Strength Training: Pinch It Real Good!

A few weeks ago we finished a strength-focused climbing month, which means we added 2 hangboard sessions per week to our climbing schedule. We also changed up our hangboard routine from what we’ve done in the past (you can read about those here and here) and brought in a new, highly sophisticated piece of training equipment…. a small piece of 2×4 🙂

We were pretty happy with this new routine and thought we would share it.

Our Strength-Focused Schedule:

  • One lead climbing session per week: Working on leading harder grades and improving technique (footwork, fast clipping, on-sighting, etc.)
  • One bouldering session per week: Working on bouldering harder grades and focusing on maximum strength moves
  • One general conditioning session per week: Incorporating exercises to improve functional movement and increase core and upper-body strength
  • Two hangboard sessions per week: Maximum strength dead-hangs plus pull-ups

Hangboard Routine:

The modifications we made to our old hangboard routine were as follows:

  • Choose 6 or 7 finger/grip positions to train. This time around, we included three different pinch grips using a 2 x 4 (cut to a length of 5-inches)
  • For each finger grip / position, find the weight you need to add / remove in order to just hold tension for 6 seconds + 1 pull-up
  • For each finger grip / position, complete 3 sets of the “6-second hang + 1 pull-up”), resting for 90 seconds in between each set | Strength training mono-pullup

We loved this new routine for two reasons:

  1. It was quick! We could finish the hangboard routine in less than 45 minutes (this was, of course, after a very good warm-up at the climbing gym).
  2. It incorporated movement (the pull-up) off of a finger grip position, which we feel is more beneficial to climbing.

Pinch it Real Good:

We also started using a 2×4, cut to a length of 5 inches, to work on improving our narrow, medium and wide pinch grip.

  • Start with your weakest grip (for us, it was the widest, 5-inch width of the block)
  • End with your strongest grip (for us, it was the narrow, 2-inch width of the block)
  • We used a sling around the block, attached to our weights. It seemed to work! | Strength training pinch-grip

For these maximum-strength exercises, you need to find out what weight you need to add (via a weight vest) or remove (via a pulley-system) so that you can just complete one 6 second hang / hold followed by 1 pull-up. This might take a session or two to figure out exactly where you lie.

Make sure you record your weights and grip positions, so you can track your progress over the week, and know what weights to start on, when you return to the hangboard training months from now.

Happy Strength Training!

Training for Climbing: Power and Visualization

Last week I started into the Power Training phase of our 17-week training schedule. I’m following the same plan as last time (you can find that post here, if you’d like to see what I got up to). These sessions include a thorough warm-up, followed by some campus board work.

For me, campus training requires a lot of mental visualization and commitment. I find the exercises difficult, and a lot of it comes down to my mental preparation. The movements on the campus board do not come naturally to me, and in the past it has felt like it’s has taken almost the entire 4-week phase to improve my skills to a level I’m happy with, only to move onto the next phase and lose any gains I’ve made!

So, I tried to be more proactive about hitting the ground running this time, and I did a few things to set me up to be more successful for my power training:

  1. Prepare during the Strength Phase: I decided to use the campus board for my finger strength phase, instead of the hangboard. The intention was to prepare my body (and mind!) for campusing, as well as improving my finger strength.
  2. Document: At the end of the last power phase in August, I wrote down a few notes for things I knew I’d forget. Things like “This order for exercises worked well”.
  3. Visualization: I also wrote notes for what I was thinking about when I succeeded at a campus ladder. Things like “Keep a steady tempo”, “Think about bouncing up the campus board”, etc.

This approach has really helped! On the first campus session, I finished almost as strong as my last session in August! Wahoo!

Some of the things I think about which I find improve my success rate are:

  • Each move up the campus board should be a little hop or bounce.
  • Even if I slow down towards the top, make sure each move up is still a quick power pull-up.
  • With each move, make sure my shoulders and body don’t sag between moves.
  • Focus on where my  hand is in relation to my shoulder (this gives me a consistent point to pull-up to, where I know I can easily reach the next rung, even if I tire).

Yesterday, I was able to ladder all the way up to the top of the campus board multiple times, and I was very pleased with myself 🙂 I think a big part of that was my visualization and prep during the Strength Phase, so my mind and body knew what was coming!

