It’s easy to blame poor climbing performance on a lack of finger strength. While strong fingers are necessary for hard rock climbing, that doesn't mean hangboarding will always be your fastest route to improvement. Often, we have things holding us back that are harder to identify. I myself have fallen into the finger strength trap in the past, telling myself that if I could just squeeze that hold a little harder, I would've never fallen off. With the help of the Lattice assessment, using their Training Rung, I've gained a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, and I've been able to structure my training to improve more efficiently.
Lattice Training was founded by Tom Randall and Ollie Tor. Randall is perhaps best known from the Wide Boyz films, where he and partner Pete Whittaker dispatch some of the world's hardest offwidths and finger cracks using extremely regimented training. Ollie Tor is an ex-gymnast turned climber and personal trainer. Not only has Tor climbed V13 and 5.13d, but he has a masters degree in sports science. The team also employees coaches and a data scientist. They work by the numbers. Using data from thousands of climbers, they've developed algorithms to predict climbers’ abilities based on just a few measurements. This allows them to describe exactly what climbers should do in order to improve as efficiently as possible.
At the center of Lattice's testing is the Training Rung. Made of a single piece of wood, the top of the board is a large, comfortable hold for warming up, and a lower 20mm edge is used for testing and training. While it lacks slopers, pockets, and well, variety of any kind, this may be the board’s biggest strength.
“We’ve trained athletes from 5.12 to 5.14+ using just a 20mm edge with a few variations,” says Randall. “So long as both open-hand and half-crimp grips are being trained on the edge, you’re still gaining strength through the full range of motion of your fingers.” Though some may want to train certain finger combinations for pockets, it's best to train those grips on a standard edge as well. This prevents the friction between your skin and the sides of the pockets from compensating for a lack of strength. The Lattice Rung is generally designed to prevent this form of compensation. The 20mm edge is quite rounded, with a 10mm bevel.
“It doesn’t let you cheat,” says Randall. Your skin can’t hang onto the edge for you, which reduces the amount of weight you need to add for the same workout and cuts down on skin damage from heavy hangs.
While using the board, I found this to be true. The smooth wood had just enough texture that I didn’t feel like I’d ping off while hanging, and it did no damage to my skin even with plenty of added weight. My skin didn’t hurt at all, but my fingers were sore for days after.
I took the maximum-strength test using the Lattice Training Rung (free for anyone with access to the rung), which looks at the highest static load you can handle. You perform the test by completing 10-second hangs on the 20mm edge with as much added (or least-subtracted) weight as possible, with two-minute rests between hangs. If you complete the first set, add weight and do another hang after the rest. Continue for no more than eight sets and then report your results on the Lattice website along with your maximum grades for both sport routes and boulder problems. You'll receive an assessment that ranks your strength against the average climber for your grades, and also compares your bouldering grade to your sport grade.
The first piece of good news from Lattice's data is that training works. For climbers from 5.12 to 5.15, they’ve seen that their strengths correspond with their training. Climbers who focus on hangboarding tend to have better static strength for the grades they climb, whereas those who favor powerful training, like campusing, tend to boulder harder than they route climb.
The next piece of good news is that the data helps. Not only does it help you learn where to direct your training, but you also learn whether or not your training is working over time.
“What we’ve seen is that the numbers can be motivating,” says Randall. “Training weaknesses isn’t easy, but when an athlete can see their numbers creep up as they train, it helps motivate them to keep seeking out and training their weaknesses.”
As for me, I received my results in just a few days and scored as "much stronger than expected" for both my bouldering and sport climbing grades, meaning I was able to hang with more than 4.5% of my body weight compared to the average climber at a similar level. This wasn't surprising, since I've had a myopic focus on hangboarding and campusing for the last few years. I've focused on raw training because I could fit those sessions in before work, but I often climbed only as a way to warm-up for a hangboard or campus workout.
I've joked over the last couple months that "the Lattice guys basically told me that I suck at climbing." It's not too far from the truth. Lacking the time to get outside or even just climb more often in the gym, my sessions were an effective way for me to gain strength, but I was stuck in the mindset that I needed to continue doing those things exclusively for the best results. The “issue” was that they were still working—I climbed a little harder after every training cycle, but I could have been improving more efficiently.
