without thrashing your skin on real rock. You can do things like string that up in a tree and actually hang from it and then I’m a big fan of doing isometric pulls on a portable board. I literally just loop the board around my foot and when I’m sitting down I just pull on the edges as hard as I can, sort of straight back. I think this is stuff that Tyler Nelson has covered quite a bit but it’s really good at prepping your nervous system for maximal try hard. You’re doing it in a controlled way where you’re not wasting skin.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s really smart. I see those at cliffs with routes, too, so they can be used in both situations.
That’s warming up. I feel like we thoroughly covered that. [laughs] The next point was how long to project something and that includes a little bit more about what we were talking about in the beginning as for whether it’s going to be a season-long or a day-long project, but also how long to actually be on the route or boulder when you’re trying it.
Matt Pincus: Yeah, I feel like we sort of covered the idea that you want to work up to your projects. If something is a several grade step then you probably don’t want to just fully devote all of your energy to that. You’re going to be more efficient kind of building that pyramid up to it to support your efforts. And, the idea that if you’re newer to projecting then biting off more manageable projects until after you get more experienced and understand the process more and all the potential pitfalls and everything before engaging these multi-season projects where you’re really pushing what you feel like you’re capable of.
That covers sort of the duration of how long you try a project overall but I think we want to talk about how long you should even make an attempt.
Neely Quinn: And this comes from both of us noticing that sometimes people will be on routes for an inordinately long time and it seems sort of inefficient on that person’s part but it’s also a little inconsiderate sometimes if there are people waiting in line or if your belayer wants to climb or if the sun is coming. Things like that. What are your thoughts on it?
Matt Pincus: I think obviously this applies more to route climbing, where you’re working your way up a route, than bouldering where you just land on the ground and you’re standing there after each attempt, but I think the basic idea here is that we all need to remember that when you feel really invested and care more than anything about completing a rock climb, it’s not just your project. Climbs belong to everyone and it’s not just your climbing day so try and be considerate to your belayer and to other climbers at the cliff.
I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules here like, ‘You get 60 minutes on a route and then ding, ding, ding you have to come down,’ but I think the best policy here is to be really open with communication. Talk to your belayer. What are their goals for the day? Is their route going to go into the sun at a certain point? Is it cold and if you go up on the route for an hour and a half are they going to freeze and not be ready to try hard? Just keep this communication open and find some compromise with your belayer and also with other people at the cliff.
If somebody is tying in and giving a real redpoint burn, like they’re trying to send, and you’ve never been on the route before it probably makes sense to let them go first. Or if it’s a crowded crag and it’s the weekend, you kind of have to look out for yourself a little bit and do the leg work that you’re going to need to send but remember that if you’re climbing to the point where you’re getting exhausted up there, just to get to the top of the route, you’re probably not even being that efficient with your energy. You might be better off to go, ‘On this go I’m going to focus on the first half and keep it at a reasonable time length so that everyone else who is trying to get on the route can.’ The next go you maybe try to go through the first half as quickly as possible using things like the stick clip, grabbing draws, going in straight, clipping up, and then you work on the second half. Yeah, it might not seem as ideal for you but I think when you get into these marathon projecting sessions where people are up on the wall forever, a lot of times it’s definitely better for the people you’re climbing with and around and it’s probably better for you, also.
Neely Quinn: Like you said, it’s probably better for you. There are times that first day on, because I’ll go climbing two days in a row and I think a lot of people do that over the weekends, maybe you will spend the energy to go to the top of the route, maybe even two times or maybe even three times, depending on how long it is. Then second day on you might just only have a certain amount of energy so for me, second day on the last time I was there I just tried to make a high point and then I came down. Then I gave myself another try.
You can sort of parse out your energy levels as well, or you might want to save yourself for the second day so you only do the first half on the first day or something. You can save yourself, too, and that can benefit everybody at the crag.
Matt Pincus: Totally. I think that kind of brings us to our next point which is this idea of thinking about projecting as a process. What we’ve sort of outlined here are the central concerns of being as efficient as possible learning a route so you work towards sending, but there’s many many more advanced tactics and developed processes that people use. Like you’re saying, allocating your energy differently between day one and day two. Those are all things that people develop in their own process and find what works best for them. I think the most important thing there is keeping in mind that projecting is a process and if you’re prioritizing efficient learning and keeping an open mind while doing so, you’re headed in the right direction and you can sort of develop your own process from there.
