Training for the Ultimate Training Day

What’s everyone flogging themselves so hard for again?

Boulder, Colorado, probably has more pro climbers per capita then anywhere else in the country. I often joke that they don’t even let you into the county unless you can climb 5.12c! There are so many pro climbers here that none of us can even get into Movement Climbing + Fitness for free, where on an average weekday I’ve seen Alex Puccio busting one arm pull-ups before breakfast and Daniel Woods lapping V12 like it’s V2.

Just a few blocks from Movement, lies ABC Kids Climbing, one of the few kids-only climbing gyms in the world. Here, Robyn Erbesfield and her coaches train some of the most competitive kids climbing teams in the country.  When a couple 12-year-olds onsight my gym proj, they are usually from Team ABC, but sometimes they are from one of the other three kids teams in town: The Boulder Rock Club, The Spot Bouldering Gym, or, yes, Movement.  That a city of 100,000 people can support four climbing gyms, five if you count CATS (a gymnastics-focused gym with an epic systems board), is a testament to how goddamn many climbers there are in Boulder. It’s actually a good day when a 12-year-old flashes my project. It’s just embarrassing when a 9-year-old does.

I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of climbers—especially those under 18—spend the vast majority of their climbing hours indoors on plastic, and a certain percentage of them climb exclusively in the gym. And not all of that gym-time is spent climbing. To rise to a competitive level, you need to do core, cardio, campus boarding, systems boarding, hangboarding, …waterboarding, and in some cases subsisting on a highly regulated low-calorie diet. Boulder has become a crucible for the country’s most cutting-edge climbing training—and honestly, I see some really strong climbers who look totally fucking miserable. To be fair, I also see people who seem to love the pain and suffering of an endless training regimen.

Call me old fashioned, but I think climbing should be fun, and I question the fun in training 12 months a year!

Maybe it’s because I learned before the explosion of climbing gyms, on real rock, and dirtbagged in Yosemite for most of my early adulthood. Maybe it’s because I’m a “lifestyle climber,” not a “performance climber,” as Alex Honnold continues to inform me, but for whatever reason, all this constant training that I’m surrounded by is really starting to annoy me. Even this, my first column for Mountain Project, comes amid a slew of training-themed stories. Argghhhh! I can’t escape it!

I swear some people are just training for the Ultimate Training Day, a day where they train HARDER. THAN. THEY’VE. EVER. TRAINED. BEFORE! …Which seems a little hollow, to have no practical end-goal to your training. But if you train for the sake of attempting a legendary climb, for instance freeing El Cap or climbing a classic desert tower, or hell, just putting to bed that 50-foot sport route that shut you down last fall, well that changes things entirely. Now you’ve got a goal beyond being able to hang from the door jam in your house with one hand.

“What’s your problem?” you might say. “It doesn’t hurt you, that some freak has been hangboaring nonstop for three months without touching real rock.” And you’d be right; my own issues and baggage are probably at play to some degree here. There are certainly worse ways to spend your time; it just bugs the hell out of me. Call me old fashioned, but I think climbing should be fun most importantly, and I question the fun in training 12 months a year!

For me, climbing is about visiting and exploring beautiful and wild places, and also exploring my own creativity and potential in that environment. Show me someone who said they had the time of their life doing weighted deadhangs all day in the gym, and I’ll show you someone I’d like to slap in the face. The last sunset I watched through the windows of the gym was kind of lackluster if you know what I’m saying.

It’s a pretty common to see a climber who onsights 5.12, or even 5.13, in the gym but can’t onsite 5.11 outdoors.

Another more practical beef I have with this frenzied focus on indoor training is that it often makes for poor outdoor climbers who aren’t very well rounded. It’s a pretty common phenomena  to see a climber who onsights 5.12, or even 5.13, in the gym but can’t onsite 5.11 outdoors—and if you put them on a 5.8 fist crack, they would die for certain! Not to bag too hard on competitive climbers–I recently watched the ABS nationals live feed and was screaming encouragement into the screen at Ashima and Puccio. I was so stoked on their athleticism.

But it seems like a missed opportunity to push the progression of climbing if we don’t prepare the next generation of kids for something more than the next comp. The luckiest kids are the ones who have climber parents that realize the importance of exposing their children to all the facets of the sport. Beyond the beauty and fun of real rock is the fact that it gives children’s bodies a break from the relentless, high-intensity climbing gym regime.

I urge the uber-trainers to take a chill pill now and again.

The third assault in my self-righteous bitch-fest about the evils of training is on people overtraining to the point of injury. So many people ignore the most important (and obviously most fun) part of training: recovery. I see people nursing blown tendons, elbow tendonitis, or worse because they’re training themselves into oblivion. I urge the uber-trainers to take a chill pill now and again. If you live in Boulder you can buy your chill pills legally at the nearest dispensary! Seriously, though, listen to your body. What is your body telling you? My guess is something like: “What the hell are you doing to me?! Why? My tendons are hanging on by a thread, and my rotator cuffs are about to come unglued!”

Consider playing the long game instead. The best way to get into shape (especially as you age) is never to get out of shape. And one of the best ways to avoid getting out of shape is staying injury free, taking rest days, staying in tune with your bio-rhythms and the general ebbs and flows of performance and durability. Would you rather climb a letter grade harder for the next year, or climb a little less hard well into your seventies?

I’m loath to admit it, but there is a lot I could train.

Of course, I’ll have to admit that the advancements in our sport, since the Golden Age of climbing came and went, would not be possible without dedicated training. John Bachar, still one of the best free soloists of all time, had a religious training regimen, as did Tony Yaniro who established the first 5.13 in America, a 5.13c trad-line no less! Wolfgang Gullich revolutionized difficulty in sport climbing, largely thanks to his invention and heavy use of the Campus Board. Training obviously works. In fact, I’ve recently had to take a good hard look in the mirror and realize that maybe I’m just lazy, especially when it comes to training, and that I could transition from “lifestyle climber” to “performance climber” if I just (shudder) trained more. If only drinking whisky cocktails strengthened your tendons, I wouldn’t have to have this come-to-Jesus moment.

Part of smart training is targeting your weaknesses. If I have a weakness in my own climbing, it’s definitely finger strength, lock off strength, general power, power endurance, and endurance. Also, I could work on my core strength, dynamic moves, heel hooking, and get stronger on pockets, crimps, slopers, underclings, and mantles. I am really strong on handle bar jugs though, and show me a chossy, kitty litter overhang, or a horrendous offwidth invert, and I’ll probably look pretty cutting edge. So, though I’m loath to admit it, there is a lot I could train.

The other day, after a brisk four-mile run, I did a few dead hangs while I drank my beer, and I felt pretty good about myself, almost like I was a real athlete.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve secretly dabbled in some Very Light Training. The other day, after a brisk four-mile run, I did a few dead hangs while I drank my beer, and I felt pretty good about myself, almost like I was a real athlete. But maybe I could do better than getting slightly inebriated while hanging from crimpers and watching Stranger Things on Netflix.

Which brings us to the real reason behind my anti-training diatribe: The gyms are too damn busy. The Moonboard is always taken. The campus board is completely sweat-soaked. I can’t get a spot in the core class, and there are too many lookyloos to do 4x4s in the bouldering cave! But, if I can inspire people to stop training so frigging much and go outside, maybe I can finally get a spot in line.

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