Sunday, 20 July 2014

Roof section of climbing wall

This last section of my climbing wall has taken over a year to finish but it’s finally done. I had one strip of 400mm x 2400mm plywood left over after building the massive hang board, campus board, and peg board. This strip of ply was always intended to be used as a roof climbing section for grip training, and as a possible section to traverse (along the hang board and on to the roof section).

This section was fairly straight forward to build; it runs parallel to the side wall of the garage and perpendicular to the hang board. I placed it in such a way so one can climb along the hang board then transfer to the roof section, or transfer between the roof section and the peg board. I allowed a 500mm gap between the peg board and the roof section to fit my head and shoulders, and approximately the same distance between the roof section and hang board. The ply was drilled in a similar fashion to the hang board (click the link to read more about the screws and t-nuts) the only difference is the holds are drilled 80mm from the sides of the roof section (not 100mm). This spacing places the holds further from the centre holds, spreading them out across the board. I mention this only because when I am looking to start a project I like to find other peoples measurements to help inform my own project. 

I used two lengths of 2x4 (45mmx90mm to be exact) to fasten the ply to the rafters. The 2x4 was cut to 2400mm, the same length as the plywood. These were spaced out so they would not be in the way of the t-nuts on the plywood which would block the rock holds. These were screwed to three rafters, 2 screws per rafter. I used large gauge 90mm long screws and feel very safe with these fixings. These screws were also counted sunk, so the ply would sit flush with the 2x4’s and not hit the screw heads. I used a 24mm drill bit for this. As a side note I found the 2x4’s to replicate monkey bars quite well, so there is an idea if you are low on money and material.

Spacing for t-nuts, and example of counter sinking
More pictures of spacing and counter sinking
Once the 2x4 was fixed in place the plywood was screwed in using the same spacing’s and fixings as the hang board (Link for more information).

Finished product and example of spacing away from the peg board

I’m very happy with the finished product, I spaced the 2x4s so that the ply would over hang, allowing me to traverse the roof section similar to monkey bars. I am also considering options for pinch training off the roof section for which I may just hold the exposed rafters while spotting myself with the roof section of ply. This opens up quite a few more grip training options for me. Once I buy some more rock holds I’ll add some more pictures. 

Using the 2x4's like monkey bars

Hanging from the ply and the rock holds

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Pinch training tool

I was taking a quick look over the clearance table at my local hardware store when I saw these simple spring clamps, much like giant clothes pegs. They were only $4 each and I was sure I could set them up as a tool for training pinch strength. I bought two thinking I could set up one then ass it got too easy I could change the set up to use both. Later I thought I might as well buy two more so I could have one set up, a double set up and one spare (for single finger + thumb training); however I was only able to find one more.

I have seen something similar to what I have set up in one of Ross Eminent’s videos, however his tool uses leverage on a weight, while mine used the resistance on a spring. The tool that Ross has set up is probably better as the weight stays the same throughout the movement, while the resistance increases on mine as the tool is closed. However this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I feel like the strength curve is higher as the thumb is closer to the hand; that is to say you are stronger in that position. I could be wrong. Also I don’t have any dumbbells or plates to set something up like Ross has.

The set up is very simple; I used a board made of sandwiched aluminium sheet over plastic. I found the off cuts at work otherwise I would have used some thin plywood. These were drilled, screwed and bolted onto the clamps; I had to cut down some of the bolts to make them fit. If I was to re build these I would use larger bolts and lock nuts, however my set up works just fine.

My plan is to train these in a similar fashion to training CoC gripers. I can use the single clamp as a warm up for sets of 5. I can then either do negatives on the double, until I’m able to close it and/or use single and double fingers on the single. I find the single and double finger work very difficult, I think the hands are wired to work as a unit and are therefore stronger than the sum of its parts. To give an indication of strength of these two tools, I feel like the single is slightly easier than the CoC trainer and the double is just harder than the CoC number 2. I’m hoping that these tools can assist in my training for a rafter pull up (or at least a rafter hang).

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Personal Experiments

Doing small personal experiments of n=1 is probably nothing new to any of my readers, so I won’t expound on the subject. I will say that changing and testing different parts of your life (health, fitness, diet, sleep etc) and taking a look at what happens (if anything) can be really helpful in learning more about yourself, and is often simply a lot of fun. You can get as in-depth and detailed as you like with recording and monitoring data, or you can go as simple as “how do I feel today?”

Note: I’m not going to reference anything I say here. Most of it is very basic and straight forward.  I also just don’t feel like spending the time to look up the primary research (or at least reviews); I’ve done enough if that in the past.

The easiest thing you can do

Over three years worth of workouts
The simplest thing you can start to do if you haven’t already is record some simple data. I really enjoyed the 4 hour body, if you want to get in and start self experimenting this book is an excellent resource to start with. For me the most important piece of information I got out of that book was to keep a workout log. Originally I started the log to keep me motivated to do something every day, I hated to write nothing in for a day. But I quickly found the log to be excellent for keeping track of my progress, and to push me to beat last week’s reps. I was also able to see some very basic patterns faster by focusing on writing things down. For example I noticed that my pull ups sucked the day after parkour because I was often doing a lot of climb ups at parkour training.

So the simplest thing to do is to buy/find a cheap school book, open a word document or however you see fit, start recording some basic information you are interested in. I only record my workouts as that’s all I’m really focused on but you could record weight, mood, sleep, diet whatever you mean to focus on. “What gets measured gets managed”

An extra 1000 calories per day

I got fed up with people going on about high fat diets and saturated fats, so I decided to do a really simple self experiment to show high fat, and saturated fat were not the big issue everyone was making it out to be. I decided to add an additional 1000 calories to my diet for a month, and see what happened. I chose to drink a can of coconut cream for morning tea each day in addition to my average diet of the previous few months. I did this in order to stack the deck in my favour as much as I could. After sleeping the 8 (ish) hours the body is burning primarily stored fat, my normal breakfast is bacon so I can continue burning fat, so by adding my extra calories as fat after this I will hopefully continue to burn these new calories. In addition the shorter fats in coconut oil convert easily to ketones which and be passed out in urine if not used. In addition I hoped that my background metabolic rate would increase with added calories (see ‘good calories bad calories’).

For four weeks I drank a smoothie of coconut cream with mixed berries (for flavour). By the end of the experiment it was getting difficult to drink, but I did it. I weighed myself before and after the experiment and had lost 0.3kg by the end (negligible). It would have been great to get blood tests and body fat scans but this simple experiment was good enough for me. My conclusion was that the additional calories did not cause me to put on weight, so I decide to start drinking a protein shake most days to get in some extra calories to help recover.


It’s fairly common knowledge that creatine is a cheap, safe supplement which can help increase strength within the rep range of 3-5 (ish – this is why I’m not referencing). I had read some good articles suggesting that one can take a loading dose for up to 6 weeks safely before cycling off. There seemed to be many papers to back this up so I decided to give it a go (Note: Here is a link to one of the articles I was reading, I suggest reading all three parts). The calculation I used suggested 25 grams daily for someone my weight (most loading doses used in research are 20-25 grams). So I decide to run this experiment for four weeks and see what happened.

First off, it’s not fun to take that much creatine in water, it’s like sand and baking soda mixed together. So I started taking it with fruit juice (which is good as carbs seem to help the uptake of creatine), this was a little bit easier. Towards the end of the second week it was getting more and more difficult to stomach the creatine. I was left with an upset stomach for up to an hour afterward so I cut the experiment short after two weeks. In that time my weight had not increased, nor had any of my lifts (beyond what I had projected). My conclusion was that I am a non responder to creatine, although I should look into taking a much smaller dose (5 grams) daily for basic health.

Other experiments

Those are the two main experiments I have done which had a clear goal and time frame but I have a few ideas for different things to test. I would like to do much more floor sitting and work on my squat (Ido Portals 30/30 challenge maybe) but after a long day a chair is always so inviting so I’m working on that. I have been thinking about putting some solid work into building my calves to see what happens. And I really need to work much harder on my mobility.

I hope that this has given you a simple introduction to self experimentation, and maybe given you some ideas of where you could start yourself. For more in-depth explanations and examples take a look at ‘The four hour body’ by Tim Ferriss.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Product Review : Captains of Crush Grippers

I can’t remember when I first bought myself a pair of grippers, probably 4 years ago I bought a cheap ‘fitness’ pair off trademe (NZ’s version of ebay). These were cheap, weak and totally useless for my training. I remember doing 2-3 sets of 50 each hand while I watch TV. I eventually gave one away, and threw the other in a corner not bothering with them again.

About a year later I came across the CoC (Captains of Crush) grippers from Ironmind and decided to buy some gear off their website. Among other things I bought myself the trainer (100 lb close) and the number 1 (140 lb close). These grippers are not made for ‘toning’ they are for strength training, and should be treated like weight training for the hands. The grippers are very simple but well made, they feel quite comfortable to use and I can’t fault the design or workmanship.

Closing the number 2
Using some very basic programming they suggested I was quickly able to close the number 1 for sets of 5. I would start with 1-2 sets of five with my old cheap gripper as a warm up, then 2-3 sets of 5 with the trainer, followed by sets with the number one, finishing either with sets of five on the trainer or some lockouts closing the number one (5 -15 seconds). The sets with the number one started with 2-3 reps and sets, eventually building up to 5x5.

Following this I bought the number two gripper (195 lb close). Went I first got this gripper I could only close it slightly past half way. To build up to closing it I would warm up with sets of 5 for the trainer then 1-2 sets of five with the number 1 followed by 3-5 singles attempting to close the number two. I would then finish with sets of 5 with the number 1. Currently I can do 2-3 singles with each hand closing the number 2, but only on a good day, if I’m tired, beat down or worn out I can’t quite make the close.

Almost got the close on the number 2

Ideally I would program these grippers twice a week, but my main (grip) focus right now is on the one arm towel hang, climbing my campus board and one arm finger tip push ups. So currently I throw in the grippers whenever I have time and am feeling good.

To sum up these are excellent pieces of training equipment which you should treat as weight training for your hands. They are very well made and a great addition to your training. However they should not make up the entirety of your grip training. They do not directly transfer to isometric grip strength (unless you’re performing lockouts), so throw in some hangs and fat bar lifting for a more rounded grip strength. And don’t forget to train the extensors.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Basic hangboard and campus board training

THIS IS NOT WRITTEN FOR CLIMBERS. I AM NOT TRAINING FOR CLIMBING. Sorry for the caps but I needed to get that out of the way early. I’m not a climber and know very little about both climbing and training for climbing. That said, I believe what I present here is a reasonable progression of training which will carry over positively to climbing.

I first got into training grip strength after doing a bit of indoor climbing with friends. After an hour or so of climbing I found my limiter was grip endurance. I’m not saying that I would be a better climber with stronger grip, just that I could climb for longer. I’m also aware that climbing is very technical, and that you should be using mainly your legs. That said I don’t climb frequently so when I’m there, I just want to have some fun.

So I started my grip training with many of the things seen in my articles on basic grip training and training the extensors. I also build my climbing wall/ massive hang board. As part of that project I added a mini campus board to one side (Note: real campus boards are set at an angle with set spacing much larger than mine). I had grand plans for my campus board (the side with nothing on it currently) but when I first tried it I could only just do a 5 second hang, so the grand plans were put on hold while I build up my finger strength. Before you start hangboard or campus board training I suggest you should have at least a 1 minute bar hang, preferably several sets.

So I started my training with sets of 5 second hangs. I would rest as needed, sometimes hanging between sets of other exercises, or between housework. I used two hands and all four fingers and did not lock my fingers in with my thumb. When locked in with the thumb (thumb over the index finger) the grip is called a crimp, a half crimp (which I use) does not use the thumb. This grip is harder than the full crimp, and the half crimp will be used later for campusing (moving up and down on the board) I built up to 5x5 second holds, then moved to 10 second holds building up to 5 sets. I then built up to 15 and 20 second hangs, from here I believe that longer and longer hangs are un-necessary to train. One important tip: Buy some chalk; it makes it feel like your finger prints are glued to the wood.

Chalked fingers, warm up hang, half crimp hang

My next step was to start climbing the board. At first I could only move my hand up one rung then match it with my other hand. I would build up to climbing one rung 3-5 times, resting as required.

Climbing the board, hands matching

From there I would warm up with one rung climbs, then do 1-3 two rung climbs, I would climb one, then climb to the next. Once I could make 3 two rung climbs I move on to climbing the whole board in this fashion (3 rungs). This is where I am up to currently with my training and I have started some 3 finger hangs (two hands), I’m planning to train to hang from only two fingers per hand, and hang from only one hand, maybe one hand two fingers eventually.

My next aim for campus boarding is to climb the rungs without matching hands, i.e. left hand up, and then right hand goes to the next rung up, not meeting at the same rung. I would also like to train climbing down the board after climbing up.

Climbing without matching hands

Other options for advance campus boarding are to move both hands at the same time, either both from the same rung, to the next rung up, or to offset the hands and jump both up to the next rungs. This is a long way off for me and I really don’t suggest it to anyone whose fingers aren’t incredibly strong. 

I believe these are called bumps
Jumping rungs
Hands offset, jumping rungs
So that’s how I’ve built up to climbing my campus board, and how I plan to continue from here. If any climbers are reading this please comment and let me know what you think. Anything I’ve been doing well, or poorly?