Neely Quinn: And that reminds me to mention Danny Robertson’s podcast episode and an article that he wrote for us about his projecting process. He goes through a lot of outdoor tactics for projecting but also training for your project on your route. I think that’s a really great resource for people and I can link to that in the notes.
Matt Pincus: Yeah, I think that one is great and we have another article that Dan Mirsky wrote that’s about the same idea, the projecting process, where he outlines his view of the efficient way to work routes.
I think whichever resources you look to, there’s no right or wrong process. If you’re keeping the things we’ve talked about here and prioritizing learning in mind, and figuring out what works for you, you’re going to be much more efficient in your climbing and projecting.
Neely Quinn: Were there any other advanced tactics we were going to talk about?
Matt Pincus: I think that could be a whole podcast series in and of itself but maybe we can just cover one quickly. I don’t want to dive in too deep here because I think it will detract a little bit from these underlying ideas of, ‘This is what we should focus on and this is why and how you should try a climb more than once.’
If I had to outline one, more advanced, tactic for people to start with it’s the idea of whether you’re on a route or a boulder, not just starting where you fell off. If you’re climbing up a route and you fall on bolt three and you’re hanging on bolt three and you just pull back on the same move you fell off on and you go to the top, that’s great but you’re never going to feel as fresh at that point as you do after hanging. Starting lower at a bolt lower or the rest beforehand, a couple moves beforehand even, you’re going to do a much better job of simulating what that’s actually going to feel like than you would just pulling back on. That’s to help avoid the trap of you climb 80% of the route, you fall off the redpoint crux, you pull back on and say, “Oh my god, it feels so easy after I’ve been hanging!” That’s great but that’s not really getting you closer to sending, right?
It’s the same idea with boulders, too. It gets a little trickier because you can’t always pull on at every spot on a boulder. If you can do the final crux just in isolation that’s an important step but rather than just climb up to that crux and fall off and then maybe work that crux in isolation again, you can be strategic about it and work some bigger links into that crux. Rather than just repeating the same thing over and over again, you’re building success incrementally in working towards sending.
Neely Quinn: How do people do that on boulders? I’m not a boulderer. I’ve heard that people use ladders for this kind of thing.
Matt Pincus: Yeah, I think there are people bringing portable ladders out but I would say that’s a real advanced, dedicated tactic. There are things like a power spot, having someone push you through moves so you can establish on where you want to start. It’s a really good established tactic. Stacking pads so you can reach higher holds. These are tactics that can be used to do links like we just talked about, to work sections, but also can be used early in the process when you’re still just trying to find beta.
There’s nothing that says that you have to go ground-up on a boulder and always start from the ground. If you don’t know what the hold up high feels like and it’s the crux hold, you’re going to want to figure that out so that’s when people use ladders or stack pads or have people push them through so they can reach those things to feel. Or, even throw a rope down and rappel down.
Neely Quinn: It seems like a lot of the tactics are really similar, it’s just played out a little differently in bouldering. You’re still going to get your beta sussed, you’re still going to memorize moves, we didn’t talk about visualization but I definitely use that. I think it’s extremely valuable when you’re on the ground or when you’re in bed or when you wake up, to visualize the beta that you have sussed out to try to memorize it a little bit better. All these things also apply to bouldering in the same way.
Matt Pincus: Totally. I think sport climbing is just the easiest venue for explaining these ideas but again, it’s still the same idea of using all the tactics available to you to be as efficient as possible learning a climb. I think people can get hung up sometimes thinking it’s bad style or in some way embarrassing or shouldn’t be done but these are really established tactics and things people use at all levels of climbing. There’s no shame in them whatsoever. It’s what goes into efficiently doing things that are hard for you.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I think it’s good. I want to mention one other thing that wasn’t in the article but now that I think about it maybe we should have put in there. It’s nutrition. I think a lot of people go out climbing and we get so adrenalized and we’re so psyched to be climbing that our bodies don’t give us our normal hunger cues. Then, people won’t eat very much, or eat much less than they normally do on a rest day, when they’re out climbing. I think that is the lowest hanging fruit in terms of climbing performance.
