Aug 10

Computer Science student uses chaos theory to create new routes

indoor climbing gym

All those routes had to be set by somebody… Photo courtesy ex_magician. Flickr.

I never realized how difficult route setting was until I took a three month setting class last year. I always took routes for granted and complained when they weren’t updated frequently or weren’t fun to climb. Then I tried to set my own routes… Not only was it exhausting, time consuming, and frustrating, but they also didn’t come out very well at first.

However, with quite a bit of practice, I was able to set some fun boulder problems and top rope routes. Each problem took me at least an hour though. It amazes me that professional setters are able to put up many high quality routes in a single day!

The hardest part of setting is the creative process where you decide which holds to use and how to orient them. With the amount of holds available these days this presents a myriad of options for routes! Then there are other things to take into account, like smooth movement on the route, originality, safety, and fun. I would set a few holds, try out the sequence, and then carefully adjust them until it felt right. Doing it this way is very time consuming though. Expert setters plan out the route in their heads and build it all at once without stopping to climb it. This is much faster, but doesn’t always produce climbable results.

Enter Caleb Phillips, a University of Colorado, Boulder, Ph.D student in computer science. With the help of two professors he has launched a website called Strange Beta that uses computers to generate routes. This approach uses the mathematics of chaos theory to create random variations of climbing holds to create new routes. The system can then learn which variations work best, and design better routes over time.

This seems like a pretty amazing feat to undertake, and you’re probably wondering if the computer’s routes are any good. Well, Phillips conducted a pilot study with the software, where climbers were able to climb computer designed routes along with human designed routes. He found that climbers liked, and sometimes even preferred, the computer designed routes!

At his website you can create an account and try out the software for yourself. See what kind of routes you can come up with! The system shares routes between all users so people can promote the best routes overall. This method probably won’t replace human setting, but it’s a pretty awesome idea. I’m excited to see how the technology progresses. Try it out!



Aug 07

Weighted pullups to build climbing strength

Weighted Pullups Can Break A Climbing Plateau

Are you hitting a plateau in your rock climbing training? Often times we improve quickly when we start climbing, but then progress slows after the initial improvement in ability and strength. This can be frustrating, and getting past it means changing your training to provide new challenges to your muscles. Adding weighted pull ups to your climbing training can do wonders for your strength. Lets look at why that is.

The Science Behind Heavy Weight

There are a few different outcomes from training your muscles: increased endurance, increased muscle size (muscular hypertrophy), and increased strength. Endurance and strength are very important to climbers, but we want to limit hypertrophy so that the added body mass doesn’t slow us down. A high strength to weight ratio is very important here.

To increase muscular strength you must lift very heavy loads. Lifting heavier weights trains your neuromuscular pathways to be more efficient by forcing them to recruit additional muscle fibers to lift the load. Conditioning your muscles to be more efficient lets you gain strength without gaining muscle mass. This is exactly what we want as climbers!

For optimal strength gain you should use enough weight so that you can only do 3 – 5 reps of an exercise. The goal of this is to load the muscles more than they are use to so that they learn to work more efficiently. It is important to rest completely between sets, about 3 – 5 minutes. You don’t want to tire out your muscles, which would instead build endurance or muscle size. Aim for 3 to 4 of these sets.

On the other hand, bodybuilders will often perform 8-12 reps with lighter loads and shorter rest to focus on tiring out the muscles and increasing their size. This results in giant muscles that aren’t very functional for rock climbing.

Adding Weight To Pullups

Pullups are one of the best climbing exercises to perform with added weight. They will allow you to increase arm and back strength rather quickly. This will allow you to do more intensive climbing moves like lock offs and one arm pullups. Of course, you should only train weighted pull ups if you have a good base strength to begin with. If you can’t do at least 10 body weight pullups then you should first focus on those.

Try to work on your weighted pullups 2 to 3 times a week. You can do them after climbing, but don’t do them on days when you are very tired. You want to be at relatively high strength levels when you work on them.

You can add weight in a number of ways. Putting rocks in a backpack, hanging weights from a climbing harness, or by using a weight vest if you have one. I’ve even held weights between my feet when I had no other method. This isn’t optimal however, as it doesn’t allow you to focus completely on your pull up. As stated before, when working weighted pull ups you want to use a weight that only allows you to do 3 -5 pull ups before failure. Adjust your weight accordingly.

Warm up properly before adding weight. These sets are very strenuous and you don’t want to injure yourself. Between each set make sure you rest until you feel fully recovered. Don’t be afraid to allow up to five minutes between sets. You don’t want to tire out your muscles, we want them at full capacity. Perform 3 to 4 sets of these weighted pull ups.

After a few weeks of training weighted pull ups you should see significant gains in your climbing strength. You will feel lighter and quicker on the wall, and normal pull ups should be a breeze. After a few months your progress may slow again, at which time you might want to take a break and focus on endurance. A cyclical training pattern alternating focus between strength and endurance keeps your training from hitting a plateau. Good luck!


Aug 02

Awesome deal on slack lines at The Clymb

Gibbon slack line classicA little while ago I wrote about how great slacklines are for rock climbing cross training. Now, for three days, The Clymb is featuring Gibbon Classic Slack lines as one of their flash sales.

15 meters lines are $47 and 25 meters lines are only $55!

The Clymb is a members only website, but it’s free and easy to sign up. They feature short deals every few days. Every now and then some really good deals like this come up. If you’d like to read more about it we put up a review of The Clymb here.

Enjoy your slacklining!

Jul 30

The difference between strength and power in climbing

Dyno's require immense power to generate momentum

Dyno courtesy ryguywy. Flickr

Strength and power are both vital in rock climbing and, despite being related, need to be trained for differently. Strength represents the maximum possible force you can exert. This might be locking off with one hand on a crimp, for example. Power, on the other hand, is defined as energy over time. Having lots of power enables you to do make big dynamic moves like throws and dynos.

Climbing Strength

Strength is the most  important aspect of climbing. Many people would argue that technique holds that title, but all the technique in the world won’t keep you on the wall if you don’t have enough strength to hold on first.

Climbing strength can come in many forms. The most important and obvious form is finger strength. A high level of finger strength allows you to grip the wall well and keeps you from falling off. This is often our weakest link in climbing, as fingers tend to give out before arms. Finger strength can be increased through focused finger exercises like hangboarding.

Arm and back strength allows you to move on the wall. Pulling yourself up and locking off on one arm can require immense strength! Core strength allows you to balance and hold precarious positions on the wall. A strong core will help stop you from swinging and barn dooring when your footholds are bad. Body strength like this can be built on the rings.

Lastly, leg strength allows you to push yourself up the wall with your feet. Strong legs can take a lot of weight off of your arms and hands, leaving you more energy to climb longer. Additionally, sometimes when there are no finger holds your legs are your only source of propulsion up the wall. You may need to balance on one toe while pushing off that leg. This kind of strength can be built through things like yoga and slacklining.

Climbing Power

Power is an explosive force. It is defined as energy expended over time. This means that if you release the same amount of energy in less time you have more power. This can be seen in moves like dynos, where you need to rapidly generate a large force to propel yourself through the air. If you move too slowly you won’t gain the momentum needed to complete the move.

Power comes into play in more advanced climbing, where dynamic moves are necessary. These require big throws and difficult catches, and being able to generate a lot of force quickly is paramount. To train for this kind of power, aim for quick movements at full strength. Try doing pull ups where you go up as quickly as possible, and slowly lower yourself down.

Campus board training is the most famous and effective way to build immense power. Campusing accurately mimics the dynamic movements necessary for climbing. This builds extreme strength and power. However, campus training is very hard on your tendons and must be done with caution. It should only be attempted by advanced climbers looking to further their training.


Jul 28

Build climbing strength with yoga

Yoga is great cross training for rock climbing

Courtesy Synergy by Jasmine – Flickr

Yoga is an ancient technique for developing physical and mental focus. There are many types of yoga, but most of them involve holding various poses while maintaining correct breathing. While many people practice it as a form of relaxation and spiritual development, it also has benefits to various other aspects of life, especially rock climbing!

Develop mental focus

Yoga encourages you to clear your mind and focus your whole body on the task at hand. This can be difficult at first, but with training you will be better at avoiding distractions on the wall. This can include doubts about the climb, anxiety, or other negative thoughts that hinder you.

With strong mental focus comes strong rock climbing. Unfortunately, many people ignore this aspect of their training, and this can limit their ability.

Master breath control

Yoga teaches you the art of controlled breathing. Usually when we are under stress and physical exertion we forget to breathe correctly. We take shallow, short breaths that don’t provide enough oxygen. This in turn makes it harder for us to relax and continue climbing. It is very helpful to learn how to keep breathing deeply and calmly even while under physical stress. This will keep you relaxed and focused on your climbs

Build strength and coordination

Yoga poses can be very demanding on the body. One leg poses build balance and ankle strength, helping footwork for climbing. Warrior poses involve deep lunges that will provide you with power on high-stepping routes. Plank positions work your core muscles, helping you keep your balance and stability on the wall. Yoga can also include handstand positions that will help your arm and back strength.

Improve flexibility

Some climbing routes demand very difficult body positions. Being able to do high steps or the splits can make the difference between an easy ascent and a struggle up the wall. Thankfully, yoga is one of the best ways to improve flexibility. The variety of poses and positions ensures that your whole body will be more limber and flexible than ever. The first time I practiced yoga regularly I couldn’t believe how much more flexible I became! Difficult leg positions on the wall went from being painful to fun and relaxing. I saw a huge improvement in my climbing!

Speed recovery and prevent injury

Climbing puts an unnatural amount of strain on your back, shoulders, and arms. This makes injuries almost inevitable if you’re not careful. Yoga helps to strengthen your whole body, especially the muscles that climbers tend to neglect. This is important, because an imbalance in muscle strength can lead to injury.

If you find yourself with sore muscles or injuries from climbing, yoga can help speed your recovery. Holding yoga poses helps to loosen up your muscles, promote healing blood flow, and remove toxins from damaged areas. Be careful though, yoga shouldn’t be performed with some injuries. Don’t try anything that feels too painful and unhealthy.


As you can see, there are many benefits of yoga in climbing. Try cooling down with some yoga poses after a long climbing session. This will loosen up your muscles and provide a great way to relax after your workout.

Many climbers practice yoga along with climbing, they go together amazingly well! In Aware of the Mountain: Mountaineering as Yoga, Gil Parker explores the relationship between yoga and mountain climbing. Check it out and incorporate yoga into your own climbing training!

Jul 25

Make your own liquid chalk for climbing

A little while ago I talked about how liquid chalk could be used to provide a better grip than regular chalk. It provides a great base layer, dries out your sweat, and stays on for longer. However, one bottle is fairly expensive so some people may be hesitant to try it.

If you want to use liquid chalk but don’t want to pay the mark up, try making your own! While the commercial formulas are a little more complex, the basic idea is to mix powdered chalk with rubbing alcohol. You simply rub this mixture on your hands and let the alcohol evaporate. This evaporation dries out your hands and leaves a perfect layer of chalk baked on.

Ingredients for liquid chalk

  1. Any climbing or gym chalk. Powdered chalk is best, otherwise you’ll have to crush it yourself.
  2. Any generic rubbing alcohol. You probably have this stuff lying around, otherwise every drug store stocks it.

Easy steps to follow to make liquid chalk

  1. Take regular climbing chalk and crush it into a powder, if it isn’t already in powder form. Try to get it as fine as possible so your final product isn’t lumpy.
  2. Mix 1 part rubbing alcohol to 2 parts powdered chalk. You can make as big a batch as you like, but 1 cup of rubbing alcohol and 2 cups of chalk make a good-sized batch.
  3. Store in an extra plastic container; the leftover bottle from the rubbing alcohol works great for this.


