Monday, July 14, 2014

Kilter Grips: Hold Review

As the owner of a small home wall, I am always on the hunt for good holds to freshen up the mix for bouldering and training. In my view the best home wall holds are the ones that reflect the problems you want to do outside and will get you stronger for projects. For me, that means crimpy V12 and V13s in the alpine areas and on the Front Range. However, while I have a few sharp incuts, I tend to favor holds that are on the flatter side, requiring more body tension and lock-off strength to properly control. Holds like this are typical for problems like the Automator in RMNP where the actual incuts, though small, are the "rest" holds on the problem and the hard moves are on sloping edges. Holds that hit the sweet spot between sloper and crimp are not easy to find though.
Working on Automator
Ian Powell, the shaper behind E-Grips and now Kilter, is an old friend of mine and when he asked, I was more than happy to take a few sets home to try out. My wall has three panels between 20 and 35 degrees overhung giving a good sense of the usablity of much of the line. I put up about a dozen or so and mixed them into a repertoire of holds going back more than 20 years in some cases. I stick with holds that work and am reluctant to hop on the latest fad holds that only wind up collecting chalk and spiders in the surplus bin. In other words the bar is high. And I don't mind letting Ian know what I think either. For more about Ian, read this excellent story by Caroline Treadway.

So what's the takeaway? In short, whether you are running a commercial gym or fitting out your own home wall, these holds are top-of-the-line. The finish is superb with all the detail you need and none that you don't. Ian is a genuine artist who is in touch with the shapes of nature and has a perfectionist streak as wide as the Mississippi.

From the Noah Medium Series
There are no tweaky bits or extraneous edges that catch joints or skin. The texture is just a bit on the aggressive side but not too much. Most will not want to sand these holds down.

From the Noah Medium 2 Set
The shapes are very simple yet versatile and can find their way into problems at all angles and difficulties. They take up very little extra space and can be slotted in between larger holds easily. With a little drilling many could be screwed on as well.

From the Teagan Medium Series
What has always impressed me about Ian is his ability to create originality where others run out of ideas and opt for gimmicks instead of substance. The Teagan and Noah series are excellent examples of this deceptively simple approach, where you realize that you hadn't seen these shapes before but they make perfect sense, like a really good hold outside.

From the Noah Medium Series
I would really recommend these holds to anyone with a home gym who wants to do more than hang onto incut mini-buckets or breadloaf pinches. I have recommened these to my coaching clients who want to make the move to the next level. The quality is top-notch and you will get years of enjoyment with these grips brightening up your wall.
Check out the whole line at

From the Sandstone Medium Series. Sophia age 7.5 demonstrates. The green incut two holds over is from the Winter Small Series.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gimme Kraft: Review and Interview with Author Patrick Matros

A couple of months ago I started seeing pictures of a new training book from Germany. It was hard to miss with an eye-catching bright green cover and a distinctive title. "Gimme Kraft" translates to "give me strength" a quality for which the German climbing scene has long been known for especially through the pioneering efforts of Wolfgang Gullich, himself an important writer on the sport. I contacted one of the authors, Patrick Matros, about the book and he very kindly sent a copy to look over and comment on.

The book is a great new arrival in a field that is currently in an era of transformation. Training for climbing is changing its approach, challenged by the latest achievements of young phenoms like Adam Ondra, Alex Megos and Ashima Shiraishi. It feels a bit like the era before Chris Sharma, where the old paradigms are fading. 9a onsights and V14 flashes are changing the ways we approach the sport. As a climber in search of expanding my own limits and as a climbing coach helping others expand theirs, I welcome any new sources to aid me in this journey.

The book is clearly laid out, with both German and English text, and nice photos, though basically none of any outside climbs. The tone is friendly enthusiastic and encouraging and the English translation is generally very good and expresses the German well. Its production reflects a serious but outgoing sensibility, seen also on the contributions by climbers such as Sasha DiGiulian, Bernd Zangerl and Fred Nicole to name a few. It is accompanied by a DVD with video depicting the exercises which is a helpful supplement.