For me, I’ve had to get to know my warm-ups, my beta, and my eating schedule just as well as the other things. That has helped me be less tired if I eat at the right times during the day. I’m not tired after I’ve eaten something and then I go try my project. I have figured out how to time my eating and I know what to eat so it doesn’t upset my stomach and doesn’t make me feel too tired and I know when to incorporate a little bit of sugar, like right before I climb, so that it gives me a little bit more energy. All of these things.
The main points are: make sure you eat throughout the day if you can tolerate it and make sure you have enough protein during the day and plenty of carbs and just time it properly. Experiment with it through the season. I do think that that’s important but what are your thoughts on that, Matt?
Matt Pincus: I guess I don’t know from an actual nutrition standpoint if what I do is perfect but I’ve definitely experimented with it over time and sort of found what I feel like works for me. I try to avoid having full meals during a climbing day and instead make sure that I’m sort of consistently snacking throughout the day. What that looks like right now out at Wolf Point is there’s sort of a big hike in to the cliff and out of the cliff so I’m definitely eating a good amount of calories and I’m trying to make sure, basically, that after the hike I try to have a snack that has some carbs, some protein, some fat, like a balanced snack that isn’t just sugar right after the hike. Then as soon as I get down from a go I’ll drink some water to make sure I’m staying hydrated and have a short snack before it’s my turn to go belay. Then I’ll go belay so I have time to digest while I’m belaying and before my next try.
Neely Quinn: That sounds really similar to what I’ve been doing and I think that all of that is really sound. I think for most people it’s just a matter of getting yourself to eat and making sure you have enough out there. As your nutritionist I approve of what you’re doing. [laughs]
Matt Pincus: Lovely.
Neely Quinn: Okay, any other points that we wanted to cover?
Matt Pincus: I think we pretty much covered it. It’s fall so hopefully we’ve timed this well so people can get out there and enjoy the fall temps and try hard.
Neely Quinn: Cool. Thanks for your wisdom and for talking with me about this. Hopefully people will enjoy it. I will talk to you soon.
Matt Pincus: Sounds good. Thanks for having me.
Neely Quinn: Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Matt Pincus. He is our personal trainer here at TrainingBeta. You can find him on Instagram on his personal account @mpincus87 and then sometimes he makes an appearance on our TrainingBeta one @trainingbeta.
You can find a ton of other articles by him which I linked to in the show notes on TrainingBeta. There’s a category called ‘Matt articles’ and he’s written a ton, including this article about projecting which you can find at trainingbeta.com/matt-pincus-projecting-principles. You can also just search ‘Matt Pincus projecting.’ That was a mouthful. Hopefully you got something out of that and maybe you’ll take this outside to your project and maybe it will help you send more quickly. That’s definitely the goal for us doing this episode.
I set up a new thing. If you want us to talk about other topics, like if you have specific topics that you want Matt and I to talk about, I’m going to have him on the podcast more often. I think I’m going to do another podcast offshoot called ‘Ask Matt’ and we’ll be talking about little topics here and there. If you have suggestions you can tell us about those at trainingbeta.com/suggestions. There’s a Google form there.
Coming up on the podcast, oh my gosh – I have so many things! I have so many interviews lined up and that is from you guys. I told you guys last time that you guys had sent me such good suggestions so I really do take them to heart and I act on them and sometimes things happen and those people actually end up on the podcast. I’ve got a lot of good stuff coming up for you and I’ll have another episode out next week. I just have to choose which one is coming.
Stay tuned for all of that and in the meantime, if you want any help with your training remember that we have training programs over at trainingbeta.com. Some of them are ebooks and then you can just have them on your phone when you’re at the gym. Some of them are subscription programs where you get three new workouts every week, whether you’re a route climber or a boulderer.
You can find all the details over at trainingbeta.com/programs or you can work with Matt individually. You can go check him out at trainingbeta.com/Matt or you can work with me on your nutrition. You can go to trainingbeta.com/nutrition for that. We also have a Facebook group that’s all about training and people are super active in there talking about training for rock climbing. You can find that at trainingbeta.com/community.
Thanks for listening all the way to the end and I’ll talk to you soon.