Category Archives: Climbing Training

Strength Training to Improve Your Climbing: Lifts I Love (1) – The Deadlift

Want to improve body tension? Try adding deadlifts to your training program. (Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Want to improve body tension? Try adding deadlifts to your training program. (Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are climbing a steep route, and for the life of you, you just can’t keep your feet on the rock. They just keep flying off every time you get stretched out, and every time your feet cut, they whip back in the air from the momentum of them coming off, and then you work to let the forward momentum swing them back on.

“Man, I need to do more crunches!” you think to yourself, after this happens eight times on the same route. “Obviously, my core is weak.”

You go home, and every other day (or every day), you force your body through a grueling 20-minute core workout involving all sorts of different ab-targeting, crunch-style movements. Hundreds and hundreds of crunches later, you are still struggling to keep your feet on, though…

What did you do wrong?

This is a very classic and common situation, actually. And it’s one that I trained incorrectly for years myself. I worked the piss out of my abs, so that I could get my feet back on if they whipped off the rock. Never mind that I didn’t really climb steep rock so my feet never cut off anyhow – but I worked on my abs, regardless. I guess I worked on them more for bouldering situations where my feet would cut off occasionally. And because people said I should work my abs for climbing.

But it never dawned on me to ask the question about whether it might be possible to avoid this wild, full-body whipping motion in the first place, a motion that can waste time while climbing, and also that obviously loads the upper body every time it happens. So – what if it’s possible to (mostly) avoid having the feet unintentionally whip off in the first place? Or, if foot-cutting is part of the beta, what if it’s possible to have way more control over the angle and trajectory of the cut, not needing the full swing out and back to happen over and over again because it can’t be helped?

Enter deadlifts.

Other than pull-ups and pull-up variants (topic of the next Lifts I Love entry), I credit deadlifts with having the most impact of all the lifts I do in improving my climbing performance. Deadlifts strengthen several major muscle groups on the back of the body – parts of the body involved in generating body tension to keep one’s feet on the rock when extremely stretched out, and parts involved in pressing up into these types of positions as well – especially on steep rock. Deadlifts also engage many muscle groups throughout the rest of the body. This lift really is a full-body lift, and it quite closely mimics the muscles used when you are generating a body-tension-y movement on steep rock.

It’s very important to learn how to deadlift properly to avoid injury; however, claims that “I have a weak back so I shouldn’t deadlift,” are a little off, seeing as one of the most effective way to strengthen a weak, injury-prone area is to lift weights to strengthen that area! Add to this that deadlifts will help you in living life, too – in other words, having the strength and know-how to lift heavy objects properly from weight training can have great benefits to avoiding injuries during life tasks, both now and in the future. That being said, deadlifts should be worked into slowly, making sure that your form is correct. If you are unsure, hire a personal trainer to help you learn how to deadlift correctly.

After you have spent several months (or years!) deadlifting, if this lift has addressed a problematic area for you, you will start to notice greater control over your feet not cutting, and that you can maintain greater body tension, especially on steep rock. You may be able to stretch out taller up on your tiptoes without losing your footholds. You will find that your body doesn’t wildly whip away from the rock with as much frequency or at all – and that when you do cut your feet, you have much more control over the trajectory. You will still be able to utilize momentum from your feet cutting if it makes sense, but you won’t be at the mercy of the wild, full-whip-back foot cutting if it’s not what you want in any given situation. In other words, you’ll be able to deliberately cut your feet and place them precisely where you want them next in most situations, or to not cut them at all if you don’t want to.

Read more about deadlifts:

One of the Most Underrated Strength Exercises You Can Do

How to Deadlift with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide

ExRx.net: Barbell Deadlift

Move of the Month 11: Flagging (or Otherwise Dropping One Foot Off the Rock While Climbing)

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Shifting into a flagging position to execute a climbing move.

“Do you realize that you pretty much always have both feet on the wall?”

This question actually transformed my climbing style long, long ago, much in the same way that learning how to open-hand as my default grip rather than crimp for dear life changed my climbing. At a few points along the way, something that another climber has pointed out to me has helped me make a major leap forward in my climbing. Other such incidents that stand out include being directed to actually take a minimum of at least one real rest day from all physical activity every week (shocker!), and more recently, being told (by my dear husband) that I was weak and needed to strength train with a particular focus on pull-ups and pulling (best advice ever given to me). Anyhow – point being that there are these times when someone else’s observation can have a profound and lasting impact on a person’s athletic performance – and unleashing my feet from full contact with the rock was one of the earlier ones that helped change my climbing.

Flagging involves letting one leg swing behind (most commonly) the other leg to help the climber advance on a climb. There are inside flags, too, in which the leg swings in front of the other leg – I find I use these most often on steep rock where there’s space between rock and leg to allow for this movement easily. Thinking of the counterweighting leg as a virtual “tail,” and envisioning how cats or monkeys or other leaping, long-tailed animals use that appendage to help create better balance is a good visual – the leg/tail swings around behind or in front of the other leg until the balance point is felt, allowing the climber to release whichever hand needs to let go and move up. Using flags can provide efficiency gains in certain climbing moves, as illustrated by the following photos:

Flagging isn’t the only one-foot-on technique that climbers should work to incorporate into their climbing – letting a leg drift out to the opposite side to counterweight can be an effective technique, too, whether the foot of that leg makes contact with the rock (front-pointing, or just letting the toe drive into the rock without being on a specific hold to help hold body tension/position), or not, as the case may be.

