Last fall, with a baby on the way, I experienced the urge to “nest.” Only, instead of that urge manifesting itself through cleaning binges, rocking chairs, cribs, and a plethora of cute elephant-themed decorations, I decided to build the most badass home training dojo I could afford.
When you’re expecting a baby, and especially once you have one, I’ve noticed that you receive a lot of unsolicited parenting advice, most of it completely wrong. But an assortment climbing moms and dads like Beth Rodden, Josh Wharton, and Tommy Caldwell all gave me the same piece of vital counsel: Dial in your training situation, stat.
Even Chris Sharma, who just welcomed his daughter, Alana, into the world this week, built himself a “little” place to train in the form of the biggest commercial climbing gym in Barcelona.
New Castle, Colorado, where I live, ain’t no Barcelona, and obviously, I’m way less of a baller than Sharma. So … on to plan B.
Dreaming the Build
When envisioning what type of home gym one might want, there are some fundamental questions that must be answered, from obvious ones, such as how much space one has to work with, to less obvious ones, such as what kind of training apparatuses might one want as well as which ones will provide the most benefit, for the least cost, using your limited space most efficiently.
Indeed, sketching out a home gym is very much a cost-benefit analysis, where “costs” can be defined as everything from the actual cost of the various training tools and toys themselves, to the “cost” of the space you have to work with (i.e., “I can’t park a car in my garage because there’s a climbing wall in there” or, “I now have to sleep on a crashpad because I turned my dorm room into a climbing wall.”).
Meanwhile, the “benefit” can be understood to mean that 1) most importantly, those training tools will actually be used and that 2) using them will also yield real-world gains in fitness and strength that will translate quickly and efficiently into performance on real rock.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: you could spend $5,000 and three weeks building a room-sized bouldering cave, with a number of cool, complex angle changes and corners, as well as all the holds you’d need to fill that climbing space. Then you could spend the next two weeks setting a bunch of problems yourself, and then the following three weeks climbing all out all of the problems you’ve set. Pretty soon, two months have gone by, the training season is over and you’re not that motivated to take down all those holds and set new problems. And soon your sick bouldering cave begins to collect dust, and not of the Friction Labs Unicorn Dust variety.
Or, you could spend $100 on a hangboard, hang it up right away, and use it for just 20 minutes a day, two or three times a week. After two months, you’d probably come out of the training season much stronger than the bouldering-cave guy. (Think: Pareto’s Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule.)
I designated half of a two-car garage to be my home-gym space. The area is roughly 12 x 20 feet, with 9-foot ceilings. Within that space, I managed to squeeze in a hangboard station, a tiny campus board, a modified (i.e., not full-sized) Moon Board, and a weight-lifting rack with free weights, which was the most expensive investment. All told, I spent about $5,000 on the tools and supplies, and it took me about two weeks to build the whole thing. Sure, I could’ve spent less money, but I went for more bells and whistles than just the bare bones, deciding go #AllIn from the get-go like the Adidas-wearing social-media clowns on Instagram.
I christened my gym the “Bisharat Effect,” after a nearby local CrossFit-themed / Mark-Twight-spinoff gym in Carbondale called Ripple Effect. Namaste.
After a few months of pounding iron and pulling plastic in #BisharatEffect, I gained about 5 pounds of muscle mass, made a bunch of progress with my nagging shoulder injuries, and feel, move for move, quite strong. Much more importantly, I made progress improving a work-life-exercise balance and routine that allowed me to hit the gym on days when I had absolutely no motivation at all. And now that my daughter is here, being able to sneak away for an hour or three and get in a workout has saved my sanity on those days when getting out to the crags isn’t possible.
I wanted to share what I did, what I would do differently, and a bit about how I’m using my gym on this blog, with the hopes that it would help others get ideas for their own home gyms, or ideas for how to train more efficiently.
Rogue Rack & StrongLifts
Boone Speed once told me that, if could do anything differently during his prime climbing years, he would’ve spent more time lifting weights and working on muscular imbalances.
Like many folks, I’ve tried CrossFit, but unlike most folks, I quickly realized that the program wasn’t designed for guys like me, who aren’t so externally motivated by peer competition and cult-like atmospheres. I’m an unathletic introvert who thrives much more when I go at my own slow, plodding pace.
I knew that I wanted free weights in my garage, but I wasn’t exactly sure, at first, what I’d need, or even how I’d be using them. Then, I stumbled upon the StrongLifts program and it seemed like a perfect match for what I was looking for in a home gym: a space-efficient apparatus; an easy-to-follow program; proven results.
StrongLifts is a weight-lifting training program that is free and designed to build raw, functional strength through 5×5 sets of compound exercises using heavy weights. Climbers are only just beginning to recognize that there are big gains to be had through age-old exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench press—and in my view, a program like StrongLifts is the best way to build raw, functional, total-body strength that will provide you with a strong foundation for adding in the more climbing-specific training programs.
