Its disappointing to see that even accomplished climbers have such a limited understanding of climbing training, the Kinesiology of climbing, and the distinction between sport specific and supplementary training. It goes to show how detached the climbing community is from the scientific community and how climbers often work against themselves.
I wouldn’t be so quick to judge, there is nothing wrong with this workout, as long as you understand what to use it for. Perhaps the problem is that the video doesn’t explain what to use this workout for.
From what I’ve seen, one of McColl’s strengths is his high level of total body fitness, and this sure would do it. I’m sure he is well aware of what gets his fingers stronger, etc. Dare I link to 8a:
Care to elaborate? I’d like to think Sean, who consistently performs well at world cups in both boulder and lead, would know what he’s doing.
I suspect that Mr Hunter has a book for sale. It is disappointing that the author wouldn’t recognize that despite an apparent detachment from the scientific community, Mr McColl is obviously doing some beneficial training.
Looks like Dave MacLeod thinks these exercises are ” fairly climbing specific”. What does he know? Ive heard those Oxford lecturers are a bunch of hacks.
Y’all do realize you’re giving “thumbs down” to the guy who literally wrote the book on training for climbing, right?
Hey Doug, when are you guys going to update the SCC blog? Don’t let it die!
Its well established in sport science that top performers in all sports do not understand very well what contributes to their high level of performance. This is counter intuitive to us because we see their skill and conclude that their superior performance must arise from a superior knowledge. The research shows that this is not the case. Really Its the job of sport scientists and coaches to be able to quantify which activities contribute to high level performance and which do not. Its actually asking a great deal of any athlete to not only be a top performer but to also know why he or she is a top performer. To be clear, McColl is doing something important, he is trying to understand what training should look like for climbing, how to structure his time, and so on. This is something that athletes need to do, but it is extremely hard to do well. Its also the source of a great deal of what is often called “bro-science” ideas about training that are common in the athletic sub-culture of a given sport but that are nonetheless incorrect.
When we look at the big picture we see that even top athletes (especially those who are not well coached) do many things that contribute very little to their high level of performance. I think McColl’s video is a really good case study for examining how we communicate about training techniques and how a top athlete will spend time doing activities that are not really capable of making a contribution to high level performance.
It would be very easy to go through each activity in the video and provide a detailed critique, but this is not really the place for that. I guess my point in posting is that if a viewer of this video watches it and says I “I should be doing that” the viewer would be repeating a very common mistake.
To Joanser’s comment McColl is clearly doing things that make him a high level performer, but the activities in the video are unlikely to be significant contributors. Its more likely that as with many top climbers he has really great climbing habits; that when he goes climbing he does a high volume of high quality climbing at an intensity level that is meaningful for his current performance level.
Colin, thanks man, I do have some more blog posts coming in the next few weeks.
So Sean McColl’s repeat World cup Podium finishes in both Lead and Bouldering against such accomplished climbers as Ramon Julian, Jacob Shubert, Killian Fishuuber, Daniel Woods, are in spite of, and not positively related to, his rigorous training schedule?
I concur with Doug and defer to his knowledge of training. In my personal research, I’ve focused on movement only, but the video is about isolated training techniques out of context with the training program. Also, he performs some of the moves and acts that, without clearly pointing out what he’s doing right, will only lead a person that mimics his training to potentially do more harm than good. His shoulder control is an obvious element where he’s doing the right thing, for the most part. Hip control is dubious but adequate.
I’d say he’s basically working on core with connection primarily up towards his hands, but not down towards his feet. The “open feet” element he used in the circuit is fine for his level of climbing, but to a climber with poor skills in the basics of movement, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s amazing how little is understood about movement. The traditional approach has been to work on weaknesses, but that requires knowing what they are. That also requires knowing what to look for and understanding the components of movement. Most climbers train specific things like hand strength, or ab strength, and this leads often to horrible movement paradigms. The connected approach is ideal, but even that is irrelevant without having a cohesive training program designed for minimal injury potential, maximum benefits.
The best climbers today are climbing a ton, putting everything into it and climbing connected… based on limited knowledge but maximum internalization. In other words, cutting edge climbing training today amounts to a haphazard environment of will and determination, opportunity and resources, adherence to body healthy practices and hoping they don’t break down before they achieve some or all their goals. Ok, a bit harsh, and with the new breed of kids and coaches maybe that will change.
Doug’s spot on here:
“…he has really great climbing habits; that when he goes climbing he does a high volume of high quality climbing at an intensity level that is meaningful for his current performance level.”
Doug’s also right in that this is not the right place to talk about details, but I just wanted to put some things Sean’s doing in perspective. Bro-science! Haha, like that one.
So, where is the right place to talk about details? Popping your head in to say “hey, you’re doing it wrong, not gonna tell you how though!” and then disappearing off into the sunset isn’t exactly helpful.
I only just went hiking, and now I’ve returned, Curious. I don’t want to make this appear as if I’m criticizing Sean because I’m not. He, like many of the super strong climbers today train in a way that has benefitted themselves, and that’s all fine by me. I focus on movement, and his video is not something that’s about movement.
What I’ve learned about movement is something quite complex for a forum like this to discuss, but the climbing community could probably benefit from something specific about movement.
The original comment was about what constitutes TRAINING. Movement is tied to training. What Sean is offering is about workout practices that can be part of a more comprehensive training program. I’m only speaking up in support of Doug, whom I believe to have considerably more knowledge than myself on training, and because I agree with him.
I know you want to learn, and I feel there is little out there, paid or free, that really offers much in terms of movement analysis… my focus. Regarding training, you could learn about periodization, something Doug helped bring to climbing many years ago with his first book he co-authored. I, therefore, would assume his Self-Coached Climber would be useful too (though I’ve not read it).
I’m also very ADD and find putting over 30 years of effort into something cohesive, concise and useful has so far been, well, fricken almost impossible. 😉
Hey, thanks for the response. I get that it’s a complex topic and can’t really be discussed in depth here, but if you can’t even offer a link to a blog or book or somewhere people can start to learn more, what are you trying to accomplish with your posts here?
I appreciate your thirst for knowledge. I have that same pursuit.
Isn’t the point of the comments to express one’s opinion? Does dissent, and only dissent, come with a prereq? If I’ve disappointed you then I accept that I’ve failed.
And I’ll get right on that book, asap!
Maybe this might help: the traditional model for improvement has always been “what’s the new workout routine?” This approach has been promoted ad nauseum by the magazines for years. Even though they can take the idea of “workouts” and move it to the next level with scientific understanding gleaned from other sports, they don’t. The magazines have been cronyistic for years; they don’t seek out new information or talent to further the sport along. They have promoted this lame approach ignoring journalistic standards since the early years of Climbing Magazine (Alison Osius is an exception). Some authors have gotten column inches only because they wrote a book… even if it’s totally misguided and unfounded.
It’s also important to understand that you can’t really define a cutting edge training approach without the climber or coach having a clear understanding of correct or healthy movement and form. Every major individual activity like gymnastics, dance, and martial arts is predicated on knowing what is the right way and what is the wrong way to move. Most trainers and coaches are telling they kids or adults what to do without actually knowing how to do it. They’re developing workout routines and training curricula in a happenstance style.
Now we have the internet. In time, there will be more and better knowledge, but someone has to start the ball rolling, so to speak, and dissenting against this same old model of “what’s the new workout routine?” is at least a start. I’ve been frustrated with this classic model for over 30 years. Join the fray. And…. Urban Climber, cheese reportage of the finest cheese is finally gone. So see, there is hope!
In the meantime, because my focus is movement analysis and injury prevention through proper form, and because I only work in person, you will have to be in socal to get assistance. It’s free, though.
My tortured, oft-injured body would like to know where I can run into you for some free advice on “movement analysis and injury prevention through proper form”. I need it bad!
Thanks for the well thought out comments Doug and Rob!
Hey Narc, for sure I’d be psyched to help you out. From what part of the world do you reside? Hit me up via email as I’m traveling a lot over the next year.
Rob, great comments. I for one agree 100% with what you say about how little is understood about movement and the current situation of training.
Danger, I don’t know McColl’s training schedule I only know what was shown in his video, these are two very different things. The starting point for understanding my comments is the fact that effective training is very hard to achieve. Even in well understood sports high level athletes use methods that science has show to be of little merit or even harmful to performance. For any athlete their performance level can be described in terms of the amount of time they spend doing effective vs. ineffective training. This is really true in climbing; and I should emphasize again that clearly McColl is doing some things that are very effective; but as with any athlete he is not an objective observer of his own training, and is going to have a difficult time knowing how and why activities help or hinder his performance.
Further, few athletes have the kind of resources necessary to achieve highly effective training. Certainly, no climber has access to the kind of knowledge and support that a typical Olympic or professional athlete has because the knowledge base is still tiny and the support systems are not there. So it should not be shocking or controversial to say that a climbing video shows ineffective training activities. Or that there is a degree to which a climber is working against himself, since all climbers work against themselves in their training to a greater or lesser degree.
