4x4x4 and… do not repeat!

I’ve posted before about the value of using onsighting in training. Now that I have finally got bored of bouldering and have decided to prepare for a project in Idaho in June (warpath ☺), I’ve started working anaerobic fitness again. My old onsighting workout is far too hard right now so I’m starting with low range 4x4s… with some differences.

The basic 4×4 workout is 4 boulders, repeated back to back (one set), with a 2-4 min rest between sets. A total of 4 sets: 4(boulders)x4(rest time)x4(sets)! 

I’m doing low range 4x4s,  this means that each boulder is short (say 4 moves to make: 4x4x4x4 😉 ) but very intense. This gives a better transition from bouldering gains and will suit the length of my project better.  To keep it fresh, one of the problems change every session. So every 4 sessions, you should have a completely new set.

A 4×4 is a great workout with many possible variations:

Keep the problems for longer and link into them using jugs without getting off the wall. Good training for on route recovery.

Add another to create a 5×5.

Reduce interval time as you get fitter.

Another good tip is to create the boulders using a weight belt or vest. Most climbers have the tendency to make the problems too hard. Make sure you can do the moves with the weight belt. After taking it off,  the set should come together.  Setting with a weight belt is also a great strength booster in itself. An option would be to recreate all the problems every second or third session using the weight belt which will help you to hold onto your strength gains. 

Happy training!


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Start well; end well

Lately, between work and family obligations, training has been a rushed manic affair. I’ve been slowly forgetting a core principle I remember first articulating at a training clinic at least a decade ago:

First touch is the most important. Starting with a relaxed mind, stepping on with perfect awareness can set the tone of an entire session. Randomly looking around the internet I found much the same words by Neil Gresham.

Warming up, for movement centred sports like climbing, is as important for the brain as the body. It would be fair to say that, given my life circumstances over the last few years, with less time to climb, this has been my primary technical weakness: a tendency to be over eager.

Working with a coaching client again means working through technical drills as well as thorough mental warm ups and it feels great. A perfect reminder for me and, I think, a strategy for other situations of stress. At competitions or before going for a hard route, a long slow warm up can be really useful. One reason being, even if it doesn’t reduce the nervousness, all motor neurons are awake and firing and your body can function even when your mind is jumping about. This is the worst case scenario, just as likely is you succeed in getting your concentration back..

Happy climbing!



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Weight ranges to static ranges

Almost all forearm workouts climbers use are static exercises: different holds hung for a period of time. This makes it difficult to convert rep or set ranges from a weight training routine, that you think is well-structured, into a hangboard workout. So I thought I’d make this little conversion.

Strength: holds that can be held absolutely no longer than 7 seconds (you have to be strict on this!). A 5 second hang can be used as one rep.

Strength-endurance: holds holdable for no longer than 10-15 seconds. 7 seconds can be used as one rep.

Endurance: holds can be held for 25-45 seconds. 20 seconds as one rep.

The take away is, know what you are training. For example, pull-up sets on medium holds may feel like an awesome strength workout but depending on your abilities, it is possible you’re gaining muscle mass in the shoulders, back etc without a corresponding gain in forearm strength; subsequently, there will be no change in actual climbing performance… except perhaps on juggy indoor routes!

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The long answer to a client’s question about foot slips

The short answer being: size correctly, keep clean and observe!

Shoe sizing: I’m often surprised that even climbers that have been climbing for many years still wear shoes that are too big. One way to check is to see where they are wearing out. The most wear should be around the very end of the toe. Shoes that are too big are impossible to stand on the tip toe and so climbers use the side of the boot near the mid sole instead.

Cleanliness: I know you feel self-conscious about cleaning your shoes (like people will think you are taking it all too seriously!) but it makes a difference.

Positioning: Try to be aware of your body position. In some positions it is mechanically impossible to put weight on your feet. Another common mistake is to presume that a foot hold will still be good in a new body position. A heel hook which may feel great from below when weighted from above is suddenly non-existent. Nervousness can also cause feet to slip as people tend to try stand taller on the footholds. When they do this, they often lessen the surface area on the hold. Keeping the heel lower than the hold (or standing relaxed) puts more of the bottom of the shoe in contact with rock.

Attention: Given that your shoes are sized properly, are not too dirty, and your body position is correct, most foot slips will happen simply from lack of awareness. When we climb we tend to concentrate on our hands more than our feet when it should often be the other way around. If you want to improve, don’t think about getting to the top of the route, take longer to make sure you are aware of where your feet are as you move. The goal should be doing each move as perfectly as you can. Later, as your technique improves you can work on increasing climbing speed.

Fortunately there are some exercises you can do to improve foot-work on your own.

My own favorite is very easy traversing. Find a wall where you can move sideways easily. Spend 20-30 min at a time moving left and right, concentrating carefully on body position and your foot placements. The more time you spend on the wall, in a relaxed way, the more your body will naturally find the most efficient ways of moving. The opposite of this is always climbing routes where you are psyched and motivated just to finish the route. The over-excitement this creates is not conducive to learning good footwork and may result in you over-using your arm muscles.

