Saturday, January 4, 2014

Strong like a German

One of the recurring names in climbing during 2013 was Germany's Alex Megos. We read how Megos crushed in the Red River Gorge, sent the Wheel of Life (V15), put up Australia's first 5.14d, climbed Spain's La Rambla (5.15a) in two tries, established a new 5.15a in the Frankenjura, oh, and beat Adam Ondra to the coveted first ever onsight of a 5.14d. It seemed like this kid came out of nowhere, as if beamed down from a spaceship to become contender for World's Greatest Climber.

While Megos is not a mutant from another galaxy, he is the product of something almost as alien to our sport: a systematic, year-in, year-out training plan comprised of formal sports-science principles administered by coaches and trainers. In the words of one of Megos's trainers, Patrick Matros, "He started sport climbing at the age of 6. When he came to us, he was already at 13 and his hardest route was 'only' 8a. We started a very fundamental strategy for training/coaching, based on profound and frequent strengths/weakness profiles."  (

Climbing is a curious sport when it comes to training. Tony Yaniro was criticized for training too much in preparation for the first ascent of Grand Illusion in 1979, producing what was then considered the world's hardest climb. (Mountain Project)  The thousands of pullups Yaniro cranked were considered by many to be cheating. Climbing was supposed to be what we did to train for climbing. Ascents were just "supposed to happen," perhaps when the stars aligned. Chris Sharma famously abides by this principle. But don't we wonder how hard he might have climbed if he'd been coached like an Olympic athlete?  Adam Ondra seems to share Sharma's approach, preferring to climb as training for climbing, with maybe some campusing and plastic bouldering thrown in the mix. On the other hand, Megos, more than any other athlete, may represent the future direction of performance rock climbing. His tick list in 2013 begins to answer the question of what happens when climbing's seat-of-the-pants training is replaced by a formal program closer to that of established, Olympic-level sports.

For those who are curious about Megos's training program, or what type of exercises to include into a personal plan that might be equally effective, there is the new book Gimme Kraft!. Released during the second half of 2013, the book is co-written by Patrick Matros (Megos's coach), Ludwig Korb and Hannes Huch. It represents an evolution in training principles for rock climbers with origins in the early work of Wolfgang G├╝llich, well known for his explorations of academic-based sports science as applied to climbing. Peter Beal, of the Mountains and Water blog, has done a review and interview here. Ordering information is located here along with several video samples.

Winter is training season and the new year is the perfect time to make plans and form goals for becoming a stronger climber. The material contained in Gimme Kraft may be just what is needed for each of us to take performance to the next level.

(One of the video samples. This one's in German, with a lot of exercise samples a few minutes in.)