I think the primary contribution to American climbers is as a source for training exercises outside the standbys of campus board and fingerboard. Among the tools depicted here are the rings, pegboard and slings, mainly for training the bigger muscles of the upper body and torso. A number of these exercises would be familiar to anyone who has trained as a gymnast. It is certainly refreshing to see less emphasis on finger training and pure pulling.

Gimme Kraft! Trailer from cafekraft on Vimeo.

Because of the emphasis on these exercises, the book is not a comprehensive manual for climbing training. That book would be a MUCH larger tome, one that I am sure the authors of Gimme Kraft are more than capable of producing. Information on stretching and injury prevention is absent, though this is of course available widely from other sources. But overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to freshen up their training routine.

For a bit more about the book, Patrick agreed to a quick email interview, which he did in English (huge help Patrick!) and despite his busy schedule. For more info and ordering from North America, please visit

1. Gimme Kraft means "Give me strength- What kinds of strength do you think should climbers strive for?

As climbing is a sport with a plethora of different movements it demands different categories of strength. The basic categories are maximum strength, strength endurance, explosive and reactive strength. It depends on the climbing discipline and the character of the climb what mix is required. But even if you want to specialize (e.g. to boulder), you shouldn't neglect less important categories of strength completely due to the basic training principle of variation. This way you will prevent early stagnation and overloading.

Another aspect is the massive coherence between health-related aspects of fitness (e.g. strength) and skill-related aspects of fitness (e.g. coordination). You should avoid training an isolated aspect such as  a certain form of strength exclusively over a long time. Take care to unleash your strength whilst climbing! And don’t forget this after all your strength training: The basic climbing technique is to save your strength as much as possible!

2.    I noticed that the exercises in the book primarily involve body weight and not free weights or machines. Why is this?

Our idea of strength training is complex training. This means that your exercises are always performed in regard to a more or less complex movement as your goal. This helps to develop your strength economically during sport-specific movements. Your muscles work together in so called slings: These are muscle groups that are functionally connected and thereby allow for economical sequences of movements. 

During climbing you mainly make use of your upper extremity flexor sling. We recommend that you include first and foremost exercises in your training where the athlete’s own body weight provides the resistance for a specific movement. These exercises usually allow for a greater freedom in their execution and can be more easily related to climbing specific movements where your body is providing the resistance as well. Weight machines are only suitable to a limited extent, e. g. for a specific rehabilitation training after injury. Internationally renowned exercise scientists Zatsiorsky & Kraemer (2008) say: “The most serious shortcoming of many weight machines is that they were developed to train muscles instead of movements. For an athlete they therefore don’t constitute the most important area of training”.

3.    Another surprise was the limited mention of fingerboarding. Virtually every book in English spends quite a lot of time discussing this topic. Why does GK not include it?

Our decision to omit fingerboarding as an independent form of exercise doesn’t mean that we consider it as not recommendable. There are a few reasons for our decision:
- the different number of training methods on the fingerboard is pretty limited
- it doesn’t work well with our concept of complex training that  the book was written
- our space in the book was limited and we had to skip a few topics (this also concerns some parts of the theoretical chapter which are only available as PDF download)
But we didn’t skip this part completely! The described exercise “on the edge” could be an alternative for an enhanced but a little more functional finger strength training.

4.    There are many interesting and novel exercises in the book. How do you think readers of your book should pick and choose from them in planning a workout?

Climbing and training for climbing is a very individual and complex thing. We tried to choose an easy approach to it. So we only classify between “easy” and “hard” on a five steps scale. Some information about a basic mix of training forms for beginners, advanced climbers and pros completes this topic. The most important thing is, to follow a balanced strength training, where your antagonists are not neglected. This kind of exercise is marked with a specific symbol. Concerning the variation of the exercises for us, there’s a 6 week maximum to train with one specific exercise. After that you should change. 