I won’t bother going into much depth about what StrongLifts entails, because it’s all outlined in exceptional detail on the website. I will say that after three months of following the program, using the attendant StrongLifts app (also free, though I recommend upgrading to the $10 version), I gained a lot of muscle and, in general, felt fit AF. It was also really fun and motivating to watch my progression through the app, which charts each work out, and even makes recommendations for dropping weight if you’ve missed more than a week of working out.
The StrongLifts program also really highlighted some of my main muscular imbalances, namely, the lingering tendonitis I have in my shoulders. I experienced a lot of impingement in the shoulder press and bench press exercises. Simply realizing how “weak” I was due to my shoulders’ general immobility set me off on a long, productive path toward increasing their health, strength and mobility. Largely, through doing a bunch of pass throughs with a PVC pipe, and, most recently, using the Crossover Symmetry as a warm-up and warm-down before any climbing-related activity, my shoulders, which have been bugging me for four years now, feel downright awesome.
The main critique I have of StrongLifts is that unless you have some background in proper weight-lifting form, you could easily hurt yourself. The website does a great job of explaining the form, and videos themselves are also helpful. Still, it won’t replace a few sessions of hands-on instruction. If your goal is ultimately to lift weights on your own, I highly recommend seeking out some kind of professional instruction, at least at first, to help you dial in proper technique.
During the winter, I did StrongLifts three times per week, and a climbing workout twice a week. Eventually, as the climbing season approached, I switched that to focus more on climbing workouts (3x/week) and less on weight lifting (1 or 2x/week). Now that it’s climbing season, I’m taking a complete break from StrongLifts, and focusing instead just on having fun and projecting outdoors.
To do StrongLifts, you really just need a squat rack, an Olympic bar, a bench, and free weights. I opted to purchase all of my equipment from Rogue, a U.S.-based company that makes high-quality stuff that will last forever.
I also threw in some gymnast rings, which are extremely useful for pull-ups, off-set pull-ups, dips and muscle-ups … well, OK, everything except muscle-ups since I’m too weak to do those. Doing dips on the rings are tough, but you can make it easier using these rubber bands. Simply girth hitch the band around one ring, then hold it between your palm and the other ring to create a little u-shaped loop; prop both shins up on the band and the band will take some weight off as you do the dip. (FYI: I also prefer to use these bands for taking weight off while hangboarding, as I find it just simply easier than using the typical weights/pulley system.)
Also, in case you’re curious, I installed a rubber floor by picking up ten 4’x6’ horse-stall mats from the Tractor Supply Company. If you were to purchase mats like this from a work-out store, they’d go for $75 each; however, they sell them for $40 at the TSC, and on the day that I was there, they were on sale for only $35 each. I find the my mats don’t really move at all, but if your floor is slippery, this blog shows a cool way to anchor the mats into a concrete floor with concrete screws and sleeves.
The things I hate using the most are probably the most effective training tools for climbing. They’re also the cheapest, and easiest to install. If you have to go with just one training item that will improve your climbing, get a hangboard.
I’m not much of a hangboard enthusiast, clearly. But I have tried different boards over the years. The Transgression board, for example, is one of the most painful fucking things I’ve ever tried to hang from. I’d rather slam my finger tips in a car door than use that thing. The So Ill Iron Palm, however, is really friendly … but I wish it was wider to allow a more comfortable wide grip that fits my shoulders.
I opted for the Beastmaker 1000 version, as opposed to the 2000 version. There are two ways to making hangboarding more challenging: making the holds smaller and adding weight. In my opinion, it’s far better to keep the hold at a small but “normal” size as opposed to just hanging off of credit-card edges.The bottom right edge on the Beastmaker 1000 is a perfect training edge, and one that you can progress on quickly with added weight and without too much worry that you’ll injure a tendon.
My friends at Trango also sent me one of their new Rock Prodigy Forge hangboards, which is the harder version of the Rock Prodigy. The idea with these two-piece hang boards is to mount one piece on a sliding/locking rail that will allow you to customize the width. That seemed like way too much engineering work for me, and I bet it will for most people, too. I just guessed at what seemed would be a wide, comfortable grip width and screwed that sucker into the plywood. I love the variety that the Rock Prodigy affords, especially when I get tired of that one bottom-right edge on the Beastmaker 1000. That said, I think I make the most gains on the Beastmaker, but it’s nice to have another option to mix it up.
If you’re looking for a good hangboard workout, read this article.
How do you fit a campus board in a room with 9-foot ceilings?
I originally wasn’t planning on getting a campus board in my garage, but I found some wall space just above a little storage crawl space that allowed me to build a full-sized campus board.
