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Climbing / School / Systems Training

Systems Training

Systems training is regularly used amongst a variety of climbers, however, the proper method and benefits of this type of training are rarely understood.

Systems training is used to work a type of movement, particular grip or body part in isolation. It incorporates simple exercises that are easily replicated and allow an overload in the otherwise neglected areas.

The only rule of thumb whilst systems training is that you must be specific when planning your exercises, it is essential the ‘systems’ replicate the area in which you aim to benefit.

Systems training is usually split into 2 main sections, Grip training and Body training. This enables you to work very closely on your weaknesses and reap large rewards from your hard work.

Systems’ training is usually performed statically, holding positions or grips for around 5 seconds before releasing or moving into the next position.

Within each exercise, I prefer to train each position/ grip twice each side; this is four moves in total making one set. A successful session should contain between 5 and 8 sets, resting about 4 or 5 minutes between each set.

A typical systems set can be seen here in this rockover video

Systems training – Grips

There are three types of grip:

- Crimped

- Half crimped

- Open handed

(See previous Campus board grips article for more details)

It is usual for a climber to prefer a certain grip. However, if you want to progress in climbing it becomes impossible to neglect the weaker grip positions. The beauty of static systems training is that you can work on your weaker grip/s under control and in isolation, hence minimising the risk of injury and maximising the benefits. Because the exercises are very basic, it is possible to easily see increases in strength throughout your training period.

To complete this session, you will need at least 2 holds that are very similar and require use of the grip you want to train i.e. if you are working pockets, you will need to have 2 holds that can be held comfortably as pockets, the same goes for crimps and slopers.

The angle of your boulder wall is also of importance; if you are attempting to train finger strength, a wall set at 50 degrees will require a hold too large for effective gains in finger strength. I recommend a wall between 15 and 40 degrees overhanging. The Moon board as featured in these video clips is ideal.

Once you have identified the grip you want to train:

1. Place two appropriate holds about 50 cm apart on your boulder wall (if this is not possible, you can improvise by using two similar holds that are within reach).

2. Mark or add two small/ medium sized footholds (about 1 cm thick) underneath the handholds, so that you are able to stand on the foothold with a slight bend in both your knee, and elbow.

3. With your left hand on the grip and your right foot diagonally opposite on the foothold pull onto the wall and hold a static position, for between 5 and 8 seconds, concentrating on keeping good posture and keeping the grip position.

4. After 5 – 8 seconds, place your right hand on the opposite handhold and your left foot diagonally opposite on the left foot hold. Remove both your left hand and right foot and hold this position for 5 – 8 seconds.

5. Repeat this procedure once more to complete one set.

6. Rest about 4 minutes between each set. Complete between 5 and 8 sets during one session.

Understand? Please see video (Crimp Hangs), for further explanation.

In terms of progression and adaptation it is essential to increase the intensity of your exercises throughout your training period to prevent a performance plateau. This can be done in a number of ways; using a steeper boulder wall, decreasing the size of the hand and footholds or using resistance such as a weight belt.

Systems training: Movements and positions

Alongside training grip positions, it is beneficial to train specific body positions and movements. The movements and positions that can be trained whilst systems training include:

- Undercutting (See under cuts video)

- Shoulder press moves/ Gaston’s ( See shoulder gastons video)

- Sidepulling

- Rockovers (See rockovers video)

Given that climbing on the rocks is very natural, no matter what level you operate at or what climbing style you prefer, you will frequently encounter all of the above movements. It is essential to have a solid foundation in all positions and by doing so, not only do you reduce the risk of injury, you minimise your chances of being stumped at the crux. Consequently, you experience sufficient progress through the grades which makes your hard work all the more worthwhile.

The general rules for training movements and grips stay the same:

- Hold positions statically for around 5 seconds

- Avoid twisting

- Concentrate on good technique

- Ensure movements are kept simple and easy to replicate

As you are working the larger muscle groups, it is necessary to train on a wall that overhangs a minimum of 30 degrees and maximum of around 55 degrees, as opposed 15-35 degrees for finger strength training. To reap the greatest benefits, I suggest that you concentrate on larger ‘butch’ movements, using larger handholds, and smallish footholds. This will allow a greater overload in the relevant muscle groups, hence making the body stronger and more stable over a wide range of large movements. Since the emphasis is on working the large muscle groups, you should use your most preferred grip in these exercises, allowing better purchase on the holds enabling you to very hard.

Set up your systems board as shown in the videos or download the How to build a Moon board PDF from this web site. To find a ‘system’ that works effectively, you will need to play around with the size and distance apart of your handholds and footholds. Obviously, all climbers are different, and what works for one will not work for others. I recommend you view the video’s taking note of how Bens body is positioned on the wall, the direction he is facing and the way he is grasping the hold. In doing so, you should be able to set your ‘systems’ accordingly, increasing the efficiency of the exercise.

Of final note, it is essential that positions are held for a minimum of 4 seconds and a maximum of 7. The optimum time is 4-5 seconds; any more or less will decrease the efficiency of the exercise. As you progress you will find yourself able to hold the positions for longer. Again, to continue overloading the body and prevent a plateau, it is essential that you tweak your systems board to increase the intensity of your exercises as you progress. You can do this by making the board steeper, making the hand/footholds smaller and increasing resistance by using a weight belt.

Obviously each persons system will be unique, but by following the basic guide for grip training and viewing the videos, you should be able to confidently set a suitable system on your board.

Once you have mastered your systems exercises, try and follow oursample session “Systems Training Plan” here, which hopefully, will provide a beneficial workout and a good idea of how a systems training session should be planned.