From what I can tell, you are only here to give vague criticisms in what appears to be an effort to sell your books.
From what I have read of “Self Coached Climber”, there may be a lot to learn from climbers like Sean, and especially from Patxi and Killian.
Criticisms, vague or otherwise, are extremely useful in gaining perspective on the topic at hand. I wouldn’t say that what Sean is doing is wrong. Absolutely not, but I would say as far as training goes, what you see in the video is more of a snapshot out of a day in his training. Doug is focusing on the broader topic of what “training” actually is.
Accusing someone of an ulterior motive is rather low, and presumptuous to say the least (especially considering that I don’t think he ever mentioned his book(s)). His last comments about effective vs. ineffective training are correct.
There’s a reason why so much money is thrown at olympic training and why scientific analysis is used for top athletes (in monied sports, that is) today. Doug is trying to bring what others have already learned in other sports to climbing, and I applaud him for that.
I agree. Mr. Hunter’s vagueness is notable.
How about saying something like “these types of pushups are not effective for training purposes because…, ” or “these types of leg-lifts are not effective for training purposes because…,” or “these types of exercises done after one another is not effective for training purposes because…”
It is laughable that he says how “disappointed” he is that this video exhibits “such a limited understanding of climbing training,” then go on to say in a later comment, “I don’t know McColl’s training schedule… I should emphasize again that clearly McColl is doing some things that are very effective.”
The sum of Mr. Hunter’s comments is zero. Rarely have I seen someone use so many words to say so little.
So Hunter’s comments are zero because… you put two out-of-context phrases together to make it appear as conflicting? Fox Noise has that same kind of talent. Ok, that’s not called for, but… stop and ask yourself if you’re getting his point: his comments aren’t about specifics but about the CONTEXT of specific training not being put into any broader understanding of WHY Sean is so strong. Speaking about this leg lift or that exercise would require greater understanding of Sean’s overall approach to training–which the video doesn’t address. Meaning, why comment in that form? (other than to make you happy?)
But further to the point is Hunter’s comments articulate a glaring short fall in climbing training knowledge. Just because you aren’t aware of this, and he’s made you aware of it, you become judgmental of his comments… because he’s judgmental of training in general. Is it me, or are you taking his comments personally?
I find it laughable that you want him to phrase his comments in a format that more acceptable to you. The concept of dissent is clearly not one of your strengths.
The quotes I selected are not taken out of context – they are all from this same conversation. Mr. Hunter watched a video demonstrating several exercises, and decided to demonstrate his supposedly vast knowledge of climbing training… by saying nothing meaningful, and by contradicting himself.
As the quotes I selected show, Mr. Hunter admits that Sean’s video doesn’t discuss his training schedule, or whether it is within the framework of a larger, periodized routine. Yet Mr. Hunter didn’t hesitate to denounce it as displaying a disappointingly limited understanding of what training is.
If a baseball player uploads a video showing how best to steal a base, should some supposed expert come online and denounce the video, on the grounds that solid baseball training requires much more than base stealing? Would this expert bemoan baseball players’ ignorance on how to properly train their bodies?
Sean’s video just shows some exercises! Exercises make up the foundation of any training regimen. If you study training, then, fundamentally, you study exercises. Denouncing this video in such an incoherent manner makes Mr. Hunter appear, to me, to be nothing more than a bit of a loon.
the key word here is “training.” That’s what the video’s title says, yet it’s a video on a workout.
If training is the same as a workout routine then you have a point, yet if there is a difference then I think Hunter’s comments about the state of climbing training today is justified.
In a perfect world, Hunter may have been more specific about targeting his comments towards the idea of training in general, but he didn’t.
Regarding your quotes, I don’t think they represent what he was saying, nor do they represent what you’re trying to assert. Your first quote is about training specifically, and your second quote is about the current state of McColl’s capacity to be effective. They are not mutually tied to each other. Now, think for a moment about that: If there’s a lack of serious scientific-based training overall, then even if McColl is successful (“doing some things that are very effective.”), it’s still in a context with the current level of climbing training, which is that McColl can be successful against other athletes, but possibly not as successful if he was very scientific and structured with a training program that reflects the current standards in sports at large.
The thing is that McColl didn’t upload this video himself so I doubt he chose the title name. He does, however, say in the beginning that the video will be “a little bit about my training routine” although, to me, that indicates that it will basically show a workout.
agreed as well. I kept reading in the hopes of finding a nugget of insight into training “movement” but learned nothing
Maybe you should revisit SCC? It is certainly the best book available on the subject, imho.
Fun fact: Douglas Hunter is the father of the 4×4, the widely-used staple of power-endurance training for climbing.
You obviously didn’t read the comments (all of it… not just skimming). You sound like a fool. Id rather someone tell me what Im doing something wrong than not say anything at all.
How many high end professional athletes have you coached? Or, how many high end coaches that train high end athletes have you advised? And, who are they?
It is a lot easier to understand theory then it is to actually apply that theory in an application. And, when we are talking about competition athletes in a sport, at Sean’s level, the degree of understanding and application is way ahead of a basic understanding. A basic understanding and a book written for the masses is great and very helpful and effective for 90% of the participants, but the elite level athlete is a different realm.
Without knowing Sean, his strengths and weakness, I am not sure he can be evaluated based on a video. A lot more time effort and research would be required, in my opinion, to have any basis for positive or negative comments. I am not saying you are inaccurate, i am just saying, how could you know?
Sorry if it looks like that is what I am doing. That is not my intention. Its just that this is a forum for news and discussion, giving the details would be an article length comment which I assume would not be in keeping with the purpose and function of this site.
I have discussed the details of training many times, in articles, on web sites, In videos, audio interviews, on my blog, in clinics, private coaching, and in my books, so I am not exactly keeping secrets.
You’ll have to forgive me for not having the slightest clue who you are. I tracked down your blog and am now looking forward to reading through it. However, for the sake of ignorant climbers such as myself, you might want to throw a link or something in there if you are going to post the type of response you did to this video.
Curious, I don’t expect you to know who I am, as I am not well known. I tend not to throw in such links as I don’t want to be accused of just being on the web for the sake of self promotion, but as this thread shows, I’ll be attacked for self promotion anyway.
here’s the thing, i have seen vids. of Alex Honnold’s training routine, and they seem very similar to what Sean has posted above. deliberate, repititious, focusing on overall core strength as well as specifics like fingers and shoulders. Namely, what Sean has posted seems to be a common training motif among not only amature climbers, but also among the elite as well. In addition it seems similar to the way many athlelets train. I mean, specifically what’s wrong with this? I recall reading somewhere about 15 years ago that Pete Sampras used to serve 500 serves a day, 7 days a week, could you be more specific in describing what’s wrong with this.
It’s great to see the idea that training for climbing is already understood or not necessary so thoroughly debunked. In comparison to many other sports it’s clear that very little information is available with regards to macrocycles. Workouts, microcycles, and mesocycles find their way into climbing literature while a holistic approach is not often if ever represented. And when they are it would seem most climbers don’t appreciate their usefulness given the general lack of demand for books of this sort.
I was kinda bummed to see a respected author come onto this site and criticize without providing an alternative approach. It seems like something beneath someone of your stature. I doubt you’d see Goddard, Bechtel, The Anderson Brothers, Horst, etc do the same without adding something constructive.
I’ve seen Sean’s program detailed elsewhere and much of it resembles the approach laid out in SCC & PRC. I feel like I have to point this out, but the post was “Sean McColl Training”, not “Training Everyman Should do”. I have faith in the everyday climber’s understanding that their training must be tailored to them. I’ve never seen anyone in the gym trying to do an exact replication of their favorite hero’s training method.
I absolutely agree we as a whole need to address what is considered training. I shutter when I hear people at the gym refer to their unstructured bouldering session as “training”. So the good I see when I see these training videos is that it exposes climbers to the concept that training requires structure.
Perhaps a detailed response/critique of this or other training videos on the SCC site? There is definitely a need for more training content aimed at high level climbers.
There is an unfilled hole in this sport for coaches and training methods, that is obvious. I see it at the youth level, most programs have radically different training strategies with results that can’t be quantified. I think the biggest problem is the lack of a trained eye for what Rob is talking about, movement. Really understanding movement patterns, and defining a weakness, and then a solution or strategy is the key. If you can’t identify the movement deficiency correctly, how can you begin to address the problem? Reading a book or blog site can help a lot, but at a high level, like any other sport, a trained eye, video analysis, and solid coaching are irreplaceable. The question is, where do you find it? Many coaches and some programs are trying to get there but I am not aware of any in the USA that have it well figured out.
I thought this was a great little video, full of some very useful looking drills. Without trying to get involved in this debate, I would just like to add that Sean has maintained his world-class athletic form while doing a very demanding looking graduate/technical program. As in, here is someone who has come up with some very efficient routines! Thanks for sharing Sean.