That’s it! It’s a very simple process and results in a surprisingly good liquid chalk. Just squirt a small bit on your hands, rub it around, and let it dry. Watch out, the rubbing alcohol will sting any cuts.

Now go try it!

Jul 17

Three men arrested for climbing sacred Japanese waterfall

Nachi no Taki falls

The famous Nachi no Taki falls. Courtesy Hirotomo – Flickr

Some climbers just can’t resist the allure of a great cliff! Unfortunately, some amazing rocks are off limits for climbing, but that doesn’t always stop dedicated climbers.

The Nachi no Taki falls in Japan is a 430 foot water fall in the Kii mountain range. It is part of a protected World Heritage site, and the cliffs adjacent to the falls are expressly protected from rock climbers. However, that didn’t stop three Japanese men from trying!

They couldn’t escape authorities though. The men were arrested and could be convicted of a minor offense for violating the sanctity of the falls. They claimed they just wanted to climb the best waterfall in Japan!

While we all want to ascend new and beautiful routes, sometimes the preservation of the area must come first. Check out the full story here.

Jul 15

Yuliya Levochkina breaks women’s speed climbing world record


Yuliya Levochkina breaks the women’s speed climbing world record at the 2012 IFSC World Cup with a time of 8.53 seconds. Unfortunately, she couldn’t repeat the performance, and marked slower climbs in the next rounds. She finished in fourth place overall. Aleksandra Rudzinska took first place with a climb at 9 seconds flat in the final round.


Jul 12

Footwork Training With Slacklines

Slacklining is a great way to build balance and footwork for rock climbing training

Slacklining. Courtesy Helmsp – Flickr

Precise and powerful footwork often makes the difference between sticking a move and falling off the wall. All too often I have the finish of a boulder problem within reach, only to have my foot slip out from under me.

As routes get more difficult, it is increasingly necessary to have great footwork. This means trusting in your feet to provide balance, stability, and propulsion on even the tiniest of footholds.

This coordination can be very difficult, especially when you’re tired and technique begins to falter. However, with correct training, good footwork can become second nature. This will get you up the wall faster, with less time spent thinking about your feet. Overall, this will take more strain off your arms and leave you energy and strength for harder climbs.

What is slacklining?

Slacklines are a great way to train for rock climbing
Slacklining is the sport of balancing on a narrow piece of webbing suspended between two anchors. This is different from traditional tightrope walking in two ways. First, the webbing is flat instead of rounded like a rope. This provides a better surface to balance on. Second, webbing is stretchy and dynamic, allowing the line to bounce like a trampoline. This aspect of slacklining opens up many possibilities and variations that aren’t feasible in tightrope walking.

You can make your own slackline out of climbing webbing, or purchase one online. Gibbon slacklines are some of the best quality lines in the industry.

When learning, it is best to practice with a slackline set close to the ground. A height of two feet allows the line to flex, but is low enough to be fairly safe. Slacklines can be set up on almost anything, but two trees about twenty or thirty feet apart work perfectly and are easy to access. Try and set your line up over grass for a soft landing. Cover any dangerous objects you might fall on and use crash pads if in doubt.

How to train on slacklines

The first goal of slacklining is simply to walk from one end to the other. Slacklining is difficult, and it takes lots of practice to be able to walk on one. When you are first beginning, try to use as short a line as possible. This will make the line more stable and easier to practice on. As you get better, extend the length of the line for more of a challenge.

Going barefoot helps to grip the line better and gives you more tactile feedback. Start in the middle of the line where it is more stable. It is helpful to  have something to hold on to while you get used to walking the line. Try running a rope above the line at chest level that you can hold on to while learning. This assistance while balancing will make starting out less frustrating and will help you learn faster.

You will fall a lot at first, but keep at it! Building balance is tricky, and can be frustrating at times. Train a little bit at a time and you’ll see progress.

Once you can balance for a few seconds, practice walking along the line. If you can make it from one end to the other you are doing great! Reaching this level can take a few weeks, and even then it is never simple to traverse a line. Even pros still wobble and have to concentrate.

If you are looking for more challenges, try turning around on the line. Walk one direction, then slowly turn around and walk the other way. Balancing well enough to turn in place is tricky!

To build super strength and balance, try balancing on one foot. This will more accurately mimic the stress that you face while climbing. If you can accomplish this I salute you! You will find it very helpful next time you have to balance on one toe while climbing a route.

Variations and advanced slacklining

Once you master the basics there are endless possibilities for advanced tricks and variations in slacklining. These can become a sport on their own right, and take many years to master. As you move into the realm of advanced slacklining remember to always practice correct safety measures. Even the pros make mistakes at times.


A fairly new sport, tricklining is the art of performing tricks on slackline. The bounce of the line allows slackliners to jump on the line and perform feats such as back flips and spins. This has big gaining popularity and is a quickly growing sport! There are even competitions for slackliners around the world.




Highlining is the practice of slacklining at high altitudes. Lines can be set up between cliffs, across gorges, and even between buildings. Highliners seek the adrenaline rush of being suspended hundreds of feet above the ground. They will often attach a safety rope to themselves to catch them if they fall. However, extreme enthusiasts attempt highline crossings with no safeties.



Waterlining is the practice of setting up a slackline over a body of water, similar to deep water soloing in climbing. This allows slackliners to practice tricks with the safety of water below.



Some people have been cultivating a new form of yoga, where the traditional poses are done on slackline. This adds an extra element of concentration and balance to the exercises. This is an incredible way to build inner focus and balance.




Jul 11

Healing skin fast with Climb On!

Climb on! ointment helps to heal cracked and cut climbing hands

Sore skin?

Last weekend I was climbing outdoors with a friend when I mentioned to him how cut up and sore the skin on my hands was. He grinned and asked if I had ever used Climb On! I told him I had never heard of it, and he started ranting about how great it was for climbing.

Apparently Climb On! is a moisturizer made specifically for climbers to speed skin repair. My friend told me how he uses it after long climbs to heal cuts and repair lost skin. This lets him climb for days at a time without his hands falling apart. My interest was piqued, but I was skeptical.

Whenever I climb hard for a few days in a row my hands always get destroyed. I lose so much skin that it becomes painful to even touch a rock, and my fingers burn in the shower afterward. This sounded like just the cure I was looking for, and I was curious if it would live up to the hype.

Does it work?

At the end of the day my friend dug out his Climb On! bar and let me try it. It’s a waxy consistency, and it rubbed easily into my palms, finger tips, and cuts. It left a thin film that took a while to soak in, but it was very soothing and moisturizing – the perfect treatment for sore hands after climbing all day.

The next day I woke up to find my fingers feeling refreshed and strong. The cuts I had gotten were healing and my skin didn’t feel raw at all. It had been my fourth day in a row climbing and I couldn’t believe how fresh my skin still felt!

Deciding to do some more research, I went looking for information on this mystery salve. Every review of it I found exclaimed how amazing it was for climbing recovery. With all the rave reviews I was baffled by why I had never heard of it before.

What’s in it?

According to the manufacturer, Climb On! is a “100% pure, food grade, skin nourishing product.” They claim that it soothes “burns, cuts, scrapes, rashes, cracked cuticles and heels, tissue nose, road rash, diaper rash, abrasions, poison ivy.” Apparently it is made out of beeswax, neroli, lavender, and grapeseed oil, and vitamin E.

Try it out for yourself!

Lately my climbing training has been limited by how much of a beating my skin can take. My fingertips give out before my strength, especially if I’ve been at it for a few days in a row. But I just bought my own bar of Climb On! and I’m excited to give it some extensive testing. The promise of extended climbing without destroying my skin is a welcome thought!

If you climb frequently and find your hands plagued by blisters, cuts, and sore skin give Climb On! a try. It will soothe your sore hands and get you back on the wall before you know it!




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