Another piece of advice for the reader is: Don’t think too much about complex forms of periodization and top secret training plans! The most important thing in training is your motivation! Motivation is fostered when you are dedicated and like what you do. Find the balance between a structured training and possibilities to maintain it in your daily routine over a long time. For detailed plans of periodization you will need a good trainer and a great deal of time…

5.    What, if anything, do you think is different between American and European approaches to training?

Hard question and maybe you cannot answer it without any clich├ęs. Both Americans and Europeans have a long climbing history which influenced the evolution of the sport and the progress in training for it. I have read a lot of specialist books about climbing from American and European authors. I like the American (and also the British!) books for their practice –oriented approach. I also read a french book with good and fresh ideas. Last but not least I like the German way which is known as solid, but sometimes a little bit too theoretical. It was our endeavor not to comply exactly this view but also to show, that we have a specific knowledge about the things we do J  

Train smart!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Myths of the Fingerboard 2

In my previous post I discussed why I think that most commercially produced boards are not the best investments. In this post, which is related to a much earlier post, I want to discuss why fingerboard training may not be the most effective use of your training time.

As I mentioned before, there seems to be a lot of interest in fingerboards right now. There isn't a training forum out there that isn't visited weekly with posts about whether fingerboards will help and how to use them and so on. Every post pretty much asks the same thing: will a fingerboard make me stronger? The truth is simple; it depends. Here is my view about some common beliefs about fingerboards.

First myth: Fingerboards are essential for making a step up the grades. For the climber operating much below V5 or mid-5.12, fingerboards really have no place in your climbing training unless you are stuck for time and don't have access to a climbing wall. At that level, the use of a fingerboard is a waste of time better spent getting stronger actually climbing and understanding what climbing harder is actually about. It's about moving well, using your feet, and keeping your focus when the going gets tough. Fingerboards do not train those skills. If you ask around, the vast majority of top-end boulderers spend next to no time on a fingerboard. They climb instead.

Second myth: Fingerboards should be a constant part of your training plan. I would recommend phases of fingerboarding, no more than two or three times a week for no longer than a few weeks in duration with a month or two break in between. The potential for getting stale and worse, injured, is too high considering the limited benefits. Use the board to kickstart your next power training phase and then set it aside for a while and train while climbing.

Third myth: Fingerboards make you a stronger climber. The ability to climb hard, in my view, is not merely catching a hold and hanging on, but instead is reflected in how far you can lock off to the next hold with the last hand well below you. Independence of both arms when moving on steep terrain is what it's all about. Fingerboards will not necessarily help this kind of strength as hanging on with two hands is much easier than with one, and hanging with one is infinitely easier than pulling up on one hand on an edge.

Fourth myth: you can train power on a fingerboard. Power is work produced in a given unit of time. If you can generate maximum force in half a second instead of two, you are using more power to do that and that is very helpful in doing hard moves. Power is everything in hard bouldering but it is very hard to generate power effectively on a fingerboard. Everything points to the campus board for that but as with the fingerboard, it's not that simple. Again, maybe in another post.

Fifth myth: Hanging on smaller holds equals a stronger climber. See myth 3. Hanging with two hands off a super thin edge is of minimal use because most problems don't require that kind of hold. More typical is the scenario mentioned above, a long pull from one decent-sized hold to another, repeated 6 to 10 times. That said, many commercial hangboards feature holds that are simply too big to be much use for the serious climber.

Sixth myth: Adding weight is a constructive way to increase resistance. See myth 3 again. Hanging on with two hands is too easy, even with weight on. It's much more constructive to work on your one-handed ability than to add 50 or 75 pounds and get meager gains.

Seventh myth: While I'm hanging, I might as well do some pull-ups. Sure, if they are one-arms. Otherwise, you are just training endurance hanging on with two hands which happens in bouldering, well, basically never.

So what are fingerboards good for? I like them for waking up my fingers on a regular basis in getting a power phase started but really only for a short time before moving on to campusing and then real climbing. And then there is the problem of effective pinch strength development. Again, these training tactics might be better handled in a later post

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Myths of the Fingerboard Part 1

It's been a long winter with some serious clawing back after the flu over Christmas, meaning plenty of time to think about training for spring. I've actually been doing a fair amount of coaching recently, helping clients prepare for a productive trip or generally make the steps necessary to really step up to the next level. I'm really grateful to have the chance to assess a client's skills and strengths and put together ideas for improvement especially since it helps me think about my own situation as a climber and how I can get better.