Sean is in first place currently at bouldering comp in Germany!
Lord help us if he ever comes across the Magnus Midbo training vid…
It is interesting to see how provocative can be a simple training video like this. specially for those who support scientific training approach. I belive that they should show results first rather than criticise others like Sean who is a really succesfull climber without explaining what is bad about his training and why.
On one hand I’m convinced that the biggest problem of traditional scientific approach is that it will never be able to understand the key for the performace of climbing pioneers like Sharma, Graham or Ondra who has never had a detailed training plan.
On the other hand i think that they should look at the aim of this video which was not to give a detailed workout for casual climbers just to help keeping motivated.
Finally it would be nice to see a full review of this video from Mr Douglas Hunter on his blog because when i visited his site it I immediatly realised that it will take huors to collect the information from his posts I need to understand his opinion.
“The issues discussed in this entry almost entirely kept me and my trainees from training lock-offs. ”
“If you’re interested in actually improving your climbing ability, you’d be wasting your time if pull-ups were a major part of your training.”
A lot more comments since I last checked in on thursday. Thanks to Rob for so clearly articulating the issues at hand.
Here is the first of a couple of blog posts in which I will discuss the issues raised by the McColl video:
B.A.J. climber writes: “On one hand I’m convinced that the biggest problem of traditional scientific approach is that it will never be able to understand the key for the performace of climbing pioneers like Sharma, Graham or Ondra who has never had a detailed training plan.”
I strongly disagree, current sports science including Kinesiology, bio-mechanics, performance psychology, etc are perfectly capable of describing how and why these athletes are successful. Its true that these guys may not have training programs, but the do a lot of well structured climbing, even if they don’t call it “training.”
shout out to Issac!
If Usain Bolt broke a world record while wearing and eye-patch, then you better believe that coaches and athletes all around the world will be promoting that eye-patch.
There are limits to the effectiveness of a training routine regardless of success. By that, I mean, that even a poor training routine prescribed to an exceptional athlete will enhance performance, but imagine the results following a scientifically testing program. As long as Sean, as an exceptional athlete, continues to climb hard, he will be better than you are I regardless of his training routine.
Here is the argument in a nutshell… This training routine, although good in terms of core and finger strengthening, may be great if implemented as part of a periodized training routine. Please do your own research on training periodization (I recommend Bompa, T. O., et al. (2009). Periodization: THeory and Methodology of Training (5th ed.): Human Kinetics) before asking me to “be specific”… much of it is very specific and can take a substantial amount of time to truly understand. If you implement training such as this into a detailed training regimen, it may have very positive effects. But, if your entire training is based on this video (which I almost guarantee is only a small slice of the Sean McColl training pie), then you will have very disappointing results.
My tips: research training periodization (research articles, not magazines, please), familiarize yourself with the importance of recovery, and design a personalized training regimen based on your own personal strengths and weaknesses, not someone else’s.
On another note… how sweet is that training wall with the adjustable pitch?
Cheers to you all,
It’s so hard to pin down exactly what you (and I suppose Hunter) are specifially suggesting. Or why it’s so difficult to summarize the basics with a little more specificity. I mean you wrote 4+ paragraphs without really saying anything. And Hunter, even after 15+ wordy paragraphs, manages to say even less.
In a nutshell are you essentially talking about muscle confusion – lifting weights one day, running the next day, then swimming…etc?
Climb lots, with as much variety as you can work in. Nothing gets you better at climbing than climbing.
Work your weaknesses. It is here you can make the most progress.
Focus on technique. You can make faster gains here than you can by working on power and strength which take longer to build.
Use periodization to achieve peak performance on certain days. On training days, don’t worry about performance so much and work hard!
Eat a large carbohydrate meal within 2 hours of a workout session.
Nip injuries in the bud, and learn how to climb open handed.
These are just (some of) the basics. What you specifically do depends on your goals and your strengths and weaknesses.
My favorite training book is 9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes, which provides the big picture to effective training. Here is a link to the associated blog, where coincidentally, Dave Macleod just made a post about this video. Perhaps he will weigh in here!
There IS a deficit of scientific literature that would describe training methodologies specifically for climbers. While this void SHOULD stimulate experts and academics to respond with logical solutions it has ACTUALLY created an opportunity for unintelligible authors to market their illogical writings. The only actionable intelligence on this page is Sean’s video. Sean is an expert by definition given his status within climbing’s highest echelon. That makes his recommendations for climbing training methodologies unique and at least interesting. Those methodologies might fail a scientific examination on numerous points. If someone academically accomplished or equally expert would challenge him, their works would be worth reading. Instead Sean’s contribution to our small volume of worthwhile training data is turned into a forum for Douglas Hunter to predate on uninitiated climbers. Hunter’s criticism that the training Sean presents here is lacking scientific basis or is relatively ineffective is an opinion. Sean presents no context from which his training was developed. We can speculate as to the context, as Hunter has, that no science went into its development, that it was just something that came to Sean in a dream, I guess. Or we can presume decades of the French National Team’s dominance coupled with Sean’s personal accomplishments has empirically dictated the routine Sean describes. Hopefully this discussion has not discouraged Sean from sharing more insights into his program. And hopefully Douglas Hunter is not encouraged to advertise more uninformed criticisms and vague suggestions.
Elijah, if you know the science why do you write:
“The only actionable intelligence on this page is Sean’s video.” Part of my point on the blog post I wrote about this video is that its not actionable because essential information about how the activities are performed (intensity, work and rest durations, etc) is not presented in the video. Thus the video does not present activities that can be repeated by another athlete in a way that will have a positive impact on performance. Consider the first part of the video that shows interval training. The intensity, work duration and rest duration are not provided. In essence all the video is saying is “do intervals” which it mis-lables as circuits. That is not useful information by any standard. How is that any better than some random comment overheard at the gym? Obviously its not. I’m not sure why you can’t see that since you seem to claim some scientific knowledge. The fact is that the intensity level, work duration and most importantly the rest duration have to be controlled for interval training to be effective. That information is not present in the video, therefore the video does not present actionable information for that activity. Its an easy open and shut case.
Then you write:
“Sean is an expert by definition given his status within climbing’s highest echelon.”
Sport science has studied this exact issue and shown that top athletes are often not experts when it comes to training and often do not have a through understanding of what contributes to their skilled performance. Of course there is a range of knowledge from athlete to athlete but the idea that someone is an expert on training simply because they perform at a high level is false. You don’t have to take my word for it, read the science. Human Kinetic Publishers has a number of titles that summarize some of this research. If you don’t agree with me, that’s OK but don’t call me uninformed when you yourself, show no awareness of the relevant scientific context.
Then you write:
” Or we can presume decades of the French National Team’s dominance coupled with Sean’s personal accomplishments has empirically dictated the routine Sean describes.”
There is no evidence in the video to suggest that this is the case. In fact if we know anything about the history of climbing training we know that these activities are dictated by climbing cultural tradition not empirical testing. In order to understand this one does need to have a good knowledge of training philosophies, methods, and ideas present in the climbing community since the 1960’s. Lock off training and pull-ups were both introduced into climbing prior to there being any well formed empirical knowledge base in climbing. This is part of a much longer discussion but the climber’s who introduced lock off training and pull-ups were making guesses, and these activities have been with us ever since based on culture. if these activities actually did have an impact on climbing performance level it would be a coincidence nothing more. But do check out the links that Brendan N posted above for a review of some science. In Addition, there is no doubt that the origin of using front levers as a training activity for climbing came from climber’s seeing John Gill doing them. The thing is that Gill himself has said that he didn’t do front levers for climbing. It was other climber’s misinterpretation of what Gill was doing that popularized the front lever. More than that though a functional kinesiological analysis of the front level (even done on a hang board) shows that the front level does not compare well to what climber’s call “body tension.” Again, this is not speculation, this is a matter of qualitative analysis following the methods used in Kinesiology. compare the action of the hip joint in the front levers shown in the video as opposed to the action of the hip joint in any number of difficult body tension situations, the joint action is completely different. A front lever tends to hold the hips joints in a static position of slight flexion. In most climbing moves one or both of the hip joints begin in a position of flexion and then extend. So the joint action at the hips in a front lever is dramatically different from that found in actual climbing. Extension and flexion being actions performed by different muscles! The reason for this is that on steep climbs the natural action of gravity in most situations is to flex the hip joint. What climbers need is to train hip extension not hip flexion. In addition the video mis-represent several activities as “ab work” When the prime movers in the exercises shown are the Lats and muscles of the shoulder girdle. Again not speculation, this should be obvious to anyone who knows even the slightest Kinesiology.
I know that people get excited about seeing how top athletes train or don’t train but in a sport so young as climbing we still a huge amount of ineffective training even among top athletes. This is not a surprise, it is to be expected in a sport like climbing. The point is climbers need to make their training decisions based on sound training principles not on cultural traditions or what the top climbers say they are doing. These can be sources of initial information but they need to be critically examined based on know scientific principles such as the principle of specificity among others.
