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Crack Training in the gym


Original Post
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Hey everyone,

Debatable which forum this belongs in as it is sort of a "Training" question, but I put it here because it's more about logistics/comfort than actual energy processes/conditioning, though it may spill into that.  Anyways...

I like crack climbing.  I'd like to be better at it, and in particular stronger/better endurance.  Have a trip to Squamish planned for this summer and would like to get up to the Creek next season.  I get on as many  outdoor cracks as I can, but not as much as I'd like or what it would take to develop the conditioning/technique for my goals.  Based on the bulk of info on the net (yes, I Googled!) the most ideal approach would be a crack machine, but sadly I live in a 2 bedroom condo with a child and there is no room for one, so my best option is to do laps on the cracks at the gym...

But they suck!!  They are highly textured.  Even in my comfy TC Pros, I can only really tolerate 1 or 2 laps in a session before my feet are killing me and start to blister and bruise.  I use Ocun crack gloves, which actually makes hands not hurt too bad, but feet can only take so much abuse.  To contrast, I've never had a problem with pain from outdoor cracks (including granite with crystals in it) and usually don't feel the need to tape outdoors.

So...any suggestions to help me get more training volume in without destroying my feet?

Keatan · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 20

If you're training hand/fist size cracks, they can usually be climbed as easily in approach or hiking shoes as they can in climbing shoes. That could save your feet some pain, but isn't as applicable to finger cracks.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Oh...good idea!  One is a perfect #1-2 hand crack, the other is a 3-4 off-hands to fist.  There is a finger crack, but I usually give up on foot jamming past a certain point on it.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

Fwiw, if you don't need to tape outdoors, I'd say your technique is just fine. 

Mike Mellenthin · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 70

This may be a dumb question -- how tight are your TC pros? You want your toes to be completely flat. Anything less and it will hurt a lot.

In general though crack climbing hurts, although less so over time and especially not on splitter hand cracks. I'd wait it out a little bit. Are you climbing splitters outside? Are your gym climbs splitters? There is a difference between smearing the outside of a low angle crack and weighting a cammed foot in a vertical splitter. The latter will eventually become less painful provided you aren't wearing totally improper footwear. Focus on getting your knee vertical and camming your foot in vs. trying to wedge your foot in a pod.

FWIW too, I'd ditch the hand jammies for tape in the gym. Hand jammies are good, but they make your hand a pretty different size and they make fists way too easy and prevent the development of good technique. YMMV though.

Donovan Allen · · Subaru · Joined May 2012 · Points: 415

Have you seen pinch blocks at the gym? Basically they are blocks of wood with an eyelet on them so you can clip weights to them and pinch them. Try making some jam blocks, do repeaters(hangboard type routine 7 on 3 off) with them, make various widths, and you will get better crack strength. If you pay attention using jam blocks, it will increase your endurance and technique, trust me. 

T Roper · · DC,VA,NM,UT,CT,MA · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 860

it never becomes less painful and the technique on getting up 10s-11s in IC is quite minimal (as long as the pain doesnt bother you) so just climb a lot, stay positive and embrace the pain.

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,480

Examine what makes the indoor cracks different than the outdoor ones.  The gym I train in has two cracks.  One is hands to fist to laybacking to hands again.  The other is cupped hands and tight hands, but diagonal and not vertical.  They're both poured cracks- irregular and have pods which is what you'll find most places except the creek where parallel cracks are plentiful.  What are the cracks in your gym like?  Are they just parallel mostly?  I use the irregularities in the cracks for feet.  I only do true footjams where there's no other option, and even when I do that, I take my time finding the most comfortable feet possible.  Instead of trying to use the textbook "flare your knee outward, insert foot sideways, rotate knee up" always, or even most of the time, try to use the features more.  Pods in cracks make great footholds, and when you do have to jam your foot, don't just indiscriminately insert and rotate.  Make sure you have at least one bomber hand (preferably both are but that's not always realistic) so you can take time and get the most comfortable foot possible.  In my experience, the nuance of comfortable feet or at least feet that aren't killing you depends partially on how good your hands are and how much time you take to find the best feet.  For me, feet make or break most crack climbs.  I know what to do with my hands, the part that's problematic comes from positioning my feet to make best use of my next hand jam.  Sometimes I make two or three quick smaller foot jams instead of trying to hike my foot up way above my last.  Same applies with hands.  If I can get a bomber jam a short distance above my previous in order to set up a good reach to a good jam for the following move, then that's what I do.  Feet are the same way.  Another thing I learned early on is when you do a typical foot jam, don't cram your foot in and rotate your knee.  It's more subtle than that.  I put my foot in sideways until it's just touching the top and bottom of my shoe, and I rotate my knee up to the point where it feels comfortable.  If it doesn't, my foot isn't so stuck that I can't readjust.