One of the real problems is figuring out how to help climbers get the strength gains that will allow success on their desired projects or grade level, especially with a limited time budget. A great tool for kickstarting this process is a fingerboard. However I wonder if too much is being made of this recently. I have seen lots of discussion on various Internet sites, along with other media, about various fingerboards and whether they are useful and more importantly whether they are worth the money as most cost somewhere between 75 and 100 dollars US, a lot of money for many climbers. The purpose of this post is to encourage you to save some money and make a board that works for you.

This could be you! But probably not... and don't worry about it anyway
My personal experience with commercial fingerboards is that they are generally too easy to hang onto and kind of uncomfortable, not to mention expensive. First I want to think about why a homemade board can be much better and make some suggestions on what to look for and why.

I think the first myth that needs to go is whether one brand/style/etc. is better than another. The commercial message is definitely something that needs to be cut through here, though I think that manufacturers are sincere enough in trying to provide a good product. The only thing that really matters in a commercial board is avoiding rough textured plastic. Commercial fingerboards are prone to this problem and while the flexibility of molding shapes in plastic is theoretically desirable, the presence of excessive friction interferes with the primary purpose of the board, training your fingers and forearms. It can also discourage use of the board if the texture is painful. This is one thing to be said for the Beastmaker brand of fingerboards, that since they are made of hard sanded wood, the relative absence of friction is a real plus.

This brings me to the next myth, namely that shapes matter. Fingerboards have been made in a wide variety of elaborate, even baroque shapes, with ornate curved edges and sets of pockets, pinches and slopers and so on, shapes that look attractive in a catalog, ad, or website, especially with some swirly colors added in. My experience has been that these shapes provide little or no practical functionality that cannot be readily supplied by other less expensive means. At their worst, they offer shapes that could promote injury rather than progress.

Instead, I would recommend that you consider the possibilities present in a simple single edge made of wood, of first-joint depth with a gentle curved outside edge, approximately 2 feet in length, similar to a typical intermediate-size campus rung. This item will cost perhaps $2-5 and can be easily mounted to a piece of plywood (cost $5-8) if need be, or screwed directly to an exposed beam as in a cellar. You can easily add more edges of greater or lesser width by visiting a local building supplies store, probably even picking up usable pieces of wood for free in the scrap pile.

By the way, the closest "commercial" version of this concept is made by Sonnie Trotter but anyone with some simple tools and a piece of sandpaper could recreate this style very easily on their own. His board however looks very good. Whether he's actually making them right now, I don't know. I can find out.

Sonnie Trotter's V-Board
The Beastmaker concept is too complicated to replicate at home for most people and is unnecessary in any case, for the same reason that complex molded fingerboards are unnecessary. That is because your fingers really only need to be trained in a few very basic configurations for significant strength gains, basic positions that are easily found on a single wooden edge.

The last myth I want to discuss, which will lead into the next post, is that a fingerboard will actually do much for you by itself. This is unlikely to be the case for a number of reasons. First climbing, while heavily dependent on finger strength, relies very much on the ability of the upper limbs to pull  dynamically independently of each other, a skill best improved by either climbing or campusing. Secondly, climbing relies on effective use of body tension and foot placement something that simple hangs on a fingerboard cannot easily develop. Finally, most climbers, because of the points made above, will find it more useful to become more efficient in their time spent climbing, planning their sessions to deliberately squeeze more climbing into them in whatever time is available.

That said, the fingerboard can be, ounce for ounce, one of the most effective training tools out there. In a following post, I will discuss how to get the most from this simple inexpensive versatile apparatus.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bouldering with Adam Ondra

I just posted an interview with Adam Ondra on Mountains and Water. Please check it out. Here are some of Adam's thoughts on bouldering:

"It seems like you did a lot more bouldering in the past two years than before. Why did you begin to emphasize bouldering and train more specifically for it?
I did it because I love variety in climbing. One obvious reason why to love bouldering is because of its purity. I reckoned that it might have helped in sport climbing too, but it wasn't the main reason. Last autumn I was only bouldering and the main reason was that I had never really focused on that for longer period of time. I wanted to find out how hard I could boulder when completely focused on it."
"What does bouldering do for your climbing overall?
I am stronger and that is why I can do moves on the routes easier. I realized that it is important to try different beta, because bouldering taught me that even the most impossible-looking beta might be the easiest solution to the problem."