Letting go of the three-points-of-contact concept and allowing the feet and legs to become counterweights encourages greater fluidity and ease in climbing, so long as this doesn’t involve allowing the foot off the rock to become a toe-dragging, useless deadweight behind you. Sensing the proper positioning of one’s body and learning to let go of the need for both feet to be on holds at all times goes hand-in-hand with learning how to smear effectively.

Experiment with incorporating this technique by climbing on easier terrain (for handholds) and looking for places where you can comfortably explore letting a leg dangle behind you, and then shift that leg behind and in front of and out to the side of the opposite leg, noting how this shifts your sense of balance on the handholds. Gradually work to incorporate this into your climbing world – like all techniques, with enough practice, it will become second nature and you will automatically drop a foot off and swing the leg into the correct balance spot when it makes sense to do so.

Product Review: Using Compression Garments to Potentially Enhance Climbing Performance & Recovery

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Climbing in the gym wearing SKINS compression sleeves.

I have been wearing compression sleeves off and on for my arms both during and after exercise for perhaps a year – not consistently, but more during the colder months because I like the extra warmth they provide without the bulk and restriction of movement added by a shirt. Plus, armpits are sweaty, and I hate that too-hot feeling that builds up when I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt – compression sleeves help ameliorate this, keeping my arms warm enough without adding a gross, overheating feeling. I also must have read something about the potential benefit of compression at some point while doing some research on recovery that made me decide to get some compression sleeves. I figured they probably wouldn’t hurt, and with the potential to help, why not?

After all, according to the 2013 review “Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery,” published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, “…the application of compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations with consideration of the effects magnitude and practical relevance.”

In November, I received two compression items – A400 tights and compression sleeves – from SKINS at no cost. The company reached out to offer this, and given my interest in improving my climbing (and training!), I was excited to try out these products for myself. While I’d used several other (less-expensive) brands of compression sleeves and already knew I liked them for the reasons I detailed above, I had never worn compression tights before I received the A400 tights. My product testing reflects purely my personal reactions and observations, and I received no compensation for writing this beyond the two products I received to test.

  • Test #1: The day after my heavy weight-training day. I received the SKINS products yesterday after my training was done. I put them on at 6 a.m. this morning under another layer (since it’s cold here!). I started my day out with some light pull-ups, a more endurance-focused/recovery-training session, very short. Then it was off for my day, which included teaching five yoga classes and running errands in town. By the time I took the SKINS off, it was after 8 p.m. at night. I have to say, I was a little wary about wearing the garments consistently for 14 hours – but they were so comfortable that I didn’t ever think about it. My DOMS has been a lot lighter so far this training season than it used to be – but maybe the SKINS helped with it, too. Again, for me it’s a case of why not? If they have the potential to enhance my recovery and do no harm and cause no discomfort, then I’d rather stack the odds in my favor than not.
  • Test #2: Wearing SKINS during a climbing day. I wore the tights under my normal climbing pants and the sleeves under my shirt on a cold winter climbing day. One thing I really appreciate about these particular compression garments is that they feel lightweight, form-fitting and supportive while also adding an extra layer of warmth. They don’t restrict range of motion, which is of huge concern to climbers and other athletes whose sports require this freedom of movement. I’m not sure they helped my performance (since I was fatigued on this day and it was cold), but they definitely helped keep me warm and didn’t hinder my performance. Anything that might help my performance and that I don’t notice getting in the way when I’m climbing gets a thumbs up. I’ll definitely try them again when I’m climbing – or at least the arm sleeves, since I view these as much more relevant for potential sport-climbing performance enhancement than the tights. I think I could ruin the tights climbing in them pretty quickly because of the nature of the game (rock meets fabric and if fabric isn’t super burly, rock often wins! And my legs as a whole make way more contact with the rock than my arms when I climb).
  • Test #3: Wearing SKINS during weight training. I’ve worn SKINS multiple times during weight-training sessions at this point. After having them for a couple months now, I am drawn to select them as my base layer when lifting, both the tights and the sleeves. It’s my impression that I feel more supported when I lift wearing these compression garments. Even if this is all in my head (which I’d venture to guess it’s not), I’ll take it! Anything this simple that can help my training efforts is worth it.

Overall, then, my impression of the SKINS products I received to check out has been a positive one. As a company, SKINS appears to take its commitment to providing the best compression science available in its products to its consumers seriously – which may perhaps account for why certain SKINS items (like the arm sleeves) tend to cost more than some of the competitors’ products out there. In other words, it seems that you might just get what you pay for (at least up to a certain point) when it comes to compression garments, and paying a whole lot less might mean that you’re getting an item marketed as a performance/recovery enhancing compression garment that could actually have little to no impact on your climbing/training/recovery.

Does this mean you must use SKINS products to get worthwhile compression results? I’m sure it doesn’t, but it does mean that you should try to make sure the products you choose do actually compress enough to make a difference. According to literature provided to me by SKINS, their compression garments provide between 8 and 20 mmHg, meaning light to medium compression from a medical point of view, a “level of compression [that] has been shown to elicit physiological benefits while also being sufficiently comfortable to wear during and after sport.” As the article Compression garments: Do they influence athletic performance and recovery? points out, “…caution should be taken when choosing the correct compression garment for your sport and ensuring the garment provides enough pressure to promote venous return.” This article also reflects my current belief about compression garments – why not use them, since there is no evidence that they harm performance, even if you’re not certain that they help? For the climber interested in peak performance and recovery, adding a decent, lightweight, comfortable pair of arm compression sleeves into his or her training, climbing and recovery toolbox seems like a no-brainer.