In partial defense of front levers, and not to disagree with Doug as I agree that a lever doesn’t do anything substantive for the hip joint, such an action as a lever is only helpful for the shoulders and back. The pike position, anterior rotation of the hips with slight flexion of the hips, is only used to protect the lower back by “tucking” the pelvic girdle that then prevents the lumbar curve from being excessive. What the lever does do well is help the climber control forward angle. Imagine if you could maintain a parallel body position with an overhanging wall without your feet touching said wall. This means you don’t have to draw your torso into the wall when you do place your feet on the wall. Further to the point, imagine if the footholds weren’t positive… you can’t use your feet to “draw” yourself closer. Unfortunately, this has negative side effects, specifically over emphasizing arm tension at the expense of overall tension. Even if you perform a lever correctly, allowing your shoulders to remain down (proximal to your head) and relaxed or extended away from the spine, there is a huge amount of isolated tension in the arms and upper torso. As a beginner, this is only partially helpful as it promotes only an upper torso state of tension, but it also promotes a non activated shoulder (think hanging from your bone structure while resting or clipping–good IF you know when to turn it off or on). For an experienced route climber, this is ok as such a person also knows (hopefully) that that isn’t the correct shoulder position to initiate a move. Also, it’s arguable that such a position while resting is even counter productive since it promotes deactivating shoulder tension. The problem is that it’s important to remain relaxed through the arms. This concept may sound confusing, even contradictory, but it’s not.
In classical ballet, what one sees as an elevated arm is not remotely relaxed. Only the hands are relaxed. The shoulder girdle pronates the upper arm while the lower arm supinates, the palm opens all while the shoulder remains down and promoting openness between the head, shoulder and arm. The tension is incredible but the appearance is nothing of the sort. In climbing, a relaxed arm with an active hand helps reduce emotional tension and over-gripping. A relaxed shoulder can further disconnect from the torso REDUCING the tensioned connection of the upper body to the feet (yet a front lever can help promote good upper torso tension with a relaxed shoulder–as long as you know when to be active and non active). I realize most top route climbers are seen in videos relaxing their shoulders, and I do believe that this is a good practice as long as it doesn’t cause a reduction of overall tension. Remember, your body is far stronger and more capable at maintaining action and force than your extremities, so if sustained tension reduces impact on the fingers, that’s good, but if the tension flows into the fingers, that’s bad.
Also, isolation exercises only promotes singular actions, and climbing is nothing of the sort. Climbing is so complex that initiating movement like a weight routine is catastrophic.
A better exercise than a front lever can be what I call a front lever pull up. The arms remain straight, the body remains flat from chest to toes as a front lever, and the only movement is a rotation around the shoulder. From a dead hang, the body rotates upwards until one is literally upside-down with feet pointing upwards. If you break the body at any time, you will introduce poor shoulder positioning. This exercise promotes (but is also very difficult) a controlled and stable shoulder girdle, isolated contraction of the lat without introducing a rising and forward creeping shoulder (which decreases lat capacity and use and increases replacing the pull with the teres major, teres minor, rear delt and infra-spinatus … very bad and a typical problem with many climbers) and a tensioned shoulder through the back. Again, this is an isolated workout routine, and it has nothing to do with training overall. It’s just what it is, another workout idea not unlike what the video shows.
Another problem with “exercises” like these or what’s in the video are, IMHO, when they’re practiced excessively without learning true and full body tension. If practiced only to the point where one learns and performs it correctly then moves on to other more inclusive tension training exercises, one will be aided in fixing a weakness without turning it into a new weakness.
It’s easy to see how just axing isolation workouts and only practicing “correct” technique in climbing is ideal, but that in and of itself means nothing, as most of us simple don’t know what “correct” really is. Exercises and workouts should only be used to fix weaknesses, in my opinion. In addition, training with tension is as much a state of mind as it is an action of the body.
Oh, one more thing… this is not about Sean’s talent, it’s about a video titled training. Again, it’s not about Sean’s talent. Have I said it’s not about Sean? Too many persons are taking comments made about the video as a statement AGAINST Sean’s ability to climb well. Remember, Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile in 1954, long before modern scientific-based training became the norm. That means one can achieve great things without science-based training. Sean, you have achieved great things. We really don’t know if his training is science-based. If not, imagine the possibilities.
Your argument is an opinion. I am not having a scientific discussion and you are not providing scientific value. Scientific presentations provide a theory, execute an experiment, collect data, and conclude with an interpretation of the results. The absence of statistical observations or measurable results makes this your opinion. That’s fine, opinions have value, just don’t call this science. Rather, let’s address the value of Sean’s contribution to our training knowledge. An illustration of his own program has value because he has demonstrated its effectiveness by virtue of his own accomplishments. That is empirical evidence. Sean conceived a training program, implemented it, and his increase in performance is the confirmation. He was not born a 9a climber. Probably his program could be improved. If you could devise an experimental routine and document its subsequent success, that might be useful. In this case, you would need to train an obscure athlete to match Sean’s level. Good luck. Clearly it’s way easier to theorize.
Your argument assumes that all climbers are born equal, set apart by their training regimens, which I think everyone can agree is wrong. If we’re using performance as a means to validate ones training regimen, then by all means there should be no such thing as training, since Sharma never really bothered.
While quantifying the results of experiments is a scientific standard. There are perfectly valid qualitative observational methods that are also scientific. To say that anything short of quantifying experimental results is an opinion is factually incorrect.
“An illustration of his own program has value because he has demonstrated its effectiveness by virtue of his own accomplishments. ”
This statement is incorrect. An athlete’s accomplishments are not proof of the value of an entire training program. Elite performance has a number of causes many of which fall outside of the area of a training program. In addition those of us with many many years of empirical experience and analytical methodology already know what different activities are going to have a significant impact on climbing level. The thing that is such a drag is that you think that it takes some big experimental basis to determine what empirical data and kinesiological analysis already show. When you go to the doctor and he says you have a cold do you insist that he do an experiment to prove that you have a common cold? of course not. You need to realize that what we are talking about is not some unexplored cutting edge area in which we can only theorize. This is kinesiology and training for climbing 101.
“An athlete’s accomplishments are not proof of the value of an entire training program.” – you
Ok. I disagree.
When an athlete’s training effects an adaptation so that substantial improvement is realized I believe that is proof of success. Given your perspective I do not see how anything would ever be confirmed unless you had personally theorized it.
Of course you would downplay the value of results, that’s what sets Sean’s insights apart from yours. You both conceived training programs but it’s only Sean’s that concludes with an impressive outcome.
Opinions/theories are like assholes. There aren’t that many 9a climbers and few of them share their training programs with as much detail as Sean has here. I hope he keeps it up and hopefully next time you won’t degrade his contribution with inane criticisms.
Your comments addressing elite performance:
“those of us with many many years of empirical experience and analytical methodology already know what different activities are going to have a significant impact on climbing level”.
Please explain, I am curious to know how you formed your basis for this statement and whom you have coached/trained? Anyone that competes in world cups? What was there progress/improvement based on your methodologies?
“You need to realize that what we are talking about is not some unexplored cutting edge area in which we can only theorize. This is kinesiology and training for climbing 101”.
Please explain? If you talked to the top 10 coaches/trainers in the USA, you would have agreement on say 20% of what an elite athlete should do to prepare, train, and compete (ask me how I know?). Compared to any other major sport, where 80% of the coaches/trainers would agree on training.
The difference is, climbing is far from figured out (in my opinion), unlike other sports. Please do give us some solid examples, we all need the help.
I must say this is great! A very heated debate in the topic of Training. First of all there is no way that video was suppose to be a complete look into Sean’s Training Program. Sean is a very thoughtful and disciplined athlete and takes climbing very seriously. I cannot think of a better athlete to emulate in North America.
I have no intention in going into the details of creating a complete training program. But, I will strongly agree that the climbing community has just touched the surface of the complexity of training for our obsessive sport call Rock Climbing. As a community we have the obsessive nature to dig deep into what it takes to be a great athlete in climbing.
I have been coaching for 20 years and have no fancy degree in training. But, I was an OK athlete that spent every moment trying to figure out how to get better. My approach was never to get stronger. That single minded approach is very limited and leads to boredom and most likely a plateau. I strongly agree with Rob that very few climbers spend enough time thinking about Movement. If the body isn’t properly aligned the likelihood of injury is very likely, especially if they are trying hard most days. The last component of a training program is the mental game. And what the hell does that really mean… What is the climbers body language when faced with difficult situations and great opportunities.
So… a complete Training Program has three components.
1) Help the athlete refine any Technical skills to reduce injury and increase efficiency.
2) Help the athlete understand there decision making process which leads to negative internal dialog. The Mental game.
3) Create a series of exercises, drills, workouts and routines over the course of ‘X’ number of weeks. These exercises are chosen for the specific athlete above at this give time. The program will build up in intensity then tapper off to recover and rebuild the body. Then… hopefully you will have a moment of glory. That moment of glory will motivate you to work harder each training cycle.
