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How to belay for rock climbing

Belaying refers to the method that climbers use to hold each others ropes. Below is a simple video explaining how this can be done.

ClimbCoach - Month 3 - supercompensation

Rock climbing coaching app
This month has mainly been spent training strength. I have been using a number of the training programs and have seen a huge improvement in my climbing. When I first started using the app I could only just complete 1-3-5 on the campus board. I have now progressed past this and can complete 1-4-6 with my left hand and I am very close with my right. I am aiming to be able to do this with both hands by the end of the next training cycle. I have also completed a number of hard problems that I have never managed before and on top of this, I have had to change the handholds I use on the fingerboard routines as my previous ones are now too easy.

One of the key principles that have allowed me to gain strength and power is what’s know as Supercompensation. This is the idea that training makes us weaker - not stronger. It is only during the rest period between the training sessions that we actually get stronger.

The image below shows the change in fitness levels during and after training.

The diagrams clearly shows how important rest is when we are training. If you don’t give yourself enough rest between training sessions you will not be able to gain the maximum gains in fitness. How much rest you take is dependent on many factors such as the training intensity, age, fitness and individual genetic make up. The ClimbCoach app gives suggested rest times for each training session, but as a general rule, if your arms feel tired in the morning, you should give it another days rest.

There are many different training adaptations that occur during the rest period between training sessions.

ClimbCoach training month 2 - energy systems

Rock climbing coaching app
This month I have taken part in three different types of training. The frist two weeks was focused on anaerobic resistance training (typically used in sport climbing), this was followed by one week of aerobic training (continuous climbing for around 15-30 minute periods) and two weeks and strength and power training (used for climbing hard boulder problems). The reasons for planning my training in this way are explained in my previous post

Over the last 5 weeks I have trained the 3 major energy systems (aerobic, anaerobic glycolysis and the PC system), with this in mind, this post will explain the basics of these energy systems. Each one of these energy systems is designed to produce a chemical called ATP. This compound can be thought of as an energy store, when we need energy to climb, ATP is made. As well as explaining what type of training I have been using, I will give a basic overview of the three energy systems. More details about ATP and how we produce it can be found on my main site here.

Anaerobic/lactate training

For the first two weeks I have been using the ‘linked boulder circuit’ from the ClimbCoach app. As this is the start of my training cycle, I have decided to stick to the beginner work out. Once I completed this 4 times, I moved on the intermediate version. The beginner work out took about 1.5 hours to complete (including a warm up and warm down). The hardest part of the workout was picking the correct grade of boulder problem. The app suggests two problems at your onsight level - one to go up and the other to climb down. I had to adjust this as I needed an easier problem to climb down (I kept falling off when down climbing at my onsight level), I can only assume that the onsight level refers to your down climbing onsight level!

As I often work long and strange hours, it is not always possible to make it down to the climbing wall. On these occasions I used the ‘finger resistance’ workout for my finger board. I have to admit that I found this hard as the workout uses finger grips I am not used to. One of the hang uses just your little and ring fingers - I have had to adjust this and also use my middle finger too.

This type of climbing will be primarily using an energy pathway called Anaerobic Glycolysis. This is the breakdown of glucose in lactic acid. During this process ATP is made. Only a small amount of ATP is made and there is a build up of Hydrogen ions, these are the prime cause of the ‘pump’ and the reducing in our ability to climb hard.

If there is not enough oxygen in our muscles, the Hydrogen (H) the hydrogen can not be removed, instead it has to be added to the pyruvic acid to make lactic acid.

Aerobic training

If sport climbing places huge demands on anaerobic glycolysis (resulting in the feeling of getting pumped), why bother training aerobically. Not only will aerobic training help our climbing by supplying our energy aerobically but it can also help by removing any lactate that does result from periods of high intensity exercise. There is a much more detailed look at the research and theory behind aerobic training in climbing on my main site here.

This page is summarised by a statement in a research journal from 2004: Rock climbing uses all the energy systems, training aerobically will increase your ability to climb without producing any unwanted waist products such as Hydrogen and lactic acid (Watts 2004).

long route climbing

Long routes such as this one in Yosemite will place a greater demand on the aerobic system.

There appears to be a ‘training threshold’ that needs to be attained to gain greater training results. This means if we train above 70% of our aerobic maximum we will achieve the best results. A simple way of measuring this in other sports is to use your heart rate. My aerobic training page explains how to work out what heart rate that you should be training at. There is also another way of setting intensity levels - that is to use the onset of blood lactate as the guide. Many advanced athletes actually take blood samples to find this level and then train at a level just beyond on onset on blood lactate. As we cant do this, ClimbCoach suggests that we climb at a level where we might get a small amount of ‘pump’ but nothing that a quick shakeout won’t solve. At first glace this seems like a random intensity level, but this is the perfect level for us to work at (onset of blood lactate). This proves that ClimbCaoch does not what it is doing and has based its advice on proven by research.