The Lattice team recommended that I don’t focus on hangboarding, but it still wouldn’t hurt my climbing going forward. First, I should see if my finger strength and endurance match up with my grades, then I could look at other aspects if those didn’t prove helpful. In general, for climbers with less than five years’ experience, they’re likely to recommend some physical training with a focus on technique or application of strength, rather than just getting stronger. That will benefit newer climbers more, whereas those with a solid climbing base will need to focus more on specific strength training.
The results of the tests can provide different information based on a climber's preferred discipline. Someone who tests as too-strong for their bouldering grade knows that, while they can keep training on a hangboard, there are other things they should focus on. “For an experienced boulderer, it’s most likely an issue with anaerobic output or contact strength,” said Randall. A strong boulderer on a hangboard might just not have the endurance for several near-limit moves (anaerobic output) or can’t quickly latch a dyno or deadpoint (contact strength).
For sport climbers, the opposite can be the case. If they test as too-strong on a maximum strength test, they may be able to boulder the cruxes of their projects with relative ease, but simply can’t hold on for long enough to get through the rest of the climbing on the route. A shift towards endurance training could have them on top of their projects in just a few weeks. It's also possible that they could have enough strength and anaerobic endurance, but poor aerobic capacity, which means they'll still be working up a slight pump even on easy climbing and may have trouble recovering in good stances or on large holds.
Next, when comparing boulder and sport grades, the ideal situation is that your top bouldering grade is similar to the V-grade of the crux on your project. Common comparisons are V2/5.11a, V4/5.12a, V7/5.13a, and so on, but these are subjective (as all grades and conversions between them are). Climbers focused on sport climbing will tend to be around or even slightly below these benchmarks, whereas strong boulderers may be several V-grades above their expected sport redpoint. My co-worker, a stronger boulderer than route climber, took the test and Lattice recommended he look at his strength-endurance and recovery on the wall. He can boulder the cruxes of harder routes, but is missing some aspect of endurance to link those routes together.
Often these issues are hard for climbers to see in themselves, but obvious in the data. It's a common mistake for climbers to continue training what they enjoy the most or misjudge their weaknesses. Though a sport climber is continually pumping out on the crux of a route, it's possible they're lacking the strength (and not the endurance) to complete it. Many of the moves may be hard enough compared to their maximum strength that they will result in a building pump while they climb. This would be typical of a sport climber who tests at a low bouldering grade compared to their sport grade. If they focus on strength (and power) training for a season, many of those moves will cease to contribute to their pump.
Note: If you’re looking for more insight, Lattice Training offers a wide variety of options such as hangboard tests for aerobic and anaerobic capacities, in-person coaching, and testing of many more exercises related to climbing.
For my own training, I took the Lattice team’s advice for early-career climbers (though I've been climbing for eight years): I've focused less on projecting hard-for-me boulders and more on finding the best beta on boulders that are 2-4 V-grades below my max. The result has been a dramatic increase in both my enjoyment of climbing and my feelings about the climbs I send, not to mention my performance. Even if I flash a boulder, I will often come down thinking about why the crux felt a little off-balance or too hard, whereas I used to just smile and move on. After two months of not-too-aggressive climbing and some time off, I'm still dispatching the same grades, but the difference is they don't feel as hard. Often the difference between sending and not is a subtle shift in how I move between holds, what part of my body I focus on, or how I settle onto a hold before doing the next move. Once I've figured out the best movements, I usually not only send the boulder, but I can drop down and immediately climb it again, sometimes a couple times in a row. We've all heard that climbing is a skill sport, but it's easy to know that without practicing it. With more information available on hangboarding, campusing, and weight training available than ever, I suspect I'm not the only person who has developed this issue. That said, you might be a better technical climber than I am and just need more strength, power, or endurance to get up your project—luckily for you, the Lattice assessment is an easy way for you to find out.
£40–55 (~$51-70) plus shipping, latticetraining.com