To simplify this very complex subject that was never intended to be tackle in this short video. An athlete should get an evaluation that encompasses their Technical Skills, Mental Skills and Physical Skills to have a starting point of where to focus their next training cycle. Every athlete is uniquely different and should be treated as such.
I label myself as a coach because that is what I love to focus on. A trainer focus on getting stronger. An instructor focuses on movement. A coach will focus on the mental aspect. Most of us who like to share our knowledge will wear all three hats but naturally drift in a specific direction.
Have fun with training and open your eyes to what can me improved!
i should have read this before posting: couldn’t agree more.
Here’s a scientific fact*: people with science geared brains (in this case Hunter) don’t usually have the conversation skills and tact to function in society without seeming awkward or in this case arrogant or rude or whatever it is that has made this such a hot topic. (*not really)
Doug – your original statement should have read something like this:
Cool video Sean! I’m sure we’d all be interested though, in your rest times between your circuit training and/or whatever, blah blah blah. Also, do you do a lot of these exercises for cross training or general fitness? Because I’ve found, in my studies, that a lot of these exercises shown aren’t really that helpful for climbing specifically, etc etc. Either way congrats on being a freaking awesome climber and please do continue to amaze and inspire us all with your accomplishments!
But instead you basically say that your bummed out because guys like Sean are kinda dumb in their approach to training and how they share it with us. (I know this probably isn’t exactly what you meant but it is how a lot of people read it).
Basically what I’m trying to say is wording man, work on your wording. Of course people are gonna accuse you of self promotion. Of course people are going to say if you got it down so well how come you can’t even pull your ass off the ground of a problem Sean probably considers a warmup (I’m just guessing here as I have no idea how hard you climb). And of course people are going to demand what exactly is it that you do or would do. In the future I’d recommend typing out your comments and reading them a couple times from different perspectives and rewording things so that they don’t come across as being something a hater would say! Doesn’t mean you can’t say the same thing, just word it differently and I think you’ll find that you won’t have so many people all worked up against you.
Just my thoughts…
Good on ya Kyber! Point taken.
Why does this conversation keep popping up in the feed?
I don’t understand why anyone is paying any mind whatsoever to Doug whoever or the other guy.
Because he has a book? There are a lot of books out there. I don’t think that means he’s an authority.
Isn’t the thing that separates proven science from unsubstantiated theory evidence?
If his specific training isn’t the thing putting elite climbers on the podium, then why is there an entire comments section dedicated to debating his vague posts?
His blog is filled with anecdotes about watching people do things, paragraphs about why they’re doing it wrong, then a few sentences about how we should re-evaluate our training.
But unless this guy is climbing’s Chris Carmichael (if so, i’d be curious to know who his Lance is), we could all be better spent commenting on something else.
Christ, i miss fall.
Why do you keep posting without anything meaningful to add?
You know what’s pretty cool? People honestly debating about training for climbing. Lighten up Francis.
There is literature out there. It is not near as common as many other sports, but it is there. I have found articles that look at the different anthropometric values of climbers at different levels. I have also found some the compare lift performances in different levels of climbers. But, this article (I hope the link works) was published by the NSCA in June of this year. It is a very detailed training regimen for a climber that is not only periodized, but structured in a way that eliminates any contraindicating cycles.
again… I hope it works. If it doesn’t work for you and you are truly interested, I have it in PDF and can send it to you via email if you would like.
Let me know,
Can you send me this article :))
Tane: A bit delayed, buuuuut I would love a copy of this article you are mentioning! I’m doing some research for my husband and I to ‘properly’ put together a training schedule to implement before next year’s spring climbing season. No worries if you don’t have it anymore, but if you do, that would be amazing if you would share it with me! Thank you! 🙂
As a head coach of a climbing program in the midwest, I would love a copy of your pdf version! Thanks for offering it up!
I can’t seem to find the electronic copy of this document. I have the hard copy somewhere, but I’m not sure how that will help you. Sorry guys and gals, you still may be able to purchase the article online from the SCJ website.
Don’t get too excited you guys, this article doesn’t have anything it in you haven’t already seen or heard before. The article was written by an undergrad as an introduction to climbing for people in the fitness industry. Its program suggestions are speculations based upon a review of available physiological literature that address climbing. It’s important to note that the recommendations in the article are not based on a a detailed kinesiological or biomechanical assessment of climbing movement. It’s recommendations include pull-ups, dips, seated rows, bicepes curls, hanging knee raises, and crunches among others. It’s a well done and through research project by an undergrad but its not a pragmatic training resource.
Not to start a war Douglas, but don’t you think it’s a little unfair to discredit research based on the academic level of the first author? We all know how research is conducted, and we should all know that the first author rarely does the majority of the reviewing him/herself. This was a peer reviewed research article that was sound enough to make it into the well-established SCJ. While maybe it’s not intended for the elite climber, it’s a great resource for the entry/moderate level climber to improve climbing-based fitness.
Also, the first author was a Master’s student with CSCS credentials (not an undergrad). I don’t know the author personally, and I am unaware of your academic credentials, but it’s quite distasteful and a bit unprofessional to publicly disparage the hard work of a young aspiring academic, especially when you have your own book sales on the agenda.
sooooo… usually the first author does almost ALL of the work. the last author is the lab head, and the middle authors contribute something or other. that’s how it works in sciences. douglas is right on target with this one.
“not to start a war.” yea right . . .
Your comment is proof positive that people can find malevolent intentions anywhere. I was providing the context in which the work was done. Poking around on the web it appears that he did the the work while an undergrad, further the article says he “recently completed his bachelor’s of science . . .”
I said the work is well done and thorough, which it is, as a research project, but in terms of it pragmatic value it suggests the same exercises that have been suggested many times already in the climbing community, and its suggestions are not based on specific movement analysis or needs analysis of climbing, that in itself should be a heads up that the article is going to be very limited in its utility.
Rather than talking trash about me and my horrible agenda why not provide some specifics as to why you think the article is a good resource for climbers? If you wish I can provide a few reasons why it isn’t.
Douglas, what are your own credentials?
Yes, the first author does the majority of the work. I was referring to the reviewing process. The work has to make it through several committees of review before it is accepted for publication. So, by the end of the entire process, the work becomes a large group effort that has spawned from the initial ideas of the first author. I didn’t mean to imply that the first author isn’t the main brain, I just think that the credentials of all authors should be taken into consideration when making critiques. This is especially true at the academic level in question.
Doug, I’ve read most of your blog, and your book, and your comments here, and none of them offer the kind of information that you criticize other sources for leaving out. So far on this post you have written thousands of words, without substantial content, just general criticisms of generally good ideas.
You are right about climbing not having a solid base of academic research into training regimes, but you’re not contributing to the solution, just pointing out the problem. Your blog has many good suggestions, but doesn’t provide the scientific basis for these. And much of the content is based on case studies of athletes, which does not provide helpful training content.
I’ve seen little content from you that wasn’t presented by Udo Neumann in 1993.
Hunter, I can tell you this, about six months ago I started swimming and kicking with a kickboard twice a week, for a total of about 5000 yards a week. There was no “science” behind this. As I used to be a swimmer, it seemed that swimming would be an excellent supplement to climbing. I did this in addition to continuing to climb 2 or three times a week. Being a weekend climber, this is about all I can afford. Sometimes in a gym, sometimes outside. I also try and do push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups spread throughout the day. But the swimming has truly made a difference. Since starting swimming, my climbing over the last six months has significantly imrpoved. I feel stronger, more flexible, my endurance has improved, and my shoulders feel wrapped in kevlar. I would highly reccomend it. I have no idea how many elite climbers swim as a part of their training, and there is nothing scientific about any of this. Take it for what it’s worth. You might argue that since my climbing skills are so low compared with someone like Sean, that the only way to go is up. And you might have a point there. But on the other hand, sometimes you just find something that works without reading a book or a magazine. I think what makes Sean such an amazing athlete, is his dedication to his sport and his creativeness regarding his training, but most of all he probably has natural talent that almost no routine could screw up.
one of the major myths in sports is that the top athletes are some how naturally gifted physically. This is simply not true.
What they all have in common, and this is from memory so I won’t be super accurate, is they all have a keen sense of applying themselves in the most efficient way possible, being aware of their weaknesses and fixing them, not giving up, determined to accomplish the goal at hand, and working extremely hard at what they do.
This may sound like a natural version of being scientific about their training, but it’s more about having good judgment, a right mind, and a right attitude to persevere. Science allows higher level athletes to tailor their training to continue to improve as the improvement curve flattens out. Also, about 50% of their training program is devoted to avoiding injury by building a base… a la periodization. As differences in performance become smaller and harder to gauge with just your own senses, science can really take it to the next level.
