Almost everyone has experienced a huge impact on their climbing and training during the COVID-19 crisis and the likelihood is that it will continue to be affected for the rest of 2020, in some way or another. We know that we're going to get access to our beloved crags and indoor gyms again, but it's probable that our habits surround their use are going to be significantly impacted. Right now, we've got close to zero access to either – that's going to improve – but what limitations on time or frequency of access are we going to experience for the rest of the year? To me, it's becoming an increasingly worthwhile investment to work out how to train from home more effectively and still achieve our goals and become athletically heathier.
In the past month or so, many commercial walls have closed, but at the same time, there has been a huge boom in home training. Climbers are still hugely passionate about their sport and not prepared to give up easily! At the same time, my Instagram feed has been filled with people doing all sorts of sketchy home climbing or training, which means there's some lack of knowledge or experience out there. This is totally understandable though, as it's a new thing for thousands of climbers and it's a bit like the Wild West! Over two articles I want to give you some sensible advice and examples of how to replace your climbing wall sessions with home training. In this first article, we cover fingerboarding as a priority as it seems like the whole world is doing it at the moment. In the following article, I will discuss how to appropriately train the upper body for climbing with the equipment you may have at home.
Let us start with some hard truths to reduce the chance of injury or burnout. When the playing table suddenly changes, you're going to need to be highly aware of the factors that affect your body when this happens. It's a bit like when you're a pro Golf Player – you might need to have a quick check-in on your body and training habits if you then take up pro Wood Chopping overnight. Sure, there are some big similarities, but you can't expect perfect transfer between the two of them.
If you spent two hours with your friends at the wall bouldering and working projects, you cannot spend two hours training on the fingerboard as a substitute. The training load on your fingers is typically far greater and more targeted when fingerboarding, so will need to reduce your training volume and time commitment in this area. A one hour "max hangs fingerboard session" is not a fair swap for a one hour Moonboard session.
Climbing is a full body exercise and because of this, it is fairly easy to spread your fatigue and manage your exertion through a session. Now you are training at home on a fingerboard you will not always reach the same overall feeling of fatigue because fewer muscles are involved. You can end up seeking that overall feeling of finishing a Moonboard session and the energy cost through just the forearm muscle – this is not ideal! Everyone is individual but as a rule of thumb try to keep a fingerboard session to under 20 minutes until you're experienced at it. As an example, a hard bouldering session lasting 1-2 hours could be condensed into a 15-20 minute max hang session. Many of you will read this, thinking that it's nonsense to make this swap as you'll lose too much fitness and conditioning. However, this isn't my concern as a coach – my priority will always be keeping you away from injury when risk is high (see COVID-19 environment right now!) and looking at the long term game plan.
In any indoor or outdoors climbing session your fingers will be used to holding a variety of grip positions, angles and sizes of holds. On a fingerboard, your options will be somewhat restricted as typically you're holding consistently sized, flat edge. It is important to keep mixing up grip positions and holds used wherever possible to reduce the overload in one specific position. Check out our video below where Tom covers the "Top 3 Grip Positions for Fingerboard Training".
Avoid positions that cause discomfort and take particular care in grip positions that are new to you. New grip positions are great as you will likely see faster training adaptations, but you will also need to be most conservative about the frequency and rest for these – do it less than you want to and rest more than you think! Do remember that the structures and connective tissue in these new positions will take time to adapt. It is not the case of just a few weeks. Most non-advanced climbers should be very careful about training these new positions any more than once a week (if combining with your standard fingerboard sessions) in the first month. Take it steady, you have time on your side!
An example week of training multiple grip positions in a climber well adapted to 4 finger half crimp grip:
RULE 3: Vary Arm Position
Our normal indoor or outdoor climbing sessions involve many movement patterns across a large range of active shoulder and arm angles and intensities. On the other hand, fingerboard training has traditionally completed huge amounts of overhead work, hanging from two arms. If you're completely almost all of your finger strength (or fitness) work exactly the same position, this eventually carries a risk, especially if the loading arrives quickly and in a concentrated manner! At Lattice, we've always tried to create sensible amounts of variety in our training protocols – we're keen to see climbers use a variety of single arm and/or "pick up" work in the current home training situation. The ability to stimulate the forearm muscle in a variety of arm and shoulder positions is more sport specific, lowers over-use risk and increases the chance that you're able to train harder and see bigger improvements.
If you're an experienced fingerboarder and going to try your first sessions of single arm work or pick up hangs, you must, of course, warm-up properly and make sure you are exercising with the correct form as shown in the videos below:
Any of the "pick-up" sessions – whether it's in a 4 finger half crimp or pinch - place the shoulder joint in a very different position to standard two arm deadhanging. Using a tool with multiple grip options will add that all-important variety to your session and increase the conditioning of the shoulder to exert force in multiple positions.