Jonty, in week 13 of knee recovery, is able to walk now (wahoo!), but is still not strong enough to withstand landing on his leg, so he’s continuing to work on finger and upper-body strength. One of his long term goals was to be able to do a muscle-up on gymnastic rings; this requires working on dips:

… and quick pull-ups:

… and putting it together, a muscle-up with a bit of aid to start:

He also decided to work towards being able to do one-finger pull-ups, here’s his latest climbing party-trick 🙂

This power phase will take us through another few weeks, then transition into the power-endurance phase. We’re thinking of putting together a few before / after videos to showcase any improvements we’ve made, so perhaps you’ll see those pop up in another few weeks.

Happy Power Training!

Training for Climbing: Gimme Strength!

Since Jonty’s knee injury (at the beginning of our September performance phase), we haven’t been able to climb together, as his leg is still splinted and he can’t walk (or climb or belay!). As a result, we hadn’t talked very much about what our winter training schedule together would look like! After a month or so of bouldering in the gym, I was ready to start training again, with a focus in mind.

Last week, a notification popped up in our calendar, telling us we were due to start the Strength phase for our winter training block. Perfect timing! The whole premise of this 17-week training plan is to think about your climbing goals and to tailor your training to give you the best shot at conquering your “goal routes”. Since climbing outside in the winter on the “Wet Coast” is not possible for those that live some distance from the crags (climbing on soaking wet rock is not that fun!), our training usually focuses more on improving our general skills (finger and core strength, power movement patterns, etc.). | Jonty on the hangboard, large rungs

Normally, during this 4-week training block we focus on improving finger strength through exercises on the hangboard. We talked about that session here, if you’re interested in our set-up. We’ve had discussions over time about whether this is the best way to improve finger strength. The main issue we have with this style of training is that you’re hanging, statically, on small holds. But climbing is a dynamic process, and the forces generated through your fingers as you move off a hold are much different than if you’re just hanging on a hold. | Jonty on the hangboard, medium rungs

So I thought I would try something different this time around! A few years ago, we bought the Gimme Kraft training book, which includes tonnes of climbing-specific training exercises, developed in their training studio in Germany. Virtually all the exercises use body weight only and all have a rating from “Easy/Beginner” to “Very Hard/Pro” levels. We worked through some of the exercises in this book a few years ago and Jonty suggested I might want to look at some of them again. | Jonty on the hangboard, thin rungs

What I like about these exercises is that they are dynamic and require the strength of multiple muscle groups at the same time, which (I’m hoping!) will help me improve some of my weaknesses.

For this strength training round, I’ll be focusing on 3 general exercises, all done on the campus board. After a significant warm-up session on the auto-belay (climbing continuously for 20 – 30 minutes, warming up each of the finger groups like pinch, crimp, 2-finger, etc.), the finger-strength training can begin!


What to think about:

  • One set = 4 – 6 “square-dance rounds” without a break
  • Complete 4 – 6 sets, resting ~3 minutes in between a set
  • Body tension (stay close to the wall)
  • Contact strength (fingers latch to the rungs)

How to improve/make more challenging:

  • Move to smaller/thinner rungs
  • Use higher feet (if possible)
  • Use a steeper-angled wall (if possible)


What to think about:

  • Hang 7 – 10 seconds on off-set holds, lifting one leg as high as possible; repeat with the other hand/leg combo.
  • Complete 12 sets of these hangs
  • Core tension, finger contact strength

How to improve/make more challenging:

  • Move to thinner rungs, if you can hold the tension for more than 10 seconds
  • Starting at 6 sets, working up to 12 sets
  • Starting with 4 fingers on the holds, working my way down to 3 fingers


What to think about:

  • One set = 4 – 6 “lock-off” rounds, without resting
  • Complete 4 – 6 sets, resting ~3 minutes in between
  • Keep the body tension throughout the move
  • Try to touch your body to the wall as you lock-off (hips through nose)

How to improve/make more challenging:

  • Use thinner holds
  • Use higher feet (if possible) to get a deeper lock-off
  • Use a steeper wall (if possible)

For the last 7 weeks, Jonty has not had the luxury of two functional legs, so he has been working on improving his upper-body strength and finger strength, namely in the way of pull-ups. Lots of pull-ups. He’s now up to >130 per session, and generally stops due to boredom not fatigue!! On the weekend, when we are both at the climbing gym together and he has access to the campus board, he will work on his finger strength by doing off-set pull-ups and two-finger pull-ups. Over the last 7 weeks, he has really improved! He can now do off-set pull-ups on the thinnest campus rung:

And he has been working toward two-finger pull-ups on the medium and thin campus rungs:

He makes both look pretty easy, but I can assure you, it’s not!!! 🙂

This routine might get modified over the next few weeks, but this is my general plan.

