Category Archives: Climbing Training

Release Your Expectations and Embrace Your Inspiration

Photo courtesy of Jody Sanborn/Jay Em Photography

Photo courtesy of Jody Sanborn/Jay Em Photography

“Action based on inspiration and not bound by expectation is truly free.” (from The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga, by Nicolai Bachman)

Staying present from moment to moment, being fully engaged in whatever activity you’re involved in, without anticipation about or stress over the potential reward or outcome…how often do you experience this type of timeless existence in your daily living?

Yoga asana practice can help focus the body-breath-being into one coherent whole, providing an opportunity to enjoy a worry-free, all-consuming experience of being wholly alive and unified mentally, physically and emotionally. Silencing the mental chatter, letting go of stress or concerns about the past or the future and staying present with where and who you are at this exact moment in time on the mat provides an outlet, a release, a freeing space and time in which you get to just be, without judgment from inside or from without. In yoga practice, you carve out a sacred personal space and time in which you do not allow media to bombard and barrage the senses, disconnecting from the otherwise often nearly constant slough of emails and texts and messages and social media that keep our minds hyped up and overstimulated.

Many other activities can provide this same opportunity for release, freedom from the stressors and stimuli of daily living, a chance to “get away from it all” without actually needing to escape to some far-flung island retreat. People find this type of release in running, climbing, dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, and playing any sport – a wide variety of such outlets exist. These outlets enable you to take the time to honor yourself by making the space in your world to give yourself an experience of just being whole and present and fully okay with who you are in the moment, not bringing extraneous “stuff” into that moment with you.

It’s the “stuff” that can actually violate or diminish your experience – if you invite expectations (thoughts of future gain or reward or frets about a potentially negative outcome) into your current actions, you have already sacrificed some of your experience of presence in the now. Admittedly, it can be really hard to detach from craving certain outcomes or fretting about worrisome expectations. However, if you can let go of such restraints and express and be who you are in each moment – and be okay with it, whatever the outcome, knowing that you are there to experience exactly who you are right now, with all your capabilities and all your human fallibilities too – you will be able to embrace, accept and enjoy whatever each period of practice in your given activity yields, whether it’s a sudden newfound ability to do a headstand without assistance, or an inability to high point your climbing project, or anything in between. Just being there and being present with who you happen to be on any given day, letting your inspiration guide you rather than any future expectations, will be enough.

“…whatever happens as a result of our action is exactly what is meant to happen, even if it doesn’t match what we expect.” (from The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga, by Nicolai Bachman)

Move of the Month 9: Breathing (Improve Your Climbing)

Image courtesy of dream designs at

Image courtesy of dream designs at

A number of years ago, as I watched a very strong climber working on a 5.14+, I was amazed to hear this person let out a long, obviously held breath after plummeting off the climb. It appeared that the breath-holding had begun at the start of the difficult section, and that this breath had been held throughout about 12 challenging, explosive moves of climbing.

Does this happen to you in your climbing, too?

If it does, consider putting some time and energy into training an improved awareness of your breath. Harnessing and utilizing the breath to your advantage can make a tremendous difference in your climbing performance – and potentially in other areas of your life as well. For an excellent and detailed explanation on exactly how breathing contributes to athletic and general life performance, read Want to Improve Your Performance? Breathe! and also, check out Waiting to Exhale…and then return here for ideas about learning to use breathing to your advantage specifically in your climbing.

I start my rhythmic breathing before I even step off the ground onto a climb. I liken this to yogic Ujjayi breathing (What is Ujjayi?). When I reach a rest, if my breathing pace has sped up, I work to smooth and lengthen my breath back to my original pace, focusing all of my attention on my breathing. I use breath counts at each rest, meaning that on a familiar redpoint project, I will gradually come to decide on the ideal amount of breaths I need to take at each resting spot to prepare for the next section of the climb, and I will count off these inhales and exhales in my mind as I rest and shake out. If I need more breaths to recover on any given day on a familiar climb, this usually indicates that I’m not fully recovered for the climbing day itself.

If you struggle with breath-holding and regulating your breathing in climbing or just in general, consider taking yoga classes that encourage you to become more aware and connected to your breath and movement working together. Learning to coordinate inhales and exhales with specific and often increasingly complex asanas throughout a yoga class may help you become better at doing this in climbing situations. One nice aspect of asana practice is that it’s not generally performance or outcome-based (unlike sport climbing), so you can really take the time to focus on the breathing aspect of the practice if you so choose, and then work to bring this improved connection into your climbing bit by bit as it becomes more normal and natural for your inhales and exhales to flow smoothly while you move through a practice.

