Sunday, June 3, 2012

Misplaced Muscle - Pocket Preparation

Kreg Dobzinski
By Kreg Dobzinski

You pocket spare change, have pockets on your pants, and hit billiard balls into pockets on pool table, yet to a climber none of these pockets instill the fear that a two-digit hole in the rock does. Pockets on route make you question success and really aren't all that common so you should probably just stay away from them. Look into their shadowy depths and scoff. Maybe even snicker at those helpless sadists thrashing their tendons time and time again. Or more rarely, stand in slack-jawed awe as a pocket professional goes to work on a problem you have ignorantly deemed off-limits for your feeble digits. This, I do shamefully admit, was the train of thought I myself adhered to previously. But now I have seen the light, or rather, read the black and white of this stellar training article from Climbing magazine.

In the above linked article, Dave Wahl has put together a well-rounded and gradual training process to make you more confident on pockets by working your fingers in teams. I decided to try it out myself and am at the start of the third week of the program. The purpose of this month's installment in mainly a first-hand review and a bit of elaboration of the workout.

First off, I believe the training chart is misaligned. I think some sort of error occurred where (referencing the chart) the month was shifted to the right for sections 1 and 3, but not 2. So in actuality it should read Month 3, Month 1, Month 2 for both Finger board and Levering while the Dynamic Webbing Curl section is aligned in the correct progression. It tipped me off when I attempted to deadhang for twenty seconds rather than for the correct seven. Which brings me to my next point: warm-up. Generally, I did this workout two times a week after a session of moderate to intense climbing, but with a specific focus on not attempting any tweaky pocket routes. Although, I think one would be fine to do some other form of movement preparation as long it is comprehensive and at least 20 minutes because this workout is intense from the get-go. As a final side-note before I get into details, I have always found adequate hydration a key component to avoiding tendon injury.

Next, I will go through the three separate components of this training program with what I have learned in attempting it.

1. Finger Board/Campus Board/Systems Board - Of course the first question would be: Which to use? Personally, I preferred the almost two-pad deep pockets on the Metolious Simulator hangboard because it just felt the most 'right' to me out of the three when I did some initial 2-4 second hang tests. Its only drawback is when hanging from 'Team 3' there it is awkward to get the other unused fingers out of the way and not accidentally gripping somewhere else. Also, when first using the hangboard I found it imperative to mount a small step ladder beneath my feet to take some weight off of my fingers if they were fatigued and definitely when using the mono pocket.

Using the campus rungs or system wall allows for more convienent and variable access to the different teams of fingers and also provides small foot jibs, negating the need for the step ladder. While the campus rungs were definitely the most comfortable on the fingers, I felt they did not offer a true psychological pocket experience in both look and feel. Furthermore, on the system wall I was unable to find a consistent combination of holds that equally trained my fingers. Lastly, make sure you actually use a some sort of time keeping mechanism other than your brain to accurately complete the allocated rest time.

2. Dynamic Webbing Curl - I found that using half-inch webbing was the best choice to fit in between my pads when curling the weight up. One inch or wider would be too cumbersome and bunches up preventing a full curl. As to the length of the webbing, I would say between 2 and 4 feet would be ideal once you loop and girth it. I performed the curl standing with my hand by side with my palm facing my thigh. Once you find the most comfortable area on your fingers for the webbing to rest, make sure to place it carefully in that same optimal spot before the start of each set. I was wary of just loading up the string with a bunch of plates to find out my max to calculate the percentage of RM to use. Instead, I just underestimated a little bit to be safe for a starting point (7.5 lbs) and then began adding 2.5 lb plates to increase the weight as the workouts continued.

3. Levers - Remember, you are still working your finger teams. At first I did not focus as much on the set-up of the rest of my body, but I discovered a distinct difference when my forearm was completely imobilized and elbow grounded on my thigh. The rotation felt best when using an actual mini-sledge and I really wouldn't recommend anything else. I was able to keep teams 1 and 2 in relatively the same spot of the handle, but when working Team 3 I most assuredly would have to have shimmy my hand up a little closer to the mallet end.

So, does it work? Well, before I initiated this process I had a fair bit of trepidation about pockets and had never hung from any of the finger teams with my full body weight on purpose. At end of the second week I can now hang from Team 3 without step-ladder assistance and am thinking about taking it away from the mono attempts as well by the middle of next month. In general, the individual gripping force of my fingers seems to have increased and the hands feel stronger overall. I wouldn't have gone through the effort of this entire review unless it had my recommendation and I hope you give it a try because the best way to show a pocket who is boss is by shoving your fingers in it.
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  1. "the best way to show a pocket who is boss is by shoving your fingers in it" LOL

  2. How often do you perform the workout (week 1) daily ,weekly ,bi weekly?

  3. just spotted it. 2 times a week. got it home slice.