For beginners, overall fitness and building key areas of joint control (that will be taxed when they get better) is far more useful. Swimming is excellent as mikec has found out. The backstroke and breaststroke are very helpful as is the crawl, or free style, if your shoulders are healthy and have excellent range of motion. This builds a strong shoulder girdle necessary for a stable shoulder when pulling. If your kick is correct, it builds the muscles close to your hips that support tension from the core down to the feet (running will do the same thing and many top climbers run to supplement their training). The breaststroke kick is very good as it’s supposed to be done turned out as best as possible, meaning one of the most difficult actions in climbing (turned out moves) can be improved by swimming.
I’ve worked with and seen adult athletes improve in climbing where their base work (prior or concurrent activity) has given them a good overall fitness and helped them become aware of what their bodies are doing (this is very important). Things like dance, martial arts, gymnastics (I’ve scene it go both ways as super skilled gymnasts seem to have a hard time with asymmetrical movement… ditto for weight lifters), and other activities that are based on overall body fitness.
I’m not saying that science-based training for beginners and intermediate climbers is a waste of time, but those persons might find such structure, dedication and discipline hard to maintain. In fact, science plays a key role in understanding how to develop as a beginner. Coaching kids for junior competition is an obvious example. But it’s when you get much better that changes in improvement can become frustrating, and after so much commitment to the sport already, using science to make improvements more predictable becomes more attractive.
“one of the major myths in sports is that the top athletes are some how naturally gifted physically. This is simply not true.”
This is going off-topic, but I’m calling BS on this Rob. Show me any scientific study that proves this. A simple Google search refutes it. By the time you get to “top level” (elite) athletes, you’ve weeded out all the guys/girls who just worked really hard doing the stuff you mention in your second paragraph. What you are then left with are the genetic freaks who do all the things (and then some) in your second paragraph.
Michael Phelps is the obvious example, because let me tell you something, he doesn’t look like you or me. His body shape is designed for swimming. He was born that way. By lucky chance he got thrown in a pool as a kid. All the training in the world isn’t going to get you the VO2 Max of anybody finishing top twenty in the Tour, let alone Reinhold Messner. If Lebron James was 5′ 11″ he’d be hustling round ball on inner-city playgrounds right now. Have you noticed where Adam Ondra’s brachioradialis attaches? His arm looks like a fucking bat-wing. Once, again, born that way. Ben Moon once said that all of his siblings (who didn’t climb) could do door jam pull-ups. Genetics.
I’m sure there are exceptions. Pete Rose pretty much had no business being good at anything at all, but busted his ass enough to hit a few thousand singles. But really, this notion that you can train your way to “eliteness” is la-la land. I’m going to disagree with Elijah saying that Sean McColl wasn’t born a 9a climber. He might not have been ‘born’ a 9a climber, but he certainly was born with the ‘potential’ to be a 9a climber, which the vast majority of us I’m afraid, were not.
You’re making casual observations of peoples’ physiques to support your statement. Actually, a google search does bring up articles.
I wanted to find an article I read in a professional journal (not online) but haven’t yet. In it, it makes a very poignant statement about how those at the top and those that could have been at the top are separated not by talent but by desire, etc.
I’ll give you that a linebacker isn’t going to make for a top boulderer, most likely, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. I assumed at least you’d differentiate from anyone and those that are close or at the top of their game. My bad. I should have stated that outright first.
Basically, as athletes progress through their development, those that go farther do have natural talent, but the key here is, are they AT THE TOP because of the natural talent or because of what set them apart from countless other “naturally talented” athletes? What you’re missing is that for every Sean McColl or Usain Bolt, there were hundreds or thousands that were just as talented and amounted to zero. All you’re seeing is the top persons and then looking at their bodies and saying: “see, I am right cause they look so naturally talented.” And Micheal Phelps ISN’T a perfect example, only an example of one out of the MANY talented persons that actually made it to the top.
Further to the point is that injury plays a HUGE role when persons are getting closer to their limit, and the smart ones have either found ways or just are making subconscious decisions that prevented them from getting injured.
Also, another thing research has found is that those that discovered they were naturally talented also had a serious problem with pushing themselves hard, it became a handicap. Things came easily and most importantly, their sense of value for hard work was undeveloped to the point that hard work is not something they needed, and ironically, all that natural talent went to waste.
I’m sorry I can’t offer links. And you’re right this isn’t the place for this type of discussion. I was responding to what mikec stated, and i responded because it is a myth.
Your anecdotal evidence is EXACTLY why it’s a myth. No deeper understanding of the breadth of the issue, just casual observations of those at the top of their game. Sure seems convincing, eh?
Michael Phelps’ physique is hardly a “casual observation”. He’s been studied to death and is noted as a near-perfect physical specimen for a [human] swimmer. Ian Thorpe was much the same way before him. Also, it’s pretty much a no-brainer as to why professional basketball isn’t filled with 5’11” dudes who train really hard, or Olympic Sprinters who are 5’6″ and 135 pounds but have great strength coaches and impeccable workout programs. Your VO2 max is limited by genetic factors. You’re pretty much born with what you have, you just have to make something of it, which every champion Tour rider has. Lance Armstrong, Miguel Indurain, Ed Viesturs, etc., etc. were born with a gift and they made something of it.
re: “just casual observations of those at the top of their game”. Well as I just said, they’re not casual observations, they are facts, and if we aren’t talking about people at the “top of their game” (“top athletes” were your words by the way, ie: Sean McColl), then who exactly are we talking about? Way off topic now…Cheers.
you’re making visual observations of a person’s physique. I’d say that’s quite casual.
Again, you are not getting the point: it’s the many others that are just as physically “near-perfect” that didn’t make it. This separates Phelps and the others, that your casual observation doesn’t show, how?
Exactly. You don’t know.
BTW, I see the sun rising in the east. I guess the sun goes around the earth. There… I proved my point with FACT!
I would like to add one more bit about elite climbing:
We often hear of off-the-couch climbers that send very hard. This type of skill or talent or ability is simply unheard of in any other elite sport. No one gets off the couch and runs a 100 meter sprint close to the best, or gets off the couch and competes well in the tour de france. The state of elite climbing has so much potential improvement simply because science is NOT the key component of the elite climbers, at least not in the states. How do I know this? Because the cost of cutting edge science based training is not available and certainly not affordable here for climbers.
This is basically the argument that Hunter has put forth, and I think it’s very justified. It’s not a putdown on anyone, just a fact of the state of climbing training here today. Also, because of what Hunter and others have started to do, top athletes can, on their own, pursue this course of action, if they haven’t already done so.
We have a culture of thinking that focuses on basic training, but mostly focused on climbing as a means to an end. Until some one or some kid becomes a product of more sophisticated training, things won’t change much. When we compare it to highly evolved sports like running or cycling, climbing isn’t cutting edge at all. An example of this is what short climbers can send outside. It’s a fact that reach can play a huge role in sending, but no one has yet masters double dynoing past reach cruxes. It’s doable yet hasnt been evolved to the point of becoming a force for sending, and short climbers are primed to push this forward.
If you are comparing 100m sprinting “off-the-couch” and doing “close to the best”, then provide examples of off-the-couch climbers doing “close to the best”: boulder V14, onsighting 8c or redpointing 9a+. It simply doesn’t happen.
This simply isn’t true. Perhaps in sports that emphasize skill less than pure physicality it is true but every season some baseball player, football player, or basketball player will make a ‘miraculous’ comeback from an injury (essentially off the couch) and out perform their peers.
In contrast, my understanding of “off the couch” was always ‘haven’t done shit for a long time” where “shit” means “anything climbing related.” If this is accurate, then a common professional athlete’s return from an injury (with the attendant rehab, training, practice, etc.) is far from “off the couch.” When said athlete’s do return, they rarely if ever immediately perform at their previous highest levels (see Kobe Bryant, tonight).
Professional athletes play sports for a job. Like 40 hrs a week. During their injury rehab time, they spend 40 hrs a week with a PT or trainer, keeping their general conditioning up while healing the injury. They never qualify as off the couch. 6 weeks of recovery time means 6 weeks of PT and conditioning work with whatever skill work can be included also.
Right now, Michael Jordan could have a ‘miraculous comeback’, but no current professional athlete can be thought of as ‘off the couch’
I don’t know how I could possibly say it better than Justen did, but I’ll add my two cents simply because this is an entertaining discussion. What I’ve gotten out of reading all of these comments is that climbers are hard headed and set in their ways. Then again, I already knew that. Those who believe in training will continue to believe in it. Those who don’t, won’t.
As Rob mentioned, top level athletes rarely understand the science behind their training. This is why every sport you can mention has trainers who work with the athletes. Sean isn’t a world class trainer and doesn’t claim to be. Are there any world class trainers in climbing? Any Angelo Dundees or Chris Carmichaels? Where are their videos?
