by Christopher Schafenacker
With no foreseeable end to the Covid-19 pandemic, climbing might feel as if it is going the way of summer festivals and sweaty dance parties: a thing of the past. After all, not everyone has access to a local crag and travel continues to be ill-advised at a time when small communities are not equipped to deal with a surge in virus cases. Many climbing gyms have reopened but necessary restrictions, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance, make gym-going less than appealing…especially for folks in the high-risk category.
Hangboard routines, TRX training, and calisthenics are excellent substitutes for training in the gym, but the fun starts to wane when you begin to lose sight of what it’s all for. Enter: the home wall. A simple woody not only allows you to do actual climbing moves and test whether you’ve made those sought-after gains, but it also lets you set custom sequences that get you back on your project’s crux while hiking out to the woods and trying the real thing is a far-off possibility. The benefits don’t end there, though.
Allow me to get personal. A year and a half ago I moved from Western Mass. to Spain, the country with the greatest concentration of hard sport routes in the world and a climber’s paradise. Before touching down in the promised land, I thought of myself as decently strong (mid-5.13 redpoint). Living in an area with literally hundreds of 5.14s a stone’s throw from home has taught me that I’m mediocre at best. There are crags here at which I can barely climb the warmups, and weekend warriors who eat 5.12 for breakfast. People here crush. And they don’t train at fancy-ass gyms. Chris Sharma’s intervention notwithstanding, in most Spanish cities the best you’ll find is an old-school spray wall. The fact is, simple setups have long been the bread and butter of the world’s best.
The Crucial Importance of Proprioception
Proprioception, or awareness of body position and movement, is at least as important to climbing hard as steel tendons or a strong core, and it’s what the Europeans have in spades. Process feedback is the basis of flow and is best trained on a 40° overhung chunk of plywood littered with crimps and slopers (like this). After all, little more is needed than laser focus and the ability to do endless repetitions of hard moves.
Step one, of course, is to snag yourself a simple home wall and as many holds as you can get your hands on. Step two is to dedicate three days per week to the following.
Day 1 (Aerobic Power)
1. Warm up.
2. Design a twenty to thirty move circuit two grades below your onsight level.
3. Complete 5 sets of 2 reps of this circuit.
4. A double lap of the route counts as 1 rep.
5. Rest 1 minute between each rep.
6. Rest 10 minutes between each set.
Expect this to hurt and don’t be discouraged if you fall on a few sets (though, you’ve gone too hard if you’re falling consistently). Recognize that this drill trains mental stamina nearly as much as physical stamina.
Day 2 (Anaerobic Capacity)
1. Warm up.
2. Design three boulders at your flash grade.
3. Complete 6 sets of 3 reps varying the boulder with each rep.
4. One rep is one boulder.
5. One set is each boulder completed a single time.
6. Rest 1 minute between each rep.
7. Rest 3 minutes between each set.
By the end, single hard moves should feel impossible. This won’t hurt the way aerobic power training does; instead, it should provoke a feeling of being powered down. Naturally, by set 6 you should be falling before the finish.
Day 3 (Max Power)
1. Warm up.
2. Design a two-move boulder where each move is at your limit. These moves should be big, technically challenging, and the orientation of one should mirror that of the other. Choose positive holds. The goal is to train movement, not contact strength.
3. Repeat until you send or notice a drop in performance.
4. Rest 3 minutes between attempts.
5. Design a five-move boulder where each move is big and technically challenging. Ensure you can execute the boulder in under 8 seconds.
6. Repeat until you send or notice a drop in performance.
7. Rest 5 minutes between attempts.
Training max power fatigues your central nervous system (CNS) rather than your muscles, and so it is normal if after this session you don’t feel worked. Knowing when to stop, then, depends on your ability to detect a decrease in coordination or ability to make moves. When this happens, the session is over. Training further will only slow recovery and get you injured. If the long rests have you feeling bored, bring a book. Don’t ruin your progress by sneaking in a quick abs sesh between attempts.
Each of the training days described above should be spaced out by a day of rest (or two). Your body will need at least 48 hours to recover from your max power session and so don’t worry, getting a home wall doesn’t mean you need to give up the calisthenics obsession you’ve discovered while in quarantine.
After a few weeks of training on your spiffy new toy, I promise you’ll show up to the rock miles stronger than those friends flinging themselves around volumes at the questionably-opened local gym. And when travel is finally once again possible, you’ll be all set to come to Spain and show all the Euro crushers that North Americans aren’t really as weak as we all seem (because god knows I’m not doing much for our case).
Featured Climbing Training Gear
*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…
Christopher Schafenacker started climbing in Western MA before moving to Granada, Spain, where he now writes, climbs, and runs education-centered training camps for competitive youth climbing teams.