Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Rock Climber’s Training Manual: A Boulderers Perspective

Images from the cover and contents of The Rock Climber's Training Manual

Over the past decade, Mark and Mike Anderson, brothers with a lengthy and substantial climbing record across disciplines, have been developing a training protocol called the Rock Prodigy Training Method. It’s clearly having results. For example, Mark has emerged as a very strong climber, repeating various testpieces here in Colorado and in Utah and Oregon, as well as doing 5.14 first ascents in places like Clear Creek Canyon and Shelf Road. When their book The Rock Climber’s Training Manual (referred to from here on out as TRCTM) came out I was very interested to see what they would come up with. As a climbing book author myself, I understand all too well the challenges inherent in gathering and presenting what can be at times a very complex subject.

Fixed Pin Publishing very kindly sent me a copy of tTRCTM for review and I was immediately impressed by the richness and finish of the book. The writing is very clear and the organization logical and coherent. The basic premise of the book is that climbing improvement is a quantifiable process and that a climber who wants to improve has to base that process on a predictable plan with measurable goals and benchmarks. I think on this level alone the book is very successful.

TRCTM is primarily intended for mid-level to advanced sport climbers, an audience that is more likely to be interested in the kinds of progression outlined in its pages. This is both its strength and weakness, at least as far as bouldering is concerned. The front cover and indeed many of the illustrations throughout the book are from the Red River Gorge and Smith Rock, areas that emphasize continuous endurance climbing and in the case of many routes in Smith, relatively low-angle technical small hold climbing. The Smith Rock photos especially give the book a bit of a retro feel, since the progression in high-end sport and bouldering in America has been on relatively steep power-endurance routes such as at Rifle or problems like those found in RMNP or Hueco Tanks.

The gist of TRCTM is that following periodized cycles of training will result in the greatest gains for your climbing, something that has been at the heart of most training books in English since the groundbreaking (and surprisingly current) Performance Rock Climbing by Dale Goddard and Udo Neumann was published back in the 90s. Establishing levels of strength, power and power endurance by means of the hangboard and campus board along with regular trips to the gym are the heart of this training program. Reviewing the basic outline of the training programs in the book, I found the workout plans and tactics made sense, although I found the means by which one finds the optimal weight at which to train on a fingerboard not entirely easy to understand. I am terrible with charts and graphs, though. Everything is presented in a relatively logical and analytical fashion and this is reassuring to anyone embarking on a training plan. It’s a solid and comprehensive guide to getting better, no question, especially for sport climbing.

For the specific pursuit of bouldering however I think this book could stand some revision. Among other things I found curious was the proposition that hangdogging and refining beta while working routes was easier and more typical than in working boulder problems because the boulderer climbs from the ground. In actuality boulderers often work problems close to the ground with sit starts or steep features that allow stepping into crux moves or sections quite easily. Boulderers are obsessive with refining beta to a degree that might astonish some sport climbers unfamiliar with this aspect of the sport. A closer look at the practices at the leading edge of bouldering today would help iron out some of these issues.

In terms of training, bouldering is not just about adding more intensity or weight, it is also about mastering very different body positions, learning types of dynamic movement, coping with mental pressures, and developing effective tactics for safe successful attempts on problems, all in ways that will differ drastically from an enduro route in the Red. Boulderers need to closely understand complex heelhooking, kneebars, toehooks, and the overall intricacies of compression climbing. Dynamic movement, though key in bouldering, is given relatively small space in the text as a whole and not much in the (very short) section dedicated to bouldering. Of course in bouldering dynamic climbing is critical to success on any limit problem. The mental pressures of working out multiple limit moves that must be linked flawlessly are similar to sport climbing but take on a qualitatively different intensity in bouldering where success and failure can occur almost arbitrarily. In other words, if training for climbing can be described as a science, as TRCTM clearly intends, bouldering still feels more like an art where criteria for advancement seem qualitative and subjective.

Is TRCTM desirable for boulderers? Yes and no. Given the relatively short space dedicated to the sport in the book, it is clear that it’s not primarily intended for bouldering, though ironically bouldering is seen as critical in providing power for improving one’s sport-climbing level. However, for any climber looking for a current and comprehensive understanding of the basics of training theory as it applies to climbing overall, TRCTM is a great and relatively inexpensive place to start. The effort and diligence of the authors is apparent throughout and the publisher’s care in terms of layout and production is clearly evident. But for bouldering training specifically, it has significant limitations. The book on bouldering training hasn’t been written though I have been working on it a bit. Watch this space.




3 comments:

  1. Spot on assessment, Peter. My biggest gripes were with the finger strength protocol. Repeaters are great for strength endurance, but for hard boulders I prefer one arm or minimum edge hangs. I've found the crossover endurance gained from those to be plenty for bouldering without sacrificing power for the sake of unnecessary endurance.

    I also found it curious that limit bouldering wasn't explained in more detail. They want you to do 'hard moves' but fail to delineate the precise nature of said difficulty. There is a enormous difference between small limit moves on bad crimps/feet and enormous limit moves (dynamic) between edges. To be fair. you could write a small book just focused on the nuances of limit training, but a few parameters on programming specific difficulty would have been nice.

    The inclusion of a bouldering chapter was nice, but sport climbing was the clear focus of the book. These guys just aren't boulderers. This is most evident in their seasonal training plan for an 'advanced boulderer'. The strength/power partitioning is fine, but the performance phase focuses on outdoor mileage. The only time I've ever gone for mileage is 1) first days in a new area on the road and 2) on days with poor conditions. I'm not suggesting mileage days are useless, but when i'm close to my 'peak' i'm typically trying limit moves on hard boulders.... all day.

    Overall this was a nice addition to the library, but like you said the training for bouldering book has yet to be written.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the great feedback! I think an accurate mapping out of productive "limit" effort is really important both in training and actually trying hard on boulders. I tell my coaching clients that finding that period of peak effort and recognizing that's when to start winding down is a critical part of smart injury-free training and projecting. Spreading out limit effort across different muscle groups and kinds of movement is important too, as you suggest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete