Tag Archives: training

BLOG: What Exactly is my Training Plan?

I’ve had quite a few emails about this blog post: From 6b to 8a in 4 Weeks asking me exactly what I have been doing and how I went up through the grades so fast.

Well, I’m happy to report my level has increased a notch again since I wrote that post, and I feel in pretty good shape. So I think I am on target for 6b to 8b in 3 months, we shall see.

Note: I am no training guru, in fact I am quite the opposite, so if you do know something about training, and you have any opinions on how I could be doing better, or any other advice, then do let me know!

The Training Plan Explained:

Firstly, if you have never climbed harder than 6b please don’t expect to follow this plan and climb 8b in 3 months. It might work but it most likely won’t. My previous personal best sport grade is 8b+ and I have onsighted quite a few 8as, so although I did start this season by climbing 6bs, it didn’t take me long to get above that level.

Coming back to rock climbing after a full winter of skiing, and a summer of little climbing last year did mean I started at a low level. I ticked over for a couple of weeks by doing 2 route climbing sessions per week at the indoor wall, climbing about 6b, then I started trying to improve. The first 2 weeks were actually just to get used to climbing again.

The main difficulties for me trying to train with no base fitness is the simple fact that I am not fit enough to train. Reading articles about doing circuits and laps and 4x4s etc is all well and good, but my arms were not up to that sort of thing.

So I went steep multipitch climbing in the 6th grade, and basically this meant that I did lots of pitches of the right standard to get me tired, and this also stimulated me to keep trying when I was already a little bit tired (nothing like a 400m drop beneath the feet to give a little extra mental boost…). It also got me psyched. I love climbing, and I love long routes, so this was a great kickstart for me.

I added to these days with 2 very short indoor bouldering sessions. I had wanted to do 4x4s (picking 4 boulder problems and climbing them each 4 times, but the first session I actually only managed a 1×4 (one problem 4 times), and then the second session I did a 2×4!)

Summary of Week 1: 3 big days of multipitch climbing in 1 week, plus 2 very short indoor bouldering sessions.


Then I went to Spain for a week, to be inspired by friends, and climb more pitches.

I started off pretty easy, and (the grades are a bit easier in Spain) I could onsight 7as by this time. I climbed a little bit every day for 5 days in a row, just three or four routes per day, and by the last day I onsighted 2 7b+s. My friends were encouraging me to try harder routes, but I resisted the temptation for several reasons. Mainly because actually I had tried really bloody hard to do the 7b+s, but also because I was wary of injury, and also I wanted to finish the trip on a high note.

Summary of Week 2: Climbing outdoor sport routes in Spain for 5 days in a row from 6c to 7b+.


Coming back from Spain I took a rest day, and then started training again.

I stuck with doing 4x4s in the local bouldering wall, choosing moderately steep crimpy problems of a basic style. I added to these with some basic finger boarding exercises.

I usually did double session days with 4x4s at lunchtime and fingerboard (just 30mins) in the evening. On the board I did repeaters on a few key holds, and 20 sets of 10 pull ups on jugs.

I also climbed outside 3 times during the week, and redpointed a tough 7c in a couple of attempts. The outdoor climbing was overhanging, physical sport climbing, mainly on routes that I had done before. I was climbing several pitches each session until I was tired, but not exhausted. This included toproping a couple of routes after leading to increase volume of climbing etc.

Note: Throughout this training plan I have never trained to exhaustion, and I have never felt exposed to injury. It is worth noting that on top of all this climbing training I have been doing stretching and push ups around 3 times per week.

Summary of week 3: Three outdoor climbing sessions trying as hard as I could on routes up to 7c. 2 days of indoor training with double sessions: bouldering wall and finger board.


Week 4 was very similar to week 3, except that instead of redpointing a 7c I redpointed an 8a. This took 2 visits, and I had quite a few tries on the route on my first visit, making sure I had the sequences dialled for the next visit. I managed to do it on my first try the second visit with relative ease (and cold hands!). I still didn’t have loads of fitness, so I think one or two redpoint attempts were all I would have been able to do, so firing it off straight away was the best idea!

Interspersed with the 2 outdoor sessions were indoor bouldering and finger board sessions similar to the previous week.

Summary of week 4: Two outdoor sessions on steep rock resulting in an 8a redpoint. 3 or maybe 4 indoor days on bouldering and finger board doing double session days.


Week 5 and 6: I have just taken two weeks off from hard climbing, and been on holiday. I have climbed quite a bit, onsighting fun routes up to 7b, plus I have been trail running and cycling.

I’m now back to training and trying hard routes again, this time an 8b. I have increased the difficulty of the finger board routine, and added leg raises and core work to the routine. I’ll report on this section in more detail when I tick the 8b! (I hope!).

I hope that is useful to someone (Bjorn or Jim? – and good luck with your operation Jim) and happy climbing everyone!

Me on the initial section of Parsifal (8a+) at Sarre Roof. The extension is 8b... come on arms! Photo by Adam George.
Me on the initial section of Parsifal (8a+) at Sarre Roof. The extension is 8b… come on arms! Photo by Adam George.

BLOG: Orpierre – 15 Years Later

Back in 1998 I was lucky enough to visit the limestone paradise of Orpierre in France on a college trip. I was studying Outdoor Education and we took a sport climbing week to the polished slabs of the region as part of our course. It was my first ‘Euro Sport’ trip.

All I remember from the trip was being really impressed that one of our tutors (Rob Gale – an all round fantastic bloke) could speak French. And I also remember redpointing a 7b called Toutes les Chances plus UneI was climbing with my good friend Aide, and I went up first and gave Aide the beta for a flash attempt. I’m pretty sure he fell off on the flash, but either way I recall that just before the crux there was an option to rest on the right on a good handhold, but it was quite steep there.

On arrival at the ‘resting’ hold, Aide shouted that I had sandbagged him, as it was too steep to rest, and he moved to the left to rest in a wet manky hole – a much worse handhold, but less steep, and an option I hadn’t even considered.

With this memory in mind I set off up the route last week, after some young climbers from Southampton University had redpointed it in a few goes. They reminded me of Aide and I back in the 90’s.

When I reached the aforementioned resting area I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could rest in either position, so despite not being a technically brilliant climber back then, I hadn’t been too far off the mark. I will hand it to you though Aide – your rest was marginally better! 😉

Looking down from Aide's rest on the Orpierre 7b - Toutes les Chances plus Une
Looking down from Aide’s rest on the Orpierre 7b – Toutes les Chances plus Une last week – 15 years older, 15 years wiser than the first time. If I knew then what I know now I think my climbing tick-list would be a little fuller!

It was lovely to go back to this beautiful village, with hundreds of routes to climb, many in the low grades, and a smattering of high 7s and 8s to go at too.

And 15 years later I have to say that this technical and pumpy 7b was actually little more than a warm up for me, and the very obvious holds and sequences flowed by in a series of polished moves that were almost automated. I guess my climbing has moved on in 15 years after all.

What a joy to go and climb a route again after all these years and have such a different experience. I am full of admiration of young climbers achieving goals and climbing routes that I wasn’t even ready to dream of back then.

For me now the experience levels are there, the skills are in the tool bag, so it is back to the training program to bring the body up to spec. Very excited for what 2014 has to offer climbing-wise.

I’ve also had a couple of days down in Oltra Finale in Italy over Easter, and both this and Orpierre are fantastic venues for this time of year, Orpierre with its afternoon shade, and Oltre Finale with its amazing restaurants! 12 courses with wine for just €35….. better get back on that finger board!

BLOG: Rock Climbing: From 6b to 8a in 4 weeks, still rising.

The first steps on rock every spring are tough for me. A winter of wearing gloves and ski boots with little rock climbing means I have baby skin and weak arms.

Last year I never really got in to the swing of things on the rock, a general tiredness after a Himalaya expedition coupled with a huge amount of work and DIY last summer meant that whilst I floundered my way up a couple of 7cs, I never really hit my stride, and I didn’t care – climbing any grade is FUN!

However this year is a little different. I’m thirty three.

My all time favourite climbing film is The Real Thing with Jerry Moffat and Ben Moon and I watched a highlights video online the other day to help with motivation. I used to watch this when I was a teenager, my mum and I together in the lounge with the video player on after school. It was brilliant.

In The Real Thing Jerry has his 33rd birthday and also knocks out a personal best on the campus board. This is about 1 year after he made the first ascents of his 8cs Progress and Evolution on the British limestone. So no excuses for me this year, I’m back on the rock, and loving it.

After a couple of long 6th grade multipitch rock routes in France to get going (the gorgeous Presles and the local Arve Valley) I kick started my climbing with a trip to Chulilla, Spain to be a journalist on a Boreal climbing team event.

Jack Geldard hanging out on a belay at Presles, France. Perfect warm limestone to kick start the rock climbing season. Phot by Adam George.
Jack Geldard hanging out on a belay at Presles, France. Perfect warm limestone to kick start the rock climbing season. Photo by Adam George.
Following another perfect pitch at Presles. Overhanging rock, large rucksack, small arms. Tough work! Photo by Adam George.
Following another perfect pitch at Presles. Overhanging rock, large rucksack, small arms. Tough work! Photo by Adam George.

Luckily for me my good friend James McHaffie is now on the Boreal team, so I got to spend a few days with James, as well as meeting Nathan Lee for the first time, and spending some time with fellow northerner Jordan Buys. Talk about motivation!

James McHaffie (centre) onsighting a 7c+ in Chulilla, Spain. What a cliff!
James McHaffie (centre) onsighting a 7c+ in Chulilla, Spain. What a cliff!

My two favourite climbers Maddy Cope and Hazel Findlay were also in the area, and it was brilliant to see them too, and as everyone was climbing really well, I had to pull my finger out and get on the rock. I went from climbing about 7a at the start of the week to onsighting 3 7b+s at the end.

Hazel (8)c Findlay, James (9a) McHaffie, Maddy (pull your finger out) Cope. A motley trio, but certainly helpful in the psyche department!
Hazel (8c) Findlay, James (9a) McHaffie, Maddy (8a+?) Cope. A motley trio, but certainly helpful in the psyche department!

The key for me at this stage of the season is to gradually increase my climbing volume, without trying to run before I can walk, otherwise injury will occur.

Me on the Arve Valley test-piece 'Docteur, j'ai peur' at Pierre a Laya. This 7c route was first climbed by Patrick Edlinger and Didier Raboutou and is desperate. In this photo I ma trying it last year (not successful) but a quick trip back there this spring saw it dispatched with relative ease. (Believe me, this would be 8a+ in Spain!). Photo by Chris Prescott / Minerva Design.
Me on the Arve Valley test-piece ‘Docteur, j’ai peur’ at Pierre a Laya. This 7c route was first climbed by Patrick Edlinger and Didier Raboutou and is desperate. In this photo I am trying it last year (not successful) but a quick trip back there this spring saw it dispatched with relative ease. (Believe me, this would be 8a+ in Spain!). Photo by Chris Prescott / Minerva Design.

Since the Spain trip I have made a big effort to climb/train 5 days per week, sometimes having double days adding a finger board or bouldering wall workout on to a day of cragging. None of these days have been super hard, but I have slowly increased the grade and now after a couple of tough 7c and 7c+ routes I am back in the 8s, which is very motivating indeed.

It's great to have this little training wall just two minutes walk from my house. Whilst it isn't huge, I find that breaking down barriers to training is the most important thing, and as this wall is so close it means lunchtime sessions are really easy to arrange.
It’s great to have this little training wall just two minutes walk from my house. Whilst it isn’t huge, I find that breaking down barriers to training is the most important thing for me, and as this wall is so close it means lunchtime sessions are really easy to arrange.