All of us, including the Sharmas, Ondras, and McColls out there have many, many facets of our climbing that could use the help of focused training. For me, years of focused training allowed me to climb at a level I once thought mythic. I doubt that Rob, Doug, or anyone else here has spent enough time with Sean to know that what he’s doing in the video wasn’t beneficial to him. Not to mention, he just said that it was a look into his training. For all we know, it could have been his cool down routine. It would be awfully tough to make a video short enough to hold attention that could give a full description of a top athletes training program, particularly in a sport with as many variables as climbing.
If Sean had claimed that his video was the end all, magic bullet that would make everyone into a 5.15 climber, then we might have a reason to call foul. As it is, it was a video that might cause some young kid who idolizes Sean to look a little deeper into how training will benefit him. That’s a win.
I have been watching youth and professional climbing competitions for many years along with doing some coaching. Because climbing is not a linear sport like running or cycling, it requires a much more sophisticated and ever changing pattern of movements. For the beginner, intermediate and even advanced climber, just climbing more seems to be the best way to improve. Body movement and technique are far and away the most important skill and also the toughest to acquire, so keep climbing.
Once we get to the elite level athlete, climbing more might not be and is likely not the best solution. The problem for a coach or trainer is, being able to evaluate the athlete to understand his or her goals, and understand how they are currently training. You must understand clearly what the athlete does well, and also understand clearly where the athlete struggles. You then have to implement a plan to address the area’s that need improvement but also make sure the athlete can fully utilize his strengths. Constant evaluations over time are necessary.
Like a pitcher in baseball, a climber will always go to his strength when the problem gets harder. This could be adjusting technique or using raw power, depends on the climber. This is why high level coaching/training is so valuable, as it can address these issues, make the climber more well rounded, so they do not get shut down on one specific type of hold, problem, movement, etc…
Relying on science or high level training/coaching is great, except for it really does not currently exist in the USA. We also really don’t know how much swimming, front levers, hang boards or any other off the wall activity transfers to climbing in elite level athletes. We might think some of it does, but we really don’t know at the moment.
What would help everyone is if coaches, trainers, and elite level athletes disclosed their training plans (ok, assuming they have a plan, start there), documented them, and then kept track of results to figure out what is working or not working. I know it is not always accurate to correlate results to a training plan but we have to start some where.
In my experience, I disagree with many of the methodologies currently written and used to train/coach climbers. This is not directed at anyone, just my thoughts based on the limited science, limited application, and results that are not quantified.
The good news is, the future of training climbers has plenty of low hanging fruit since it is not figured out just yet….
Dave Mcleod is a reliable climbing training authority. Read him and forget all the comments on this video.
in 4 video of Mr Hunter training —-> putting it to use on actual rock
The importance of training cannot be underestimated but you get most of your training when you climb.I use it only as a way to remain fit when i cannot climb(winter),and i never use indoor walls.Forget training and climb harder at the rocks.
McColl has just got another silver medal (wasn’t gold by just 1 attempt at a bonus!). This way he has proved that his training plan is perfect and therefore there’s no need for further scientific research on the matter (just do what he does and you’ll get silver medals!).
I’m going to pick and choose a few comments here that are simply ridiculous:
Mr. Hunter: “Its well established in sport science that top performers in all sports do not understand very well what contributes to their high level of performance.” Well established? All Sports? Could you be any more misleading? You think that Roger Federer doesn’t understand what contributes to his high level of performance in tennis? You don’t think that Haile Gebrselassie understands how his high level of performance came to be? Tell us again which athletes you have coached to the highest level of his or her sport.
Mr Mulligan says: “one of the major myths in sports is that the top athletes are some how naturally gifted physically. This is simply not true.”
The logical fallacy of this aside (major myths?, top athletes? – some evidence, please)…. I would point out that at least a few of the best rock climbers over the years were, in fact, naturally gifted.
Chris Sharma. Jerry Moffat. Dave Graham. To name 3.
Yes they both have “trained”, but by in large they just climbed, and in the process they established some of the hardest routes/problems in the world – and moved the needle on what other folks even thought was possible.
I don’t mean to indicate that coaches aren’t important. The problem, for me, is this: you take 2 guys who think they “coach” people – and they create these fallacious arguments to sell their own services – without acknowledging just a few basic concepts, Namely: some folks are stronger/faster/better and yes – more gifted – than others. And that’s OK.
Blah blah blah.
Go friggin’ climb.
Mr. Strang (Are you the fictitious character from Sundog),
I thank you for pointing out a misspeak in my wording. I didn’t realize it until you quoted me. To clarify, yes, top athletes are often times naturally gifted. I meant to say what sets them apart is not their natural talent but their attitude, work ethic and determination, among others.
“Basically, as athletes progress through their development, those that go farther do have natural talent, but the key here is, are they AT THE TOP because of the natural talent or because of what set them apart from countless other “naturally talented” athletes?”
This is a portion of what I said in a follow up comment, not realizing my incorrect phrasing in the original statement. I go on to articulate more specifics that you can read yourself.
In light of this, I’ll not go any further, as clearly I’ve misrepresented myself.
Regarding your comment towards Mr. Hunter, you go on to say:
“You think that Roger Federer doesn’t understand what contributes to his high level of performance in tennis? You don’t think that Haile Gebrselassie understands how his high level of performance came to be? Tell us again which athletes you have coached to the highest level of his or her sport…’
Are you supporting your argument with an assumption that is so obvious that we should just know? Or are you saying that Mr. Hunter is so stupid it never occurred to him that just because they’re so good it’s obvious they obviously know why. And further along this, you say for Mr. Hunter to tell you who he coached so as to allow you to accept him into your sphere of acceptable coaches solely because he will have coached someone you deem acceptable to your standard?
To conceptualize and put into perspective what scientific training can do for some of the top athletes requires making some guesses based on what such training has done for athletes in other sports. If you use the current top achievements of today in climbing as a benchmark for the argument that training is something negative (this is the best I can come up with concerning your actual point), then there is no point to hypothesizing what science can do to further the standards. You’re satisfied and, therefore, we should also be satisfied?
Also, I’m not selling anything. This obsession with a capitalist mindset assumed so as to make your argument stronger, is simply disrespectful and a straight up false accusation. By all means point out our selling pitches…
McColl’s victory at the La Sportiva Legends Only comp is yet more evidence of how inappropriate and useless his training regime is…
climbing is one of the most fascinating sports in terms of training. There are so many elements at play when climbing. Cycling, running, swimming, weight lifting (excluding maybe olympic lifting), and other ‘traditional’ sports have been well mapped out in terms of training and most of what the trainers are able to focus on is building solid technique and then developing strength. Sure, that’s sort of what we do in the climbing world as well. But the technique involved in running is very basic in comparison (i was a 400m sprinter that was within 5 tenths of a second from walking on to a big ten team). I worked on my launch, my stride, and that’s about it…of course the coaches would provide feedback but it wasn’t very hard at all to get that dialed. Then the next part was building the necessary strength, dropping down to the essentials, and (the hard part) running like heck.
When it comes to climbing you cant just show an average person technique for a month or so and then concentrate on specific strength training and tell them to just climb as hard as they possibly can. I’m paraphrasing but there was a quote from adam ondra a year ago maybe where he said that just now is he able to even give it about 90% because there is so much technique, so many possible movements, in addition to other skills like reading the route correctly, learning how to rest, etc etc. And that’s coming from probably the best climber in the world.
I live in Salt Lake City and yes, i see wunderkids all the time who, in a matter of 2 months or so are climbing v6. But this is not the norm, and those kids who are able to excell like that usually already have a very solid base and are exceptionally good at learning the intricacies of movement from people who are much better than them. They pay attention and absorb. Of course they usually are horrible at figuring out beta, but in this day of youtube and vimeo you dont really have to be able to figure out beta on your own.
anyway back to the point, climbing is much more like Golf in terms of training. Both sports rely on physical strength (golf not as much back in the day, but after the epic triumphs of tiger who was one of the first to really put time into strength training, the whole sport followed) lots of technique, and, most importantly, immense psychological strength. In golf, just like climbing often times the harder you try the worse you do – your technique gets sloppy, you miss obvious holds, you overgrip everything, forget to rest, clip chicken wing style, and so on. (if your a trad climber you can pretty much disregard all of this as it is much more about pulling like mad and and pain tolerance with much less focus on technique) to be successful you have to learn how to try ‘soft’ focusing more on the flow and being fully aware/awake in the moment. A climber can spend lots of time weight training and grip training even after learning the basis of technique (lets say being able to climb at 5.10- level) and only see marginal movement and hold specific improvements. I was this climber for years. I was able to climb 5.12 very quick and boulder relatively well on specifically crimpy routes, but i was very limited in my skill and hit a 3 year+ plateau. I overtrained with weights and got really strong physically over several years (i gained probably 25 lbs of muscle). But still was climbing basically the same grade.
A year and a couple bad injuries later, i’ve finally learned. I spent a lot of time fixing my life in general and creating a balance so my mind could be clear while climbing. Anger, pride, anxiety, etc all were detrimental to my climbing. In addition I began to study books aimed at training dancers, the message was universal: learn to experience and be completely aware in your body, things change daily…sometimes our obliques might hurt from repeatedly trying a hard move the day before, other times our shoulders/neck are aligned differently. The dance books taught methods to work with these changes, maintain a positive attitude, and. through body awareness. to still successfully move without ‘cheating’ or using poor form. It was moving, or in this case climbing, as an art.
After trying the principals in these books for a while, cross-training, and cutting back my actual climbing days; I have been able to break through my long standing plateau. In four weeks I have gone from flashing v3s and some v4s with okay style to flashing several v6s with greatly improved and much more efficient style. Climbing feels different altogether now, and this didn’t come about from climbing more, strength training, hangboards, campusing, it came from learning how to be conscious and awake in my movement and in my body…in addition to learning what it means to try soft. Now I’m not someone you would label as “legit” or “strong” by any means, i still have a long way to go…I just wanted to share what has worked for me and give some thoughts on training in general. Climbing is such a great and complicated sport and for those of us who are not naturals, its a sport that demands an incredible amount of tenacity as we each strive to figure out how to achieve that next level (unless you’re one of those rare people who don’t really seem to care about the grades and are able to just climb for climbing sake).
This is a lovely post, and thank you. Also, could you name a few of the dance books you liked the most?
nice post. dance has much to offer, so does martial arts. the one fundamental I took away from dance (I spent 4 years intensively dance training 5/6 days a week for 4-8 hours a day in my late 20’s that originally started due to both elbows having major problems which I later found out came from poor shoulder development) was that fundamentals are everything. most other sports that have enough learned depth have developed some or extensive programs for working fundamentals. climbing has little foundational development in the states.
you hit it on the nose when you stated that it was about balance, low, etc that offered the biggest gains. once a child learns fundamentals, their movement continues to evolve fluidly framed by those fundamentals. adults often have no concept and can’t “feel” their way through movement. unfortunately today, it’s a hit and miss approach among coaches and teachers that practice workout regimes without knowing what to focus technique-wise on during such regimes. watching vids or trainers (etc) in person is very frustrating since they often or always just focus on getting their student to go harder… but without any sense of boundaries.
Kris Peters is in a video putting Daniel Woods through a workout and never taking a moment to correct poor technique. this is just wrong. I applaud Daniel for taking the time out and supporting Peters, but this video is a bad example to show others because it emphasizes forceful effort over anything else. all movement must be framed with structure. period.
(long ago I had a dance instructor that performed on broadway in Chicago on the original production by bob fosse, and she told me to watch baryshnikov’s feet. she said to watch his feet, like nureyev and others, as he hits near perfect foot positions regardless of what moves he’s performing, and this is from a guy that’s too short so he overcame it by standing on his toes to appear the right height with taller females. this kind of detail is what makes the best go a bit farther, faster, or whatever.)
(watch baryshikov in White Nights where he does 11 number of turns without any cuts or edits. imagine being that centered over your toes… his exit shows his centering. and he wasn’t a top turner, but an excellent one, nonetheless. here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02EvsGal-Wc&noredirect=1)
personally, I’m working on metrics for assessment and foundational movement tools, but I have a long way to go. the climbing community, in time, will get it right as all of us begin to share and evolve our understanding. time is on our side.
I would love to share with others, but right now I’m working with a handful of teachers and coaches on the west coast to support their programs. I’m taking my time. and I’m not an opportunist or capitalist, so if someone figures it all out before me, so be it. that just means they know more. once i get it all right, it will be available.
thanks for sharing WayTooCaffinated.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts – very interesting and honest. Also cool to revive a pretty interesting discussion on training. I’ll quibble with one minor point for the sake of any budding trad climbers out there (who most likely aren’t on this site, though). Technique is absolutely the No. 1 skill needed for crack climbing. The ability to find the most efficient, pose to fill the blank void of a crack with is the key to climbing gear routes. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the true crack masters; the detailed intricacies of moving up a given route that they identify and can remember and repeat is absolutely astonishing – it blows away sport climbing and bouldering beta. So if you like cracks, focus on climbing cracks over and over again in all sizes and experimenting with thumbs up/down jams, balance from move to move, different foot jams and staying over your feet, and linking moves smoothly etc., etc.
Back in 1992 when I first met Doug and when 5.13 was still pretty damn hard, I made the mistake of commenting that “Anyone can climb 5.13.” Just about every single person that heard me say this thought I was either a total moron or an arrogant jerk. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure why people got so angry when I would say that. I guess it would be like me saying, now, that “Anyone can climb 5.15.”
My original comment came from my feeling that sport climbing was, in 1992, a nascent sport and the upper levels of performance had to be comparatively low. In other words, there hadn’t been enough time, there wasn’t a talent pool large enough, and there certainly was not scientifically-based effective resources to aid climbers in their training. To put it bluntly, 5.13 was not a big deal. It was easy to imagine back in the days of “Nirvana” and “Friends” that as the sport grew more popular and visible in the U.S., the next generation of climbers might begin to tap into a wider talent pool. I could not get out of my head this notion of kids who get tracked into gymnastics at a very young age, getting pulled instead into climbing and what major leaps in performance the sport could take.
With the advent of indoor gyms, the popularity grew and the talent pool got bigger. But the popularity of climbing was not explosive. It expanded slowly. And the inability of the American competition scene to firmly catch hold of the imagination of American sports media was one of the factors that made sure it was a slow expansion.
Still, we did see the results. Younger and younger people became capable of climbing at a higher and higher levels. Until suddenly one day we all opened our climbing magazines and saw 16, 15, 14, 13 even 12 year-olds flashing 5.13s.
But while our talent pool had expanded, our knowledge of climbing-specific training really didn’t. Yes, a lot of people wrote a lot of good things about training. But no one was bringing the top-shelf, science-based training methods that some Olympic and professional athletes were incorporating. And for good reason. Climbing is still not that popular in the U.S.. Americans seem to have a love for things that go fast like skateboards and BMX bikes, but climbing is not one of them. That translates into one simple thing. No money. And cutting edge, science-based training costs money.
That is, until you had a few dedicated individuals who were not going to be dissuaded by the fact that outside of Europe, climbing as a sport just does not bring the attention (and thus the money, the training, the talent pool) one would think it could. And these people have been focusing on trying to bring the highest level of science-based training to climbing.
Now … having said all that … I would like to ask my good friend Doug a question. Despite the fact that climbing is not as popular here as it is over there and we are only just starting in the last few years to really understand the science of climbing-specific training … to what do you attribute the fact that the U.S. still manages to pump out a handful of climbers who are performing at the highest levels …. matching and sometimes surpassing many of our European friends? In other words, without the popularity, the focus and the money climbing enjoys in abroad, how do we manage to produce a seemingly replenishable crop of high-end climbers like Sharma, Graham, Woods, etc?
Hey Nick Sorry I didn’t get to this sooner.
For me the question of Sharma, Ashima, Ondra etc, is to an extent, a question of statistical outliers, how many of them there are, the likelyhood of their getting exposure to climbing, and what historicaly era they live in. The population of the US is 350 million or so. It seems reasonable to expect that the biological diversity of such a large population is going to produce a certain number of individuals who are extremely well suited to climbing or any other activity we can think of.
What I am interested in is the question of why the US “has no bench” to borrow a phrase. If we put aside the issue of the highest level performers and look at the climbers below them, that is where I think the effects of coaching, the quality of training, the availability of natural resources and institutional support have the greatest impact. Another frame of reference is international comparisons, for example, at the youth world championships for rope climbing this year not one kid from the US got in the top three, even our most talented kids. This speaks to the possibility that other, much smaller countries are doing better with their very best athletes than we are. I have more thoughts but gotta run. Cheers!
Or it “speaks to the possibility” that our very best athletes either don’t climb or don’t bother going to competitions. There are many possible explanations. A more interesting question is why do you like to pretend to be a scientist on the internet?
i think i can answer that: the internet is only utilized by scientists… Dr. Dustonian.
I think you refocused the question precisely. The US is a big enough place to produce a handful of top end climbers like Sharma and Woods, but the question is the depth of the bench.
I’ve often heard US climbers, who’ve taken trips to Europe, talk about how “everyone” in Europe is climbing at the high end. They visit the great sports crags in France and Spain and see little kids hiking 12s and teens cruising 13s and almost all the dedicated climbers over there can hit the easier 14s.
It’s just so much more a part of their culture. Families go hiking in the mountains and they go rock climbing together. Competitions are a big deal. Mountaineers and high end rock climbers are minor celebrities.
Which, in the end, might be for the best for us here in the States. Climbing, despite getting more popular, is still a fringy sport and I’m sure plenty of climbers here like it that way.
In the end, reflecting, it’s funny how my comment that “anyone can climb 5.13” used to piss climbers off in 1994 … and if I made the same comment now in 2014 … I think most climbers would just say … “Dah!”
Does anyone know the name of the gym this was filmed in?
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