The energy system used in aerobic training is similar to anaerobic glycolysis, but because oxygen is present the Hydrogen ions are taken into the mitochondria of our muscle cells and used to create even more ATP. The pyruvic acid is therefore not converted into lactic acid and instead goes through a series of chemical conversions in a pathway know as the krebs cycle. The Krebs cycle produce 2 ATP molecules and even more hydrogen which is also used to make even more ATP. This whole system is called aerobic glycolysis and it can create 36 ATP molecules compared to anaerobic glycolysis which only produces 2 ATP. The only disadvantage of this system is that it is slow and requires oxygen to create the ATP.

Strength and power training with the Phospho-Creatine System

For the final week of this month I will be training strength. As I have already completed a couple of weeks strength training using the ClimbCoach app as part of a preparatory phase, I will be moving into the intermediate campus workouts and the advanced fingerboard workouts. I will also be using the ‘max boulder sets’ and ‘hard boulder sets’. I realy like these boulder sets as you get to climb real problems which keeps the motivation up but the program makes sure you take the correct amount of rest between reps and sets to achieve maximum training results.

Both anaerobic glycolysis and aerobic glycolysis take a bit of time to get going. We have a small amount of ATP stored in our muscles ready to go but as ATP weights a lot we cant store that much. There is another system called the phospho-creatine system, this system is also anaerobic (does not need oxygen) and produces huge amount of ATP quickly. This is done by the breakdown of a compound call Phospho-Creatine (PC). PC is spilt into its component parts (Phosphorus and Creatine) and this process produces masses of energy which is used to make ATP. The only drawback of this system is that PC is heavy and can’t be stored in large quantities. Therefore the PC system can only produce ATP for around 10 seconds.

The PC system will be used for all-out maximal activity lasting around 10 seconds. such as bouldering.

Results of my training

Well so far I have only been training for 4 and a bit weeks so I am not expecting any results just yet. My motivation levels are still very high and I believe that this is due to the inspiration ClimbCoach has given me. I did weigh myself this morning and found that I have lost 4kg without too much effect. Result!

Watts, P.B. (2004) Physiology of difficult rock climbing. European Journal of Applied Physiology. April 2004, Volume 91, Issue 4, pp 361-372

Climbcoach training program - Month 1 - Periodisation

Rock climbing coaching app
Climbcoach is an App for ipods that help you plan and execute training for rock climbing. I have been using this app for a month now and how found it to be invaluable training tool. Already, I have seen improvements in my climbing fitness and the climbcoach is helping me stay motivated and on track with my training.

resting from rock climbing

Insanity = doing the same thing and expecting different results!

As 2013 is here, I thought I would use the climbcoach app to plan a 6-month training program. Within this post I will be discussing a training technique called periodisation. Simply put, periodisation means sticking to a structured long-term training program as opposed to a more haphazard approach such as trying to climb as often as you can.

For the last few years I have been going climbing a 2-4 times a week but have not seen any improvement in my grades. If I want to achieve the goals I have set for myself, I will need to do something different this year. This year I am going to plan my training to achieve maximum results.

and stick to it!

Goal Setting

Before planning any form of training plan you will have to decide what you would like to achieve. In rock climbing this is generally easy - My goals for this year are to climb a route called ‘Carbide Finger’ at Bowles Rocks (6c) another route at Bowles called ‘Them Monkey Things’ and a route at Harrison’s rocks called ‘What Crisis’. These goals all have one thing in common - they are all short powerful routes.

training for powerful climbing

Carbide Finger (6c) at Bowles - this will require strength and power

This means that I will want my training to focus on strength and power with a lesser focus on anaerobic fitness.

A long term approach to training (6 months and upwards) is called a Macrocyle.


A mesocycle is a phase of the training program with a duration from 2-8 weeks. Its within this phase that I will be focusing most my planning. My mesocycle will have 4 weeks of strength and power training, followed by 2 weeks on anaerobic resistance training and one week aerobic training. Towards to end of the 6 month plan (the macrocyle) the anaerobic resistance and aerobic fitness will be tweaked slightly to incorporate more anaerobic power and aerobic power. More detail on this will be covered in Februarys post – Energy Systems. If your goals are for longer routes such as a typical sport route at in indoor wall, your will want to plan a slightly different mesocycle. I would recommend a template such as 4 weeks strength, 3 weeks anaerobic resistance, 2 weeks aerobic power and one week active rest.