As with all relatively new climbing techniques and tactics, it’s easiest to begin working on them and employing them in non-peak situations, meaning that bringing your awareness to your breathing while you warm up or while you’re climbing more familiar, sub-threshold climbing efforts will be easier than immediately trying to breath in an ideal fashion on the most challenging climbs you’re trying at the moment. This is not to say that it’s not worth attempting to employ smarter breathing practices immediately – it is. But it’s always harder to break old habits when you’re trying as hard as you can. As with all training efforts, rewiring your breathing patterns will take time, effort and patience. Stick with it, and you will most likely be pleased with the results – such improved stamina, focus, and ability to recover on the rock, to name a few.

Don’t Just Boulder: How to Get Stronger for Climbing, Faster


“I’m going to spend a few weeks or months bouldering this winter to get stronger.”

This commonly held perception is one that I had for many years: bouldering is THE way to gain climbing-related strength (or power, which climbers often use interchangeably with strength, though they’re not the same thing – more on that at the end of this article). And yet, no matter how much I tried to implement this, I never seemed to make the strength and power gains from months and months of bouldering over winter seasons that I wished to make, no matter how hard I tried to make it work. It wasn’t until I started actually truly strength training that I started to see a marked and much more rapid increase in my ability to do hard moves in both bouldering and rock climbing settings.

Bouldering is not ideal strength training. It’s not the most effective and efficient way to target sport-specific physical deficiencies that hold you back from improving at climbing. This is not to say that bouldering can’t play a key role in a training program, nor is it to say that bouldering can’t help a person improve their strength. But it is a reality that it is not and will never be the most effective means for gaining sport-specific strength. And this is simply because it’s too random to specifically target and push areas that need work in the most effective and efficient way. As Tudor O. Bompa and G. Gregory Haff say in Periodization Training for Sports-3rd Edition, “The use of exercises that are external to the athlete’s sport is important, because sport performance alone [e.g. bouldering!] will not give the athlete a great enough training stimulus to maximize performance gains.”

Whatever fatigues first in bouldering (and climbing) will limit your workout, so even if other areas haven’t been maximally pushed, you will have to stop for the day. Example – your fingers get tired and you can’t use the holds as effectively now. But you often struggle with body tension or shouldery movements in climbing. But now your fingers are too tired to boulder without risking injury, so you are done for the day without pushing the other areas that need work. In addition, perhaps your fingers are tired from your workout, but not really in a strength-specific way, but rather in a more endurance-drained way – meaning that they haven’t actually been pushed to their strength limit, either. If this doesn’t make sense, try to think about it in terms of running (which for whatever reason is often easier for us to logic through). If you ran a bunch of 800-meter repeat intervals, you might not be pushing your legs to gain too much in terms of maximal strength, but they’d still be tired and you wouldn’t be able to express your true maximal leg strength anymore in that training session, even though what you’ve trained isn’t really maximal strength.

Weight training provides a much more targeted and precise way to work on specific areas of weakness that hold you back in climbing. It’s efficient and effective, a very systematic approach to making relevant strength gains. Choosing appropriate exercises that replicate the movements required for rock climbing is crucial, as is choosing a sets and reps scheme, plus a days-per-training-cycle scheme, that makes sense for a person interested in making climbing-specific strength gains. You take the randomness out of the training and replace it with sport-specific movements aimed primarily at increasing strength, not muscle mass, along with counter-movements, or opposition muscle training, to keep the body in balance. It’s very critical to keep this training in a strength realm, too – knowing that volume training is not strength training. Generally speaking, a program using lower reps (4 to 6) with heavier weights yields strength gains. Which exercises are used and which sets-reps-days scheme is chosen depends on your individual background and experience with strength training, plus the time of the year (periodization).

Jim Stoppani’s Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength-2nd Edition
provides numerous strength-gaining programs clearly outlined in detail for their efficacy, time required, and difficulty. It also offers programs aimed at hypertrophy (gains in muscle mass), as well as illustrated instructions for numerous weight-training exercises.

Finally, a note on power: Power is speed plus strength. Explosive movements involve power. The amount of power you’re able to generate is related directly to your maximal strength. Yes, some people are able to recruit more of their maximal strength than others for powerful movements, and yes, you can train your body to improve its recruitment of power – but only up to a percentage of your maximal strength. Everybody’s power will ultimately be limited by their strength level. Improve that strength level, and you are on the way to improving your power. Bouldering can provide a great venue for working on improving your ability to recruit power as your strength increases. Deliberately structuring bouldering sessions so that you work on explosive movements on all types of angles, holds and distances that are relevant to your climbing game is a great way to work on molding your newly gained strength into power that is accessible and available and feels natural for you to use when you’re climbing.