I’ve set some goals for the year, and have a rough climbing and training plan to match these goals.

Next on the list is my biggest weakness – bouldering. And as well as organising a trip to Magic Wood in the summer, luckily for me I have just discovered a huge untouched bouldering area just 20 minutes drive from my house (plus an hour walk…). Psyched!

A big smile on 'The Big Smile' (7C+) in North Wales.  Happy times!
Bouldering! A big smile on ‘The Big Smile’ (7C+) in North Wales. Happy times!

ARTICLE: Writing a Climbing Training Plan: Step 1 – Self Discipline and Realism

It’s all well and good writing out a 6 month plan with loads of runs, pull ups and wall sessions, but you won’t get fit if you give up after three weeks…

A couple of days ago a friend of mine asked me about my climbing for next year, and I told her my training was due to start on the 22nd of January (right now I am having a break from climbing). She was surprised that I had planned my climbing that far ahead and that specifically, and, after a few minutes thought, she asked me if I could design a similar specifically tailored training programme for her climbing. I said yes I could, and I will.

But first I think I will need to make a few suggestions as to how she will need to build up self-discipline for climbing training, given that right now her life is pretty hectic, and she doesn’t train for climbing at all.

Training for anything requires a huge amount of self-discipline. Training eats in to your schedule, training makes you tired, training can sometimes be boring and training can sometimes be pretty solitary. Self-discipline is what you need to surmount those obstacles, but perhaps before you start training for climbing, you need to train your self-discipline?

Stick to the plan and one day you may have arms like Jimmy Big Guns here. After several years of unsuccessful attempts on a desperate 8b in North Wales (Melancholie) Jim committed to the route properly, dropped his weight and got it done. Well done Jim! See photo below.

Being realistic:

When one decides to start training, it is sometimes done with a rush of enthusiasm or psyche. This psyche is not self-discipline, and a distinction must be made between the two things. Your psyches tells you that you can train 6 days per week. Your psyche tells you that getting up at 6am and going for a run in the cold and dark mornings of January is totally within your capability. Basically, your psyche is full of shit. Even if that psyche can last for a couple of weeks, it most probably can’t last for long enough for you to finish a real training programme for climbing.

In order to determine what constitutes a reasonable level of training that you will be able to commit to (right now), it is essential that you look at your lifestyle now, and see how much climbing you already do. If you currently climb for one afternoon every two weeks, is it realistic that you will switch that to climbing/training 5 days per week for 5 hours per day? No. (Unless of course you are swapping another serious sport for climbing – say you were a competitive runner or similar).

Take a look at your current daily schedule. What do you do? How do you spend your time? Where are you going to find this time for climbing training?

Time is very much like money. It disappears very easily, but is very hard to save up. Saying you will find an extra 2 hours per day, but not thinking where you will get these two hours from is like saying you will find an extra £200 per day, but not earning any more money.

Your psyche may tell you that you can not spend so much time with your husband/wife, or that you can manage on just 6 hours sleep when you are more used to 8 hours, that you will skip that session in the pub with your mates, but realism tells me that you will fail in your training plan.

Before writing your training schedule, write out your current schedule, and then decide how much you can tweak it to accommodate your new climbing training. Base your new realistic training plan on how much time you can afford.

Getting up 30mins earlier than you are used to twice per week to do a finger board session is way more realistic than getting up 1 hour earlier 5 times per week. Depending on your current level of self discipline this may be a reasonable suggestion. (Are you lazy? Do you get stuff done? Asses your level of self discipline and tailor your initial climbing plan to suit. Go easy on yourself at first if you are not used to being self disciplined.)

Taking an extra hour at lunchtime on a Wednesday to go to your local wall, then working that extra hour that evening, may well be a more realistic long-term plan than skipping your Friday night dinner date with your gorgeous girlfriend… You get the idea.

Jimmy Big Guns on Melancholie at LPT, North Wales. This very tough route first climbed by Adam Wainwright is thought by many (including myself) to be 8b+!
Jimmy Big Guns on Melancholie (8b) at LPT, North Wales. This very tough route first climbed by Adam Wainwright is thought by many (including myself) to be 8b+!