7 Week training program

Once the mesocycle has been planned, you can then go into further detail and plan your weekly sessions. A weekly plan is often called a Microcycle. I will be using the climbcoach app to plan my weekly training. The app makes the detailed weekly planning very simple. If I am working on strength and power - I will pick a training workout from the strength section, and aim to complete this workout on four separate occasions. The app even awards you with a gold medal once you have completed the workout three times.
training for climbing

Climbcoach lets you pick the type of workout you want

During the anaerobic phase I will be picking a workout from the ‘resistance’ section and an aerobic workout will be picked from the ‘endurance’ section.
How often to train and when to rest
climbcoach climbing training

Climbcoach plans for rest an training frequency

This is also part of the microcycle, but the climbcoach app also makes this very easy - each workout tells your training frequency and how much rest is needed between each workout.

Why bother with periodisation?

I have been going on about how to plan your training but so far I have not addressed why this is a worth while activity. There are three main reasons;

  • Supercompensation
  • Provides variety
  • Reduces the chances of injury

This explains how we get stronger. Greater detail will be covered in March, all we need to know is after a climbing session we start to get fitter. This means we start our next training session with a small increased fitness level. This small gain in fitness allows us to train harder and longer and therefore get better results. This is why training in blocks is a great way to train.

training on sandstone rock

varying your climbing keeps the body guessing and reduces injury

Our bodies are excellent at adapting to the training demands we place on them. After a prolonged phase of training the body will have adapted in many ways and increased its fitness in order to cope with the training. The best way to keep your body adapting is to ‘keep the body guessing’ by changing the type of training we are doing. This could be a change from campus boards to hard bouldering or it can be an change from strength training to anaerobic training. This shift of training focus will keep our body guessing and force them to keep adapting.
Injury prevention
If you keep doing the same type of training you will be increasing the risk of injury. By swapping the types of training you are doing, the body will get time to recover and reduce the chances of over training.

My Plan for January

As I am already 4 weeks into my training so the next two weeks will be anaerobic resistance, the third week aerobic climbing or rest, and the forth week will be back onto strength.

I will let you know how it goes.

Winter Climbing Training with Climbcoach

Rock climbing coaching app
Over the last month I have been using an app for my iphone called climbcoach. This is a rock climbing training program that helps you plan your training as well as providing many training workouts to follow when you are at the climbing wall.

For the nest 6 months I am going to use climbcoach as the main focus of my training. Each month I will post about any improvements in my training, but instead of just a boring post about me (even I don’t want to read that!), I will be discussing a training principles that will allow us to gain the most from the training. The first training principle I am going to cover is periodisation . This is simply planning your training to achieve maximum results.

Here is a list of the upcoming monthly training topics;

  • Periodisation and goal setting - planning your training (January)
  • Energy systems - How to train the correctly to achieve your goals (February)
  • Supercompensation (March)
  • Muscle groups and antagonists (April)
  • Flexibility and stretching (May)
  • Rest and Injury prevention (June)

Simply click on the topic you would like to read about (once its been published).

What next? A list a recommended climbs

rock climbing in south East UkAfter a climbing course, people often ask me for a list of recommend climbs. Well - here it is. This list does not go above 5a and sticks to three cliffs that are suitable for beginners (Bowles, Harrisons and Stonefarm)

Bowles Rocks
rocks at Bowles

November 2b
Funnel 3c
Pigs Nose 5a
Devaluation 5b
YoYo 4a
Sapper 4c
Skiffle 3a
Reclamation slab 2b

Harrisons Rocks
rock climbing at Harrisons
Long layback 5a
Bow Window 3c
Right circle – 4a
Tame corner 2a
Tame Variant 2b
Toeing the line 4b
Deadwood crack 4c
The Vice 4c
Smooth chimney 3b
Moonlight arête 4a
Wanderfall 4c
Birch tree wall 4b
Birch tree crack 3c

Stonefarm rocks
climbing at Stone farm rocks
Tiny Wall, Stonefarm Rocks
Pine crack 3b
Curling crack 4b
Introductory climb 2b
Dinosaurs don’t dyno 3a
Praying Mantles, Stonefarm Rocks (5b)

More detail can be found at here

rock climbing courses

Bowles Outdoor Centre - staff training day.

This week I ran a training session for all the full time staff at Bowles outdoor centre. This was quite a hard task as all the staff at Bowles are excellent outdoor instructors. There is a huge amount of experience between all the team. Bowles is very different from many other outdoor centres as it places a great deal of importance on quality and educational value of its outdoor sessions. A large amount of time and money is spent training and developing the staff - hence my input on the training day.
climbing training at Bowles Rocks
I decided the aim for the day should not only be technical input such as ‘how to rescue’ and different ways of teaching belaying but some of the session was also spent looking at ‘information processing’ and how this can effect how we run our climbing sessions.

