Let's reflect on my calisthenics training over the past years and how I want to continue my workouts and bouldering practice going forward. A short timeline:
- Reddit's recommended routine
1. Reddit's recommended routine
I started consciously training calisthenics after I discovered the recommended routine from Reddit's bodyweight fitness community (somewhere in 2017, I'd guess). I kept track of my progress for the first few years using one of the Android apps made by the community. Though I cannot seem to find my older data, here is a plot compiled from three quarters of a year during my Master's in Finland and Sweden.
This was still the old recommended routine; it has been updated in the meantime. The original routine consisted of three parts: warmup, skills, and strength.
Warmup included exercises like:
- Dynamic stretches
- Shoulder rolls
- Scapular shrugs
- Camel bends
- Straight arm overhead pulls, chest flies, and band dislocates
- Front and side leg swings
- Wrist mobility
- Bodyline drills
- Planks (including sides and reverse)
- Hollow hold and arch hold
Skills consisted of two exercises:
- Handstand progression
- Support progression (mostly parallel bar support)
Strength exercises made up the moat of this workout. There are three groups of two different exercises, where sets are done interchangably to give time for recovery while still doing productive training. I did three sets of every exercise.
The first group is arguably the most intense.
- Pull up progression (worked my way up to 3 sets of 10 reps)
- Dips progression
Second group was often a nice break, but maybe because I never took legs as serious as upper-body. L-sits took me a while to practice.
- Squat progression
- L-sit progresion (I remember the moment I made it to 60s holds; felt glorious)
Third group is also pretty tough, targeting upper-body again.
- Push up progression
- Row progression
This whole routine worked pretty well for me. I started out by doing these in my father's house, where I could do pull ups at the stairs (by putting a field hockey stick through them) and dips using chairs and hockey sticks. Every time I return to Tilburg, that is where I'll do my workout again.
While living in Finland, I did my workouts in UniSport Kluuvi during winter. In Sweden I resorted to an outdoor calisthenics park on the university campus. And back in Finland again, I started going to the athletics field on Aalto campus together with Jack.
This is where we changed things up a bit. Jack brought in exercises that he knew, and we tried progressions that we kind of made up ourselves. It really taught me to have more fun in my routine (and how much fun it is to train together with someone). There were skull crushers, different handstand progressions, push up variations, dead hang contests, floating rows, straight bar dips, weighted squats, and more. I even started running regularly across campus, e.g., when coming from the office and running to the athletics field for our workout.
During those months, I had been practicing intermittent fasting (with the exception of the occassional citrus fruit after meditation and on my way to the office). Meaning that I was doing most of those workouts on an empty stomach. And only after finishing, did I go to break my fast in one of the campus restaurants together with Jack. I remember that my energy levels actually felt very balanced. Sure, my workouts would often feel more intensely exhausting, occassionaly to the point of almost passing out. But the weird thing is that it made me feel more in connection with my body. I found positive satisfaction in pushing my body to its limits.
My Finnish roommate Kalle introduced me to bouldering while we lived together. We'd bike for forty-five minutes through Finnish fields and small towns to a climbing gym. Or we'd take a metro to the Kiipeilyareena in Kalasatama to climb with his friends. In the end, we didn't even end up climbing that often together, but it certainly sparked something in me.
After I'd moved to Amsterdam, Noemi took me bouldering at some point again. Shortly after, she had to undergo surgery and couldn't climb for some months, but I had tasted the exercise of the gods anew and continued. I started meeting up with an old friend again, and together we were improving our climbing skills.
It feels good to finally have a useful goal that motivates me to train my body. Core strength, arm strength, and finger strength (and occassional leg work). I was no longer training them just for the sake of training them.
Right about now I can climb 6C/V6 boulders, but it took exponentially more training to get to this point. It felt like I was plateauing, while actually I was just progressing on a logarithmic scale. Most of the time, we go climb at Beest or Het Lab in Amsterdam. Sometimes I go to Monk, and even more rarely I visit Block013 back in Tilburg.
Some of the lessons I've learned over time:
- Pull your core/center of gravity towards the wall
- Lean from straight arms to minimize exhausting them
- While leaning, make sure you position you feet and legs right
- There are moves I fear I might not make, while often I can (just try, and accept death)
- Warm up by doing easy routes very slowly (placing every limb with full intention)
- Going to the climbing gym more often directly translates to more progress
- I am going to need a whole lot more finger strength
My training now has a few different goals:
- Improve my climbing
- Achieve specific skills
- Gain general calisthenics strength
First off, I want to seriously improve my climbing skills. I could quantify it (e.g., climb 10 routes of grade 7A in 2023), but I am a bit hesitant to do that. For one because I have no clear overview of what it takes to get to a level where I can climb 7A's. And two, because I do not want those grade levels to become a goal in itself. Instead, I aim to improve my general climbing skills. As I see it, this means that I should work on a couple specific areas:
- Finger strength (open hand, half crimp; be careful of closed crimps, as they are disproportionately taxing) (also see Jim Bastiaans on Monk's blog)
- Core strength
- Grip strength (sticking to big slopes, pinch)
My pull strength is sufficient for now in the routes I climb. Dedicating special effort to it would only translate to minimal results (pareto principle).
Some resources to guide my training:
- "9 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes" by Dave MacLeod
- "Beastmaking" by Ned Feehally
- Stuff by Hoseok Lee
On that topic, Hoseok Lee is a very impressive climber who puts out thoughtful training advice. For example, he made a popular video on his rock climbing training routine. In a later video he explains that he isn't following that exact routine anymore. Instead, he says to just practice climbing if you want to improve your climbing. And when you notice you're plateauing, dedicate a few months to training (deliberate practice), and then go back to almost entirely focusing on climbing. I think this is generally solid advice, but I want to spend some time looking at his training routine nonetheless.
Hoseok proposes to separate climbing and training into two separate paths. Push two training sessions to both ends of the week, and fill out the rest with two to three climbing sessions.
Training days have the following layout:
- Pull-ups (10x10) (engage back muscle, let chest touch the bar)
- Uneven (band) left
- Uneven (band) right
- Push-ups (4 sets)
- Offset (left, right)
- Sit-ups (4 sets)
- Flutter kicks
- Leg raises (3 sets, 2xeach = 1 set)
- Same side foot (left, right)
- Cross foot (left, right)
- Feet together (left, right)
- Campus board (once a week)
- Lock-off touches (left, right)
- Rapid fire (up+down fast)
Lastly, let me briefly touch on the specific skills I want to train.
- Handstand (stable, maybe progress to handstand pushups)
- Muscle up
- Front lever
Throwing all of this training into the mix should also work plenty towards my goal of improving general calisthenics strength.
I will revisit my plans and progress on two or three moments throughout the year. For now, I should get back in the boulder hall!