There are lots of time saving tricks and longevity helping tricks that you can do to help you kick start your training plan. This is where your initial psyche can actually help you. You will probably need to buy a finger board, and put it up. If your training plan involves a change in diet, then you may need to un-stock (yum yum) your kitchen of unhealthy foods, and stock up on recovery drinks / dried fruit / whatever you have written in to your plan. If you are going to be using a climbing wall regularly, this might also be the time to buy that season pass. If you are aiming to lose weight, then this is the time to do your calorie planning etc.

This post isn’t suggesting any of those things specifically, it is just suggesting that whatever is in your plan, you should use your new-found and most likely temporary psyche to make your training as easy as possible for the next six weeks/months/whatever. Buy that thera-band, chuck out those bars of dairy milk, put up that fingerboard… get ready.

Building Up:

Self discipline is like any sport. You build up and get better. You may find that you have made some choices, chopped out some crap food, done your finger board exercises and increased your climbing grade, and after 6 weeks / 12 weeks /whatever, you feel good and have got in to a routine. It all seems normal and you feel you could even up your training slightly. In effect you have trained your self discipline. After 6 weeks of getting up at 7:00 instead of 7:30, you may find you can get your ass out of the sack at 6:45, giving you an extra 15 minutes of punishment on your fingerboard.

But don’t push too hard too fast. Make a plan. Stick to it. Reap the rewards.

Training is about pushing yourself to increase ability. If the weight is too heavy to push, then it’s not going to work. Don’t make your initial training plan a 250kg bench press. Even Jimmy Big Guns can’t press that much!

Jimmy Big Guns crushing Lord of the Flies!
Jimmy Big Guns crushing Lord of the Flies!

Winter Cometh – Photo: Chamonix Training Wall

It’s still mild temperatures and reasonable weather here in Chamonix, today excepted, as it’s raining. However with the onset of winter comes tantalising thoughts of ice and mixed climbing, as well as skiing.

But for the time being I’m having a short break from climbing. I’ll be popping down the wall a couple of times a week to keep in reasonable shape, but not training or striving for a specific goal.

For those interested, and especially members of ‘The Mill’ back in North Wales – here’s a photo of Jonny on the private training wall in Chamonix. The two system boards are on electric motors that can be adjusted to any angle. There’s a large campus board, a few hangboards and a new large board about to be built (steel in place) and a bouldering area at the back. Behind me is also a full gym, with exercise bikes, weight machines etc.

A superb facility.

Naked Jonny at the private training wall, Chamonix

Bam Bam – E8 6b – On Sight – The Training Plan

Saturday was a big day for me in terms of climbing as I repeated the new Stevie Haston route Bam, Bam on Craig Dorys on the Lleyn Peninsula (UKC News Item).

The Big Question:

How have I managed what, on paper at least, is the lead of my life when I am not fully in shape, have been injured all summer and have taken to a bit of partying instead of training?

Quiet at the back you lot saying that it must be E4!

Interestingly, I have been training, and I have been training hard, but perhaps not as many people would imagine training.

Here I quote the uncompromising ethical stalwart and general good bloke, Adam Long:

“My lodger spends his evenings in our cellar hanging off a piece of carved wood he calls a ‘beastmaker’, he claims this is training for rock climbing. Bizarre.”


I haven’t been able to train on any sort of board or go bouldering all summer, and have only in the last 2 weeks felt able to go route climbing indoors (which I did once and thought “ooh this is nails!”). This has been due to a finger injury I sustained while indoor training for Mission Impossible. The most hilarious part of this is; I was very close to ticking the route, but instead of persevering, I thought I’d do a couple of weeks of indoor bouldering training, then go and crush it. It seemed like the thing all the top climbers do, this training and then ‘crushing’, so I thought it might work for me. Wrong!


