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Training Plan: Mantle/Press Out/Compression Strength Plus Thin Vertical Strength Program

Top climbing coach Dave Wahl's 90 day training program will turn you into a thin-climbing monster during quarantine, and build strength for powerful pressing and compression moves.

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Editor’s Note: With the coronavirus pandemic and all of us staying home right now—and with rock gyms and many cliffs closed for the time being—climbers, being climbers, are looking for ways to stay active, stay fit, and maybe even improve on aspects of our climbing we’ve previously neglected. While not all of us have easy access to a home wall on which we can keep training and making moves, there are plenty of other, simpler, easy-to-order or easy-to-build options you can use to implement a strength program.

We reached out to the Denver, Colorado–based coach Dave Wahl, who coaches at the Movement Climbing & Fitness gyms in Colorado, for a series of three train-from-home protocols to get you through the upcoming weeks and months. Wahl, a rock-climbing-performance specialist/strength & conditioning coach since 2003, has worked with hundreds of climbers including outdoor professionals, indoor competitors on USA Youth and National Teams, to recreational climbers bouldering double digits and newer climbers just starting to rope up. —Matt Samet

* * *

During these challenging times when it’s difficult, if not impossible to get out climbing, we all fear losing gains we made during the winter. Some loss of power or power-endurance is bound to happen, but strength is a little slower to leave. Strength is also the building block of a climber’s foundational physical attribute. Strength is about force production, and force production transfers over to power or power-endurance. This 90 day home program is based on building strength using tools you can easily employ at home—then, once we get back to normalcy, you can focus on developing more power or power-endurance back on the walls.

Who this program is for

The combination of these two programs is designed to address common strength challenges for climbers. One program is designed to focus on developing strength for compression, manteling, and pressing. The second part of the program is designed to address the challenge of thin, vertical climbing. Manteling most-often means topping out a boulder, but there are circumstances where a route climber must mantel as well, such as moving up onto a ledge. Physically, the challenge of manteling is producing enough power at the start of the pull to get through the most-common sticking point, the transition from the pull to pressing over. Pressing out can involve the finishing move of a mantel or the initiation of a steep, roof where the climber needs to press out on a flat surface before they can gain an edge or hold. Compression climbing involves two vector forces: hands compressing toward each other and, for compression that lies back, the pulling musculature of the back. Compression is most often found on overhanging double-sides aretes with few or diffcult holds for the finger tips.

Thin vertical climbing relies heavily on finger strength and hip mobility. The ability to maintain your climbing position and build your feet up is crucial, not only to perform a move but to reduce finger and arm fatigue. Tight hips means the climber has to be positioned further away from the wall, which is a mechanical disadvantage to the finger position. Most often, tight hips means the hand/arm is in a “chicken wing” position, meaning the shoulders are internally with elbows up and away from the body. Not only is this position fatiguing, but it’s not very healthy. This program puts a serious emphasis on hip mobility with daily exercises.

Training Notes

There are some basic technical rules we should strive for when pulling horizontally or vertically.

  1. Posture-wise, you should maintain a flat or neutral back. I think all of us believe we have good posture, but it might help to record video of yourself to determine if your locked-off shoulder stays low, away from the ear, or creeps up. Elevated shoulders make it difficult to recruit the lats (a major pulling-assistant muscle).
  2. As you pull, squeeze your shoulder blades together and don’t reach with your chin. Reaching with your chin compresses the discs in your cervical spine. Compressing discs is a normal part of many movement patterns, but repeated compression at the same location leads to injury.
  3. Last body-mechanic rule: Do your best not to chicken wing your elbows. Instead, attempt to pull your elbows near your ribs. Performance-wise, a chicken-winged position is the wrong vector of force application to the climbing hold (unless it’s a jug, in which case it is not a performance-limiting move). The correct vector of force applied to the climbing hold is perpendicular to the angle of the hold. That means, if the climbing hold is a crimp angled 90 degrees, the correct elbow position is almost touching the climbing wall surface below the hold. Health-wise, a chicken-winged position can lead to finger-pulley, wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain because the vector of force is in an awkward plane with regard to the musculotendon unit.