Happy Training!!

Training for Climbing: Sending Season (And Sweet Potato-Coconut Power Soup!)

Well, we have finished up the last of the training phases (power endurance) and will be finally getting into our performance phase! The month of September is full of random days off work, to get outside as much as possible to climb. We had yesterday off and headed up to Squamish to take a look at some of the routes we want to climb. | Looking down Howe Sound, Squamish BC

For the entire duration of our training cycles, we’ve battled with hot, hot weather. As of last Friday? We had more rain in one weekend than we’ve had for the entire summer – perfect timing, hey?! We want the cooler temperatures, but we also need dry rock! We headed out to the crags, passing by water streaming down the banks, carefully traversing the wet, slippery trails. Not a good sign. | Waterfalls, Porteau Cove BC

Most of the walls: totally wet! Or seeping in the cracks! Or soggy through the crux sections… Insert sad trombone sounds here. | Wet rocks at Murrin, Squamish BC

So, we did what any frustrated climbers do – we headed back to Vancouver and made use of the climbing gym to get one last power endurance session in. Actually, we both had an enjoyable time, it felt good to make the most of an unfortunate start.

The weather is supposed to stay dry over the long weekend, so we’ll head up on Sunday and keep our fingers crossed that the rock dries out.

For the last few weeks, in preparation for our performance month, we’ve modified our diet a bit, trimming out a few niceties (ice cream! sponge cake!), and getting in 5 “clean days”, then indulging on the weekend a bit. This, combined with switching to walking from cycling is all it takes, easy really… | Sweet potato-coconut power soup

One of our favourite meals has been this Sweet Potato Coconut Soup. We call it our “Power Soup”, because every time we eat it, the slow-burning carbs from the sweet potatoes seem to give us an extra energy boost the following day – perfect for those long days at the crag! Soup is also easily digestible, low in calories and usually quite filling, so we’ve been loading up on it (often with a few slices of this on the side). | Sweet potato-coconut power | Sweet potato-coconut power | Sweet potato-coconut power soup

This soup is very easy to make and, for having so few ingredients, is unbelievably flavourful, highly recommended! Lime, ginger, lemongrass and shallots infuse into the coconut milk-based broth, and using a high-powered blender to purée, creates a velvety-smooth soup with no added cream. Feel free to use yams or sweet potatoes. We’ve used both (sometimes a combo) and either tastes great. | Sweet potato-coconut power soup

(Jonty added a swirl of beet purée to his, for a pop of colour, and it was unexpectedly tasty!)

With the fall temperatures approaching, and the nights drawing in, this is definitely a soup to should consider making. | Sweet potato-coconut power soup

Training for Climbing: Sending Season {and Sweet Potato-Coconut Power Soup!}
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 8 - 10 bowls
  • Serving size: 1 bowl
  • Calories: 221
  • Fat: 18.7 g
  • Saturated fat: 1.2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 12.7 g
  • Sugar: 2 g
  • Sodium: 63.3 mg
  • Fiber: 1.4 g
  • Protein: 4.4 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
Recipe type: Dinner
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 shallot bulbs, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, cut into large chunks
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cubed
  • 4 - 5 cups low-sodium chicken (or veggie) stock
  1. In a large pot, briefly sauté the shallot and garlic in a small amount of oil. Add the ginger, lemongrass, lime zest and coconut milk (if you rinse out the cans of coconut milk, add that water to the pot) and bring the mixture to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce to a simmer. Let the ingredients infuse into the broth for about 20 - 30 minutes (the longer you can wait, the better the flavour).
  2. Remove the lemongrass stalks from the coconut mixture and add the cubed sweet potatoes and enough chicken/veggie stock to fully cover the vegetables. On medium heat, simmer until the sweet potatoes are cooked and tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. In a blender, purée batches of the soup until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and add the lime juice, reheating if it's cooled below your preferred temperature. Taste the soup and add more salt, if necessary.
This soup freezes well, or will keep in a tightly-sealed container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

Enjoy! | Sweet potato-coconut power soup

Training for Climbing: Power Endurance

This past weekend we finished our Power phase and started navigating into the Power Endurance phase, the last few weeks of training before we start trying our projects! (For those interested, you can read about the strength and power phases to get caught up.)