I have managed to keep the fitness up to a reasonable level by climbing cracks. I also did do a little bit of sport climbing both in the UK and Europe, including flashing a few routes of 7c and 7c+. But the big thing is I switched my ‘training’ focus.

I have ramped up my mental training and my skill training.

Mental: Over the last 2 months I have soloed around 50 routes, up to E5, many of them onsight. I have also kept up the trad climbing, with trips to Cornwall/Devon and The Peak. This has been my mental training. I haven’t gone totally ‘mental’ or crazy, for instance; I backed off leading a bold E5 the other week as it was a bit greasy and didn’t feel right. Instead of knocking my confidence, this increased it, as my awareness of my abilities and skill level felt very well honed.

Skill: Whilst trad climbing I have been focussing on moving very quickly between rests (almost as fast as Pete Robins!), and also focussing hard on gear placements, cam sizes, that sort of thing. It may sound trivial, and after so many years of climbing it isn’t something I lose particularly, but this all felt razor sharp too. I made very fast first time placement choices in very extreme positions on Bam, Bam and I climbed fairly quickly through the steepest sections (although I was on the route for over 2 hours, I was on the hard, steep roof sections a matter of minutes).

Choss Skill: I have also been focussing on the choss. This was primarily because choss usually means big holds (the holds are big on Bam, Bam) but I soon realised I had actually improved my choss technique and skill level. Mentally I also felt more at home on the loose stuff than ever before, so this crossed over in to that training focus too.

My guess at a break down of the three aspects of climbing:

Break Down of Climbing

So, what’s next? A big walling trip to the Black Canyon of Gunnison to try some extreme big wall choss. Cool! If there is anything as loose as Bam Bam I’ll eat my portaledge!

I would also like to thank Beyond Hope, DMM and Marmot for the gear they have given and loaned for the Black Canyon trip. Cheers guys!

Training With A Finger Inury + PHOTO

I tore a tendon pulley about 1 month ago indoor bouldering. Since then I have managed to keep climbing and training, with only one set back. I thought it might be useful to share what I have been up to on this blog in the hope that others might get an idea for what is possible.

My injury was quite a substantial ‘partial tear’ of a my A2 pulley in my right ring finger. Luckily I didn’t rupture the whole thing. It is classed as a Grade II injury (see Climbinginjuries.com).

Hard crimping was straight out of the window, but I continued climbing straight away – the day after the injury. I climbed 2 easy trad routes on Gogarth, and I seconded the hardest section, meaning that if I felt any discomfort, I could sit on the rope.

So, sea cliff trad climbing was a go-er. I managed to combine this with a general weights programme that also involved pull ups on the jugs of a finger board.

I added in this cheesey Youtube stretch routine, plus some more specific climbing stretches and careful stretching of my injured finger. This stretching of my injured finger has been very important I think.

I continued my easy climbing for another week, then unfortunately pushed it too far and climbed some E5 and E6 routes, which I think set me back by at least a week or so, leading to inflamtion of my finger and more pain.

The crucial thing here was that I climbed these route on lead and they were potentially quite dangerous, so when climbing I totally forgot about my finger and thought more about the run out!

Physically, they were probably ok to top rope with my injury.

Lesson: No scary leading with a finger injury.

I have also increased my running, doing 3 x 40min runs per week. I haven’t been doing any more than that, or any longer runs, as I think these are perfect for cross training for climbing.

A month down the line and I am still only climbing easy (or non crimpy) trad routes. I am no where near ready to start busting moves on my finger, but I have increased my flexibility by a noticeable amount, and my cardio fitness has also improved.

When I am back in shape to start cranking again, I’ll be at a good base level to build more specific strengths.

Next up is some indoor training on the finger board, concentrating on open handed grips. I haven’t dared do this until now, even though I have been told it is fine with a finger injury. I shall experiement and report back.

Until then – here is a photo of Pete Whittaker seconding me on the Lleyn Peninsula the other day.

Pete Whittaker seconding on the Lleyn Peninsula
Pete Whittaker seconding on the Lleyn Peninsula