During these 90 days, start with the initial test to get an idea of where your strengths and challenges lie. Achieving 80% in one of the categories is a good place to start. For example, if you scored 12 pull-ups, but all of your other tests lay in Phase 1—then Phase 1 would be your starting phase. At the end of six consistent training weeks, test yourself again to check on your improvement. If, after several weeks the program feels too easy, increase the number of sets by 10%. However, if your elbows are starting to feel a twinge of pain or anything feels tweaky, take a week off, try to increase your aerobic exercise and stretch/massage the affected muscles before easing (think 50% volume) back into training. Remember, it’s impossible to get stronger if you’re injured.

Tools You’ll Need

Hangboard

Hangboards are foundational tools for improving hand strength in a slow, safe manner. For those who have healthy fingers, this is a good place to start slow, methodical training.

or

Individual blocks

Individual blocks (e.g., Tension Blocks, Metolius Wood Rock Rings) for finger-strength training are relatively new kids on the block and offer a safer option for those whose shoulders are sensitive to vertical hangs.

If using blocks, you’ll need one of the following two tools for vertical-pulling exercises:

Pull-up Bar

Whether you have a stand alone bar or a bar that fits into your doorway.

Or

Tree Branch or Rafter

These can be an alternative to a pull-up bar. Obviously, the tree branch should be stable and as horizontal as possible. From the tree branch or rafter, you can also hang training blocks (like Tension Blocks or Metolius Wood Rock Rings) or rings.

Optional equipment:

Static Line

A suspended static line is cheap and easy to use (for helping take off weight during pull-ups and hangs).

Pulley System

Pulleys are becoming more popular as they offer progressive, measurable overload of the specific exercise as opposed to an elastic rubber band or static line (for helping take off weight during pull-ups and hangs).

Pick Your Phase

Let’s start with a test to see which phase you’ll start with:

Day 1

  1. Warm up: 10-15 minutes of full body motion patterns, i.e., bodyweight lunges, easy pulling and pressing, and range of motion of the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders and hips are a good way to think about warming up.
  2. Perform pull-ups to failure on a pull-up bar. Record your repetitions.
  3. Rest 3-5 minutes
  4. Hang 2 hands (all 4 fingertips) from a single pad edge, approximately 25mm, for time to failure. Record your time.
  5. Rest 3-5 minutes
  6. On a bar or jugs, perform a pull-up and lock-off at the top. Hold until your chin drops below your hands. Record your time.

Day 2

We can do this test the next day, as the first day of testing isn’t enough volume to have mitigating effects.

  1. Warm up
  2. Attempt to hang one-handed from a 25mm edge for 3-6 seconds. If you’re close but not successful, take between 10-20% of your bodyweight off by using a pulley system. If you cannot hang for 3-6 seconds with up to 20% off, then stop this test. If you’ve successfully hung for 3-6 seconds at your body weight, add 10-20% of your body weight and try to hang for 3-6 seconds. Continue to add weight to your test until you can’t hang for the minimum time.
  3. Rest 3-5 minutes
  4. On a bar or jugs, perform a pull-up and lockoff at the top. Try to release one hand and hang for 3-6 seconds. If you’re close but not successful, take between 10-20% of your bodyweight off by using a pulley system. If you cannot hang for 3-6 seconds with 0-20% off, then stop this test. If you’ve successfully hung for 3-6 seconds at your body weight, add 10-20% of your body weight and try to hang for 3-6 seconds. Continue to add weight to your test until you can’t hang for the minimum time.
  5. Using a fitness/yoga/Swiss ball, lay on the floor, backside down, and place your heels at the apex of the ball. Lift your hips, press your triceps/elbows into the floor constantly for stability, and drive the hips toward the ceiling while drawing the ball in toward the hips. To try with one foot – remove one foot from the ball, and with one foot remaining, drive the hips toward the ceiling and flex at your knee to draw the ball close to your hips. Repeat as many times as possible on both sides.

Based on your results with these tests, use the chart below to select the phase you’ll start with. Remember, during these 90 days, start with the initial test to get an idea of where your strengths and challenges lie. Achieving 80% in one of the categories is a good goal to start with. 80% success means you’re able to achieve 80% or more of the criteria for that category. For example, if you scored 12 pull-ups, but all of your other tests lay in Phase 1—then Phase 1 would be your starting phase. At the end of six consistent training weeks, test yourself again to check your improvement. If you’re finishing all sets and reps with ease, consider adding more.

Testing

Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3 Phase 4
Pull-ups (reps to failure) 1-2 3-9 10-17 18+
2 hand, single pad hang (time to failure) 1-20 seconds 21-45 seconds 46-70 seconds 71+ seconds
1 hand, single pad hang (3-6 seconds) n/a n/a Between -20 to +10 percent of body weight for 5 seconds Body weight +10 percent and above for 5 seconds
2 arm lock-off (time to failure) 1-5 seconds 6-35 seconds 36-60 seconds 61+ seconds
1 arm lock-off (3-6 seconds) n/a n/a Between -20 to +10 percent of body weight for 5 seconds Body weight +10 percent and above for 5 seconds
Hamstring extensions 1-10 reps w/ two feet 11-20 reps w/ two feet, or or 3-7 w/ one foot 8-20 reps w/ one foot 21+ reps w/ one foot

Length of Phases

This depends on many factors; age, how many years you’ve been climbing or training for climbing, current health status, or how you respond to consecutive days etc…but, let’s start with twp general plans:

  • A) 2 weeks on, 1 week off
  • B) 3 weeks on, 1 week off

Continue this pattern until the six week mark, then re-test.

Phase 1

Mantle/Press Out/Compression Training

Exercise Sets x reps
Tuesday/thursday Pushups to down dog 4 x 6
Tuesday/thursday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Straddle hip lifts 4 x 10
A) Tuesday/thursday Chair/bench dips or… 4 x 5
B) Tuesday/thursday Kitchen counter/railing dips 4 x 5
Tuesday/thursday Pigeons 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Front-split Spidermans 4 x 5 per side
Tuesday/thursday Box compression deadlifts 4 x 5
Tuesday/thursday Heal-bridge marches 4 x 10

Thin Vertical Strength Training

Exercises Sets x reps
Monday/Friday Eccentric of full pull-ups 3 x 3
Monday/Friday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Monday/Friday Couch/bench pistol squats 3 x 3
Monday/Friday Pigeons 4 x 10
Monday/Friday Front-split Spidermans 4 x 5 per side
Monday/Friday Hanging scapular retractions 4 x 10
Wednesday Firehydrants 4 x 10
Wednesday Pull-ups 1 x to failure
Wednesday 3 angle (top, 90, 120) lock-offs to failure 3 x 3 per angle

Phase 2

Mantle/Press Out/Compression Training

Exercises Sets x reps
Tuesday/thursday Pushups to down dog 4 x 6
Tuesday/thursday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Straddle hip lifts 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Cossack squats + reach 4 x 30 seconds per side
Tuesday/thursday Kitchen counter/railing dips + mantle 4 x 5
Tuesday/thursday Pigeons 4 x 10 per side
Tuesday/thursday Pushups + hand-to-belly 4 x 6
Tuesday/thursday Front-split Spidermans 4 x 5 each side
Tuesday/thursday Box compression weighted deadlifts 4 x 5
Tuesday/thursday 2-foot hamstring extensions 4 x 10

Thin Vertical Strength Training

Exercises Sets x reps
Monday/friday Archer pull-ups 3 x 3
Monday/friday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Monday/friday Cossack squats + reach 4 x 30 seconds per side
Monday/friday Pigeons 4 x 10
Monday/friday Finger-team pulls (first 3, last 3) 3 x 3 per team
Wednesday 1-arm scapular retraction typewriters 3 x 3 each side
Wednesday Firehydrants 4 x 10
Wednesday Frenchies 1 x to failure
Wednesday Couch/bench pistol squats 3 x 3 per side
Wednesday 25mm 1/2 crimp @ 70% MVC 8-10 x 5 seconds

Note: Your MVC is your maximum voluntary contraction , i.e. 100-percent effort. The best attempt you recorded during your test is your MVC.

Phase 3

Mantle/Press Out/Compression Training

Exercises Sets x reps
Tuesday/thursday Pushups to down dog 4 x 6
Tuesday/thursday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Straddle hip lifts 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Kitchen counter/railing dips + mantle 4 x 5
Tuesday/thursday Cossack squats + reach 4 x 30 seconds per side
Tuesday/thursday Pushups + hand-to-belly 4 x 6
Tuesday/thursday Pigeons 4 x 10 per side
Tuesday/thursday Front-split spidermans 4 x 5 per side
Tuesday/thursday TRX/Ring suspension archer push-ups 4 x 5 per side
Tuesday/thursday Box compression static holds 4 x 5
Tuesday/thursday 1-foot hamstring extensions 4 x 5 per side

Thin Vertical Strength Training

Exercises Sets x reps
Monday/friday Archer pull-ups 3 x 2 per side
Monday/friday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Monday/friday Explosive pull-ups w/ added weight 3 x 1  @ 60% of MVC*
Monday/friday 1-arm scapular lock-offs  3 x 3 seconds per side
Monday/friday Cossack squats + reach 4 x 30 seconds per side
Monday/friday 1-arm lock-offs at 3 angles (top, 90, 120) 3 x 3 per side
Monday/friday Front-split Spidermans 4 x 5 per side
Monday/friday Pigeons 4 x 10 per side
Wednesday Straight-leg firehydrants 4 x 10
Wednesday Full pistol squats 4 x 3
Wednesday Middle-ring-pinkie finger 1/2 crimp @ 80% MVC 8-12 sets x 5 seconds, 20mm edge
Wednesday Pinch block @ 80% MVC 8-12 sets x 5 seconds
Wednesday Index-middle-ring finger drag @ 80% MVC 8-12 sets x 5 seconds, 20mm edge

*If you can perform one pull-up with 10 pounds of additional weight, then 60% would be with 6 pounds of additional weight.

Phase 4

Mantle/Press Out/Compression Training

Exercises Sets x reps
Tuesday/thursday Pushups to down dog 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Straddle hip lifts 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Kitchen counter/railing dips + mantle 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Cossack squats + reach 4 x 30 seconds per side
Tuesday/thursday Pushups + hand-to-belly 4 x 10
Tuesday/thursday Front-split spidermans 4 x 5 per side
Tuesday/thursday 1-foot hamstring extensions 4 x 10 per side
Tuesday/thursday Box compression pull-ups 4 x 5
Tuesday/thursday Pigeons 4 x 10 per side

Thin Vertical Strength Training

Exercises Sets and reps
Monday/friday Archer pull-ups 3 x 2 per side
Monday/friday Pancake bends 4 x 10
Monday/friday Straight-leg firehydrants 4 x 10
Monday/friday 1-arm scapular lock-offs w/ added weight 3 x 3 seconds per side
Monday/friday Cossack squats + reach 4 x 30 seconds per side
Monday/friday Front-split Spidermans 4 x 5 per side
Monday/friday Explosive pull-ups w/ added weight 3 x 1 @ 60% MVC
Monday/friday Pigeons 4 x 10 each side
Wednesday Index-middle-ring finger drag @ 90% MVC 8-12 sets x 5 seconds, 20mm edge
Wednesday Pinch block @ 90% MVC 8-12 x 5 seconds
Wednesday middle-ring-pinkie finger 1/2 crimp @ 90% MVC 8-12 sets x 5 seconds, 20mm edge

Exercise Glossary

Note: This list is not comprehensive. For any exercises not listed, or to find more information about how to perform an exercise properly, Youtube is an excellent resource.

Archer Pull-ups

None

Perform a pull-up raising your body over one hand instead of centered between both. A wider grip adds difficulty.

Archer Pushups

None

Similar to an archer pull-up, the archer pushup lowers down towards one hand. The wider you reach with the opposite hand, the more difficult it will be.

Box compression deadlifts

None

Deadlift the box by squeezing the side panels. If adding weight, make sure the lid can’t fall open.

Box Compression Pull-ups

None

When weighted box compression deadlifts become too easy, you can hang the big and perform rows or pullups using the compression grip.

Cossack squat + reach

None

Standing with feet together, step into a wide side lunge. Reach for the foot of the bent leg with the opposite hand.

Dips + mantle

None

A dip performed on a bench.

None

Using a kitchen counter or railing for the dip + mantle. Perform a dip. After returning to the top position, raise one foot onto your counter or railing. On the next rep, raise the other foot.

Finger training

Finger team pulls

None

Laying under a table, perform a row on the edge. The first three finger team uses the index, middle and rings fingers. The last three finger team uses the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers. Bent knees make the exercise easier. Straight legs will increase the difficulty, while placing your feet on a chair will offer an even greater challenge.

Half crimp

None

While the half crimp can be performed on a hangboard (left), training bars or individual blocks can also be used to train the fingers without straining the shoulders (right).

Index-middle-ring drag and middle-ring-pinkie half crimp

None

Index-middle-ring finger drag (left), middle-ring-pinkie finger half cramp (right).

Fire hydrants

None

On hands and knees, raise one knee out to the side of your hip. To make this exercise more difficult, progress to extending a straight leg out to the side.

Frenchies

The Frenchie is a pull-up exercise designed to spend time under tension at specific angles: top, 90, and 120 degrees. A word of caution: Lock-offs at the top of your pull can result in elbow pain in some people.

One frenchie is:

  1. Pull up, lock off at the top for 5 seconds, lower to bottom
  2. Pull up to top, lower to 90 degrees, hold 5 seconds, lower to bottom
  3. Pull up to top, lower to 120 degrees, hold 5 seconds, lower to bottom
  4. 2 pull-ups to finish

Front-split Spidermans

None

From a front split position (left), bend your front knee moving into a lunge position while bringing the opposite elbow to the floor.

Hamstring extensions

None

Lay on your back with your heels on Swiss ball and your hips raised. Pull the ball in towards your body while raising your hips up as far as you can, then return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Too add difficulty, remove one foot. The exercise can also be performed on a chair or the back of a couch if you don’t have a ball.

Hanging leg lifts

None

Hanging from a bar, raise your legs until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Straight legs make the exercise more difficult than performing it with bent knees.

Hanging toes-to-bar

None

With relatively straight legs, raise both feet to the bar outside of one hand. Lower and then repeat on the other side.

Heel bridge marching

Note: March your feet in and out while performing this exercise.

Pancake bends

None

Seated with legs in a wide split (left), bend at the waste to lower your chest as far as you can toward the ground for each rep (right).

Pigeon

None

Like the yoga pose. To perform this as a rep exercise, just lower until you’re unable to going any further, lift yourself back up, and repeat.

Pistol squat progression

None

From easiest to hardest (left to right): Pistol squat to couch or bench, pistol squat with balance assistance, pistol squat.

Pull-up progression

None
Dave Wahl

The eccentric pull-up is a variation on the normal pull-up. Start by standing on an elevated surface (box, chair, etc.), then jump above the bar and lower as slowly as possible.

If eccentric pull-ups are too easy, then move to normal pull-ups.

Pull-ups, one-arm progression

None

To progress up to a one-arm pull-up, hang a static line from the bar. While your primary arm pulls, your other arm assists by pulling on the static line below. When one-arm pull-ups become too easy, you may add weight to increase the difficulty.

Pushup Hand-to-Belly

None

Perform a pushup. From the top position, raise one hand to your belly while maintaining body tension. Rotate hands each rep.

Push-up to down dog

None

From the low position of a pushup (left) push up and then move into the yoga pose down dog (middle and right).

Straddle hip lifts

Scapular lock-off progression

None

For a standard scapular lock-off, hang with straight arms (left). Pull the shoulders back and down to raise the chest (right).

None

To progress to harder scapular lock-offs (from left to right): Typewriter scapular lock-offs involve hanging from two arms and then shifting your weight to one side at a time. After typewriters become easy, you can progress to removing one hand at a time. When you become confident at one-arm scapular lock-offs, hold additional weight in your opposite hand.

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