This Perspective piece with Eva Lopez marked the start of a series of training articles written for The Arch. We first met Eva at the Womens Climbing Symposium 13 & were blown away by the knowledge and scientific rigour with which she addressed climbing training. Before we start with the more in-depth training articles, we wanted to give readers an insight into Eva's background, what motivates her, and not least of all her love of climbing.
Where do you live and what is a typical day in your life at the moment?
I live in Toledo, a small city near Madrid. There are few “normal” days of late. My schedule is fluid, constantly adapting to the projects at hand. At home I usually wake up at 8:00 and work until 13:00, when I begin my first training session for the day, usually 90-120 minutes. This consists of running and physical conditioning like core training, pulling exercises, weights (esp. shoulder), dead-hangs, etc. Then we have lunch and I work or read for another hour or so, accompanied by the compulsory cup of coffee. At 17:30 I go to the climbing gym for the second training session that ends at 20:00-20:30. Back home I can choose between stretching, reading or working until dinner time. The real leisure time begins around 23:00 while watching some TV show.
When I am out climbing I put aside time for working, mostly on rest days.
Sometimes, though, my activity can be really hectic and chaotic, bordering insanity. Typically when I am evaluating or planning for a new trainee, or when I am finishing a paper or blog entry, or preparing a new workshop… I can spend 10 hours straight, forgetting training or eating. Those days take a toll.
I know you’ve got a really busy schedule at the moment, between work, research, coaching other people and finding time for your own climbing. Have I missed anything out, like any upcoming projects or other things you do, on the list?
Really, do I do so many things!? When I see it in writing I realize it may be too much! And on top of that there is another challenge: improving my English. As you know, part of my work is teaching and lecturing. Now, perhaps due to the reach of my training blog, a growing number of English-speaking climbers approach me looking for advice or even personal training. These written exchanges I can manage, but when it comes to doing workshops, classes or lectures I feel I still lack the necessary level.
Another project I’m currently working on is getting about 5 articles published, based on my recent doctoral thesis. For the next year I could even begin working on a series of books on training for climbing, starting with finger strength… we’ll see.
Can you remember your first climbing experience?
Yes. It was fantastic! When I faced that really short route and started ascending, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was so eager to reach the top, it was so fun to sort out how to do it, that sometimes I forgot about the danger and put myself in some “difficult” situations.
Climbing just makes me happy. I suppose it summons a number of things I happen to connect with in such a perfect way it’s like magic.
If you weren’t a climber, you’d be…?
I don’t know, most likely I would practice another sport, because physical activity has always been a need for me. Anyway, I think the passion and commitment would be the same I devote to climbing. If I have one strength it must be this: When I’m motivated about something I put everything in my hand to learn and improve as much as possible. When it comes to climbing, I try to be the best climber I can be.
The kind of satisfaction and fun that the process of improvement provides keeps me into a kind of virtuous circle that makes my commitment even stronger. And in a way it is why I like training so much, because it is a systematized way for achieving your dreams… When you realize that what was once just in your head is suddenly in front of you, your self-confidence skyrockets and the pleasure is such that you just want to stay in that loop: setting goals-fighting to achieve them-achieving them-realizing you were able to do it-setting further goals.
You’re known for being right at the forefront of climbing specific sports science and research. Can you tell us a bit more about that – where your interest in this started and what the overall goals of this research are currently?
First, thank you for your compliment… but mine is just one among many contributions that try to add to the matter. If I stumble on something new it’s thanks to the many who shared their knowledge before me. You know that “on the shoulders of giants” thing.
My interest in training for climbing started the same day I began climbing. Coincidentally, at that time I was a Sports Science student. I remember the first book that sparked my motivation, “Grimper!” by Patrick Edlinger. I didn’t know a word of French, but enthusiasm and a dictionary can go a long way.
After that I started searching scientific publications that looked at sports or actions that could be adapted to climbing. That’s how it began!
Initially this kind of research had merely a utilitarian character, to improve as much as possible as a climber. But soon enough I realized it was very interesting in itself. I enjoyed so much reading and learning, and then using that on me and others that the means turned into an end. I haven’t stopped reading and researching since. Now it is part of my process of improvement and that of others, in such a way that it transcends climbing and has become an approach to life itself.
Compared to more widely funded sports, at what stage would you describe climbing sports science as being at today?
We are at very exciting times, because we know many things about physiology, anthropometry, biomechanics, etc., and what factors are important for performance in climbing. But there is a lack of knowledge about training for each of those key factors. And it is precisely that area what will imbue our sport with the scientific character it needs, helping coaches and climbers to program their training in the most serious and effective way. For example, while writing my thesis I searched for controlled experimental studies that compared finger strength methods in climbing and found only the ones that I conducted.
Training seems to be becoming more widely accepted at all levels in climbing – we see it increasingly as part of most climbers’ routines now, rather than something reserved for an elite. Unless this is only a UK phenomenon, do you have any thoughts about it?
It is true that we are facing a change in the way it’s regarded. Climbers are increasingly approaching training as a way not only of gaining level, but also to better enjoy climbing, staying motivated and keeping injuries at a distance. Perhaps it is related to the growing number of climbing gyms and professionals that work at these, while bouldering and sport climbing are considered more and more as “real” sports, where training is a given.