A full-sized campus board has 9 rungs, set 20 centimeters apart, on a board that overhangs 20 degrees. To get a full-sized campus board into a room with 9-foot ceilings, you have to set the first rung quite low, which, in my case, ended up being 35 inches off the ground.
I start sitting on my butt, with my legs out in front of me. The crawl space beneath my campus board allows me to space for my legs, but if you’re building something like this against a wall, you’d need to frame it so that the campus board actually sticks out from the wall by two feet or so.
Here’s a great blog post from Mike Anderson about building a campus board; it’s what I followed to build mine.
There aren’t a lot of options out there for campus rungs. The Metolius campus rungs are a perfectly good option (for some reason they come in packs of 5?), but when I went to find them online, they happened to be sold out. Instead, I ordered the medium-sized rungs from Beastmaker in the U.K. I liked their hangboard, and thought that their campus rungs would be of a similar high quality.
Indeed, they are. The rungs are smooth, and can be set in two different configurations: one with a rounded, smaller, but slightly incut edge; the other side with a slopier, flatter, yet slightly bigger edge. Both edges are EXTREMELY challenging! When I received these “medium” rungs, I was quite surprised to realize that they are tiny AF! They’re comparable to the Metolius small campus rungs in terms of their difficulty. It took me a couple of weeks of work to feel be able to consistently ladder up these rungs.
Realizing that I wanted a much easier campus rung to warm up on that wasn’t so fingery, I opted for the Atomik 1-inch campus rungs. These rungs feel quite juggy, especially when set on their gently incut side. I like that you can order them in different colors, which visually makes it easier to spot your sequence. In general, I prefer wood for campusing, and don’t love the plastic, abrasive texture of these holds. Missing a rung costs you in skin.
As you can see, there isn’t a ton of room to campus on this board, and as a result, you can’t really use a ton of leg-swinging momentum to generate big moves. In other words, I’ll probably never go 1-5-9 on this board. The constraints of my campus board’s space limit me to more static/strict pulls between rungs—which, again, has its own brand of training value. I mention this to encourage you to not write off the idea of a campus board simply because you think you don’t have the space.
In the future, I’ll be ordering a few more of the Beastmaker rungs, to add in half-spacing rungs, which is really useful for doing “bump” campus exercises.
If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably just order the Metolius rungs in a medium and large sizes.
A lot of people either haven’t heard of the Moon Board (MB), or they’ve heard of it and don’t really know what it is. In my opinion, the Moon Board is the best home-climbing apparatus you can build.
The MB crushes the garden-variety garage woodie on all the most important criteria: efficiency of space, fun factor, variety, longevity, and bone-crushing results.
What it is: The most elementary description of the Moon Board is that it’s a 40-degree woodie that you build out of lumber and plywood to exact specifications right down to the t-nut grid. You then purchase holds from Moon Climbing, and set them on your MB in the exact configuration that’s detailed on the Moon website, including the angle that each hold faces. Finally, by referencing the website or brand new phone app, you can browse through a catalog of hundreds of problems that route setters and crowd-sourced amateurs around the world have added. Most are pretty good, too.
In other words, by building a Moon Board and purchasing the holds, you’re not just getting a climbing wall with holds. You’re also getting route setting, which in my opinion keeps the MB fun, fresh, engaging, and useful. It essentially solves one of the biggest motivation problems facing the generic home woody: the setting. (And, of course, you can always do your own setting on the MB, if you want.)
The Set-up: A MB is three sheets of 4-by 8-foot plywood, which creates 12 feet of vertical terrain and 8 feet of width. The board is quite steep at 40 degrees overhanging, and there’s an 18-inch kicker at the bottom. Here are the plans for building one.
The t-nuts are placed 22 cm (~7.75 inches) apart from each other, and they are numbered/lettered like a grid from the Battleship game, with letters running along the x-axis and numbers along the y-axis.
Moon Holds come in three sets: Original Set, Set A, and Set B. All the holds are numbered and marked with a compass notch to indicate “north” (i.e., up). Thus, for example, Moon instructs that Hold #34 shall be placed in the A8 t-nut, and turned to face NW. It’s a simple system that allows you to replicate the exact same problems in your home that Ben Moon and others around the world are using.
How to Use It & Why It Works:The rules for climbing on the MB dictate use of any foothold on the kicker, then tracking on handholds. The movement this produces is often dynamic, and most problems contain two or three deadpoints total. Hence, more than anything else, the Moon Board builds power and contact strength.
I approach training on the Moon Board the way I approach weight-lifting sets, or a two-mile jog, or anything quantifiable. I am not there to just session for hours at a time until I’m fatigued and/or bored, which is often how I treat my gym-climbing sessions. Instead, I go into the MB with a goal of climbing X number of problems, then adding in some campus or hangboard workouts, then moving on with my day.
Approaching the MB with this mentality was important for me, because it allowed me to quantify my training. I also found it easier to get through a workout, especially when I was alone, when I entered the session with a general game plan.
Modifications: A full-sized Moon Board requires a room with a 10.5-foot ceiling. Because my garage only had a 9-foot ceiling, and Jen wouldn’t let me jackhammer a hole into our garage floor, I had to modify my MB.
There are number of ways to do this, and I wrestled for a long time with what would be the best method. Options included: making the board steeper, downsizing the kicker, or removing entire rows of t-nuts.
Because the Moon Holds are notoriously bad, I knew I didn’t want to make the MB any steeper than 40 degrees. Ultimately, what I did was shrink the kicker down to an absolute minimum of 7 inches, then rip a foot off of the first sheet of plywood. This gave me 11 (as opposed to 12) feet of climbing space, which was the max height I could fit into a 9-foot room.
I liked the idea of having all 18 rows of holds, so what I did was scale down the placement of the t-nuts, squeezing all 18 rows into those 11 feet (as opposed to the normal 12 feet). This shrunk the spacing between each t-nut row down by a little less than a half-inch: from 7.75 inches apart down to 7.25 inches.
Just a half-inch, right? I wasn’t really sure how this would affect the climbing experience, but in fact, I discovered that it affects it quite a lot. The handhold you’re moving toward, for example, might be upwards of two or even three inches closer on my MB than on a regulation one.
As a result, the grades of the problems are somewhat meaningless; in fact, my modifications seem to make some of the easier problems harder, and some of the harder problems feel easier. But in general, the problems are easier on my MB, which simply means that I get to choose harder grades than I would on a regulation board. The grades of the Moon problems are already kind of crazy (more on this later), so I simply regard all the grades with a grain of even finer salt.
The bigger issue is that sit-starts are really quite scrunchy on my MB. I compensate for this by sometimes placing obvious start holds up a row or two. Or I simply add in another intermediate to help me pull my ass off the mat.
The big question is, would I do it like this again? I’m not really sure, but I think probably not. If I were to do it over, I’d keep the short kicker, but I’d make the t-nut placements regulation, and simply have fewer rows.
While the t-nut rows affect the grades of the problems, it does not affect the training value—at all. As long as I remain flexible to some of the problem setting, I still get full value out of my MB and find it to be quite fun.
You can install one of these (rather expensive) LED kits, which wasn’t available when I was building my board and ordering my holds. There are instructions on how to do that are also online. And, of course, this system was originally inspired by this engineering genius.
I simply opted to paint my board with chalkboard paint ($10), and use colored chalk (as opposed to tape) to mark problems. I think it’s a pretty cool way to quickly and easily mark problems and then wipe them off when you’re done. You get some chalky finger prints above all the holds, but again, these are easy to wipe off. I like my chalkboard Moon Board, but I think an LED kit would’ve been way more baller. Oh well.
The Holds: Moon Climbing currently offers three sets of holds: Original (yellow), Set A (white) and Set B (black). These sets comprise a pretty good assortment of pinches, crimps, and pockets. The texture of the holds is quite abrasive, especially at first, and it’s likely that your skin will give out before you do, at least until you build up the requisite callouses.
Be aware that you won’t really find any jugs in any of the sets. In fact, the holds are, in general, quite poor, which makes for awesome training, but not for a comfy (or easy) climbing experience, which isn’t what the MB is about anyway. The easiest problems you’ll get on a MB are really stout V3s, which makes this training board not ideal for beginners. I absolutely wouldn’t recommend the MB to anyone who hasn’t been climbing at least two years, and is climbing at least V4 or V5 boulder problems, and 5.11+ routes. The folks who are going to enjoy the MB most will probably be those who are climbing in the V5 to V11 range.
There are problems for each individual set, and problems that work with all three sets, as well. If you had to get just one set, I’d recommend Set B (black holds) as they have the most variety and are the most fun to grab. If you had to get just two sets, I’d recommend Set A and Set B. But … with that said, I would highly recommend purchasing all three sets at once.
The tiny yellow crimpers in the Original set seemed, at first blush, like they’d be way too tweaky and unpleasant to use. In fact, I was scared to even put them up on the wall. But once I got them up and started climbing on them, I was surprised to find myself liking them a lot—just as long as I’m properly warmed up.
One big bummer about the Moon holds is that it costs more than $200 to ship them from the U.K. to the U.S. That was a bit of a shock when I went to check out.
One hopes that, in the near future, there will be some kind better U.S. distribution for Moon Climbing.
Your Home Gym
Hope you found this post somewhat useful. Feel free to ask me questions in the comment section below. And PLEASE submit photos of your own home gyms alongside your comments.