Also, some feet just suck and are painful.  You can minimize it, but you can't completely escape it.  And I agree with John 100%.  If you're eschewing tape outside on most cracks you climb, you're getting solid jams that don't move and your technique, at least that part of it, is very good.  So, if your cracks are parallel and you just have to torque your jams in there, that's probably why they're painful.  If they're irregular, use the variations in the crack to your advantage.

Mike Flanagan · · Redlands, CA · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 55

I'm gonna second Donovan's suggestion. Assuming  you have a basic technique dialed I think you're better served developing pinch strength than running countless laps on a gym crack. Just my opinion though. 

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190
Mike Mellenthin wrote:

This may be a dumb question -- how tight are your TC pros? You want your toes to be completely flat. Anything less and it will hurt a lot.

In general though crack climbing hurts, although less so over time and especially not on splitter hand cracks. I'd wait it out a little bit. Are you climbing splitters outside? Are your gym climbs splitters? There is a difference between smearing the outside of a low angle crack and weighting a cammed foot in a vertical splitter. The latter will eventually become less painful provided you aren't wearing totally improper footwear. Focus on getting your knee vertical and camming your foot in vs. trying to wedge your foot in a pod.

FWIW too, I'd ditch the hand jammies for tape in the gym. Hand jammies are good, but they make your hand a pretty different size and they make fists way too easy and prevent the development of good technique. YMMV though.

Toes are flat, they're sized for cracks.  Like I said, pretty negligible pain outdoors.  I've even climbed in my toes-curled performance-fit Pinks outdoors, and they were fine.  Most of the cracks flare downwards (narrow as you get higher), so it can be a little insecure, but in general the problem seems to be the unnatural amounts of friction.

I agree with you in theory, and have never used the gloves outside, but these cracks shred tape.  Here's a scar I have from the wide crack (wearing tape):

Evan Belknap · · Placitas, NM · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 65

I've found that crack climbing and sport climbing really aren't that different, in that you need finger strength, endurance, and power—the techniques are obviously different and that will just come by climbing a lot. Climbing cracks in the gym is heinous and miserable. Hang board, do circuits, boulder, get in a lot of time on the wall—I can almost guarantee that will make you a better crack climber than bashing your feet for twenty minutes on a fake crack. 

Mike Mellenthin · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 70

You don't have cracks in the Walltopia walls? My current gym has those and they are pretty awful. Also I'm not judging or hating the jammies. I was just surprised that I kind of had to relearn fists without them. Good luck man!

Oh and y'all who hate on fake cracks in the gym...well you are basically right...but stop by Planet Granite Sunnyvale if you are ever in town. Those cracks have turned out plenty a competent Valley climber and are a great example of gym cracks done well. The butterfly hands and squeeze sizes were especially useful.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Yeah, they're Walltopia.  Otherwise great walls, but sucky for cracks.

Evan: I've heard that sustained hand/fist climbing is most like overhanging enduro jug hauls.  Even in finger cracks, you're still mostly activating big muscles (fingers cam, but whole hand flexes and arm lifts), so how would building crimp strength (hangboarding) help?

Brian Carver · · Boulder, Co · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 30

I see that you live in Chicago. It seems like you are talking about the cracks at First Ascent. If so, those cracks are worthless. They are so rough that they sawed through a pair of my mythos in less than 2 sessions. The handcrack is a good width, but it zig zags so much it makes it hard to learn good technique. Although the fist crack gets vertical and slightly more constricted at the top, the width is about a half inch bigger than my fist. That is not the size crack I would seek out my first season at the creek. I've heard that one of the suburb gyms has a collection of more realistic cracks. It might be worth checking that out if you haven't already. The only other option I can think of is going to Indian Creek, Pebble Beach, or Muscle Beach at the Red. 

I also picked up some useful advice from Steph Davis on her blog. She recommends when possible to keep your toes pointed downward when you slot them in the crack (think ballerina standing on toes) I found it to be some much more comfortable.  Most climbers/videos will tell you to insert your toes directly into the crack and torque your foot by turning your knee in line with the crack.

My first trip to the creek was a frustrating mess. Have fun!!

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Toes are straight.  Like I said: TC Pros, sized for cracks/all day comfort.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190
BCarver wrote:

I see that you live in Chicago. It seems like you are talking about the cracks at First Ascent. If so, those cracks are worthless. They are so rough that they sawed through a pair of my mythos in less than 2 sessions. The handcrack is a good width, but it zig zags so much it makes it hard to learn good technique. Although the fist crack gets vertical and slightly more constricted at the top, the width is about a half inch bigger than my fist. That is not the size crack I would seek out my first season at the creek. I've heard that one of the suburb gyms has a collection of more realistic cracks. It might be worth checking that out if you haven't already. The only other option I can think of is going to Indian Creek, Pebble Beach, or Muscle Beach at the Red. 

I also picked up some useful advice from Steph Davis on her blog. She recommends when possible to keep your toes pointed downward when you slot them in the crack (think ballerina standing on toes) I found it to be some much more comfortable.  Most climbers/videos will tell you to insert your toes directly into the crack and torque your foot by turning your knee in line with the crack.

My first trip to the creek was a frustrating mess. Have fun!!

Haha yep, it's FA.  I have heard that Vertical Endeavors (the suburban gym you mentioned) does have some nice cracks, but it's a bit of a trek.  I've been meaning to do it, though.  Good beta about the feet; Steph definitely knows her stuff in that area!

Tomko · · SANTA CLARA CA · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 10

I've learned to climb cracks primarily indoors (Planet Granite Sunnyvale as an earlier poster had mentioned).  It's maybe not optimal, but it definitely can provide results.  Yosemite stills throws me for some loops, but running laps on indoor cracks made me feel like a superhero in Indian Creek.

While a lot of people here are advocating for TC Pros I'm really happy with Moccasyms.  They are super comfy when sized for toes flat.  I like the slipper design for cracks because there are no uneven points like laces or velcro that can create pressure points while jamming.

Another idea is to think about exactly how you are doing your footjams.  As you cam your foot into a good handcrack remember to drop your ankle, it makes the position more natural and less painful.  You might also be exerting too much force into your footjams; just like you can overgrip handholds you can expend more energy than you need to while jamming with both hands and feet.  Maybe you don't need to work the jam in quite so intensely and that could save you from fatigue and pain as well.

AndrewArroz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

Glad to see this topic. My problem at my gym is that their cracks are poured concrete or whatever walls used to be built from in the 1990s. Great texture for feet but the insides of the cracks are filled with razor sharp little irregularities and end up not really working so well for hand jams. I've practiced on Walltopia cracks at a different gym nearby and found them to be superior for practicing the different hand and finger techniques. 

Donovan Allen · · Subaru · Joined May 2012 · Points: 415

Ted, are you down climbing these cracks? If you aren't, you should start. Thank me later. 

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 277
Ted Pinson wrote:

Ted,

I climb at VE. Their cracks are modelled after serenity crack at Yosemite, and several of the classics on Devil's Tower. I'm an inexperienced crack climber myself, but it's an area I'm looking to improve. I haven't done any true jamming there, so I can't comment on how badly they'll tear you up, but my general impression is that they have rougher texture than the walls. (I'mean guessing that's partly due to the fact that not many people actually climb the cracks. )

NegativeK · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 10
BCarver wrote:

I see that you live in Chicago. It seems like you are talking about the cracks at First Ascent. If so, those cracks are worthless. They are so rough that they sawed through a pair of my mythos in less than 2 sessions.

I've been lapping them for a while, as it's all I have (no car, so no burbs.) It's good to hear that the damage I'm seeing to my Mythos laces area isn't because I suck _too_ much.

Ted, I'm not getting pain in my feet until I'm on toe tips near the top of the narrow crack. Is the blistering from the shoes slipping against your skin? Even in Mythos on the offhands crack, my feet aren't buried enough such that skin contacts the walls.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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