With certain fingerboard workouts being given semi-serious regular climbing grades, and videos of training sessions being widely shared on the internet, with people doing incredible feats like front levers using their little fingers – is training becoming performance in itself, or are the two things different somehow?
A really interesting question! In fact, this phenomenon is shared by all sports and can teach us many things. Let’s start by answering to a deceptively simple question: What do we really train for?
Our first impulse would be to answer: “To become a better climber and send harder routes”. But I think we are not consistent with that statement. Too often we get off-track, and blindly devote lots of resources to exercises that have little to no transfer to our climbs, because of the modality we practice (competition vs. rock), the place we climb at (type of rock, angle…), or our short climbing experience. More specifically, are those rings, campus, planks or one-handed dead-hangs stunts from the videos useful and healthy for you?
I think we mix up means and ends, acting as if the main goal was “feeling strong”, or just getting better at that particular exercise. And it is understandable, because training is fun and the results are tangible: Right here, right now… There’s no need to wait for the weekend to assess your progress. Surely I feel very competent at that exercise, perhaps as much as my mates or even those who upload their videos, but the useful question is: Will it help me send my project, improve my competition ranking or suffer less injuries?
I think we have to switch our perspective about those displays of strength: they are possible because the people who perform them are already extremely strong; they are the result, not the cause! We tend to think: That guy climbs such grade and he can do front levers hanging off his little fingers, so if I train my pinkie-front-levers I will do the same grade… and that way of thinking is wrong, that’s not going to happen. There are two lessons we can learn from this: 1. Strength obtained through an exercise is not easily transferred to other strength manifestations (like isometric to dynamic) or to different actions of the same muscles, and 2. Each individual should choose those workouts that, given their level and characteristics, will make them a better climber and increase their level; or that at least get them ready to safely start trying those “other” exercises.
You were the key speaker for the Women’s Climbing Symposium 2013, which we held at The Biscuit Factory. One question from your visit: did you notice any differences between UK and the Spanish climbing scene?
My stay there was too brief to develop a well-formed opinion. My answer will be incomplete, just based on the differences I spotted at the time. Perhaps the more evident ones are related to the weather and the characteristics of the climbing sites. It rains much more in the UK than in most of Spain. That explains your long tradition of outstanding climbing gyms that are designed with your climbing spots in mind.
If I’m not mistaken UK’s has good bouldering zones, and sport climbing ones consist mostly of shorter, not very steep routes, with features like arêtes, roofs, etc… and small edges and slopers. So there is a focus on technical aspects like footwork and balance, on finger strength both over edges and slopers, and also on power-endurance over endurance. I think the sum of these factors influences the advanced development of Bouldering, and of two occupations where we still have a long way to go: route setting and coaching.
I’m under the impression that your coaches, in addition to mastering the methods for physical performance, are experts on the detection and correction of technical errors, the development of technical skills, etc. for all levels. They seem to also be well-respected, which I am all for.
Here in Spain we have two or three disparate figures: the classic climbing instructor, who teaches absolute beginners the essential technical and security skills, and the trainer, a rising group that caters to climbers with varying degrees of experience. It is the case that many climbers believe they already “know how to climb”, and this leads both climbers and trainers to focus almost exclusively on the physical aspects. At last there is the personal trainer/coach, the one I favour and of which there are still few examples. This is similar to what you call a climbing coach that works by designing personalized training programs that cover all facets of performance: psychological, physical, technical-tactical, in close collaboration with the trainee.
Regarding professional routesetters, in Spain I only know of one climbing gym that hires them regularly. We have a long way to go… the same as with climbing gyms. Until now, most of them were short, straight and very steep, without angle transitions. Good for upper strength and stamina, not so good for balance and other technical aspects…
What can readers expect from the training series on The Arch website?
I expect it to be a set of articles about training methods for Bouldering (starting with finger strength) written in a language that is easy to understand. With contents that will allow the readers not only to be aware of and understand several concepts, terms and basic methods that they can put in practice, but also to reflect on the efficacy of their current routines given their goals and capacities; to learn how to identify and choose the optimal methods, exercises and scheduling for every moment; to solve some of their biggest doubts; and even to get rid of old myths, through scientific evidence that will be presented.
In short, I’d like to provide them with practical information that they can use to improve their training, promote their critical thinking, and in the process transmit to them my passion for the world of climbing and training.
Finally, can you describe your perfect climbing day?
That one’s easy: One when I got a tiny bit higher on the hardest route I’ve ever tried, without getting injured in the process. Motivated, progressing and injury-free, what else could I ask for?
References to Eva's papers and PhD Thesis:
- López-Rivera, E., González-Badillo, J.J. The effects of two maximum grip strength training methods using the same effort duration and different edge depth on grip endurance in elite climbers. Sports Technology. 2012; 5 (3-4), 100-110.
- López-Rivera, E (2014): Efectos de Diferentes Métodos de Entrenamiento de Fuerza y Resistencia de Agarre en Escaladores Deportivos de distintos Niveles (Phd Thesis). PhD program in sport performance. Castilla-La Mancha University, Toledo, Spain.
Find out more about Eva, including more training articles and links to her Hangboard models -
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