We both ended our campus training on a good note on Saturday. The day was cooler (which helped) and we both pushed ourselves in a really good way. I finally figured out a routine that seemed to add incremental progress “nudges” for me, and Jonty was finally able to skip a ladder wrung on the thin holds, which has taken him almost 18 months to progress to! Like we’ve said before, it takes us months and years before we see some of the gains. It’s a continuous work-in-progress, and we constantly monitor ourselves to find what works and what doesn’t, and what weaknesses we need to work on. So, notes have been made to remind us of our campus session tweaks, until the next time we are back to train for that (probably in another 3 months).

Jonty making easy work of the campus doubles (set #26!!) 🙂

The Power Endurance phase is only a few weeks long and slowly merges into the Performance phase. Climbing endurance is fleeting – you can lose your endurance stamina pretty quickly (try bouldering for 3 months, and see how quickly you lose steam trying to climb anything that requires you to stay on the wall for longer than 2 minutes!!), but the good news is that local endurance comes back pretty quickly! This is why the endurance-training component doesn’t come into play until right before you want to send your hard projects. All the training you have done in the previous few months has been to build up strength and power. After a few sessions of endurance training, you should have gained most of your local endurance back.

There are two ways we’re going to train this over the next few weeks:

  1. Linked Boulder Circuits (LBC)
  2. Outdoor Circuits (OC)


We found that this method of indoor training works pretty well for us; Jonty used to use 4×4’s but didn’t like getting off the wall in between problems and found that the benefits were marginal, at best. The idea behind LBCs is just what the name suggests, essentially you create a long, bouldery route requiring varying degrees of power and repeat it for several sets.

The basic idea:

  • Choose 3 or 4 boulder problems that link up easily. If you can incorporate dynamic moves into your problems, this is good.
  • Time yourself climbing the LBC, then rest twice as long as it takes you to climb (e.g.: If it takes you 2 minutes to climb your LBC, rest for 4 minutes) This is a 1:2 climb/rest ratio; work towards 1:1 over several sessions.
  • Repeat this for 4 to 6 sets.

The key is finding a good pace for yourself to manage the forearm pump and fatigue that will most-definitely set in. Whenever we start this phase, we’re always amazed at how quickly we get bagged by this exercise: done correctly it feels quite savage! It is normal in the beginning to be unable to complete a full LBC after the 4th or 5th set, even with resting twice as long. But, after a few sessions, the body adapts, and you should find yourself able to stay on the wall longer and with less rest.

Choosing the LBC route:

This will involve a bit of trial and error for selecting the correct difficulty. Choose boulder problems that you can easily complete and that are around, or slightly below, your on-sight level. The order in which you do these 4 problems can make a substantial difference.

For example, lets say you choose 4 problems, graded V0, V2, V4, V6:

  • Climbing V6, V4, V2, V0: probably easier
  • Climbing V2, V0, V4, V6: probably harder

So if want to increase the difficulty, just think about the order in which you complete your sets, and progress / modify along the way. | Jonty completing power-endurance route, Cliffhanger Climbing Gym

Jonty might choose to go up the yellow, down the green, up the red, and down the purple, all without resting or getting off the wall.


The idea behind the Outdoor Circuits is similar to Linked Boulder Circuits. Choose a route that is around on-sight level, that you can complete successfully when you’re not tired. You don’t want to spend time figuring out the route on the day you try it, so familiar is best! Make it specific to your “goal route” as possible e.g. terrain, hold-type, angle.

  • Time how long it takes you to climb the route.
  • Start at a 1:2 climb-to-rest ratio and, over the next few sessions, work up to a 1:1 climb-to-rest ratio.
  • Repeat 2 to 4 laps on this route. | Rock climbing at Porteau Cove, Vancouver BC

Choosing the OC route:

We have been climbing at Porteau Cove over the last few weeks and have spent that time figuring out the climbs and choosing a few that we think will work for training power-endurance. The routes are all quite long, some are overhung and/or use thin, crimpy edges. Doing laps on these types of climbs will hopefully get our bodies used to dealing with the fatigue or pump we may experience on our “goal” routes.

Here’s our plan for the next few weeks: