There had to be a limit. I couldn't just keep adding weight to each hand grip every workout, and yet, that's exactly what I was doing. I would write +5 in my logbook, then decide 10 pounds instead of 5 when the next workout rolled around. One of two things was going to happen - I would find my limit, fail at holding on, and build from there. Or I would find my limit when my fingers exploded and injury took away my dreams of Yosemite. I was hoping for the former but really feared the latter. In the words of my buddy, "Haas, you're a good athlete. You're just an untrained athlete." True. But in becoming a trained athlete, you have to overcome the hurdle of being your own coach too. The start of Week 5 was going well, gains and spirits were high. And then the wall. In one single workout - I found my limit.
But not just on a single grip, but what felt like all of them. I would have sworn I took a step backwards if not for keeping intricate notes in my Rock Climber's Training Manual Logbook. I’ve read many times that training is 90% mental, 10% physical. This is empowering when things are going well and absolutely soul-crushing when things don’t go well.
Hangboard Workout 8 will go down as my defining moment – where the true nature of our main character is revealed – he will either succeed or fail. I felt a bit off and had pushed up my workout to directly after work in order to make dinner time with the family. The weight that felt doable the last workout was a struggle. I changed my plan and added five pounds instead of ten and yet I still failed. I shook it off and prepared for the next grip, yet failed again. And again. I was taking a big backslide. I was tired, frustrated, and fighting to find the strength to even go through the motions, let alone push through the barrier. Was I risking injury by pushing hard even with these setbacks? Each grip was a new exercise so why not keep pushing like the plan I had laid out before hand?
And then came the real setback. The two finger, 1-pad middle and ring finger pocket. I had yet to be able to complete a workout without taping my left ring finger without getting a flapper. The skin had been feeling better so I decided not to tape as it hindered my grip strength. Three reps in, massive, full-pad flapper. Are you kidding me! OK, what are you going to do? Skin hurts, muscles have been uncooperative, and now this. Throw in the towel or finish the workout?
We all have days when we don’t live up to our own expectations. We chalk those off as “character building” experiences. Failing during training is no different than failing during performance – you put your head down, learn what you can from it, and forge ahead. I finished out the workout, backing off the weight on the last two grips (and still performing worse than the workout previous).
I went inside and ate dinner with the family. I played with the kids for a little while, and put my son to bed. I took a deep breath, consciously chose to go back out into the garage, and tried to finish strong with the supplemental exercises. As a side note – I have found these excercises to be perhaps the most difficult part of these workouts. I took great comfort in hearing my buddy Cole say the same thing. I’m tired at that point, I’ve been in the garage for nearly two hours, and I just want to be done. They are not “exciting” or “sexy” in any way - they are whole body gruel-fests. I tried to add at least one extra rep to each workout – one more pullup, two more pushups, etc. I turned on the headphones and mentally slid into the “zone”. Three additional pullups, five additional pushups, four extra lateral-to-front raises per set. Booya, some success. But I was too tired to enjoy it, best illustrated by waking up the next morning with a single sock still on.
So then it was decision time. I could move on to the Power (aka Bouldering) Phase and leave the hangboard behind me. But would that set a bad mental tone for the months and cycles to come? I had unfinished business. I was going to bed thinking about the hangboard like I would a project route. I was working out beta for each grip, assessing why I was failing. Bottom line, I had unfinished business.
Back to the garage for a final grudge match. I needed to put as many factors in favor as possible. I couldn’t reduce the stress and I couldn’t reduce the family responsibilities. I tried to get more sleep, but that was unrealistic too with my workload. The best thing I could impact? Food. Eat first, then work out. It was what I had done before, it was what I needed to go back to. Headphones in, timer set, it was time to wrestle with the board. I backed off the warm up weight – the point was just to warm up the joints. Casual. The next grip was the goal weight for the previous workout. Tough but didn’t fail – good so far. Let’s keep this up. The next grip was tough and it was clear focus and intensity had to be greater than before. You cannot go through the motions. You find your limits, you embrace your failures, and you push beyond. I would like to say that’s how it went, where I added weight to every grip again. In reality, I found some barriers. For instance, I had to back off the pocket thanks to my tender skin from the flapper a few days before. But it felt easier than I anticipated. None of the other grips fell without a fight. We were front and center at the MGM Grand with the whole world watching, waiting to crown a champion. Me or the board? Seems like a silly analogy doesn’t it? Who cares? Do what you need to get it done. If it were easy – would I really do it? I don’t have time for that. That’s why I train – I don’t have time.
I left that workout feeling like the path before me had been corrected, that the first road block on my way to Yosemite had been overcome. New obstacles await – the campus board. I walk towards the challenge with a new level of confidence in my training and am ready for the next road block to overcome.
- Jason Haas