Cover photo by Josh King
At the beginning of 2016, I decided to try a training program for climbing. I had done a little structured training in the past, but mostly my evolution as a climber happened on real rock. Training had vastly grown in popularity in the climbing world, and I was intrigued by the possibility of busting through a plateau I had found myself on for a couple of years.
With a climbing trip to Kalymnos planned for the month of May, I started my program a few months in advance. My friend, Inge, had been working with the Power Company Climbing. I bought a pdf through their website, per her recommendation, and followed the outlined workouts three to four days a week.
The program felt unnatural at first. My climbing routines at the gym were intense and focused. I put my headphones on and refined movement. It felt kin to the days I played basketball, where practices weren’t only scrimmaging, but skill-specific drills.
The summer and fall to follow this program I did break through the plateau. I cleaned house around Bozeman, ticking-off old projects and starting new ones. I reached out to Kris Hampton, the founder of Power Climbing Company, and thanked him for the care he had put into the program.
Kris responded immediately with enthusiasm. Though running a multi-dimensional machine of empowerment in the climbing community, he proves again and again to be approachable, kind, and genuinely invested in the athletes he coaches.
Below he offers insights into some of the common mistakes climbers make while training. He also explains approaches to balancing time on real rock with training, and how both controlled movement and a more “a muerte” style are important for climbing success.
The interview reflects the intentional effort Kris brings to his coaching. I’m honored to feature him on the Worker’s Wo/Manual series.
Meet Kris Hampton
Climber and Professional Climbing Coach
Kelsey: What is your occupation and why do you do it?
Kris: I make my living as a coach and trainer for climbers at Power Company Climbing. I own the business, so I do a bit of everything else as well, including office work, shipping, creating products, etc., but it’s all in the name of helping people see improvement in their climbing.
Several years ago I realized that I enjoyed helping people find ways to progress as much as I enjoyed my own progression. Now I get to experience that on a larger scale.
K:What sports do you enjoy?
Kr: Climbing, skateboarding, and disc golf are the three sports that I’ve participated in the most over the last decade. I’ve dabbled in damn near everything at some point, including pole vault, gymnastics, and parkour.
K: How have your sports shaped your relationship to your career?
Kr: My main sport is my career. Because climbing is a sport that adults can find a dedicated community in at any age, I’m still very much immersed in nearly every aspect of climbing. This ends up blurring the line between life, sport, and career to the point that it’s indistinguishable. Someday I may want more separation, but for now it’s exactly the way I want it.
K: What are common mistakes climbers make when they train?
Kr: There are several extremely common mistakes that climbers often make, but I’ll narrow this down to three.
First, many climbers, when they train, aren’t training at all. If you don’t have a repeatable plan in which you can measure tangible progress, you’re likely just going climbing. This is fun, and it’s exercise, but it isn’t training.
Second, it’s very easy to fall into a middle intensity zone in which you’re trying moderately hard and going for a fairly long time. Usually these climbers are using fatigue as a marker for a good workout. These sessions generally take longer to recover from and aren’t intense enough to cause much adaptation. Put simply, they are very little bang for the buck. Sometimes it’s a necessary zone to train in, but it should be managed and infrequent.
Finally, and somewhat related, most climbers don’t rest enough while training.
More isn’t better, and is often actually worse, but for some reason that reaction persists. If I put out a “Resting for Climbers” ebook, it wouldn’t sell a single copy, but it would likely be the most valuable product we have available.
K: How do you recommend climbers balance time spent on real rock with exercises performed in a gym?
Kr: This is a tough one that depends on your specific situation, but I think I can boil it down to two general frameworks. For the climber who lives in a place with specific climbing seasons and can’t go climbing whenever they please, it’s a little easier. I’d dare to say better actually. For these folks, I’d recommend that in the season when conditions for climbing outside aren’t ideal, they focus their efforts on training in a systematic way. When the season is in, the focus should be on performance.
Even if you can’t get out every weekend, rather than just doing another training cycle, a performance period in the gym will be huge for your mental wellbeing.
For the climbers who can be outside climbing whenever they want to, or have year-round climbing at their disposal, it’s a much more difficult proposition. First step is to decide what you’re willing to give up in the name of progression.
If you’re ok with potentially slower progression so that you an climb solely outdoors, then by all means do that. If you’re willing to spend the least favorable times of the year indoors to speed up your progression, it can go a long way. I recommend a couple of 6-8 week periods each year where outdoor climbing takes the backseat.
Trying to do both at the same time will never be optimal, but if you can’t bear to compromise, then making sure your gym sessions don’t mimic your outdoor sessions is a good first step to making progress.
K: After working with female athletes, are there any differences you’ve noticed in how women train for climbing versus men? Is there anything you’d recommend women climbers to keep in mind when training?
Kr: I’m totally generalizing here, which makes me a little nervous. One thing I often see from women is that they care far more about moving with complete control, as opposed to men who seem to focus more on the outcome, even if it means losing control in the process. There is something to be learned from each approach, and we’d all do well to understand each method. Sometimes this is oversimplified as “training is controlled, and performance is by any means necessary”.
Tapping into that “by any means necessary” mindset during training can help a climber learn to pull the trigger on moves they are unsure about. Conversely, if you’re always on the edge of control, learning how and when to rein it in is incredibly important.
K: What does beautiful mean to you?
For me, form follows function.
Beauty in everything is enhanced by a meaningful purpose.
K: How have your sports and career shaped your body image and your relationship to your body in general?
Kr: I train for specific performance objectives, and as a result, the shape of my body changes accordingly.
I fully believe that my body is a tool I need to sharpen to reach my goals, including those of health and happiness.
The best shape for climbing may not be the best for loving ice cream, and I’m completely happy making that concession when it contributes to my happiness. I believe that having a coach and training plan are part of the key here. I know I’m doing the optimal work required to ready my body for performance, so I don’t have to obsess about it beyond that.
K: What advice would you give women and/or fellow athletes in general to better enjoy their unique bodies?
Kr: Our bodies are complex organisms that are meant to adapt to what we ask them to do. Allow them to do that.
If you have a good coach or a good training plan that asks for the appropriate adaptation, then your body will do the work of changing itself for you to help you reach your goals. And don’t stress small concessions: embrace ice cream when you need it.