This is a major plus side to this training! Do remember, that if you're going to change up the arm and shoulder position, it's worthwhile completing an initial test session to work out your maximums. Full details of these can be seen in the videos above or within the free Crimpd App.
Limit Boulder Working session
In this session, we are working maximum strength so our focus should be to work at a high intensity for short durations and with plenty of rest in between attempts. For this session, we are going to use a Max Hangs.
To achieve the desired intensity, you may need to add weight to a two-arm hang. Clipping this to a climbing harness works well. Not everyone has free weights at home, but we can improvise a little. Water bottles in a bag or rucksack works well and are easy to measure. 1 litre = 1kg. However, we have seen tins of cat food, books and even a microwave used – I'm not entirely sure the latter one is recommended!
Here the intensity is still quite high but is starting to incorporate more strength capacity and increasing focus on achieving more volume (or time under tension). We want to achieve some high-level fatigue in the forearm muscles and stress the anaerobic energy system. For this session, we are going to use 80% Repeaters.
To achieve the desired intensity, you may need to reduce the intensity here. A pulley is ideal but putting your feet in a resistance band or using larger hold work well too. It may be harder to judge the exact intensity if using things like resistance band so go by "feel" and aim for that powering out sensation you get when normally doing strength endurance training.
This is the session at the lead/top rope wall where you do several easy to moderate routes and do not go beyond a mild pump. Here we are mainly working the aerobic energy system. For this session, we are going to use 40% Repeaters. It should be noted that there's a portion of the climbing population that will find 40% very hard – for those climbers, the intensity should be reduced to 30%. We do not want to get severely pumped or fail during this session!
You will almost certainly need to remove a lot of weight for this session. For some, a pulley will not be appropriate or available. Our favourite "hack" for this, is to stick a chair, box or stack of bouldering pads under the fingerboard. Now move it a meter or less in front of you and place your feet on it while you hang. This should take a good amount of weight off your hang and mimic hanging on overhanging terrain. To closer you bring your feet underneath you, the lower the intensity this exercise will be.
When it comes to structuring an entire block of training, it's a relatively complex task. However, there are some rules and factors that you can more or less adhere to when creating a plan for any individual. I see a lot of people trying to ignore the three items below because they're not convenient or motivating at the time, but if you don't play to the rules your body will end up pretty unhappy over the long run.
Prioritize training intensity – Fingerboard training should NOT be done in a fatigued stage. If you are combining two fingerboard sessions or strength and conditioning exercises you need to order them accordingly. For example; Max Hangs before 40% repeaters. Or Max Hangs before your Joe Wicks Home HITT routine.
Training frequency and rest – Do not do two strength sessions on consecutive days. Consider that a strength training session may take 2-3 days to recover from especially if it's a new session to you. Two, three or four fingerboard sessions a week may be appropriate but depends on your training history. As a rule; start easy and build up progressively. If unsure reach out to an experience climbing coach.
Combining sessions and split sessions – You can combine two fingerboard sessions, but it is not the "perfect" ideal. If you are needing to do this, make sure they are not too similar in intensity and you rest between them (for example 20-30 mins). It is better to do these two sessions as a split session e.g Max hangs in the morning and 40% repeaters in the evening.
Rest weeks – Rest weeks were important before the gyms closed. They still are now! This might be a new concept to some, but we really encourage taking every 4th week off (older climbers should probably look at taking every 3rd week off). You don't need to stop training entirely, but a good guide would be to drop training volume to at least 50%, or less of a normal training week.
Crimpd is the most comprehensive and actively supported climbing training app on the market - all for FREE! You can follow and track workouts crafted by world-class climbers and coaches Tom Randall and Ollie Torr of Lattice Training. Each workout is designed to improve your endurance, power endurance, strength & power, and conditioning & mobility. All training can be tracked and analysed via the session logbooks with additional note taking possible. Additionally, sessions are supported by easy-to-follow exercise demo videos, photos and descriptions. Available on iOS or Android.
New Crimpd Features for 2020:
In-App Training Plans: popular with boulderers and sport climbers all over the world, the customised Lattice Lite Plans are now available within the Crimpd itself. You will be able to view your plan, receive weekly prompts for what sessions are to be completed and interactive training plan view that allows notes and logbook tracking. All plans include a free assessment and also the ability to re-test key metrics within Crimpd.
Home Training Workouts: during the COVID-19 crisis, we've produced a number of new, free sessions perfect for minimal equipment. There's core workouts, fingerboard training, weights and more. Much of the content is further supported by our YouTube channel and active Facebook Community group, both of which, are also free!