There is also the ‘silent feet’ routine. Like the traversing above but you’re trying to climb without making a sound. Doing this just increases your attention and helps the learning process along. You don’t have to spend 30 min doing this, although obviously this would help, but you can just use it as your warm-up to set the tone of your session.

A common mistake among new climbers is to climb with the wrong part of the shoe. You should almost always be on the top half of the toe-box. This allow you to rotate on the toe as your body-position changes in a move. If you think this may be a problem for you, consider taping your shoe just below the big toe as a visual reminder of what part of the shoe you should be using.

Good luck!

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Strength-endurance with added mental what-not

A fairly advanced workout I’ve been playing with recently, which I thought rather nice. Not very measurable but great for onsighting and learning what your body can do.

I quickly create a hard 20-30 move circuit with no rests and a lot of hard moves in a row, without trying out too many of the moves. It should be hard enough that I should really have to think carefully and push hard to complete it first go. When warm, I go for the ‘onsight’. If I fall I quickly jump back on and keep going and think about what went wrong after. If necessary I will make that sequence easier or if I think I know what I did wrong, leave it as is. At the end I feel pretty pumped and so take a good 10-15 min rest. On the next go, I change the last 5 moves and depending on how pumped I was previously, add a few moves. After about 3 reps, I start over with a new circuit. I do around 3 circuits in a session. An interesting addition is to lock the start holds for 20 seconds to start off slightly pumped (or if you’re lazy to make a new circuit and the one you have is getting too easy).

The onsight element is obviously a big advantage to this workout as it often forces you to try harder than you might otherwise. Also, knowing that jumping back on is ‘allowed’ means you will try for pretty hard moves; making strength endurance circuits too easy is definitely a mistake: it should feel like extended bouldering. Quality over quantity is probably better here.


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Strength – a bouldering workout

This workout balances some of the contradictions involved in climbing training:

Workouts should be as climbing specific as possible. However, climbing specific workouts have the tendency to get easier as a result of improvement in movement rather than strength (the practice effect). Also, climbing specific workouts such as bouldering often don’t repeatedly strain the same muscles as effectively as weights, campus boarding or a fingerboard regime.

So for this workout, I took 5 problems and repeated them 3 times in a row. For more control over progress, use a system board, for less control but better movement practice, choose problems on a regular wall, ideally set by someone other than you at around your onsight level; change these problems every 5th workout or rotate one problem out of your workout every session. Nothing new so far and I should credit the climbcoach app for the rep range and grade suggestion. The grade suggestion is flexible and if your onsight grade is unnaturally low, of course use a harder problem.

What I think is new, or at least new to me, is doing each in a different style. For the first rep, I choose to do it in the easiest, most efficient way possible. This is a great time to focus on technique and look for ways to improve how you do the moves on the problem (though you may be exposed to a greater variety of moves randomly bouldering, having a rep dedicated to improving technique is probably more beneficial as technique practice). For the second rep, I try to do each move as statically and as carefully as possible. This rep should really undermine the practice effect and you should feel your muscles working hard. For the 3rd rep, I add a restriction. Ideally, use a weight belt or crank the angle of your wall over if you have that option! You can also drop a hold, use less fingers (subtracting thumbs will often engage the core to a greater extent), downclimb the problem, use just one foot (good to teach you dynamic movement) and many more.

I used to do something similar as part of my strength-endurance workouts (as seen here) but its high intensity makes it better as a strength workout. Therefore rest well between reps and problems. Check out the form I use below as an example:


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New workouts coming!

So I decided to update my blog finally. One reason being that I’m excited about some new workouts I’m developing. The one I want to share today is done on a campus board as I was thinking about how good staggered pull ups (pull ups with one hand higher than the other) are as a climbing workout; the campus board is the perfect tool for doing them as they add a finger strength element and, being slightly overhanging, a core element that mimics a lot of climbing moves.

Being a strength workout, each pull should be done controlled. In the past when I’ve used a campus board I’ve just gone for my best ladder or double clutch which I think has limited training use. On each pull concentrate on coordinating pushing and pulling such that you can get your chin up above the leading hand. This is the form I used last week on my first experiment:


I left out a couple of the exercises to rest certain fingers. I like the percentage towards completion as a goal for improvement and to know when to increase the intensity. I think there is fair room for adjustment for different levels. Beasts may try eccentric one arm lower offs after each pull up. Intermediates can start with different finger combinations such as back 2 leading and 3 fingers on the pushing hand. A bit of careful experimentation should work. If the intensity is correct you should only be failing in the last set. Remember this is strength training so don’t sacrifice rest times too much. There should be almost full recovery between sets!

If anyone tries it please let me now what you think! Enjoy! 🙂

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