Information Processing

All the staff at Bowles recently had a training on Autism, although this is not new to us, we all gained a further insight on some of the difficulties that Autistic people could face whilst at Bowles. I decided to continue with this theme at explore how people we can pass complex information (such as all the safety information needed for climbing) to students who have difficulties dealing with large amounts of information.

As a warm up, we played a game where all the staff had one minute to remember as many objects as they can. Once the staff had written down all they could remember they then found out that each object represented a different instruction that can given as part of our climbing sessions. There are a possible 36 bits of information that can be included in a climbing brief and therefore there where 36 objects to remember. Each person then had to look at what they had remembered and write down what sections of the climbing brief they represented. Each staff member then had to decide whether they had gathered enough information for the climbing session to be safe!

Half the staff did remember enough information for the session to be safe but all the other staff released that they had not retained enough information. This then lead to a group discussion and it was quickly agreed that we only need to give out three pieces of information to make our climbing sessions safe. All the other bits of the brief can be added once the 3 main parts have been understood.

Click on this image to see some of the notes from this section.
rock climbing course


Later during the day we looked at possible rescue practices. Firstly it was decided that there are not many situations where pulling hard on the ‘live’ end of the rope will not solve. Everyone was very surprised how effective a simple prussic on the live end can be.
rock climbing assistance
We also practiced something known as a ‘counter balanced rescue’. I am not going to explain this here as I feel it is something that needs proper training. The photos below are only meant to remind people who attended the course.
rock climbing rescues
rock climbing rescue course

Adding value to climbing

The final part of the training day was a discussion on how we all add extra value to the climbing session. All climbing sessions will have elements of team work/goal setting/ communication and confidence. The Bowles staff are very good at bringing these out during the session. We took it for granted that we are able to do this so we focused on how we can add extra value by teaching students about the geology of the rocks, history of rock climbing and plants and animals. We all agreed that this ‘value’ should be added without distracting from the rock climbing session. We looked at games we can play whilst climbing that also teaches the students about the rocks.
rock climbing information

New Bolts placed on Salamanda Slab (Bowles Rocks)

rock climbing at Bowles RocksAs part of my contract with Bowles Outdoor Centre, I check all the high access equipment, high ropes courses as well as checking the bolts on the rocks. I have been informed by a local climber that the tree at the top of Salamander Slab ‘wobbles’ when you pull on it. This is a bit of a worry as not only is the tree an important hand hold but most people also use it to attach their ropes to.

I don’t think it is good practice to use a tree that is perched on the edge of a cliff, especially one that is dead down one side! It can be set up with a rope using a Y hang without wobbly tree, but not many people do this.

To try and encourage sensible and safe practice, I have placed some bolts behind the tree so people can use a simple set up, instead of a more complex Y hang.
Climbing bolts
Currently, the bolts are not in use as some time is needed for the resin to set and I also need to order a connecting wire to link the two bolts.
climbing bolts
The new bolts will usable in the next couple of weeks.

How to rig a jumar setup for special needs climbing

This advice has come from Andy Kirtpatrict site which talks about climbing El Cap with someone how only has use of their arms.

There are some great tips in this page for anyone how works with special needs in the outdoor education sector. I will be trying this method out and post some photos and let you know how it goes.

special needs rock climbing

What I like about this set up is that the climber has an assisted pulley/pull up system without having to constantly reset jumars each time they are used. When using this for outdoor centre purposes, you will need a second belay rope and the fixed line would have to be releasable. This could be done with a simple tied of Italian Hitch.

Start up equipment for rock climbing

As many of my rock climbing courses are designed to teach people how to climb without instruction, I often get asked what equipment is needed for climbing on Southern Sandstone.

The simple method I teach for setting up climbs will work in any situation, it does not matter whether you have one or two anchor points or if you are using trees or bolts. This one simple method will work every time. Although there are some methods on my setting up sandstone climbs page, I don’t describe this method as I like to keep some skills back for my courses - sorry. The one disadvantage is that it requires 1 more krab than some other methods!

For this system you will need the following;

5-10 meter length of static rope - for rigging (same spec as below and will cost from £10 to £20)
30-40m length of climbing ropes (either static or dynamic 10-11mm in diameter and it should be a ‘single rope’) At static will be between £50 and £60 for this length
1 HMS krab (£10 to £15)
2 or 3 D or oval krabs (£10)
1 belay plate (I like the Black Diamond ATC at £20)
1 harnesses per person (£40 to £80 - make sure it is comfortable by hanging in it whilst in the shop)
climbing shoes (£40 to £120 - don’t spend more than £50 on your first shoes - they should be snug but comfortable)
Helmet (optional)
Rope protector (old carpet is fine)
Carpet for cleaning feet at the start of the climb.

I would recommend this local store as they are sandstone specialists and stock DMM climbing equipment (DMM is British, has great environmental record and make great kit)